How Bengaluru-based Cult hopes to change the fitness landscape in India


Let's face it: traditional gyms have become passé. We no longer rush to get a year-long membership at our local gym every January, because we know we cannot muster enthusiasm to visit it everyday. This is why Deepak Poduval and Rishabh Telang started Cult- the Workout Station this year. Cult is a Bengaluru-based fitness startup focused on training programmes that use no machines or equipment.

Team members of Cult

Cult provides a mix of martial arts, yoga and outdoor activities that have fitness in their core. It has neither treadmills nor fancy all-in-one fitness machines, but contains a boxing ring, jump ropes, boxing bags, tyres/hammer, speed chutes, resistance bands and plyometric boxes.

Rishab says,

Cult focuses on correct form and posture to avoid common workout injuries. We don’t recommend any supplements, powders or pills. We do, however, ask members to eat clean and follow a decent lifestyle that does not involve a strict diet. We make sure that we often take them out for running, cycling, swimming or make them play a sport.

A great learning curve

While working at Wipro, Deepak, 34, spent his weekends meeting entrepreneurs who regaled him with their stories, of success and failures alike.

He himself took the plunge in 2010, by launching his first startup: Tangible Experience, which does immersive dome projects, natural user interfaces, projection based technologies, tech museums, in India, Europe, US and Middle East.

The serial entrepreneur is setting up a logistics technology startup as well, to be launched early next year.

Deepak got his engineering degree in Computer Science from VTU, Karnataka and an MBA from Symbiosis, Pune. Before beginning his entrepreneurial journey, he served as Global Head - Marketing for Retail & Consumer Goods, SBU, at Wipro Technologies.

Rishabh, 30, Deepak's brother-in-law, was a crossfit – L1 trainer and a globetrotter who has trained with international athletes. Before beginning his entrepreneurial journey, he worked at Wipro Technologies and FMCG major Reckitt Benckiser. Rishabh has an MBA from BIMM, Pune.

Initial hurdles

Educating people about the machine-free workout station was the first challenge for the duo. Additionally, located in Sarjapur Road in Bengaluru, they ran into infrastructure challenges as Cult is a 'warehouse gym' that requires a non-traditional setup.

Customer acquisition

 Started with a seed capital of Rs 75 lakh, Cult acquired its first customer through outdoor training activities done at the nearby lake. According to Deepak, word-of-mouth helped get a majority of their clients, so far.

With a team of nine trainers, Cult has, within six months, reached more than 200 memberships (it offers only annual and bi-annual memberships). The company's page on Facebook has more than 20,000 likes.

Some of the users join Cult for achieving their fitness goals and some want to pick up the sport to become a career athlete.


 Cult charges Rs 30,000 and Rs 48,000 for bi-annual and annual memberships, respectively. Members can do any number of classes and can choose any class from the schedule that includes 'strength & conditioning', Muay Thai, boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, yoga, power stretch and open outdoor workouts.

Trainers of Cult

The startup also conducts a sparring session called Beat Down, which is meant for members who wish to participate in championship bouts.

 Rishabh says,

Since we have not spent any money on marketing, our gross margin is extremely high. However, the biggest chunk of our monthly expenses goes in paying our trainers, as opposed to spending more on high machine maintenance bills, huge power bills etc. as in a typical gym.

Corporate workshops and bootcamps

 Cult organises workshops on functional fitness, self-defence, combat sports and body conditioning for corporates. Bootcamps that are customised workshops based on the needs and the interest levels of clients are also held. The startup also holds pre-and-post-marathon workouts in association with Decathlon.

On the margins from these workshops, Deepak says, “These workshops are charged separately as they are specifically designed and customised based on the client (corporates). They also help in building the awareness levels on how the workouts benefit them. Lot of real-life scenarios are enacted in these workshops to demonstrate and equip them for self-defence.” The startup will also launch a fitness programme for the 60+ age group which will be guided and conceptualised by senior doctors and cardiologists along with the Cult's fitness experts.

Expansion through franchise model

Going by the franchise model, Cult, by February 2016, will open two more centres in Bengaluru. The startup claims to follow a tightly-controlled and centrally-managed franchisee model, as opposed to a more disconnected franchisee model, where franchise owners will be given an initial training before running the centre.

Cult was incorporated as Cult Fitness Pvt Ltd in Nov 2015. After Bengaluru, it will expand across India mainly to Tier II cities. In terms of revenue, it is expecting to touch Rs 2.5 crore by FY 2016.

Youstory’s take

 With profound changes in the lifestyle and income levels of people, the wellness industry in India has become a sunrise sector, and is set to grow by 20-30 per cent year on year.

Currently, the market is estimated at Rs 490 billion, dominated by weight loss and beauty treatment services. A Deloitte-IHRSA report indicated that there are 4.8 million fitness seekers across Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.

Bengaluru-based Trueweight offers comprehensive solutions for weight loss, and customised nutrition counselling, along with a 'super food' kit. Another Bengaluru-based startup is Gympik, which is an online marketplace for fitness and wellness services. It is expected to generate a revenue of Rs one crore in the next fiscal year. Mumbai-based Fiticket has tied up with 450 gyms and fitness studios and has witnessed 500 bookings per month in its beta version.

However, Cult does not compete directly with these startups. With its key focus on “machine-free fitness with internationally experienced trainers,” the startup seems to be carving out a niche for itself in this overcrowded market.