With bootstrapped The Fit District, this husband-wife duo aims to bring out the athlete in you
The Fit District is a bootstrapped fitness centre in Koramangala that focusses on personalised training. In six months of operations, the centre has over 450 members.
Cliched as it might sound, today’s fast-paced world requires people to be fit just to cope, and that is where companies like The Fit District step in. Started by the husband and wife duo of Vasudha Aggarwal and Niran Ponappa, The Fit District is taking on fitness with a more inclusive and hands-on approach.
Step in here and most things seem familiar in terms of a fitness centre. What, however, pulls in most members are two interesting fixtures – a Shih Tzu and a Cocker Spaniel, that spend the day happily chewing on what suspiciously looks like last evening’s newspaper.
The Fit District has Yoga, Crossfit, Zumba, kickboxing and other fitness classes. Says Niran,
“We want to reintroduce the athlete within you. You see a lot of people focussing on a lot of things that are out there. We wanted to make sure that we got people to focus on the right kind of fitness with the right theme.”
He adds trainers at The Fit District focus on the specifics of what is needed for each person because every person has different restrictions and strengths. One of the main considerations was that fitness should be for everyone and should not be bifurcated.
The first founder
As Smokey the Shit Tzu snoozes happily under Niran’s chair, he says he has been a part of the fitness industry for long. Sitting outside the room, Tipsy, the Cocker Spaniel, glances inside balefully as he is not allowed in the carpeted room as he, is not toilet trained.
“There were days that we simply wanted to give up. Starting up is difficult, but we got courage from Smokey. He had a rare disease and had to be hospitalised. Every time he would see us in the hospital, he would try to stand and make an effort. His positivity in the face of death taught us so much, about how we should never give up in our quest to achieve what we want to. We may even call him the first founder of The Fit District,” says Vasudha.
A commerce graduate, the idea of a typical corporate job held no appeal for Niran. “I got into fitness by chance. I got into Fitness First as a complementary member in 2008. Over the next six months, the fitness manager asked me why I don’t I look at fitness as a career option,” he says. Niran began training as an instructor at Fitness First.
In 2009, he went on to be promoted as assistant fitness manager was also the master trainer for many of Fitness First’s programmes.
Vasudha, on the other hand, was a state-level swimmer who left the sport due to an injury. However, after quitting sports, she ended up putting on a lot of weight and thus decided to pursue Figurine Fitness.
“In 2007, I started taking classes at the same institute, teaching Bollywood Aerobics. I enjoyed dancing and choreography. I finally decided to leave Figurine fitness to focus on art. The day I left, however, I got a call from Fitness First asking me to take classes. Now, art and fitness are equally important to me,” says Vasudha.
Starting The Fit District
Fitness First shut down in May last year. “I knew I had to continue in Bengaluru because I had trained over 3,000 people, and served so many more,” says Niran, recalling he had been shocked with the closure.
It was then that Vasudha suggested starting something, and The Fit District was born. Spread across 5,500 sq ft, the centre has three floors and runs various batches six days a week.
The duo says the idea is to help people improve every day. “It is train to progress and not impress,” adds Niran. The Fit District started in January this year.
“We only knew fitness. We had no idea about running a business. What equipment to order, how many to order, what should the numbers for opening be, and basically how to run a fitness club,” says Vasudha.
However, since Niran had exposure to management at Fitness First, some tasks were simpler. Niran says that they wanted people to work towards improving every day.
“Today, I think everyone is doing great with their fitness levels and that is what we want. We have various people who have had like a brain haemorrhage and could not do anything and now suddenly they can do a lot more with their fitness activities,” adds Niran.
Choosing people, location
When Vasudha and Niran started The Fit District, they roped in trainers who were part of Fitness First. “We wanted the best of everything. We chose Koramangala because we were there for five years and we wanted to do something for these people, especially the ones who were with us at Fitness First,” says Niran.
They received initial funding from friends and family. Today, The Fit District gets 65 percent of its revenue from memberships and about 35 percent from personal training. By the end of this year, the team is targeting revenue of Rs 2 crore to Rs 2.5 crore.
Where is the gear?
They wanted to bring the best equipment, reached out to an American company that was one of the main dealers of CrossFit equipment. Vasudha says,
“We ordered a bunch of things and we went through a lot of paperwork with banks because we were a private limited company. We went through all of that and finished paying. However, we did not receive the actual machines we had ordered. Had we got them, we would have been the first ones in Bengaluru to have them.”
The Fit District spent close to Rs 2.5 crore on setting up the fitness centre.
Working on sustainability
Sustainability, for The Fit District, is one of the biggest challenges. To address this, Vasudha and Niran decided they would focus on personally training each member. As of July, the company had around 450 members. “We know every person’s name, what their goal is, what time they come in and the days they do not come,” says Vasudha.
A highly competitive space
Fitness is a growing segment in India. Globally, fitness aggregators Classpass and KFit hold the largest market share while Indian aggregators like Gympik and Fitpass are fast gaining ground.
Sequoia-seeded KFit offers unlimited access to gym and fitness classes in Malaysia, secured $12 million in a Series A round early this year. In India, Playnlive, Fitternity, which raised $1 million in 2015, and Fitpass, which raised $1 million in late 2016, are also making inroads in the segment.
Currently, one of the most aggressive players in the field is Mukesh Bansal’s Curefit, which has acquired several centres like Cult, Tribe and 1000Yoga. The Cult.fit model combines functional training, with mixed martial arts, yoga and other formats of training.
Keeping on their toes
The Fit District believes it has an advantage over the competition because it provides personalised training. Niran says they offer a personal class, a group class, CrossFit and based on that, they assess fitness levels to plan a regime for a member.
“It is actually great that competitors are coming in, because it helps the market grow. It makes people aware of what fitness really is. We have ear-marked places such as Jayanagar and Whitefield,” adds Niran.