Starting out as a WhatsApp group, this Suniel Shetty-backed fitness startup has made it to Y Combinator’s 2020 batch
Thirty-three-year-old Jitendra Chouksey, who was working in the corporate sector, shifted to Pune from Bengaluru in 2013 to work for another company. Someone who was always inclined towards fitness, Jitendra started taking his health seriously and started working out regularly.
“I used to be fat and used to get bullied as a child. I know what it feels like when others make you feel inadequate because of the way you look,” he says. In fact, he also went on to complete the ISSA Sports Nutrition Certification.
Jitendra says, “I gradually saw my health improving when I took health and fitness goals seriously. I wanted to help others accomplish their fitness goals.”
Soon, his friends and family started reaching out to him for help with their fitness goals. Jitendra created a WhatsApp group to ‘mentor’ them, and as the word spread, more people started joining the group. He then created a Facebook Group to extend his reach.
By 2016, Jitendra decided to turn his passion into something bigger and launched an online health and fitness coaching portal called SQUATS Fitness. SQUATS is an acronym for Systematic Quantitative Unified Aesthetic Transformation System. In order to democratise health and fitness, Jitendra also launched fitness app Fittr in 2018.
“It was basically a distillation of all my knowledge about nutrition science and exercise,” he says.
Based out of Pune, SQUATS was started with an initial investment of only Rs 90,000 collected from stakeholders. The bootstrapped startup is now backed by actor Suniel Shetty, and has been selected for the US-based accelerator, Y Combinator’s batch of 2020.
Entrepreneur by chance
Jitendra hails from a small town called Polaha in Madhya Pradesh. After completing his engineering, he worked with companies including Mphasis, L&T, and worked as a Senior SAP Basic Consultant at IBM. He shifted to Pune to work with Tieto, an IT company, before he took the entrepreneurial plunge.
While working to start up in the fitness segment, he also wrote a book on fitness called ‘Get Shredded’. Jitendra says, when he started the Facebook group, it grew in popularity in just three years and now has more than five lakh active members.
“My vision for SQUATS is to make 50 million people fit,” he says.
Jitendra was soon joined by Bala Krishna Reddy, 30, who was one of the first few members to join the Facebook group. Bala actively started responding to a few doubts posted on the social media platform, and realised that he shared a common vision with Jitendra.
After completing his MSc from University of North Carolina, Bala was working in the USA. His passion for fitness and his belief in SQUATS compelled him to return to India and become the co-founder of SQUATS. Bala now heads the coaching team.
The core team of SQUATS also includes its Directors - Sonal Singh, Jyoti Dabbas, and Rohit Chattopadhyay. Sonal is an alumnus of London School of Economics and currently heads the B2B Sales and Strategic Partnerships.
Jyoti is a Doctor of Naturopathy and an IIM Calcutta alumnus. She heads INFS (Institute of Nutrition & Fitness Sciences). Rohit, on the other hand, is a former ICICI Bank employee and currently heads Marketing.
Today, team SQUATS has 72 employees and has 190 coaches on its platform.
Democratising health and fitness
SQUATS and Fittr together bring online fitness consulting to fitness enthusiasts. Enroled clients are provided guidance via the phone application, so there is no physical interaction between the coaches and the clients. The mobile app is available for both Android and iOS users.
Additionally, the app also provides a complete suite of free tools and guide to users, including a diet tool, health kits to track steps, sleep and water intake, and more than 300 exercise videos, and free recipes.
“We educate users by offering free information. It is only when one wants to become a community member and seeks one-on-one guidance, do they have to enrol with our coaches,” Jitendra adds.
On an average, each coach manages up to 90 clients. A three-months package is priced at $150.
Since inception, SQUATS claims to have helped one lakh people become healthy and says the Fittr app has seen over four lakh downloads. According to Jitendra, 70 percent of its users are based in Tier I and Tier II cities in India, and are within the age group of 18 and 40 years.
It currently has over 190 coaches and is adding over 3,500 new clients every month, with a 40 percent renewal rate. At present, there are 20,000 daily users using the fitness solution.
The startup earns its revenues through enrolment on the Fittr app, and till now, over one lakh clients have subscribed to the app.
“We have an almost equal representation of male and female users,” says Jitendra.
Since its inception, SQUATS’ accumulated revenue amounting to $11 million.
Market overview and future plans
According to Statista, the Indian fitness segment revenue was around $1,786 million in 2020. It is expected to show an annual growth rate of 5.2 percent, resulting in a market volume of $2,189 million by 2024.
SQUATS currently competes with the likes of Curefit, HealthifyMe, and FitMeIn.
“There are over 300,000 fitness apps globally but most of them fail to address the fundamental problem of behavioural change. Our app is a market differentiator because we have a community of over 500,000 fitness enthusiasts and experts who motivate and guide its users through their experience,” says Jitendra.
“The success of our online model has shown people that it is possible to lose weight and get fit even without physically meeting their fitness coach,” he adds.
Going ahead, the startup plans to onboard more than 3,500 coaches and become a global marketplace for all things fitness and be a one-stop-shop for all fitness solutions.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)