[TechSparks 2020] We are all not in the same boat, but we’re all in the same storm: Actor-entrepreneur Suniel Shetty
During a round table at YourStory’s flagship event TechSparks 2020, actor-entrepreneur Suniel and Fittr Founder Jitendra Chouksey discuss the impact of COVID-19 on fitness startups, the importance of focusing on the why and how, and the fact that online is here to stay.
The first wealth, said American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, is health.
COVID-19 showed the world this, and how. Since the pandemic, the spotlight has remained firmly trained on wellness, fitness, and health.
Speaking at a round table at TechSparks 2020 actor, producer, investor, and entrepreneur Suniel Shetty said the focus was on health and wellness as that is “what is most needed by most people today”.
The actor-entrepreneur was discussing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the startup ecosystem with Jitendra Chouksey, Founder and CEO of online fitness platform, at the 11th edition of TechSparks, India's largest and most influential tech-entrepreneurship conference.
“Today, everyone is looking closely at fitness, wellness, health, Ayurveda, yoga, functional training. When I started my fitness journey, I didn’t have any fancy gyms…my restaurant benches acted as my fitness equipment. Now, there is awareness about clothing, food, injury, recovery, and more when it comes to health,” Suniel said.
Multiple reports peg the global health and wellness industry at $4.5 trillion, of which fitness comprises $800 billion.
The sector has seen a drastic shift since March 2020, when gyms and yoga centres in India shut shop overnight and were replaced with home workouts and late-night or early-morning walks.
The industry moved online immediately. But, Jitendra feels signs were visible even before the pandemic.
“People should have taken the cues of change from the food industry. It is easier for people go to a restaurant, but when even they are going online, what hopes did the brick-and-mortar fitness industry have?” he said, adding that this was an “asset-heavy model and penetration of fitness in India was lesser”.
With the whole world shifting online, Jitendra foresees a mix of online and offline models.
“It is important to focus on the why and how. Why are you getting into the fitness industry and how are you going to bring in that change? It is about solutions…if people don’t get results, the model won’t work,” he said.
Suniel agreed, stating that it was vital to understand the tech changes you can bring into your industry, solve the problems your people have been facing, and keep them engaged.
“Every business is different and has been impacted differently. Analyse and look at brick and mortar vs online; look deeper into your models. There are people who have taken up the challenge, and many who have given up,” he said.
Over the past few months, Suniel has invested in several health, wellness, and fitness startups, including Fittr. “Opportunities come to me, and I take them when I believe in them,” he said.
Speaking of the situation now, he said: “We are all not in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm.”
Gauging the impact and moving forward
In the present situation, Suniel exhorted the importance of being alert to shifts taking place around the world and becoming a part of them. One of the biggest shifts, according to him, is that trainers are making a larger impact because people now have a focus: to change their lifestyle and boost immunity.
Both Suniel and Jitendra believe that fitness trainers – till now underpaid and exploited – have adapted well to the online model.
“Personal trainers realise that if they demonstrate capability online, their pay scale improves and they have a more stable job,” Jitendra said. He added that they can empower people looking for a lifestyle change.
Suniel said the “trainer is focusing deeper because he wants to engage that client”. “In the gym, there are too many people around; here, there are no excuses, you have to deliver. Accepting change and adapting to change is important,” he said.
The duo agreed that consumer behaviour amidst the pandemic had also shown that the fitness industries had no option but to go online.
At Fittr, the team worked on “going completely work from home” even before the lockdown was announced. The startup had realised there would be a panic and were prepared for a drop. This assessment wasn’t wrong: in the second month after the lockdown, Fittr sales slumped to 40 percent.
“We didn’t fire a single employee; there were no salary cuts and we extended packages. We started a fund and have collected Rs 60 lakh for COVID-19 relief. People did come back to the platform, and we grew 30 percent month on month. This month, we are looking to close at $900,000. Gyms were shutting down, but we got back to our drawing board and focused on hiring trainers. In two months, we had over 100 trainers,” said Jitendra, revealing how Fittr had tapped the online opportunity.
Suniel ended by saying that learning experiences were important. “Change is happening. Listen to people. Don’t let them decide for you, but listen to them. It broadens your horizon. Go to people for help in terms of advice; it is important.”
The actor said it was important to be a mix of old school and tech. “The last-mile human touch always helps. People giving their time, knowledge, and energy…passion matters,” Suniel said.
TechSparks - YourStory's annual flagship event - has been India's largest and most important technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship summit for over a decade, bringing together entrepreneurs, policymakers, technologists, investors, mentors, and business leaders for stories, conversations, collaborations, and connections that matter. As TechSparks 2020 goes all virtual and global in its 11th edition, we want to thank you for the tremendous support we've received from all of you throughout our journey and give a huge shoutout to our sponsors of TechSparks 2020.
Edited by Teja Lele