#PeerfitBTS: The Story Behind the Startup

For about a year now, we’ve been running our #PeerfitBTS campaign, which highlights Peerfit employees and what drives them to do their best work each and everyday. We’ve loved giving our audience a deeper look at the humans behind the brand. As a result, we thought: why not share what’s gotten us to where we are today?

So, we present a macroscopic #PeerfitBTS: a look into the story behind the startup, including the different stages of development, growth, establishment, ups, and downs (and ups, again).

First, let’s dive into what Peerfit is today, then rewind to the prehistoric ages.

What is Peerfit?

Peerfit is a platform that gives employers and their employees access to networks of boutique fitness studios and gyms across the country.

  • Employers subsidize Peerfit credits for their employees, sort of like a fitness currency.
  • Employees have access to the Peerfit platform, with credits filled up in their dashboard.
  • Employees redeem credits at local fitness studios and gyms in their Peerfit Studio Network.
  • Peerfit partners with fitness studios and gyms across the U.S., reimbursing them member rates as the platform is used and classes are taken.
  • Employers receive valuable engagement data each month, and only pay for employees that are using the platform.
  • On top of our Enterprise Health platform, individual users have the ability to purchase and use the Peerfit platform on their own and take advantage of the same member rates and access to our network of studios all while dialing in to our Peerfit community .

In addition to the world of worksite wellness, Peerfit is available direct-to-consumer. Anyone can purchase a pack of Peerfit credits and hop around town taking different fitness classes.

Peerfit is a fully remote company, with almost 40 employees living and working in Tampa, Jacksonville, Seattle, San Diego, Denver, New York, and more.

Peerfit team meeting in Gainesville, FL, 2017.

Where did Peerfit begin?

Now, let’s rewind this bad boy.

Peerfit was founded in Gainesville, FL in 2011 by Ed Buckley, Ph.D., and Scott Peeples, who both attended the University of Florida. A small office in downtown Gainesville was filled by a team of interns working to help Peerfit build its business. What is now a booming tech startup was once a great idea finding its way through the marketplace.

Peerfit’s first time tabling — photo taken at the University of Florida’s Innovation Hub, 2012.

Business Model Evolution

The initial idea for Peerfit was a mobile/web application that made it easy to share workout routines among group fitness instructors and athletic trainers. The goal was to increase activity, exercise, and engagement among users and athletes by sharing planned workouts. The main issue with this concept was the lack of usage by instructors and trainers. It’s not that the platform wasn’t getting users involved and taking classes, but that the instructors and trainers were not using it. For instance, many instructors would plan their class minutes before it began, writing them on whiteboards so the class could see as they walked in.

This issue caused a question to surface: what other useful information could we offer users that didn’t require action from instructors/trainers?

Peerfit’s first pivot was from the initial concept to more of a ‘Yelp for fitness’. The application would allow users to post reviews of fitness classes and instructors. The problem we found with this concept was: most people don’t write reviews, they use them. Additionally, fitness classes change so frequently, that after a little while, reviews would become outdated.

This prompted our second pivot: the Peerfit Passport. This was our first venture into the world of flexible fitness. The Passport was essentially a ticket to try different group fitness classes around town. Fitness studios were allowing Passport users to try one class for free; it was intended as a trial run to see what interest there was in paying for flexible fitness.

The problem? The studios were providing free classes, so if we sold to a customer, we sold to them one time. There was no repeat business, and neither we nor the studios were interested in that. This led to our third pivot: the Peerfit SweatPass.

The Peerfit SweatPass was the first dip into a recurring flexible fitness membership model. This was a direct-to-consumer model that took the core concept of Passport and turned it into a monthly recurring membership where the studios were reimbursed at member rates and consumers paid a premium over member rates for flexibility. With this concept, we were able to win Healthbox, a startup accelerator program focused on healthcare, in 2014.

While this was our first time seeing an increase in usage rates and experiencing a big jump in revenue, the problem was undeniable: it was difficult to find users. The audience was so laser-focused on a particular type of group fitness lover that was willing to pay extra for flexibility, that the model was not sustainable. This led to a fourth model evaluation, which we look at as more of an iteration than a pivot.

We removed the name ‘SweatPass’ from our branding, and began simply using ‘Peerfit’. We realized that, while the consumer flexible fitness product was an innovative concept, we needed to find someone to foot the bill for consumers. We wanted to remove price as an issue for users. Instead of selling to consumers, we transitioned to B2B and began selling to employers, who would pay for Peerfit to be used by their employees. This was a true epiphany for our brand, and we felt like we had finally found the missing link.

The experiences had, connections made, and lessons learned by selling to employers led us to move beyond employers and sell directly to insurance brokers, and now, insurance carriers.

Fundraising and Team Growth

The shift from direct-to-consumer to leveraging insurance brokers and carriers was our true catalyst to growth. What began as a team of college interns turned into hand-picked, part-time employees at the beginning of 2015. Team members like Stephen Ringer (Software Engineer), Andre Ortega (Enterprise Health Consultant), Christina Valenziano (Digital Marketing Strategist), Jeni Dowst (Enterprise Health Account Manager), and Chris Patton (VP of Sales Operations), began employment in early 2015, and are still hustling for the Peerfit dream today.

Our first employer rollout at Laser Spine Institute in Tampa, FL, 2015.

Additionally, we were able to build a strong leadership team, including Todd Slawter as Chief Growth Officer, Adam Lowe as Chief Technology Officer, and former client at St. Vincent’s Healthcare, Emma Maurer, as Vice President of Enterprise Health.

With around eight employees to finish off 2015, Peerfit has grown to house 38 full-time employees in 2017, all thanks to the innovative concept at the root of our brand, the hard work by each department, and the gritty efforts of our fundraising team. With significant investment milestones such as over $1m from the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research and $2.3m from lead investor and real estate businessman, Lee Arnold, Peerfit has been able to act on its vision.

“One of my greatest joys is getting to watch our team grow bigger and bigger, yet we find ways to become closer. It isn’t often that a remote team, which is expanding at our pace, has the remarkably tight family bond that we do; it’s strange and exciting all at the same time.” — Peerfit CEO, Ed Buckley, Ph.D.

Peerfit ‘all-hands’ meeting team workout at CAMP Tampa, 2017.

Where is Peerfit headed?

Our mission to redefine wellness is what keeps us chugging along among the chaos of the startup world. Peerfit wants to help build healthier companies and improve the wellbeing of employees and individuals in the United States and eventually, across the globe.

“We’re excited to partner with insurance carriers to bring Peerfit into workplaces across the country. We get to hold wellness dollars accountable to impact lives and create healthy communities at a scale we’ve never seen. Finally, the country’s best fitness experiences will be a click away for you and your coworkers.” — Peerfit President and COO, Scott Peeples

With all of this said, we are forever grateful for the support from our friends, family, advisors, partners and users along this journey. We are excited to continue working toward our mission to redefine wellness and transform the corporate wellness industry, and are looking forward to what 2018 and beyond has to offer.

Christina Valenziano is the Digital Marketing Strategist at Peerfit. She’s an avid Peerfitter, peanut butter addict, and word nerd.