Ntiedo Etuk of FitGrid: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Fotis Georgiadis
Oct 28, 2020 · 10 min read

Some of the best business advice I ever received came from my mother, who’s not a businessperson — she’s a doctor. But she told me that there are very, very few things in life that need an immediate answer. Take whatever time you need in order to make the best decision you can at the time. I’m a big believer in taking ten breaths, sitting down, and writing a plan, even when the rest of the world is going absolutely crazy. I’m fond of saying that just because we live in desperate times doesn’t mean we have to act desperately.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ntiedo Etuk, Founder and CEO of FitGrid, a social fitness platform that empowers fitness communities by connecting classmates, instructors, and studios. As a complement to its suite of engagement software, FitGrid provides a marketplace of the best live-stream and in-person classes from real fitness studios around the world. Ntiedo, better known as “Nt,” studied Computer Engineering at Cornell and earned his MBA at Columbia Business School. Nt began his career at Citibank and McKinsey but eventually set out to launch his own business. FitGrid is one of his three companies.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

At the age of 11, I started coding and knew six different programming languages at that point in time. I built terrible but entertaining video games late into the nights at home in Nigeria, and eventually headed off to boarding school in Connecticut. I studied electrical engineering at Cornell University. I went on to work with the Chief of Staff to Citigroups’ Global President. That had, essentially, set me up for a pretty solid future in finance, but I decided to start a career in a field I was deeply passionate about: at first that was education, and today it’s fitness.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

The story goes that Zuckerburg started Facebook because he couldn’t easily become friends with the folks he wanted to. Well, I started FitGrid because I wasn’t invited to brunch. My “aha” moment for FitGrid came during my first group fitness class (Pilates), which I started taking to heal an injury. I walked into a room full of strangers and put my mat down next to three women who were talking about whether they were going to brunch after Pilates. I thought to myself, “I like brunch!” and, new to the class and being a pretty friendly guy, I started chatting with them with the hope that I would get invited to brunch too. Well, that didn’t happen (lol), but it did make me realize that these group fitness studios were actually communities … but such strange communities they were. Fast-forward to three months later and I still didn’t know 70% of the people in my regular class. And, yep, still hadn’t gotten my brunch invite. As a result, I realized there was a need for a community management software for the fitness world that connects classmates, instructors, and studios.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Before we finally got to what is now FitGrid, we pivoted twice. We started with YourGuru, which matched private instructors with clients during their time outside of the studio. While we got significant traction with thousands of instructors on the platform, I quickly realized it was going to take too long to scale. We pivoted off of that and started what became YG Studios, which was essentially a block by block understanding of fitness interests in different cities that we used to match up instructors, space, and clients — essentially creating a distributed studio model. While I was passionate about what we were doing, the time-consuming logistics were draining my energy and diverting our efforts from the software aspects of building the business. So, one day, I walked into our the office with my two most trusted engineers (now our CTO and VP of Product) and started drawing on the whiteboard how we were going to take the software we had been building for the decentralized studio system we had been building, modularize it, and sell it in pieces. This had been our plan all along, but my fatigue and the drain on money had accelerated that plan.

Then came the hard part.

I had to convince my largest backer to come with me on a pivot that would essentially wipe out all revenue to that point, and essentially start again.

That investor was based in Japan, so I took a 24-hour trip to Tokyo to sit down and have a conversation with him over a bottle of Sake.

It was a challenging conversation, and was the closest we came to having to end our quest, but I forged ahead and here we are today with FitGrid, which has enabled millions of virtual studio visits during lockdown.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Before COVID-19 shut the U.S. down, my spidey-senses were tingling, telling me that this was a tidal wave that America would not escape. No one here was paying attention to it, and I knew we had to act fast or else the boutique fitness industry would be completely wiped out. All of the communities we served were going to be washed under. Gone.

I called a meeting and told the team we needed to create, market and support something entirely new, with just a couple of days to get it all done — the design, coding, support materials, marketing, and sales documents: a simple livestream solution for every fitness studio.

You can imagine the uproar within the company.

We were in full launch mode for a different product we were about to roll out, and I was telling everyone to drop what they were doing and focus on something else entirely.

I let the maelstrom go on for about half an hour, before finally slamming my hand down on the table (yes, I slammed it. I don’t do that often, but these were exigent circumstances).

“You guys don’t get it,” I said, “All of the studios that we serve … all of the communities that they serve, and as a result, our business, are about to get wiped out. And we can do something to help that. So, I get the frustration, but this is what we are going to do.”

To the team’s credit, we sprung into action. By the end of the day we had fully designed the product and put in place marketing and client service communication plans.

It couldn’t have been sooner.

By nine o’clock that night, President Trump had cancelled all flights to and from Europe, the NBA put its season on hold, and Tom Hanks announced he had coronavirus. (I think it was that last that really woke America up. A face had been put on this epidemic.)

By the next day, all of America was in a panic, but we had gotten our solution started, in time.

We completed our solution within three days.

Since then, FitGrid has helped studios retain more than half of their members, on average, in the wake of COVID-19 and has enabled millions of studio visits during lockdown.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

It’s our people. I’ve built FitGrid’s team up with people who have grit and the ability to pick up and take things to the next level at a moment’s notice. That was put to the test at the start of COVID-19 in a monumental way. But this company and the people in it are so remarkable that whatever came our way, we were able to band together and push through. That’s what makes us special. As we go and take on the next set of challenges, I know I’m going to war with a bunch of ninjas.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Some of the best business advice I ever received came from my mother, who’s not a businessperson — she’s a doctor. But she told me that there are very, very few things in life that need an immediate answer. Take whatever time you need in order to make the best decision you can at the time. I’m a big believer in taking ten breaths, sitting down, and writing a plan, even when the rest of the world is going absolutely crazy. I’m fond of saying that just because we live in desperate times doesn’t mean we have to act desperately.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There’s a friend of mine who is a life coach. I was coming out of one of my first companies and there’d been some ups and downs. As I started my next venture, I began to worry that I would face the same challenges. She rightly pointed out that I hadn’t even started yet, and I was already psyching myself out. She told me that this time around, I had the opportunity to build things my way, the way I wanted that could avoid some of the challenges from the past. It was exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right time. It was like the clouds parted, the light started shining down from the sky, and the angels started singing from the heavens. She basically reminded me that I was the one in control — and that I should never forget that. Any time I face a challenge, I remember that advice, banish the fear, and take my power back. I’m very grateful for that advice.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We have thousands of studios on the app and they service millions of members. We built this community by paying attention. We are customer obsessed. We listen to what they are telling us, and really try to balance that with our ability to produce what they need while also advancing the larger agenda that we have. So:

1) Listen. My uncle once told me that businesses are built on services people want or products that they need. You can only figure that out by listening deeply to what people say … and more importantly, what they don’t.

2) Stage Your Efforts. Build things in stages. Everyone knows that Confucius said the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Well, it’s true. The people who really get things done quickly and well in this world are those who realize that the way to build an audience of a million people is to start by building an audience of 1 … then multiplying that a million times.

3) Consolidate Your Gains. Don’t be afraid to slow down when you know or suspect something is wrong. Generally entrepreneurs push for growth. However, you can “succeed” yourself into failure because you grow so fast or move so quickly that you get all the clients you want … and don’t realize that they’re leaving you just as fast. You never want to pour water into a bucket with a hole, so make sure that at some point you stop to patch the hole, consolidate and take care of the audience you have … then hit the accelerator again.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

To date we have a SaaS model where studios pay us a monthly fee for the use of our community management software — the insights, data and retention components. With our consumer app, we aren’t monetizing it yet. We have focused on delivering the best possible experience for people who want to connect with their fitness community. Engagement with that concept is our primary driver right now.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. A clear understanding of your goal.

2. Get it out fast.

3. Get feedback fast.

4. Iterate fast.

5. Design, design, design.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

One of my goals is to combat the -isms. And by -isms, I mean racism, sexism, “religionism,” “genderism,” you name it. You name the discrimination, I have a problem with it. Discrimination is a plague on people and society as a whole. I believe that helping people overcome their prejudices through patience, dialogue and openness can help make this world a better place. I may have a first impression about someone when they walk in the room, but as long as I am willing to talk to that person, listen to them, and take them for who they are, then the world can advance. It’s when we stop listening that the world is in trouble.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @fitgrid_io and @ntiedoetuk

LinkedIn: @fitgrid and @ntiedoetuk

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!