Ep. 12 – How Len Fridman Grew from Bootcamp Trainer to Co-founding WellnessLiving

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When Len left his corporate career as a Senior IT Manager over a decade ago, he had to make a decision to either go back to a corporate job or pursue his real passion. He decided to start his own bootcamp transforming lives through fitness. As he became more successful, Len began to train more clients, recruit new instructors, and the community expanded very quickly. He discovered some ‘secrets’ for filling his bootcamps with creative marketing campaigns so in 2012 he created a system to help other fitness businesses fill their group classes. Before he knew it, his new marketing business began to grow even more serving fitness businesses all over Canada and the USA.

Len and his business partner Sasha began to focus on helping studio owners to solve more problems with scheduling, collecting payments, and more. This evolved their fitness marketing business into a software company and WellnessLiving was officially born. Today, WellnessLiving is one of the biggest players in the industry, growing exponentially every year since 2016.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  1. Len’s previous career as a senior IT developer and how he started his career in the fitness industry.
  2. How he grew his bootcamp to multiple locations throughout the USA and Canada and eventually created a fitness marketing company to help other fitness businesses grow using the systems and tools he leveraged to fill classes.
  3. Keys to converting hot leads to long-term clients who stay with your business.
  4. How he evolved his marketing company into a software company and how WellnessLiving has grown to managing 60,000+ clients today.
  5. The journey Len went through from fitness business owner, to marketing company owner, to founder of a software company.
  6. Keys to making a business partnership successful and his advice for other entrepreneurs working with a partner.
  7. And much more…

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Podcast Transcript

Sean Greeley:       All right. This is Sean Greeley, and I’m back from the episode with my guest today, Len Fridman, who is co-founder of Wellness Living, based in Ontario, Canada. Len, it’s great to have you on the show today.

Len Fridman:        Thanks a lot, Sean. Super excited about being here. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to this one, yeah.

Sean Greeley:       Awesome. So I want to, for those who don’t know you, Len is, I would say, the most fit co-founder of software company I know. Not only has he unbelievable work he’s done in software and SaaS, but he is religious about his fitness. Works out two, three times a day, on vacation, not on vacation. He’s dedicated to gym, and he really lives the fitness lifestyle. So we’ve got some great things to talk about today. And just to kind of kick it off, Len, I’d love for you to tell us just brief story. Tell us what is Wellness Living, and who do you guys serve?

Len Fridman:        Okay, cool. Yeah, so thanks a lot for that intro. I don’t know about the fittest. I try, I try really hard. I’m kind of getting up there, mid 40s, and it’s kind of tough, but I do my best. But what does Wellness Living do? I like to think of ourselves as an all-in-one software solution platform for boutique fitness businesses, yoga studios. We’re kind of getting into the spas and salons as well. But at the core, it’s really built for fitness businesses. It’s everything from point of sale, online booking, client management, marketing, email marketing, all of these essential pieces that you need or business owners need to run their business all in one platform with one login.

Sean Greeley:       Okay, awesome. And you guys have been around… What year is this again for Wellness Living now?

Len Fridman:        Well, we actually started out in 2013, and we really started going, I would say, 2015-2016, and we really gave it a launch and we’ve been growing double digits every year.

Sean Greeley:       Yeah. We’re going to get into some of that backstory today. [inaudible 00:02:14] excited people to know you’ve been around quite some time. They serve customers in the US, Canada, internationally as well. And predominantly studio owners of every concept from yoga, dance, fitness, you name it. You’ve got really everybody that has… and as you said now spa and salon market as well as a growth area for you guys looking at the year ahead.

Sean Greeley:       So let’s bring this back though. I want to start with kind of your story as a founder. And you do have a co-founder, Sasha, who’s not on the call with us today, but I’m sure we’ll get to have him on a show down the road. But let’s talk about kind of where this all started for you. So your background is in IT. That’s really where you first began your professional career. So tell us a little about that and how that transitioned into fitness for you and this all came together.

Len Fridman:        Yeah. It’s an interesting story there. So I worked in IT as a senior manager at a medical imaging software company for almost a decade. I really got, I guess, in tune with processes, procedures, how you go about releasing software, what’s involved in building a company. So I had some real, real good life lessons there.

Len Fridman:        But I was always into fitness. I was a skinny kid growing up, and I was always into sports. I was competitive tennis player growing up. And from there, I just kind of… I loved sort of transforming the body, or kind of maximizing your potential. It was all about that for me. So it was kind of like a really good marriage between my professional career and what I love to do and I kind of married the two together and Wellness Living was born out of that.

Sean Greeley:       So talk to people about… I know that you’re working in a software company. You left the software company and really you just first started with a bootcamp with your own fitness business. And that’s another great part of your journey is not just you’re a software leader, but you actually had your own fitness business. So talk about that journey of leaving your corporate career to start the bootcamp.

Len Fridman:        Yeah, well, actually it wasn’t by choice that I kind of left the corporate career. It was kind of like I got let go, and I had to make a life decision of what I wanted to do with my life. Do I want to go back to corporate and do what I was doing, or do I want to pursue my passion?

Len Fridman:        And like many folks out there, I’m all about passion, and I want to do what I love. And at the time, I was probably in the best shape of my life when I did get let go. And what can I do? I can help other people get into great shape too. [inaudible 00:05:05] I enjoy it. So let’s do it. So we started a fitness bootcamp company and just in our neighborhood park, and we ran some Facebook ads and some folks showed up. From there, it kind of started. It’s one of the most rewarding things where you could actually help someone transform their life by transforming their body. One of the things… it kind of goes hand in hand for a lot of people.

Len Fridman:        Some of those early folks that joined that bootcamp, later on became my instructors. That was one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done. People lost like 20-30 pounds and said, “Wow, you helped transform my life. I want to help transform other people.” They became instructors and that little business grew to become one of the most successful outdoor bootcamp programs in Canada.

Sean Greeley:       Yeah. And tell people about that. Because really you started with a bootcamp. It grew, and really you became really mastering marketing to fill the bootcamp, which then grew into multi locations. And eventually, we’re going to get to it in a minute, really a fitness marketing company. But talk about how you started to fill the bootcamp, and then how that grew more than one location really scale.

Len Fridman:        Yeah. Yeah. So at that time, this was back in 2009-2010, and at the time, the Daily Deal thing… Groupon was on the rise, and this was a new thing. And really I found a way to take advantage of that because that was one of the most difficult things is to how do you market a bootcamp? How do you get people to come? And marketing is expensive. If you’re doing any kind of ads or anything like that, it gets really, really pricey really quickly. Especially if you’re just starting out, and you don’t really know about how to execute on that.

Len Fridman:        So I have to say the Daily Deal craze that was happening back in 2009 really kick-started the whole thing. So we definitely leveraged that, and the intro offers and getting them in the door. But then it’s also about, how do you convert those leads that are coming in into longterm members? So kind of mastered that part of it as well.

Sean Greeley:       Yeah. And talk about that because that’s an area I know a lot of business owners struggle with, getting people in the door. And this is really something you mastered how to do that and how to get the right offer and how to convert people to come in and take a class and stick around and become a longterm member. So just share a little bit of your journey with that.

Len Fridman:        Yeah, I’ve found one of the most important things is really connecting with those clients, is to not treat them as deal hunters or things like that. But actually connecting with them, sharing your story, your fitness journey with them. And really putting in that passion and that heart, not just treating them just like a number or anything like that. But treating them like a person, finding out what it is that they want.

Len Fridman:        Why did they decide to join your group? What is it about it? It’s not just because they bought [inaudible 00:08:27] was a discount offer. No, there’s a reason why they’re there. And it’s up to you to really figure it out what that reason is and really connect with them and help them achieve whatever it is that they want to achieve while they’re there. And once they recognize that you’ve been there, done that, and you’re a passionate person, you really care, you have that bond with them. They’re going to stick around.

Sean Greeley:       Awesome. So how did that go from you actually marketing fitness to fill your bootcamps to multiple locations to eventually having a fitness marketing company?

Len Fridman:        Yeah, so basically what happened was we’re just killing it on doing Daily Deals. It’s exploding, we’re selling thousands of these mutual offers through our bootcamps. And then I’m seeing a lot of people in the industry struggling. They just can’t seem to execute, can’t seem to get going there. I had a lot of friends who owned boutique fitness studios, who owned gyms and such. I was in that space.

Len Fridman:        And so I came up with the idea, why not create a single pass that allows clients access to multiple locations so they can try it out? Different types of classes. Some may like bootcamp, some may like yoga. Some may want to try out some other form of class, TRX classes. So giving people an opportunity to try out a variety of classes and then find a place that they can call home, where they actually connect with the instructor and the business. So that was really where it all started for us, where we really, really started scaling.

Sean Greeley:       I’d love for you to… We had a great conversation when we were doing some of the prep for this interview around that, where you would just… Really, to get this going, you started to show up to a gym, ask people, “What classes do you want to fill? Okay. How many spots do you have?” And then started to put systems together to make that happen. Take people through a little of that journey and how that expanded from just a local couple of gyms that you started to help to all of a sudden you’re in multiple markets around Canada and the US, really just filling gyms with clients.

Len Fridman:        Yeah. Yeah. So it’s a common problem every gym or any fitness studio has is you have this class that’s running. Let’s say it has a capacity of 30 people. Well, all your classes aren’t full. There’s excess inventory there that you want to promote. So that was really our gateway into these relationships where we would just ask them, “What is your capacity? You have 30 people that you could fill and currently you have 15 members in there. We’ll, I’m going to try to do my best to fill up that class with an additional 15. I can’t promise you that I’ll fill up all that class, but I’m going to do my darndest to help you with that. And all you have to do in return is give me 10 free classes, five free classes.”

Len Fridman:        Basically, instead of paying Facebook or Google [inaudible 00:11:48] to get that lead in the door, hey, this is a free way of getting people in the door. I mean, we use that and we’re really, really successful. We grew from just Toronto with 35 locations to Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Miami. We really expanded. And then from there, I did meet my partner Sasha. And when we met, we opened up our first office together. Within one year, less than a year, we had 2,500 fitness studios participating in these promotions across 73 cities. It was a phenomenal growth, and we really leveraged the Daily Deal craze that was happening. People were really excited about it, and a lot of businesses had a lot of success with converting these leads that we were sending into members. That was really the key driver [inaudible 00:12:54].

Len Fridman:        Really, the other key was really putting those systems in place where, obviously, you have that many locations and upwards of 60,000 clients booking classes online, you need systems. You can’t run on spreadsheets. You need an operating system. At the time there was that big player, the only one that was really able to do that. And we were leveraging that platform to facilitate the client booking and that client experience. So having those basic, an operating system for your business, a CRM, online booking, point of sale, e-commerce, is essential if you want to scale. We knew that right from [crosstalk 00:13:41]

Sean Greeley:       Yeah. So you had this business that’s essentially a marketing company. You’re filling classes for studios all across Canada and in some markets in the US. And you’re doing the sales and the marketing, but you need some backend systems to manage the bookings and registrations. So you’re leveraging a third party platform. I think we can just say you were working with MINDBODY at the time. And the relationship started to get a little bit crunchy with MINDBODY, in that you were such a big power user on the platform that you were using more and more and more and more bandwidth, right, of MINDBODY that MINDBODY got uncomfortable with that and made it more difficult to for you to continue to work together.

Sean Greeley:       And you reached a point where you had to decide, what are we going to do? Is this company not going to make it because we don’t have the system, or do we instead of leveraging another system, do we build our own? And that’s really the origin story of Wellness Living. But that was, I know, a very pivotal, scary time that you were going through because you built a business, but it was dependent on some systems and technology to really run and fulfill the business. All of the sudden, that rug was getting pulled out from underneath you. So take us through that experience and that time for you and how you made a decision to pivot, to really start a software company. I mean, that’s a big leap from being a marketing company to a software company.

Len Fridman:        Yeah, yeah. It was a huge leap of faith, and it was a very scary time. I remember very vividly January came along, and I got a call from execs from MINDBODY threatening to shut us down, or they’re going to increase the rate again and all of that. There was several times where that that had happened and when someone has the power of basically just shutting off your entire business, like that was livelihood for my family and my business partner’s family. And for a company to go and have that power, to basically just flip a switch and shut us down. We just couldn’t have that.

Len Fridman:        So we made the decision: I think it’s time for us to build just a booking platform so the clients that do purchase these vouchers and these passes can go online and purchase them, and then go ahead and book at these locations. So we did that. We hired a team of engineers to build out a basic booking platform. This was back in 2012, late 2012. Yeah, we successfully migrated all our data over and all the client data and all of that over to our new platform.

Len Fridman:        Yeah, from there, it was a really exciting journey because businesses would be calling us and saying, “Hey this is a great booking platform. Can you guys do merchant processing? Can you guys do reporting? Can you guys do email marketing?” Initially, we were like, “No, no, we’re just a fitness marketing company. We’re just here to promote your classes. We love that you liked our booking platform, but it’s just a basic thing. This is not our core business.” Eventually, it got to the point where business owners were saying, “Hey, look, we have this other platform that we’re using, but we’re really unhappy with it. We want to move over to your platform, but you’ve got to build out this feature. You’ve got to build out the credit card processing. [inaudible 00:17:38] have that.”

Len Fridman:        At the end of the day, we said… We looked at each other, Sasha and I, and said, “Hey, let’s do this because there is a huge market need for this. There’s mainly just one big player out there and a lot of unhappy business owners. So, let’s do this. We could do this.” That was really a pivotal moment because actually my partner convinced me that we could do this together. Because it’s a huge undertaking where you’re moving away from a very successful business, but you’re moving into another business where it’s the unknown. It’s the scary sort of unknown of what will happen? Can we do it? It’s just the two of us, and we have a small engineering team. Can we compete? And that was a really sort of a pivotal moment, and it was a deciding decision that really changed the course of our lives.

Sean Greeley:       So let’s talk about that for a minute. Because I think every entrepreneur faces times when there’s a time to pivot, and there are big decisions to be made that are scary and unknown, and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. In your case, you had a partner who, I know, Sasha had been coming to you with this for a while and you were like, “No, no, we don’t want to do a software company.”

Sean Greeley:       I remember you telling me you were at dinner one time, with you and Sasha had a friend, and you kind of… you got on board with this new vision. Talk about just your journey through having to pivot your vision and making a decision and commitment to face the unknown and build a company in a new area. Again, moving away from something that was very successful to something that was unknown.

Len Fridman:        Yeah. Well, I guess the big thing for me is I don’t like to do things alone. I find it very… it’s not rewarding for me. I can honestly say that without Sasha, I wouldn’t be doing this. He kind of instilled the belief in myself that I could do this, that I’m capable of doing this. And sometimes you just need to hear that. It could come from your parents. It could come from a close friend. It could come from your significant other. It can come from a variety of different places. But as long as you have one person that believes in you, you can pretty much accomplish anything you set out. I firmly believe that.

Len Fridman:        Some people just have that in them by themselves. They’re capable of doing this. They just have that extreme will and something in them, that extreme belief in themselves. I needed someone else to bring that out of me. But once you have that belief, once you step into that unknown, and you’re comfortable there, and you’re like, “Yeah, I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I know it’s going to be good. Whatever it is, I am able, I’ll figure it out. We’ll figure it out together. We’ll get through it.”

Len Fridman:        Whatever dark moments that you have, whatever doubt that you have, you can… It’s kind of like, we were very fortunate in that there’s other… We can kind of look to another company and say, “They did it. They somehow did it, and we could do it too.” It’s one of those things where if someone else has done it, why can’t you? Some people need that mentor, some people need that. I needed it, and I’m not afraid to admit that. It’s a very powerful thing, and it kind of bonded us as partners that we were able to kind of bring out the best in each other.

Sean Greeley:       Yeah. I love that story. And I think everybody needs that, right? Everybody has other people that help us become the best version of ourselves we can be. It just doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens when you surround yourself with people who make you better. And for you, sometimes that’s a business partner. Other times it’s coaches or mentors, or as you said, friends or significant others. But that support system around us is critical to success in every area of our lives, not just our business.

Sean Greeley:       But maybe you can speak to that real quickly though. Just the power of partnership. Because I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, some have partners and co-founders, some are solo entrepreneurs. What do you think are the keys to really… that have made your partnership so successful and you would advise to other entrepreneurs with partnerships?

Len Fridman:        Right. For me, it was really… it was trust. Trust is a big thing that kind of solidifies a lifelong kind of journey together. During that time we were building Wellness Living, I was going through a very difficult time in my life. I was going through a divorce, and there were moments where you really reach a very dark a place where you almost feel helpless and you go through very traumatic event like that. And to have someone there that… He could’ve walked away. He could’ve said, “I don’t want to deal with this. This is not my problem. I don’t need this in my life.” And he kind of went the other way and helped me through that very difficult point in my life. And that kind of bonded us. For me, that bonded us. That’s a forever kind of bond, when you get through the most difficult…

Len Fridman:        For other people, it may be something different, but at the end of the day, a partnership is based on trust, on mutual understanding, on a sharing of vision, a belief in each other. In our partnership there are no pointing fingers or blame. There’s none of that. We’re in this thing together. We’ll figure out a way. We’ll do it together. When you have someone like that, you do feel that you can accomplish anything, and you can accomplish things that… We’ve accomplished things that we’ve never dreamed possible. I could say that because of that strength we had, that trust that we have in each other, that we’re always going to be there.

Sean Greeley:       I love it. That’s so powerful, and thanks for sharing. So to kind of bring this full circle, tell us where Wellness Living is at today, what problems you guys are passionate about solving, and where you’re heading in the years ahead.

Len Fridman:        Yeah. Since its inception, we’ve been growing, doubling revenues every year, and it’s just been an incredible journey. Right now, about 35% of our new customers come from word of mouth. So that’s just a testament to our software, what we’ve built, and really the tribe that we’ve created with our customers. We’re extremely, extremely customer focused. We understand the business owner, and we really want to just do the right thing. That’s the end of the day. We want to do the right thing. We want to have the best product out there, most affordable costs, and give everyone the most bang for their buck, best features.

Len Fridman:        So that’s where we come at it from, and we’ve just been successful based on that sort of tenent of giving back and just keeping that focus on that customer. What are we planning on doing in the future? There’s just so many things on the horizon right now. We have an AI project that we’re just finishing up. It’s called [ISIC 00:26:24]. It’s a churn predictor. So it enables business owners to actually predict which clients will possibly churn or not return the following month, and then proactively reach out to them and keep them on as members.

Len Fridman:        There’s another AI project with dynamic pricing that we’re working on. We’re going to be releasing custom branded websites for business owners. A lot of you guys still have websites that are not responsive. So what that means is so when you’re looking on your phone you got pinching and zooming and things don’t quite look right. And Google actually won’t place those websites high on the search rankings because they’re unresponsive. So we planned a solution to address that need. There’s just so much, so many exciting features that we’re building out for our clients.

Len Fridman:        And we recently released… we call it the community forum. Basically, what that is, it’s a place where business owners can actually post up what they would like, any kind of new features that they would like to see, and other business owners can vote on them, up-vote them. Basically, looking at that, that builds our future roadmap. So really, really exciting stuff happening. Yeah, we just moved into a new office. It’s three times the size of our previous office. And there’s a gym that we’re putting in, so-

Sean Greeley:       A massive gym that’s getting built out. It’s really cool.

Len Fridman:        Yeah, yeah. It’s a really cool gym. I plan on utilizing that in my lunch hours. I know a lot of our staff, we like to hire people in the industry. So a lot of our staff are yoga instructors, they’re fitness instructors, they’re fitness people who love fitness and who also love helping fitness business owners. Yeah, it’s a really, really exciting time here. 2020 is going to really be another pivotal year where we’re going to see some of that exponential growth keep going there.

Sean Greeley:       Awesome. Well, as a partner at NPE, we’re excited to continue to help you guys grow with our community and the problems you’re solving for so many businesses we work with that are really looking for great solutions to better pricing, all-in-one solution, great apps that allow them to support their staff, support their customers, and all kinds of tools that you guys have. So I want to encourage everybody to check it out. We’ll put a link below the video to go learn a little more about Wellness Living, and we’ve got a special offer for all our listeners on the podcast today to check it out and get a free demo.

Sean Greeley:       Yeah, we’re excited. It’s just an awesome journey to see Wellness Living’s growth and really how you guys were rooted in, not just a software company, but a software company that really has been fitness business owners. Cares about fitness business owners, understands the industry from the inside out, and are constantly innovating and evolving your roadmap based on listening to what everybody’s… the struggles you’re dealing with and how you can better solve those problems. So some really cool stuff that I know is coming out this year that can’t wait for people to learn more about. It’s a pleasure having you on the show today.

Len Fridman:        Thanks a lot, Sean. Yeah, and for all the listeners out there, you guys are super, super lucky to have Sean. I’ve been following Sean for many, many years. He doesn’t know that I’ve been following him, but I have been. And he’s just been a trailblazer, and to have someone like that in your corner, it’s just amazing. So you guys are just on an amazing trajectory, amazing path. I thank Sean for getting me on here too. Yeah, it’s been an amazing partnership, and we’re looking to grow and grow with Sean, and it’s just been phenomenal. Thanks again, Sean.

Sean Greeley:       Yeah, our pleasure. Everybody, check out Wellness Living. It is just really cool what they’ve got coming out, and you can’t lose. Save money, run your business better, save time. Check out Wellness Living. So, thanks again, Len. We’ll talk to you soon.

Len Fridman:        All right. Thanks a lot, Sean. Thanks, everybody.

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