He stumbled upon the concept for his first business as a busy graduate student, juggling part-time studies with a job in finance, family time and, of course, fitness. Several times a week, he and his wife worked out together at different studios around town. “At one point, we were doing a bootcamp in the river valley, going to yoga at a couple different studios, and boxing,” he says. This variety came at a high cost: in a single month, each of them could spend upwards of $300 on fitness passes.
Gourlay realized that active Edmontonians like himself would prefer to buy a single pass offering fitness experiences at multiple studios — but such a thing didn’t yet exist. To bring his idea to life, he registered in a preflight program at Startup Edmonton, where he developed both a business plan and prototype of an online registration system for subscribers. In January 2015, he launched his multi-studio fitness subscription service, now known as Fitset.
The concept was well-received in Edmonton, he says. For local studios, Fitset offered a chance to fill vacancies in classes and connect with new customers. For fitness buffs, the service was an affordable way to spice up a workout regimen. Three years later, Fitset now has 90 studio partners (including a number of Edmonton Made businesses) and about 1,000 subscribers.
But for all his success, Gourlay has encountered his share of setbacks, including a brief partnership with five other entrepreneurs in central Canada, and an attempt to expand to Calgary before the company was truly ready. Although Gourlay still has ambitions of going national with Fitset, now he’s approaching the company’s growth more cautiously. “We’re starting here in Edmonton, but this is a pilot,” he says. “We’re figuring things out, testing things here, and we’re almost at the point where we can replicate this in more markets and get this across the country.”
Fitset is moving closer to this goal with the creation of a more user-friendly app and rebrand, which launched on Tuesday. Both projects have been guided by feedback from customers, says Gourlay: “We’ve realized that Fitset is really a supplement to someone’s active lifestyle. A lot of our members have a gym membership where they work out three or four times a week... Fitset is a supplement to that.”
The company’s growth is being helped along by a talented team that includes Chief Marketing Officer Ally McIlwraith (who led the rebrand), two web developers, a customer service associate, a data analytics expert, and community partnerships coordinator. “I’ve learnt that there’s no way I can do what I want to do by myself,” Gourlay says. “I need the right people around me who are good at the things I’m not good at.”