Sunday, September 17, 2017

Meet the Alabama A&M Alum Who’s Disrupting the $300B Fitness Industry

Cortney Woodruff grew up playing soccer, a sport he naturally excelled in. He was known among his family and friends as being a fit and active athlete. So, when the Alabama A&M alum and Jackson, Mississippi native visited home, he was often asked by parents to connect their kids with fitness trainers and coaches. On one occasion, he found himself facilitating communication between his aunt and a trainer, it occurred to him that there should be an easier way to connect people to trainers. “It just hit me” said Cortney. “There should be a website that allows people to find fitness trainers in their neighborhood. Whether you’re a popular high school athlete, college student, or working professional…that was the first spark of TrainersVault”

It was later in Barcelona where the idea really matured. After dropping out from business school, Cortney took an opportunity to run a sports startup. At the startup, he had the opportunity to work with brands like Nike and ASICS and gained valuable experience in obtaining partnerships. He later relied on this same experience to land partners for TrainersVault.

For the initial phase of TrainersVault, Cortney was able to raise money from friends and family. In addition, an angel investor from China was looking for investment opportunities and gave Cortney and his partners the funds they needed to fully focus on the building out the business. Their relationship with the angel investor led to them joining China Accelerator and gave them connections into the Asian market.

Stateside, raising funds proved to be more difficult. Investors often wanted to work with people within their networks who fit a “certain profile.” “It’s very clear if you’re a minority that no one is going to give large sums of money over to you unless you’ve been previously vetted by Y Combinator (YC) or 500 startups” said Cortney. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

Though TrainersVault did make it into 500 startups, they declined to join the accelerator and instead took another opportunity outside of the country. “We turned down 500 respectfully. I think it’s a great program, and who knows where we would be right now with 500…we ended up taking a more unconventional way to find funding”

This unconventional approach led Cortney to secure YC’s Michael Seibel as an advisor for TrainersVault. While in Europe, Cortney learned Michael was in Rome. “We really were aggressive and met him and his wife for dinner. I just let him know we were serious and he gave us advice on getting into YC.” Though they didn’t get into YC, Michael liked what he saw so much that he offered to advise and help out anyway he could. “For me that was a win because I got a genuine YC partner without being in YC.”

TrainersVault came back to the United States and landed in San Jose, California. “The first year [back in the United States], I was really on my grind.” said Cortney. “Learning the lingo, the investment process, and the entire ecosystem of startups and tech culture here.” One of TrainersVault’s advisors offered housing to Cortney in his garage in exchange for equity. It was in that garage where Cortney lived and built the product for over a year. “A lot of people don’t even know that. That was a true Silicon Valley moment.”

The Silicon Valley garage Cortney called home
On weekends, Cortney often took a bus to Los Angeles to meet with trainers. Eventually Cortney decided to relocate the business to LA, seeing a better opportunity there to be connected to trainers. “I felt like we would get more bang for our buck and really be able to build a brand in LA. The people that were going to drive my business from an operations standpoint were there.”
TrainersVault is a business built around its trainers. The business spent three years working with trainers, making them a part of the process, and building a business model around them. Through TrainersVault, trainers can easily sell classes, and individuals (clients) can use the platform to connect and train with their favorite trainers. “It really came down to one basic thing” said Cortney. “We found a problem that could be monetized.”

Still in beta, TrainersVault has about a quarter of a million clients using the platform. These clients were brought to the platform by the 100 trainers in the beta program. Currently, there are about 4,000 trainers are on the waiting list.

To build their client base, TrainersVault partnered with influential trainers who had untapped potential and a lot of Instagram followers. Before launch, they worked with trainer Lita Lewis and a single Instagram post from her about an upcoming class garnered 1,000 likes. “The day we launched the site, she [Lita Lewis] had 3 classes available on the site and we did $3,000 of bookings immediately.” said Cortney. “With that, we were able to prove an immediate revenue model.”
TrainersVault comes out of beta in July. “We’re really excited about it” said Courtney. “Trainers all around the world will be able to use it. When we think about our early traction, we’ve helped generate over $1 million dollars for our trainers in our beta program. So the growth potential of our business excites us as we prepare to publicly open up the platform to the thousands of trainers on our waiting list. We really feel like we’re building a utility for trainers, no matter where they are in the world.”

Apart from TrainersVault, Cortney has advice for other founders. He believes they should take care of their mental health first and foremost. “A lot of people don’t talk about that. There’s a laundry list of everything you need to do. Raise capital, open a bank account, get an accountant. You have to do all that stuff, but the first thing you have to do is be mentally prepared to go down this path. If you’re going to be successful, you have to be prepared to fail over and over again. And recognize that in those moments, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel that will keep you going. Don’t let the complexity of the end goal keep you from starting.”

You can connect with personal trainers at Trainersvault. Get in touch with Cortney [at] or visit him on Instagram @TvCort.