This month’s big interview is with Hugo Braam, CEO of Virtuagym ‘innovation is in our DNA – we will help clubs get through the current pandemic”

6 minutes read last month

How did you get into the fitness industry?

People often laugh when I tell them that I used to work as a lawyer in intellectual property law, because it’s probably not the most common career switch. I founded Virtuagym together with my brother Paul 12 years ago because we felt that there was a huge opportunity in using technology to support people to live healthier, more active lifestyles. At the time (in 2009) we started out with a website and later mobile app, aimed at consumers. We were actually one of the first movers in that particular space worldwide. It’s hard to believe that when we started Virtuagym, the first iPhone had only just been released. Nowadays health and fitness apps are growing exponentially but that was a different time. By 2012 we were already serving a few million consumers with our app and then we started to receive various requests from fitness businesses that wanted to know if they could use our solution for exercise and nutrition coaching for their gym members. And that’s how we got into the industry. And I never regretted that move. Being a lawyer was okay, but working every day to help people become a better, healthier version of themselves together (which we do with 7,000 gyms, clubs and studios worldwide) is super rewarding. Especially since we’re working with all these really cool new technologies. It’s like they say: if you start doing what you love, you never have to work a day in your life.

Tell us more about Virtuagym

Virtuagym is a provider of innovative fitness software, divided into three main components: a club management solution, a coaching solution and finally a member engagement platform. It’s a complete ecosystem with integrated mobile apps with solutions for exercise and nutrition guidance, progress tracking, online coaching, business analytics, scheduling, online sign-up and payments, over 40 third-party integrations, and much more. We have more than 200 employees and offices in Amsterdam and the Americas and support more than 16 million consumers, almost 7,000 health clubs and 30,000+ trainers worldwide, including Xercise4Less, BuzzGym, Jetts, Basic Fit and more. Especially now due to the Corona crisis our customers are valuing the ability to coach their members remotely and keep them engaged through rich community tools, challenges and home workouts.

What sets Virtuagym apart from its competitors?

Virtuagym is unique from its competition in two different ways: Firstly, we are the only provider offering a true all-in-one platform for management, coaching and engagement in one seamlessly integrated solution, and there’s a lot of advantages with that. Secondly, our coaching and engagement solutions are the most complete and highest rated solutions on the market today, partially because we started out as a consumer solution, but also because we’ve been doing this and improving for over a decade.That means we deliver not only top of the range management and booking software but also the tools your business needs to engage and retain members – this helps our customers build strong businesses, which continue to grow over time. Our community feature ensures that you are always in touch with members, who are able to share news, comments and their fitness tracking successes. Plus our virtual training feature offers their members constant access to a virtual trainer; it comes with a library of over 5000 3D animated exercises. Finally, our mobile app technology offers fitness brands a completely customizable, branded mobile app with an unparalleled user experience. All our customers have 4.5 star mobile app rating or higher, which is important as technology and especially mobile is an extension of your brand offering. I think it’s a shame to have a great facility, but then offer your members a 2 star mobile app experience.

What are your biggest challenges you face in your business?

Right now, the entire industry is faced with a huge challenge. Clubs across the world (including our customers) have been forced to close and their future hangs in the balance. Our current challenge is to help these clubs and studios adapt to the challenges of a post-pandemic world. This includes creating the software that will practically provide assistance to clubs. We already have QR code scanners that clubs can use to track the entry and exit of members but are now creating a way for owners to set limits on the amount of entrants. On top of this, we are devising an online solution that our customers can offer to their members to supplement their gym membership. It will allow them the opportunity to have complete access to an online coaching, nutrition and wellness programme and support their local gym at the same time.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from the fitness industry?

In my former life I used to work as an intellectual property lawyer and I remember very well from the first moment I started doing business in our industry that I was surprised by the energy and positivity of fitness entrepreneurs and our industry in general. I guess this still stands, especially in challenging times like these. It’s great to see people dedicated to continue servicing their customers, even when they cannot come to their facilities. It’s this dedication and positive attitude that made me fall in love with our industry and I’m still super happy I decided to make a switch into fitness 12 years ago.

What’s next for Virtuagym?

As a company, we are always looking to get better and develop new technologies for our customers. Innovation is really in our DNA and this helps us adapt in the increasingly fast-changing market on an ongoing basis. Right now, that means providing our customers with a positive way out of the pandemic closures. We are already offering them great tools to provide remote coaching for their members with workouts and challenges to keep their members engaged. This often helps them maintain membership revenue. We’ve recently added on demand videos and live-streaming capabilities and are currently finalizing connecting our booking solution to the check-in, so clubs can actively manage the amount of people entering their facility whilst having live insight in how many people are inside.

In your opinion, what is the current state of the UK’s fitness industry?

The entire global industry has been hit hard over the last few months and the UK is no exception. However, I remain optimistic. The industry in the UK has shown great resilience and readiness to change in the face of the crisis. Public figures like Joe Wicks have brought PE lessons to the nation’s kids via TV screens and running apps like Strava are seeing more usage than ever as people across the nation make the most out of their daily exercise allowance. More and more people are turning to online methods of working out and those who had never before considered taking up yoga, pilates or boxing, are finding a taste for it. The UK fitness industry is well positioned to take this difficult opportunity as a chance to grow and expand their business proposition virtually. We are committed to support UK fitness businesses in this process. If they are interested in learning more, they can visit: business.virtuagym.com

Source: Gym Owner Monthly June issues 2020

Wendy Horlings
Office Manager

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