“I want to train business executives and soccer moms.”
That sentence most likely never popped into Matt Reynolds’ head while working on his master’s degree and teaching in Willard schools.
Now, as the owner of Starting Strength Online Coaching, it’s his modus operandi.
Reynolds’ path to the weight room from the classroom began in 1998, when he started competitive powerlifting post-graduation from Willard High School. As he moved up the ranks in powerlifting, he earned his professional card in World’s Strongest Man in 2006.
Then, in mid-2008, he opened his own gym with partners Paden Stringer and William McNeely.
While running Strong Gym LLC, Reynolds starting reading business books, sometimes three a week, to refine the business model.
He quit his nine-year teaching job after completing his master’s in education at Christmastime in 2012 – right as the Strong gym building relocated to bigger space at Jefferson Avenue and Elm Street.
Gone was the dream of becoming a high school principal. In came mentoring through weight training. But, he hit a wall.
On Dec. 8, 2015, Reynolds and McNeely sold their stake in Strong Gym, now named Royal Barbell, to the current owner, Paden Stringer.
“I was a little bit burnt out on fitness in Springfield,” Reynolds says. “But there was a market for white-glove online coaching.”
The burnout didn’t last long. He founded Starting Strength Online Coaching the next year. Going from anatomy, biomechanics and kinesiology to deadlifts, squats and bench presses, Reynolds grew Starting Strength from first-year revenue of $800,000 in 2016 to $2 million in 2018 revenue so far. Next year, he projects annual revenue to double based on 10-12 percent monthly growth.
Building a brand
To grow interest in his digital-only fitness company, Reynolds has appeared on national podcasts in the fitness and health sector, such as The Art of Manliness, The Art of Charm, Power Athlete and Barbell Shrugged.
Shifting to an online forum from a brick-and-mortar gym, Reynolds needed an app platform. He connected with Boulder, Colorado-based Fitbot Inc. through a friend who did online coaching. Starting Strength uses Fitbot as an application for its clients and coaches to interact.
“Fitbot is a platform for coaches to plan, deliver and track training programs they’re delivering to their clients whether in person or remote, with a focus on remote,” says Fitbot CEO Casey Jenks. Fitbot launched in early 2016, and Jenks says Reynolds was a pioneer of the app.
“Matt got on the platform first and used it for his clients,” Jenks says. “He was one of our super early power users.”
In a Fitbot case study posted on its website, Reynolds was “using tedious and inefficient spreadsheets for programming, and was drowning in over 150 client emails per day that needed a response.”
On screen, the application looks similar to a social media feed, like Facebook, but with client workout plans listed.
“Throughout the week, we deliver the workouts to the clients and a coach logs in to respond to questions,” Jenks says, noting 4,000 customers using its platform.
“It was born out of my personal pain points. I had an online coach, and we would email back and forth – it was a mess,” Jenks says.
For Starting Strength’s 850 clients across the globe, Reynolds and his team of 75 staff members use Fitbot to deliver programming, nutrition tips, video breakdowns and metrics.
Fitbot uses a multiplier tool that charges its customers per client, with costs for Starting Strength coming at $1,800 a month, Reynolds says.
“The only thing our clients need is a smartphone,” he says.
How to work out
Here’s how the muscle-building technology works.
A trainee fills out a questionnaire to get paired up with a coach with a comparable personality match. Starting Strength coaches are scattered all across the country.
“You video the lifts, upload it to the app and a coach breaks it down within 24 hours,” Reynolds says. “We wanted to create an online system for normal people – the general population.”
He says at least half of his clients work out from home.
“You can train wherever and you don’t have a certain time,” says Cooper Mitchell, who ran the program for 90 days to review it for for his Springfield-based equipment website GarageGymReviews.com. “It’s pretty easy to use.”
Each week, the content arm of Starting Strength, Barbell Logic, posts two YouTube videos about fitness, hosts two podcast episodes and submits two articles for additional information.
“We want to provide a real depth of concepts that anyone could understand,” Reynolds says.
The fees for users are $200 a month online or $200 per hour in person, which Reynolds says is a rarity for the online-focused company.
“It’s highly personalized and changes depending on your goals and how you progress,” says client Brett McKay, who runs The Art of Manliness podcast.
McKay has upped his workout from three days a week to four over the three years working with Reynolds.
“The coaches are extremely knowledgeable,” McKay says. “I’ve seen people in gyms with trainers for months and didn’t see progress.”
In addition to Starting Strength’s eight full-time employees, the team’s 67 part-time coaches include doctors and those with master’s degrees.
“My editor-in-chief was an attorney, my director of operations was a chemical engineer and one teacher has a Princeton economics degree,” Reynolds says. “Most have left their jobs to work here.”
He says clients include civil engineers, rocket engineers and college professors.
“This idea of online coaching is going to be a big part of future training programs,” client Mitchell says.
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