Justin Turetsky and Austin Cohen created a new way to bring the gym to their clients during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how credit cards played a key role.
Adapt or perish, goes the successful entrepreneurs’ motto. So, when the pandemic upended the health club market as gyms were forced to close, Justin Turetsky and his longtime friend and business partner, Austin Cohen, seized the moment. They developed FlexIt, an online workout platform where top personal trainers give clients live one-on-one lessons.
“COVID-19 was a testament to the importance of being nimble, and not being rigid or sticking to the linear path,” says Turetsky. “We recalibrated and repurposed technology that we were already building for in-club personal training. Our ecosystem, the combined in-gym brick-and-mortar and at-home virtual personal training combination is stronger than ever.”
Cohen had discussed the idea for FlexIt to Turetsky long before COVID-19, explaining that millennials and Gen Zers were already conditioned to have access to everything in life at the tips of their fingers. If it can work for food, transportation and hospitality, why not fitness classes?
“It was also funny that we liked to work out together as young professionals in NYC, but we were both members at different health clubs,” says Turetsky. “It was neither easy nor convenient to work out together! This represented a need in the market and presented white space, which Austin and I are determined to fill. What is so great about our company blossoming is that there is no buyer’s remorse in fitness. Our customers are getting healthier, happier and more fit! Who is going to regret that?”
To strengthen the launch, Turetsky has flexed the benefits of a credit card.
Can you describe the beginning of your company?
Early on in FlexIt, it was just me and Austin. We had to do everything ourselves. And I mean everything!
There was one month that I recall we were actually at FedEx every night until 3:00 a.m. But we needed to get done what we needed to get done in order to get our first gyms set up. We have come a long way from those days, but the experiences have shaped me, the company, my teammates and our culture. No matter who it is on the team, we do whatever is required. In fact, our slogan is “Wherever, whenever.”
When the pandemic hit, we went from over a year of uninterrupted growth to nothing almost overnight. It was humbling. We really had to take a step back and reassess both the fitness industry and our place in it.
We had built out the world’s largest network of gyms accessible on a by-the-minute basis, and then both us and our fitness club partners saw our revenues drop precipitously. We wanted to find a way to support our partners through the pandemic while helping our users continue to access fitness. Initially, we were deliberately slow to respond to the pandemic, as we observed a substantial amount of herd mentality in the marketplace.
How have you been using credit cards for the business?
I’ve been a big fan of collecting and using credit card rewards for years – ever since my days working at Freshfields where I had to travel a lot. We try to maximize rewards points so that we can get more bang for our buck, upgrades and better manage our accounts payable.
In addition, knowing that the card issuer is there to assist you with charge disputes puts my mind at ease. Among others, we use The Platinum Card® from American Express, which has worked out great for us.
What types of expenses do you typically charge?
We charge vendor payments, travel, conferences, office expenses, software fees, etc. Even if there is an extra fee, the safety of credit is worth it. Whether it’s to create new branded apparel or book flights to get gym brands set-up in new parts of the country, we may elect to use the credit card to make purchases.
How are you handling credit history? Are you debt-free or leveraged?
We try to avoid debt where possible in order to keep our finances in good order and to avoid any interest. We stay current on our credit cards and make sure to spend wisely.
Being creditworthy is helpful for me not only in my personal life but also as a business owner. Being a company in good standing is inextricably linked to your reputation, and reputation is king.
What are the future plans for FlexIt?
Right now, we’re expanding extremely quickly. Both our virtual and our in-gym product have hit the “hockey stick” growth phase. Now it is just a matter of managing that growth, improving the product and ensuring that the fire remains stoked.
Growth is the name of the game in a company like ours. There is no lifestyle business here – we are riding on the nose of a rocket-ship.
Sounds like you probably have no regrets!
Not every path has to be directly linear – rather, experiences inform everything that comes next. So, I can’t really say I regret anything, because then I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I was a political science major at Columbia University during undergrad. While I have taken quite a different path, my interest in leading has unequivocally informed my passion for business.
My experiences as a student, founding and working with various startups, and my corporate roles at banks and law firms shaped my trajectory. They also helped me to build a network in mergers and acquisitions, private equity and venture capital. It’s given me a roster of mentors I lean on regularly.
What is your advice to entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Pay close attention to those who believe in you, support you and help when they can. You will make a lot of new friends and connections – and lose a lot. You will see that in making a big life change, such as starting a company, you will learn a lot about the people in your life – both good and bad.
You have to create your own opportunities and you have to push through – there will be roadblocks. There is an element of willpower that is unequivocally required in entrepreneurship. Everything is a part of your story – both the failures and successes. And the failures often inform future successes and help to build character, growth and innovation.
I find that ensuring I have enough time to exercise (whether I am going to a gym or taking a virtual personal training session) is a great way for me to stay fit and healthy, while also staying abreast of trends in the industry. It is also great that with FlexIt 30-minute virtual personal training express sessions, I have no excuse not to squeeze a workout in every day!
What have you learned about credit along the way that you can share?
Borrowing money is something to be treated carefully, in both your personal and your professional lives. There are obviously risks associated with being reckless with your borrowing. I recommend watching credit card statements on a regular basis (not just at the end of the month), so there are no surprises.
For a small business owner running a restaurant, they might need a new stove to keep the restaurant running. A credit card might provide the short-term capital to buy this item.
Things are different for a company like FlexIt, where we are building with an eye towards our next big fundraiser, striving to hit metrics and KPIs, allowing us to raise at a higher valuation in each subsequent round.