14 Apr 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2023 issue 11

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Leisure Management - Al Rollins

HCM People

Al Rollins

We're merging our love of tech, fitness and business to solve big problems

Al Rollins, Move Technologies Group photo: Move Technologies Group
Rollins is aiming to build a global network of eSports venues Move Technologies Group
Active Reality immersive VR is delivered in partnership with venues Move Technologies Group / www.frsphoto.co
MoveGB offers consumers huge variety in their workout options Move Technologies Group
MoveGB scaled fast before the pandemic and is now rebuilding Move Technologies Group
Box12 has brought digital to boxing with boxing pods Move Technologies Group

When did you get the fitness bug?
My journey into fit tech began during high school. I was into muay thai and kickboxing, so for a sixth form design and tech project I made a computerised punch bag – somewhat questionably called 'FAT Fred’ – FAT being short for Fitness Assessment Training.

Tell us more!
Envision a 6ft humanoid joystick with pressure pads at the stomach, chest and head.

It plugged into the joystick port of a PC and with the help of my brother-in-law – a game developer – we crafted a digital coach that graded the player based on a combination of accuracy and power.

This innovation earned me the title of North-West Young Engineer of the Year in 1999.

How did Fred change your life?
In my university days, 'Fred' re-sparked to become the foundational idea for my first venture, Fitronics, which I set up in my second year of university, while doing a Master of Engineering degree in 2001.

Fitronics emerged as the pioneer in the connected fitness realm in the UK and was also one of the early entrants globally.

Our vision was to integrate touch screens consoles with cardio and strength equipment to make exercise more engaging. It was a very tough learning curve, requiring hand-to-mouth survival for months on end.

We had some traction but as they say, you either ‘earn or you learn’ and Fitronics was mainly the latter.

It was actually great to watch Peloton who twenty years later turned this vision into reality.

Fironics’ primary goal was enhancing member retention for health clubs and although the venture faced challenges related to the cost of integrating tech into gyms, it still achieved some success and earned me a Daily Telegraph Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2005.

What needs did you identify?
I realised genuine retention required using tech to create behaviour change in consumers.

In 2002, machine learning and neural networks – now referred to as AI – were beginning to be commercialised and given the massive amounts of being data generated by member management and access control systems, there was an opportunity to use this technology to create systems to drive behaviour change and that's when The Retention People (TRP) came into existence.

TRP was one of the industry's first cloud/SaaS businesses and by integrating with member management systems we could predict which members were likely to leave or who was on their last visit, so operators still had time to change their behaviour before they cancelled.

You built the business and then exited
The story of Fitronics and TRP could be explained as a '10-year overnight success story'. The initial six years consisted of uphill battles and sleepless nights, followed by four years of exponential growth.

TRP became a global success, supplying 2,000+ gyms worldwide and in 2011, both TRP and Fitronics were acquired by Constellation Software, a dominant player in the vertical management software sector.

What happened next?
I was 29 and found myself with a bank balance that was a bit overwhelming.

Initially, I just used the funds to help offset mortgages for friends and family, as I hadn't previously given much consideration to the financial aspects of entrepreneurship.

After the sale I moved to New York and worked for Constellation, but less than six months after the sale, an idea I’d had years before, for an ‘every activity membership’, kept pulling me towards it.

Data from TRP had been indicating that variety was the spice of life when it came to long-term commitment to fitness and to engage people for a lifetime, the industry needed a holistic approach, integrating everything from Bollywood dance classes to gyms and yoga.

This thought led to the inception of MoveUSA and MoveGB in 2012, with pilot projects in New York City and Bristol, UK.

While I initially presumed New York would lead growth, owing to its size and average earnings, Bristol escalated to US$5m ARR in under 18 months, so despite loving life in New York, I recognised the focus needed to be on the UK so wrapped up MoveUSA and made my return, raising VC funds and growing MoveGB at a very rapid pace.

How has MoveGB worked out?
The journey has been a rollercoaster. From rapidly skyrocketing as one of fastest-growing UK tech businesses (Deloitte Fast50 in 2017 and Sunday Times Fast Track 100 in 2018), we faced immense challenges during the pandemic when the lockdowns closed the health club sector, but we’re now climbing back.

The purpose of Move and reason for founding it, was to keep people active for life, so I’m very proud of the strong member retention that kept the brand alive during those really tough years.

What came next?
During the pandemic we saw the sudden increase in demand for gyms to provide an at-home membership and launched FitHub, a B2B SaaS business and within a short time, approached US$1m in ARR with this new venture.

Furthermore, for over a decade I’d also been investing in a project that combined VR and motion capture technology to create physically active, immersive computer games.

We’d received grant funds in 2012 to do a feasibility study, but this concluded that the tech wasn’t yet there, but in 2019 we cracked it and Active Reality was born.

Thanks to the support of Jason Curtis at Better Leisure (GLL) we began piloting the technology in a converted squash court in Bath, UK.

How have things progressed?
With three businesses on the go – two going well and one plummeting – 2020 became a year of introspection and I began to realise that there might be an alternative method of growing and investing in the sector and with this in mind, established a venture builder to ideate and invest in early stage fit-tech.

You may have heard of venture builders – the most famous is probably Y Combinator – unlike the traditional model of business growth which can be very corporate, a venture builder leverages three core principles:

1. Experience and networks are more valuable than capital in the early stages.

2. Bootstrapping ensures the absolute focus needed to find a profitable growth engine.

3. Placing a pool of trusted talent into a venture at the right time is highly cost-efficient, as it acknowledges that skills needed will vary during growth stages. It also removes doubts around the question of whether it’s the idea not working or the person, if things don’t go to plan.

How are things progressing?
We have six ventures under our belt, each at varying stages of development and all are growing.

The satisfaction and success we’re getting from merging our love for tech, business and fitness and focusing on solving big problems, is making me question the age-old entrepreneurial belief that maintaining a singular focus is necessary for success.

While not for everyone, I genuinely believe this portfolio founding approach is a solid alternative to traditional entrepreneurship – and the most satisfying way to spend time is working with smart people you trust to create things others value.

About the businesses
Move Technologies Group is driving investment into the sector with a portfolio of tech-based start-ups under the umbrella of a venture builder
• MoveGB

This activity and fitness marketplace is known for its diverse range of activities and impact on user engagement and retention.

An independent study by UK Active found MoveGB users have double the lifetime value and three times the average length of engagement compared to traditional fitness operators, by enabling operators to white-label and link to its inventory.

• Active Reality

With a vision to create a global network of active eSports Arenas, this multifaceted business is in a phase of explosive growth while maintaining a positive EBITDA.

Its partnership model with leisure centres and activity providers sees the company installing and operating free-roam VR infrastructure in venues, running the business and sharing revenue without requiring any investment or staffing from the venue.

Clients include: Better Leisure, Places for People, Parkwood and Everyone Active.

• SalesAPE.AI

SalesAPE.AI provides humanoid sales representatives and comprehensive sales cycle management.

Operating predominantly outside the fitness sector, SalesAPE.ai is designed to revolutionise the traditional sales process by leveraging AI, with the goal of interacting with prospects across many channels, from email, to WhatsApp and DMs.

• Longevity

Longevity, a proactive personalised healthcare company, was co-founded with Neil King and offers a partnership opportunity for fitness operators.

The collaboration allows them to host Longevity clinics within their facilities, providing anti-aging solutions, such as evidence-based biological age assessments, results-oriented fitness and lifestyle programmes, educational content, and access to specialised longevity coaches, alongside existing services.

The partnership requires minimal investment from operators, as Longevity provides staff, marketing, and technology.

Clients include: Active Nation

• Fit Hub

The B2B virtual fitness platform offers white-labelled virtual fitness solutions for operators, integrating with their CRM systems, enabling them to offer on-demand and live-streamed content.

Clients include: Fusion Leisure, Places for People and large accounts in North America.

• HireBOB.AI

Specialises in creating and training digital humanoids to serve as efficient and reliable sales and service representatives for businesses.

This platform integrated with member management systems to provide tailored solutions on a B2B SaaS basis. The platform empowers businesses in the industry to leverage AI for enhancing customer engagement and operational efficiency, 24/7

• Box 12

Co-founded by Jamie Cartwright and Jon Eade, Box 12 is trailblazing in the realm of smart in-gym boxing solutions with support from Move Tech.

Solutions include a ‘boutique club-in-club’ tech-driven circuit offering staffless group workouts and gym floor boxing ‘pods.’ These high-tech solutions are designed to enhance the gym experience by offering immersive and interactive boxing workouts, catering to the growing demand for digital fitness solutions.

Operating a B2B SaaS model, the company has generated millions in revenue, achieved triple-digit growth and maintained a positive EBITDA. Box12 has launched in Saudi Arabia, partnering with Fitness Time, the largest gym operator in the region, to launch a flagship.

Clients include: David Lloyd, Village and Fitness Time

The Longevity brand is delivering wellness solutions / Move Technologies Group

Originally published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 11

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