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This week, a new online exercise service asks for advice on where to target its expansion. –Dan Beyers

The entrepreneur

Tech entrepreneur Daniel Freedman’s new venture started as an offhand comment to his now co-founder, Mike Kott, about being out of shape. Freedman says he found himself less fit than before he had kids, when he had time to work out in the mornings instead of scrambling to make school drop-offs, when weekends were for playing sports instead of attending kids’ birthday parties.

“I was struggling to get into a routine and tried a whole bunch of different online exercise offerings,” Freedman says. “I always started strong, but then dropped off.”

Freedman and Kott surveyed more than 500 people – in particular, people with children or demanding jobs that didn’t leave a lot of time for working out. Respondents pointed to a lack of interaction and accountability with current online offerings, particularly with friends and favorite local instructors, often a big piece of exercise. They set out to make the at-home workout market less of a lonely experience and more of an authentic connection between friends and exercise instructors.

The pitch

Daniel Freedman, co-founder and co-chief executive of BurnAlong

“We partner with local gyms, yoga studios and wellness professionals across the country to bring their local classes to the BurnAlong platform for at-home exercising. If you’re already a member of a local gym, this is your way of staying connected to your favorite instructor when you are not making it to class. And if you’re not yet a member of a gym, this is a way of discovering instructors and classes that you can connect with.

“No matter what time you finish work or put your kids to bed, there is a class that you can select, on-demand, from our catalogue of classes. Every exercise category is available– from yoga, barre, and pilates, to cardio and strength training, to tai chi and meditation. You also have the option to invite friends to join you in private live-streaming video sessions: Similar to a FaceTime or Skype-type experience, you can actually see and speak with your workout buddies to help hold you accountable or just to socialize. When you’ve got a friend waiting for you on your TV, computer screen, phone, or tablet saying ‘it’s time to workout together,’ you’re more likely to actually do it. Users also can create goals and challenges to motivate a group of friends, family members, or co-workers.

“Our users range from active gym-goers who also work out at home, to people who don’t have time to make it the gym, to users referred by their doctors for weight loss, disease management, health challenges, or injury recovery and rehabilitation.

“Users sign up and pay a monthly or annual fee to have access to our platform. We also have companies who offer BurnAlong as a benefit to their employees. This ranges from the Baltimore Ravens to accounting firms to doctor offices. Our gym partners are promoting our service to their members as a way of staying connected and extending their workouts at home. The gyms don’t want to lose their members to online competitors and our platform offers a bridge to compliment the gyms’ in-person experience.

“We currently have more than 60 gyms and more than 80 instructors across 18 states on our platform since launching in December 2016. We are rapidly expanding. We’ve had both gyms and studios from abroad, as well as potential partners, approach us to take BurnAlong overseas. We want to focus on the U.S. market first and establish a presence in all 50 states before we go international. Is that the right decision, or should we be taking the opportunities that come and start pushing BurnAlong internationally?

The advice

Elana Fine, executive director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

“Unless there is a really compelling reason or it’s part of a differentiation strategy, I typically encourage entrepreneurs at this stage to stay as regionally focused as possible. Unless you see going international as a competitive advantage – if you feel like the U.S. market is too saturated with competitors. Otherwise, thinking through an international strategy will divert your time and energy and dilute your marketing dollars.

“However, if people are already approaching you, you might end up going international sooner than otherwise. I would not recommend going international as part of your year-one strategy, but maybe you could explore it in year two, versus other companies who wouldn’t think about such an expansion until year five or six. For now, decide whether to focus on gyms just in this region, or because it’s such a virtual product, tackle the full U.S. market all at one time.

“You are part of a much bigger trend of people wanting multiple channels for the same product. The value proposition for a gym is a physical structure where you can work out; you’re adding the element where users can get the same workout experience of gym classes on their own time and terms. That’s how everyone wants to do things now. You’re enabling that and that’s a huge value proposition for the fitness industry.”

The reaction

Freedman

“Your expansion advice makes a lot of sense and follows what we’ve been doing so far. We started in Baltimore, where we are based, and moved to neighboring Maryland communities and onto Washington, D.C. and up to Pennsylvania. But because there is a viral nature to our platform – with users inviting friends and relatives from other regions to work out with them – gyms outside the area started hearing about us. We are getting a lot of in-bound inquiries to include their classes and instructors on our platform. That demand has helped us figure out where to focus on adding new cities.”

“Your omni-channel reference is exactly what we’re trying to do. People go to gyms for the motivating experience, atmosphere, and quality instruction. They’re missing that at home. That’s why we’re partnering with local gyms and studios, bringing that inspiring experience to our users whenever they want and wherever life finds them.”

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? The Washington Post and the experts at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com.