The InfoGym Story - Interview with Tor Ivar Våge

Ross: Greetings Tor, it’s a pleasure to have you! Before we proceed with the InfoGym’s case, can you tell me more about yourself? How did you start?

Tor: Hi Ross, glad to meet you too. I started as a regular developer. The first product I created when I was 15. It was a self-service check-in terminal you have in the airports now. I did that for a few years, but it didn’t end very well. The guys I was working with just took it because I was too young.

Late 2015 the web app wasn’t good enough, we didn’t have the capacity

Do you have any other businesses aside InfoGym?

Yeah, I do have some other business. One of them is Baikingu, which is a Point of Sales system for retail shops. There’s also a company called eziteq, which is a gym CRM that we obviously use in InfoGym. And last but not least, a company called Apias, which is now manufacturing a smart iPhone charging cable. The cable will cut the power once the battery is fully charged. This prolongs the battery life time, and reduce the risk of electric fire.

You’re pretty active in the IT industry, so I assume you understand how it works. What kind of knowledge do you find the most useful to you now?

I’m a self-taught IT geek. While I was in the army, I was planning to go to some kind of IT school… but ended up not going *laughs*. Platforms like helped me a lot when it comes to learning new things. I also wanted to gain business skills and I always been quite interested in economics, so I got a master's degree in Finance.

In Silicon Valley, there’s this cliche where a tech guy that has no business knowledge and a businessman, that has no tech knowledge, team up to create something and I wanted to be both.

When it comes to doing IT-related business it really does help a lot to have IT background, because even when I’m talking to clients or investors, they can see that I know what I’m talking about.

If you'd have to describe InfoGym in one sentence, what would you say?

InfoGym is a mobile app for active gym-goers and personal trainers, designed to help improve their training results.

Tell me more about InfoGym, please. How does it work?

InfoGym has quite a long story, so let’s jump to the beginning. It started as a touch-screen panel that you’d find in gyms. It’d show you a YouTube video tutorial for a given exercise. But with time, some of them were removed, because we didn’t actually own them and we weren’t sure it was a right thing to do.

So we decided: why don’t we create our own videos? We did a quick research of what was on the market and it was either a guy with a huge biceps or a woman with huge boobs… The focus there was all wrong. And once I saw a 3D figure from a video game and I thought that maybe we could do a 3D guy? That’s how our main character Alex appeared, completely by chance. By the way, we plan to introduce a female version of Alex very soon *winks*. We created custom animations for over 700 different exercises and implemented them in our software. Soon enough, people started asking if we could add different workout routines as well as development progress monitoring to the app.

We had everything we needed, but it didn’t make sense to put it into the touch-screen panel that you could find only in the gym. That’s when we decided to go mobile. But there are still 35 gyms left, that have our touch-screens installed.

Now InfoGym is a set of 2 mobile apps. One is for regular users and the second one is for trainers and gyms. The app dedicated to a gym-goers has everything you will need to have a great workout: 700+ tutorial animations, workout routines, both suggested and the ones you created for yourself, your progress development monitor and a communication channel with the trainer's app. The latter gives trainers access to their trainee's workout routines, progress, training bookings etc.

How did you come up with an idea for InfoGym? Did you have any inspirations?

After that self-service check-in that I did when I was 15, I went to the army for 1 year. I served all the way up north of Norway and there was not much to do after you finished your day. So we went to a gym… a lot. And back then, there was no 3G connection, so what we did is we would go on YouTube on our desktop computers to learn how to do certain exercises and then we’d run to the gym because it was 100 meters away… but we’d still forget how to do them... *laughs* That’s basically how I got the idea: to create something that would help people like us to learn how to exercise. And since I already had some extensive knowledge in a touch-screen technology, which was quite a novelty back then, I founded InfoGym.

Did you do anything to validate your idea?

Yeah, the first thing I did, after I had the idea, is I went to different gyms and told them what I wanted to do while also asking what would they like to see in a potential solution. I got some feedback and implemented it. Every. Single. Suggestion. In the end, the product was so complex that I, the one who made it, couldn't use it. Because the end user didn’t need all those features and I picked the wrong focus group for the feedback: I picked people a tier higher than I should’ve. I picked trainers and gym owners, instead of regular gym-goers. But eventually every gym I talked to, ended up buying my solution because they felt connected to it by taking part in the development process. And when I look at what happened then, from my present perfective, I’m glad that I did those mistakes. If I wouldn’t get those sales, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here with you today. I also learned how not to do it, which was quite helpful.

What about competitors? There are a plenty of fitness apps out there.

There’s, of course, a load of fitness apps on the market nowadays, but only a few when it comes to how we manage relationships with our clients. And people love that. When I’m on TV back home, which happens more often than it should *laughs*, people find our product interesting and intriguing and so we made a commercial spot with me training together with Alex and people loved it as well.

And now I’m also going to Singapore to pitch at one of the biggest startup conferences Slush to present something really cool. Can't talk much about it, but I guess I can say that it's AR-related *winks*.

And in 2018 we might go into rehabilitation market, so stay tuned *double wink*.

Since you decided to go mobile, you had to start somewhere. Did you develop an MVP at first?

Indeed, we started with an MVP and it was the hardest part of the development. Luckily, Software Brothers, a Polish-based software house that was responsible for the development, really understood how startups work and what MVPs are made for. They didn’t try to sell us as many hours as they could, instead, they strived to deliver the value needed for building a successful MVP.

Why did you decide to pick a Polish software house?

I’m doing businesses for around 11-12 years now, and during this period we tried to work with developers from India, Russia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and it never worked. Among the issues we had were such things as time zone differences, their English wasn’t perfect and it was hard to communicate, some would not do what we asked and just did whatever they wanted instead. And so we thought that we should try Poland this time.

We did some research, talked to different software houses and as a result, we decided to go with Software Brothers. They had a good code score, great testimonials and what’s most important they cared about relationships with clients as much as we do. When we worked on mobile apps for InfoGym’s MVP, there were multiple occasions when their Project Manager, that was coordinating our project, would call us and ask if we really need that feature in the MVP, were we sure etc. We ended up listening to them and removing those features was indeed a great decision. Otherwise, we’d still be developing the MVP. *laughs* And that’s what we liked a lot. They didn’t try to sell us as many hours as they possibly could, they cared about our product. In the end, we’re still working with them till now, and I’ve been so satisfied with their services that I also brought in another company of mine, Baukingu, to be developed by them as well.

Where’s the money? What’s your business model and how do you plan to earn money?

Our business model at the moment is a free user app and a subscription-based trainer app.

There’s a trial version for the trainer app which allows you to have only 3 trainees connected to the account, but there’s no time or functionality limitations. In the future, we plan to add different paid exercise packages to the user app i.e. cross-fit, calisthenics etc. The other substantial revenue-generating stream are gyms, who buy access to our app for their trainers.

What does success look like for your startup?

On the user app, I’m ready to say that we are already successful. On trainer and gym level, since we just started a few months ago, we are on our way to success, which in this case would be getting even more clients onboard.

Norway I get, but why Singapore? You didn’t simply use some random country generator, right? *laughs*

When I was on one of the TV programs back in Norway, I met a girl from Singapore and she invited me to a Norway’s government program in Singapore - TING Asia. I decided to give it a try and in a few days I was already on my way to Singapore. Which, quite frankly, was a great market for our product. They have a lot of gyms, people have money to spend on personal trainers, pretty tech-enabled city, so the environment was there. We just had to make it work. Aaaand we did. *laughs*

OK, I see. And where exactly are you at this particular moment?

As I mentioned before, we’re successful in Norway and Singapore but we are not stopping our expansion. We just opened 2 new markets for ourselves - Australia and the UK. We are also working on a few new features that I cannot announce just yet, but we’re really excited about them. That’s something our market haven’t seen yet *winks*.

We reached 20k active monthly users, 100 trainers already onboard since our launch last month.

Can you tell me more about the advertising you run for InfoGym?

To acquire regular users we use standard methods like Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram etc. For trainers, we use a little different approach. We go to trainers certification centers and provide them with our app for free, so trainers can get used to using InfoGym while studying. We also have this push-pull model. I’ll try to explain it very briefly. When a regular gym-goer uses an app and goes to his trainer to tell them it would be nice to use it - push. When a trainer goes to their trainees and asks them to install the InfoGym app - pull.

That’s quite a smart move, I really like it. Do you maybe have a team that helps you execute on everything?

InfoGym is a team of 7 people without whom all of this wouldn’t be possible. We’re primarily based in our Norwegian office and our COO of Asia is stated in Singapore.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to introduce the team. So obviously there’s me and I’m a CEO. Then there’s Christian, our CTO and backend developer. Then there’s Stian, our 3D designer, he’s responsible for creating Alex. Then there’s Tina, she’s our deadly marketing and sales combination. Then there’s Paul, he’s responsible for all logistics. Last but not least - Mindy, she is our COO of Asia I mention earlier. We also have Oscar, our freelancer salesman.

We try to work purely from our offices, no remote work. We tried it, but it failed.

Are you a solo founder or you had you co-founding colleagues from the very beginning?

I started solo, but Stian and Christian came on very early.

How was InfoGym funded? Did you use your private savings or you had an investor?

At the very beginning, I bootstrapped everything on my own. Investors and VCs came in later. After we entered Singapore market, we got 7 different VCs who were interested in investing. We did a total of 3 rounds in 2016. The first one was just a formality, the second one brought on board our closest ally and mentor - Harald Troye, he’s a Norway private equity and a real estate mogul. He funded the development of our mobile apps. At the end of 2016, we had another investment round.

I also heard InfoGym got some awards, can you tell me more about that?

Yes, I’m really proud of what we achieved with InfoGym so far.

When it comes to awards, we won “Best App of 2016” title in Norway, and we were in finals for the “Best App of the Year 2016” in Facebook Accelerator Program “FbStart”.

We also managed to become the most downloaded app in Norway and Singapore, both in “All time” and “Fitness” categories. In the UK and Australia, we managed to hit no. 1 in “Fitness” and top 10 in “All apps”.

Impressive! I wish you even more success in the upcoming months. Would you like to share an update with our readers in the future?

Sure, with pleasure!

Great, thank you very much for the interview. It was a pleasure to meet you. See you soon.

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