Creating a passport to fitness – a mobile fitness app by 5 friends

Image above – Vulcan post 

Going to the gym or planning a workout with friends is much more convenient now, thanks to Passport Asia co-founder Sanjey Chandroo.

Launched in March this year, the mobile fitness app provides its members with access to 200 gyms and fitness studios in Singapore, with one membership. Said the 33-year-old Singaporean: “I’ve been exercising for the past 20 years. Though I mainly do Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I also like to do rock climbing, yoga and pilates to complement my workout.”

As he found that he had other fitness options he was interested in, he realised that the monthly membership costs he was paying several studios was “ridiculously high”. He said: “I started thinking, what if I get a single membership that gives me access to all these different sports and locations? In that way, I can do a bit of everything that I’m interested in.”

He also spoke to some of his friends who were trying to lose weight but didn’t have the motivation to constantly go to the gym.

“Losing 5kg is easy but it’s difficult to consistently keep up with it. They felt that going to a gym all the time was mundane and they wanted to try a variety of sports and go to multiple locations,” explained Mr Chandroo, a former international business development manager at Modern Montessori International.

With just over a million dollars raised from a pool of investors to finance the start-up, Mr Chandroo and four of his friends started Passport Asia.

The subscription-based service offers a choice of over 40,000 different classes available per month – from pilates and weight-lifting to boxing and zumba – from 200 gyms and fitness studios, all for one fee.

Some of the company’s partners include The Yoga Co., Revolution, The Pit Singapore, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Energia Fitness Club and more.

The app, which is available on iOS and Android, offers membership for $59 for four activities a month and unlimited sessions at $99 per month. The start-up earns its revenue through the membership rates.

“Currently, Passport Asia has over 25,000 downloads and a good proportion of this are active paid users,” said Mr Chandroo.

Launched in Delhi, Seoul and KL too

In September, Passport Asia also launched the app in Delhi, Seoul and Kuala Lumpur (KL) with offices in these locations. Members in Seoul can access 150 fitness studios by paying 98,000 won (S$119) for unlimited sessions in a month or 58,000 won for four sessions monthly.

Similarly, residents in KL can pay RM99 (S$32) for the unlimited plan or RM59 for four sessions to visit 135 studios while in Delhi, users pay Rs2,500 for the unlimited plan and Rs1,500 for four sessions to gain access to 160 studios.

The ambitious team, which has 30 employees across its locations, is also planning to launch the app in Jakarta, Hong Kong, Australia, Shanghai and more countries.

What makes the app unique, according to Mr Chandroo, is its social element. “If your friend and you are on Passport Asia, you can work out together. Previously, if you’re a member at one studio and your friend is a member at another, it’s impossible to work out together. We’re trying to break that barrier.”

Though the idea may sound simple, creating the app wasn’t easy. The team spent three months trying and testing the app. “Though the basic idea is that we aggregate all the fitness studios in one portal and then get users to come on board, we’re constantly trying to finetune the entire user experience – from the time they find the class, book it, go to the studio and attend the class.”

Since March, Passport Asia has revised the app 22 times to constantly incorporate user feedback, add more fitness studios to the database and improve overall user experience.

The start-up also faced challenges integrating technology into the product. “We didn’t want to complicate the way people used it. In this day and age, people have no patience. If after two or three taps the app is not giving them the information, they will go, ‘forget it, this is not what I want’.

“So one of our priorities was to make sure that the app is so attractive in the way it provided content, that they want to carry on using it,” said Mr Chandroo.

The team also carries out surveys among users, studying what classes they would like to see on Passport Asia and their overall experience.

Rating system

The app also has a rating system and a comment section where users can share their experiences about the class. “This gives us a chance to look out for our members’ needs and constantly improve our product.”

Educating the public about the app was a challenge, said Mr Chandroo, because “we’re breaking away from the traditional gym model and changing the way people use gym memberships – they may be so used to going to just one gym at one location”.

So he spent a lot of time on branding and marketing on social media. He also asked social media influencers such as Andrea Chong and Paul Twohill to attend various classes to share their experiences with their followers.

The team’s marketing efforts paid off as “after a while, when people saw the app, saw the gyms we had on board, they were sold”.

Getting gyms and fitness studios on board was not an easy task either for Mr Chandroo and his team as the idea was new and some studios were not open to partnering them. “At the end of the day, we must convince them that we can add value to them. It must be a win-win situation for them to get on board.”

He explained that the traffic that Passport Asia sends to these fitness studios differs from members they receive from their regular marketing. “These studios have their own way of marketing but it’s limited to their members. We have a wider base and we get all sorts of members who are looking to try different activities.”

Through constant pitching, the then-potential partners realised that the start-up was another channel to raise the profile of their studio.

“Now, we send over 150 people per month to these studios. During non-peak hours in the morning or during lunchtime, their capacity may only be 30 or 40 per cent but we can raise it to 60 per cent. We can help fill up a class,” said Mr Chandroo.

Passport Asia gives these partners a fee when a member from the start-up goes to the studio.

Though they faced rejection from some partners at first, some of them came back after Passport Asia’s launch and asked to work with them. “When they saw how other fitness centres were benefiting, they wanted to be a part of us,” said Mr Chandroo.

The start-up’s goal is to allow members of Passport Asia who are travelling within Asia to be able to use fitness studios that the start-up has partnered with in those countries.

“We want to be the fitness passport – anywhere you travel, you’ll get to exercise,” said Mr Chandroo.

“The most rewarding thing is seeing the idea turn into reality and, of course, seeing users fall in love with our product and complimenting it,” he said.

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