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Entrepreneur Joel Edwards is Fit to Succeed

Seeking like-minded gym partners? He has an app for that!

Sandra Larson | 5/4/2016, 2:18 p.m.
“Gyms don’t keep people. They’re just not good at it,” says Joel Edwards, founder and CEO of Boston-based Fittus. “I’ve ...
"I knew I wanted to start a business. I was at the gym one day, and someone offered me assistance, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be cool, to have that every time I went?’” — Joel Edwards Photo: Courtesy Fittus

It’s a common story. You sign up for a gym membership — as a New Year’s resolution, after a nervous look ahead to swimsuit season, maybe on your spouse’s hint to shed a few pounds — and then rarely make an appearance.

Industry data from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association indicates that while 52.9 million Americans were health club members in 2015, less than half were “core users” averaging twice-weekly visits, and a mere 13.5 percent used personal trainers. The personal finance site CreditDonkey says 80 percent of January gym joiners quit within five months.

“Gyms don’t keep people. They’re just not good at it,” says Joel Edwards, founder and CEO of Boston-based Fittus. “I’ve quit gym memberships myself — it’s hard to stay motivated.”

To tackle the problem, the 32-year-old Dorchester native created the Fittus mobile application to connect gym members and link personal trainers with clients.

Sample screens of the Fittus mobile app.

Sample screens of the Fittus mobile app.

Incubator time

Edwards was part of Smarter in the City’s 2015 entrepreneur cohort. The Roxbury-based early-stage incubator provides promising startups with a five-month program of expert mentoring, a stipend and office space, and plenty of opportunities to network and pitch their ideas.

During their time at SiTC, Edwards and partner Jefferson Meyer, now Fittus’ chief of sales, simplified their app design to make it easier to build. One critical decision was whether to hire an internal software developer or contract out. They opted for the latter, and found a Hungarian firm to develop a prototype.

With the prototype nearly ready to submit to Apple and some funding in hand from Suffolk and private investors, Edwards talked with Banner Biz recently about his startup path.

The idea phase

The light bulb moment came in 2013, while Edwards was pursuing an entrepreneurship degree at Suffolk University.

“I knew I wanted to start a business,” he says. “I was at the gym one day, and someone offered me assistance, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be cool, to have that every time I went?’” It sparked an idea. He mentioned it to a professor. The professor happened to know a gym owner, and the Fittus wheels were rolling.

Over the next year, while working his day job managing a UPS store, Edwards tinkered with the idea. He surveyed gym members and gym owners. “I asked, ‘When do you come? What do you like to do?’ And then, ‘Would you do it more often if your friends were here?’ They said, ‘You know, I probably would.’ So there’s a cry for networking, making the gym a warmer environment,” he says. “On the flipside, I heard owners and trainers say they’re having a hard time connecting with people.”

Unfamiliar territory

Edwards is the first in his family to venture into a business startup.

“I know in the black community, entrepreneurship was really huge in the past, but not in my family per se, ” he says. “So the milestones I’ll talk about may seem like a big deal to me, but my family will ask, ‘Are you rich yet?’ This is the first time someone’s jumped off this ledge.”