10 Questions for Nick Dennis, CEO of Glassboro-Based Fitness Startup fitDEGREE

Photo: The fitDEGREE team, Nick Dennis (L) with Dan Read (R) shows off its phone app. Photo Credit: Courtesy fitDegree
The fitDEGREE team, Nick Dennis (L) with Dan Read (R) shows off its phone app. | Courtesy fitDegree

FitDEGREE (Glassboro) is a company that’s much different from what it was when the original idea was conceived, in August 2015, at Rowan University. The one-year-old company originally had its eyes laser-focused on building a social network for the fitness community, a platform where fitness folks could connect with like-minded individuals.

After building the original prototype and testing the software for nearly six months, the fitDEGREE team realized that the market wasn’t asking for what they built. Instead of stubbornly pushing their product, however, the team shifted its energies away from the end users and toward the owners of fitness centers.

Fitness club owners face two major issues: promoting their programs and gaining insights into their members. The fitDEGREE software solves both of them. It provides an easy-to-use management back-end solution that allows fitness centers to communicate with their members through the app. This app can also inform club members about current occupancy levels, changes in the group class schedule or special events and deals coming up, as a way to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle.

With fitDEGREE’s new direction, it’s clear that the company is not merely looking to transform individuals’ lives with fitness. Instead, it is looking to change the entire landscape of the industry. The company’s app is currently available within the tri-state area, but the startup has plans to expand to newer markets by the end of 2016. NJTechWeekly.com spoke with Nick Dennis, one of the company’s founders and the CEO.

Basic Info:

Company name: fitDEGREE.

Product name: fitDEGREE app.

When did you launch the company? July 2015.

Founders:Nick Dennis (CEO), Dan Read (CTO), Christian Marin (software engineer), Dan Berger (sales director).

New Jersey location: Rowan University, Glassboro.

Employees: four founders with four interns.

Funding: Yes, from the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund.

Markets you are serving: The fitness community, health clubs, college and university recreation centers, studios, personal trainers and fitness instructors.

Entrepreneurial Questions:

1. What is your New Jersey connection? What brought you to New Jersey, and do you plan to stay here?

I was born and raised in northwest New Jersey. I lived an hour away from New York, but when I went to [college], I decided to stay local. With the relationships that we have built and connections we have made, we plan to stay here for a while, but not for the long term.

2. What problem are you solving?

At first, the main problem we solved was finding a fitness partner, but after pivoting our business strategies, the problem we are now solving is connectivity and community within fitness centers.

3. Why can you address this problem better than anyone else?

We have a lot of experience in the fitness industry. We have been doing it our entire lives. When we worked in the industry, we watched people come into the fitness center, but then stop to look around because they didn’t know what to do or where things were. When someone signs up at the gym, the most important aspect of that relationship is the first three months. We noticed that within the first three months, that person’s motivation was through the roof. So we wanted to create an experience that went beyond that. We are the perfect team of business-minded individuals, along with a great group of in-house developers. We have the passion for business and software.

4. How did you come up with your startup’s name?

We sat around for a few hours trying to come up with clever names using the word “fit” and weren’t successful. Finally, we asked Facebook. One of our friends posted on the status, and it was the first name that popped up. We looked at each other around the room and knew that was it. Then, of all people, our accounting intern designed the logo, and here we are today.

5. What was the biggest mistake you’ve made so far in your entrepreneurial journey, and what did you learn from it?

In entrepreneurship, you think you’re trying to solve an issue in one area of the business, but you may neglect another side of the business that is equally important. Throughout our journey, we realized that it’s about the progress you make over time: don’t get hung up on the day-to-day. We learned that the leader needs to define the vision, the team needs to have a clear direction from the start, you need to set obtainable goals to execute and you should measure progress on a quarterly basis.

6. When was the last time you thought about quitting your startup and going back to corporate life, or doing something else? What got you to stay?

Every day you think about it, but it’s the life we chose. I can personally say that I wouldn’t have it any other way. The fact of working for someone else haunts me; it does seem natural to follow someone. I have a great team behind me and they are very important to me. They think they work for me, but the secret is that I work for them. It keeps me motivated and makes me realize that no matter how hard things are, I can never give up because I have them supporting my efforts.

7. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

Nothing, it’s all a part of the journey. You have to fail more than most people try.

8. What’s the best place to find founders to network with?

I’ve found that at tech events, the speakers that are in the back of the room, or even the individuals in the back while the event is in session, are the easiest to speak to. Find people that are passionate about what they do and just talk. Something will come out of it.

9. What does your family think of you being an entrepreneur?

Originally, I wanted to go to school for fitness. It was my passion. My mom wanted me to get the most secure job with the most comfortable paycheck based on my strengths. To her, that [job] was an actuary. Early on, my mom was furious when I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but it wasn’t until about five months ago, my family noticed that this was for real and that I had the drive to not quit until I “won” the game of entrepreneurship. Today, I believe they know they raised a smart kid and are aware that I work hard for everything in my life. This started with conquering my fitness goals and easily translated to my entrepreneurial work ethic. That’s something both I and my family can stand behind.

10. What has helped you the most to achieve your current success?

Being self-disciplined and self-motivated. Work is hard, things never go according to plan and guess what? Life is not fair and no one cares about your problems.  I always believe I am the hardest worker in the room and that I can accomplish any task I set my mind to it. This is the type of confidence you have to have in this field.  If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?

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