“TRAINlete” helps athletes of all ages reach their next level by safely connecting them to the best private sports trainers and coaches in their area.
Below is the full interview that we have conducted with Mr. ‘Clouse’ regarding his start-up company “TRAINlete”;
1. What is it exactly that you do and what “TRAINlete” is all about?
TRAINlete is an online community that helps athletes of all ages reach their next level of success by safely connecting them to a great private sports trainer or coach. Through TRAINlete’s “Peace of Mind Process,” we give athletes (and their parents) the most efficient way of connecting to a great private sports trainer. For our community of private sports trainers and coaches, TRAINlete helps generate new client leads, become easier to find online and allows them to build a stellar online reputation…all of which will help grow their business.
2. When has “TRAINlete” been founded? And what stage is “TRAINlete” currently at?
TRAINlete was founded in July, 2011 and the site launched nearly a year later in June of 2012. We are currently in our Beta Phase. During this phase we are focused on four areas, and they are listed in no particular order of importance. Number 1, we are growing our community of great private sports trainers and coaches. Number 2, we are working to establish and grow relationships with youth sports organizations in the communities in which we operate. Thirdly, we are forming meaningful strategic alliances with organizations that have similar goals and interests. Finally, we are perfecting our value proposition to athletes and trainers/coaches.
3. What is “TRAINlete”‘s business model and how does it work?
Our focus is to connect athletes to private sports trainers/coaches. TRAINlete enables these two segments to communicate in efficient ways that previously did not exist. Trainers create detailed, unique, personalized profile pages where they outline their experience, background, training style, certifications and pricing to help market themselves and their services. Athletes (and their parents) have the ability to search through profiles of trainers in their area and connect in a variety of ways to narrow down their decision. An athlete or parent can connect directly with a potential trainer candidate, ask them to provide references, execute a background check or view previous feedback from clients on TRAINlete’s grading system on each trainer’s profile. We are passionate about providing and promoting a direct connection between these parties. We don’t take a piece of the transaction or mark up the cost of our trainer’s session. Our model is built off advertising, sponsorship, membership fees and other e-commerce.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
The TRAINlete Team is comprised of three life-long friends. I had the idea for TRAINlete and called up Eric Blumenthal and Blake Sundberg and informed them of my vision and we hit the ground running. I am the CEO. Eric handles our marketing, graphic design, public relations and business development efforts. Blake is our CFO and also manages our strategic alliances/partnerships. And we also have a development team that we work with day-to-day on maximizing our site.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
The athlete-to-private sports training market is virtually untapped and TRAINlete stands out in the marketplace because we are one of the very few players in this space. Our users, the ‘trainer seekers’ have the ability to search through a community of great private sports trainers and connect in any way that makes sense for them. Other sites control the communication between trainer and trainee, not at TRAINlete. The trainee also has the ability to pay for the service they receive in any way that works for them. We do not mark up our trainers’ sessions and we will not take any piece of the transaction between the trainer and trainee.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has “TRAINlete” achieved so far?
Since our launch we have seen consistent, double digit percentage growth in both our community of trainers and athletes. Early we have focused on the Metro-Atlanta market and have since expanded to other areas in the southeast region relatively quickly. We will continue to have strong focus in the southeast region, but we will not shy away from growing our community in other parts of the country.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is “TRAINlete”‘s competitive advantage over them?
The “athlete-to-private sports trainer” segment is brand new and wide open currently. I am sure there are other soon to be competitors in development/launch phases, but from what we have seen there is one competitor in the northeast who is operating in the same space as TRAINlete. We have a lot of respect for them, but our offering is different to our consumers in that we focus and promote free connection between athletes and trainers. We encourage our athletes (or their parents) to connect with trainers prior to booking a session as we realize the importance of this relationship to both parties. Additionally, we are not involved in the transaction between the athlete and trainer and we do not mark up our trainer’s fee per session. In the future our athletes will have the ability to pay for their service online if that is the preferred method for both parties, but we will not mandate that method.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
Like any startup we encountered many obstacles. The biggest obstacle was defining the niche that we were ultimately creating. Early on our idea sprouted and we lost focus on our fundamental offering – creating a community where athletes and private sports trainers could efficiently and effectively connect. We finally had to put a hard stop to the other ideas and projects and focus on doing one thing great. The opportunities were and still are endless for TRAINlete and the challenge has become never losing sight of our value proposition to our consumers.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Oftentimes ‘outsiders’ don’t quite understand the magnitude of the athlete-to-private sports trainer industry. There are nearly 50 million youth athletes participating in organized sports today and one of the largest trends in youth sports is specialization. Meaning more athletes are participating in one sport, year round and receiving private training in that area to reach their next level. If you don’t have a child or someone close to you involved in youth athletics, it is oftentimes difficult to understand the incredible demand there is for what TRAINlete offers.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
The TRAINlete core team is great. We are a very modest, passionate and hard working group. We have surrounded ourselves with advisors and partners who are much smarter than us with incredible experience, insight and knowledge. We have already built an incredible community of private sports trainers and coaches and we will continue to grow our community rapidly as our community of trainers is the core of our offering. We will continue to learn from our successes and mistakes and TRAINlete will continue to take steps forward.
11. If “TRAINlete” succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
We are laser focused on connecting athletes to private sports trainers and coaches. We have additional areas on our radar that we will expand to down the road – but will remain quiet for now. We will also look to expand our efforts around community service. We are passionate about giving back and will do so through our “TRAINlete G.O.T Program.” The acronym “G.O.T” stands for ‘Gift of Training.’ We will work locally to provide training in our communities as a way of doing our part.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build “TRAINlete” based on?
The entire founding team is passionate about athletics – specifically youth athletics. We are passionate about safely connecting athletes to coaches, coaches who will teach them key lessons around discipline, working hard and sacrifice. I was doing some private training on the side and quickly realized marketing my service and getting clients was much harder than it needed to be. So it was time to build a solution.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
I think most importantly, we have validated the importance of our offering, to both trainers and athletes. As crucial, we learned the importance of getting our service out to our consumers to hear their feedback. We did an incredible amount of research, survey work and ‘whiteboarding’ what we felt TRAINlete needed to be. After our launch, we learned very quickly that we were on the right track, but we needed to make some tweaks/changes based on what our users told us very early on. TRAINlete could still be in the building phase, but we learned an incredible amount in our launch and we acted on the feedback and made necessary changes. That has really put us in a great spot to scale our service.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
I like this question! There is so much going on from a day-to-day perspective in any startup oftentimes it is a chore to really look ahead strategically. I would have to say our biggest problem would be our ability to capitalize on our scalability. We will need to be able to handle our scale from both marketing and staffing standpoint. We know we have a great business but I can foresee needing resources to maximize the scale and not take any steps back. Two areas would be around our marketing budget and human capital.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
For the athlete (or their parent) it is simple, having the ability to safely connect to private sports trainers and coaches in their area that can help them reach their next level. They no longer need to rely on word of mouth referrals or viewing the bulletin board ads at their local YMCA. For our trainers, we provide them an efficient and effective way to market themselves to generate more leads, become easier to find online and build a positive online reputation; essentially helping them increase their business.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
We have leveraged our partnerships that we have created and built in the marketplace. Youth athletic organizations see a great value in our service and have been strong allies for us early on. Additionally, we have been fortunate to have some high profile trainers join our community – former professional athletes, former Olympians, former college athletes, etc. – and we have used this to attract media attention. Finally, we leverage social media to build awareness and drive visits to our site.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our target ‘user’ are youth athletes who will be receiving the private sports training. Our ‘customer’ would be the parents of these athletes as they will ultimately be making the decision on the which trainer to use and they will be paying for the service provided by the trainer. We also look at our community of trainers as ‘customers’ as we are providing them a service and we want to ensure our value proposition is relevant and strong for them. We are looking to partner with private trainers who have played their sport at high levels, have a strong passion for their sport and have a strong passion for youth athletics, coaching and enabling success.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Social Media has been a big driver for us as it relates to increasing our users. Aside from various social media sites, word of mouth has driven traffic and helped create users. Parents are passionate about their children and when they find a service that helps their child and is safe they tend to spread the word. As it relates to increasing our community of trainers, a combination of social media and physically having conversations with trainers on the “why TRAINlete” story.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
We hear that TRAINlete is easy to use for both the trainer seeker and trainer. We have been told numerous times that our service fills an obvious void. Our community of trainers love that they have the ability to create a personalized profile page to help market themselves effectively and increase their business. Our athletes (and their parents) love the power to freely search through potential trainers for them and then connect to them prior to booking a session.
20. How are you going to scale?
TRAINlete is able to scale as we grow our community of private sports trainers. We will continue to increase our community of trainers strategically in key geographic areas and expand out from there. As we achieve a solid base of trainers in a certain geography we will then partner with local organizations grow our presence in those markets.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
We have not been directly asked by our users to add a certain ‘feature’ yet. However, we feel that one gap that we are filling now is implementing the ability to take payment through our site for a training session. One key advantage that we have over our competition is that we allow the transaction between trainer and trainee to take place in whatever way works best for them. However, some trainers and trainees will want to complete the transaction through our site, and we want to, and will make that option available to our users.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
There are no plans to internationalize TRAINlete at the moment. We feel our model will be successful in other parts of the world and we taking detailed notes on how we are rolling our model out in the United States to ensure we learn from our launch. We are highly focused on capturing our share of the market in the United States.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
Over the past few years there has been an incredible increase in startups looking to connect people with services that they desire. The athlete-to-private sports training industry is massive (over $6 billion annually) and virtually untapped. We will reach success through creating and continuing to grow our great community of private sports trainers and coaches.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We are not actively recruiting or searching to hire. However, our core team is always looking to take necessary steps to get TRAINlete to the next level. If technical people or driven sales/marketing people are passionate about what TRAINlete is doing please contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
TRAINlete is constantly looking for innovative ways and opportunities to form partnerships or receive funding from Venture Capitalists. Again, anything that will help us reach the next level. We would be very interested and excited to discuss any and all options. Please contact us at email@example.com.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Never underestimate the power of networking. Knock on doors, exhaust all contacts and take every beneficial meeting you can. Don’t fall in love with your offering. When you receive feedback from credible sources or users, value it & adapt. The beauty of a startup is that there is no set path, flexibility is key! Enjoy the ride.