CEO Stories: CoachMePlus with Kevin Dawidowicz

At-home and remote fitness had more than a moment thanks to COVID-19. And just as many believe we’ll be looking at a hybrid work in the office model, Kevin Dawidowicz of CoachMePlus think that’s what the fitness model looks like too.


A TOOL, NOT AN APP

Davidowicz, along with his co-founder brother, created a tool, not an app, that helps foster a relationship that really focuses on creating and building engagement between the coach and athlete that doesn’t depend on them being in the same room. This tool wasn’t created for the pandemic. Far from it: It’s an outgrowth of high-school athlete Kevin’s meticulous tracking of his athletic process in old-fashioned notebooks for the benefit of his coach.

STARTING AT THE TOP

CoachMePlus first started being used by professional athletic teams – NHL team the Sabers were the tool’s first customers. “Working with athletes when you see them every day during the season is one thing, but it’s something else when you aren’t in season,” Kevin observes. “Whatever dynamic you’ve created between coach and client can easily be replicated with this tool. It captures all the necessary information, and then it’s up to the coach to apply his or her knowledge and skill and help the athlete along.” The tool is now used by numerous professional teams and various branches of the armed forces.

REGIME-AGNOSTIC

Kevin believes that one of the reasons CoachMePlus can make inroads in the personal trainer market – of whom there are some 400,000 registered today – is because the tool can be used with any training regime or piece of equipment. The home athlete doing yoga or riding a tricked-out bike; the one using a mirroring device or taking Pilates by Zoom. “We’re here to help whoever you’re working with help you get the most out of your fitness approach,” says Kevin.


POC:  Hi, I’m Patricia O’Connell. Welcome to CEO Stories for This is Capitalism. I’m talking today to serial entrepreneur and co-founder of CoachMePlus, Kevin Dawidowicz. Did I say that right, Kevin?

KD:  Yes, pretty close.

POC: All right, Kevin, give it to me straight.

KD: [Laughs]  Yeah, I mean, it’s a very Polish name and I get [pronounced Davidovitch] or [pronounced Dahvidovitch] but that’s pretty much it, yeah.

POC: Welcome, Kevin, So Kevin, CoachMePlus, we’ve talked a little bit before and I know that it is a fitness app that coaches use to help improve performance with athletes — which you very generously reminded me includes even the not-so-active among us — who are maybe working with a private trainer or somebody like that. But tell us a little bit more about CoachMePlus and how it does work: the benefit for the trainer and the benefit for the client/athlete.

KD: Yeah, absolutely. You nailed it. The idea is that everybody is an athlete and that we all have our own personal needs and our own goals that we’re trying to reach when we consider fitness or performance and that personal experience is better enhanced with a trainer or a coach. We know that fitness outcomes are improved when you have a personal trainer or a coach working with you. And CoachMePlus is a tool to really enhance that relationship. We know that fitness apps can’t do it alone and that a personal experience with a personal trainer and a client or an athlete is key and really improves your likelihood of reaching your fitness outcomes.

POC:  So could this tool be used even if I were using a personal trainer remotely?

KD:  Yes, absolutely. And that has been key in basically our entire existence. We started off in professional sports, in athletics, and the athletes who we would work with in the NHL and Major League Baseball and the NFL and so on would be on site during in-season periods and so on but that off-season period they all go home. So the ability for a coach to connect with that athlete in both an in-person and a remote experience has been part of what we’ve done for quite some time.

That idea has only since surfaced to the personal trainer and client world with the advent of obviously COVID and the pandemic and so on and people not being able to actually be on site and be inside a gym. So we’ve gone to this world right now where people kind of accept that there needs to be some sort of connectivity, some sort of relationship, whether I’m in-person and talking with you or I’m working with you remotely. And we really enhance the ability to do that.

POC: How do you create that relationship? Or rather, how does the tool create that relationship, especially if it is a not in-person experience? Talk to me about this more immersive experience that CoachMePlus creates.

KD:  So if you’re a personal trainer and you’ve got a client that you’ve been working with or that you have a relationship with, you might be using a text message, you might be sharing documents on a Google Drive, you might be doing FaceTime, you might be broadcasting video or saving video on YouTube, you’re using all these different, disparate tools all over the place to try and maintain that relationship. And we simply combine all of those things into an app so that the experience is better handled and better managed with a personal trainer and the client, or the coach and the client.

The suite of tools include communication so you can text message and talk back and forth, it includes the ability to prescribe and deliver exercise and fitness programming, clients can track nutrition, they can track their hydration, they can track some very basic metrics like body weight and things like that so they can combine all that together. And the biggest hook is allowing clients to bring their own personal, wearable fitness devices to the relationship. So what you’re wearing on your wrist might provide you some benefit as somebody who’s wearing an Apple watch or a Whoop or another device or whatever that might be.

You’ve got some benefit in the app and it tells you, like, oh you’ve got to stand up, you’ve got to go work out, maybe it’s time to go to bed, whatever it is. But it’s not…those systems aren’t personally invested in your own experience. You might have injuries, you might have limitations in your training, you might be coming back to training after not doing it after quite some time, and all those things really are better suited when you have a coach guiding you through that experience. So taking that technology bundle and embedding it in that relationship really is the key to what we do.

POC:  So you’re targeting coaches?

KD:  Correct.

POC: And you said you started off working with professional sports teams. Correct me if I’m wrong, weren’t you also working with some branches of the military?

KD:  We are now, yeah, absolutely. So it’s interesting that the need for improved fitness is really universal. We can talk about the obesity epidemic in America, we could talk about people who have spent the last year with COVID and being locked in their homes and maybe some people have tried at-home fitness or other ways to basically maintain their fitness levels but the reality is, is obesity rates are going up, numbers are going up, fitness levels are going down and this at-home fitness experience has been a good way to deal with it. But honestly, being back in a gym and being back working with other people as always been a better way to do it.

So that has been proven in pro sports. I mean there’s been strength conditioning coaches with pro-sports for as long as sports has been around. And whether that is a single strength conditioning coach or an entire staff that includes a nutritionist and a physical therapist and all these other key people around these athletes who are looking for peak performance, that is still there in this relationship mindset.

In the military, as you just mentioned, it’s the same thing. Military folks have often been left to achieve fitness in their own way.

POC: Now is this active military or maybe reservists or both?

KD:  So we have a bit of a blend. There’s some National Guard folks who spend most of their time away from the flagpole and those folks are basically left to their own means to achieve their fitness standards. And what happens is everybody kind of crams for the fitness test, much like you would for other tests [laughs], and that increases injury risk. Everybody’s sitting around and then it’s like oh I’ve gotta do that run thing, I might as well start running now. It’s like, well, you’ve got a culture of fitness testing and not a culture of fitness.

We’re trying to embed a culture of fitness into what they’re doing. So to have ongoing fitness programming and content delivered to National Guard folks while they’re away from the flagpole, this is a good way to engage with those people. Same with the Reserves. Most of these folks are away from base most of the time and they need a way to be delivered fitness programming and know that they are actually doing well enough to pass all the fitness standards that are in place.

POC: There is a lot of focus on fitness, Kevin. There’s a lot of focus on wellness now. How do you see fitness fitting in as part of wellness or do you actually view this really as a wellness tool? Or is it more part of a more comprehensive wellness program?

KD: So, fitness is all of the.. When you think of fitness, a lot of people like to think about body builders or like people who are working out all the time, Instagram influencers or whatever it is. But in reality, fitness is a holistic mindset and that should include sleep and nutrition and mental mindfulness and really all the things that surround your life when you think about the holistic view of your body and  your mind and what you do. And physical fitness is just simply a single part of that. So our tool allows these coaches to engage in all of the aspects of fitness and wellness, you are absolutely right.

POC:  So it’s interesting because I called it an app and you called it a tool. Tell me what you think the difference is.

KD: When I think of a fitness app, I think of something where I go download it, I fill out some very basic information and then I’m prescribed an automatic workout. And from that automatic workout, whether I’m crushing it or not, it’ll make it harder for me or less harder for me. That’s a pretty advanced fitness app.

There is no accountability there. Right? Like, it’s my phone buzzing in my pocket and it’s competing with the other things that are buzzing in my pocket, including my wife texting me and my Instagram buzzing me and the new news that just came out and my email and calendar and everything else like that. So if it’s just an app then why am I held accountable to that? It requires a certain level of personal discipline for me to try to achieve my goals with this little machine telling me what to do.

Well, the difference in a fitness app and what we do is that there is somebody on the other side. And that somebody on the other side is really where the accountability ties in and helps me, reminds me, hey I’m supposed to be tracking my nutrition, make sure I get enough water today, make sure I go to bed early, all the things that you think about when you think about the overall wellness.

If there’s somebody on the other side there that I’m held accountable to I know that I’m going to show up for the session, I know that I’m going to make sure I weigh in in the morning and make sure that I track the amount of food I’m taking in and the water I’m taking in, or whatever it is, because that other person on the other side is going to hold me accountable.

And whether that is with positive reinforcement or yelling at me or whatever it is, like, that dynamic with a coach who is able to understand what motivates you is very hard to achieve in simply in app, and that dynamic is enhanced in what we do.

POC: There are a couple other things I really want to dig into here, Kevin. One of them is there’s all this information then that your coach is getting about you, presumably on, I don’t know, is it a daily basis or is it whatever you and the coach set up?

KD:  If it’s my wearable device information then it’s a constant stream. So as my heart rate is updated and my steps are updated throughout the day and all that, it is constantly being fed into the system and that becomes available to the coach. Whether or not the coach uses that in a snapshot or a daily or a weekly review of what we’re doing together is really up to how the coach and the athlete’s relationship works.

We simply provide the information in a useable way so that when a personal trainer or a coach logs in, they can see the entire group of people that they work with and maybe some outliers get flagged — somebody got injured today, they twisted their ankle, somebody went off the rails and started bingeing a ton of food and their counts went through the roof. Those are moments where the coach can intervene and have conversations with their clients, and that’s where our tool works and allows them to do that.

So how the coaches engage with the data is really dependent on what you’re trying to achieve. And our job is to make that as simple as possible.

POC: Is CoachMePlus collecting any of this data?

KD: So we believe that the information that goes into the system is not CoachMePlus’s. It is the coaches’ and the athletes’ information. So we don’t mine data for advertising purposes, trying to sell you products or anything else like that. The people that we serve are the coaches and how they use that information is special and unique to how that relationship is handled.

POC: Where did the idea come from?

KD: I was a high school athlete. I played football and hockey. And I tracked all of my workouts in a little paper notebook. I did that my whole life. And I had a company before this where we were doing websites and CD ROMs.. that’s how old, ya know, I won’t give you my age.

POC: CD ROMs. What does the ROM stand for?

KD: Yeah, I think it’s Read-Only Memory. I’ll have to look that up and let Google win. But so we were approached by the strength and conditioning coach from the Buffalo Sabres who asked if we could do workouts on a CD so he can basically replace his paper workout books that he was shipping out to his athletes every off-season. And Coach Doug McKenney and I got together, we started spit balling some ideas on what you would want to include and everything else like that, and everything that I had ever done by tracking everything on paper just kind of built into this model and we did it in a CD.

And we did that for several years. It was the mid-2000s, iPhones didn’t exist yet so there wasn’t this nice, friendly touch experience. I kept going back to my partner, who happens to be my brother, and saying we gotta do this online version. He’s like, nobody’s going to be sitting there with a laptop and doing their workouts [laughs], I’m like, yeah, you’re right. And then finally the whole mobile experience became pretty…it’s everybody’s life now.

So we built an online version of the system in 2010 for the same team, for the Buffalo Sabres, and quickly added three more NHL teams. We added the Philadelphia Eagles shortly afterwards, which was our first NFL team, and things just kind of took off from there.

POC: Was your brother also an athlete?

KD: No. Quite the opposite, he was an art major. Well, not only an art major, a theater major and a computer guy and a database guy. He’s one of the brightest database guys I know. So I would be pushing user experience and very touchy-feely kind of we gotta help engagement and all this other stuff and he’s just crunching the data model to make sure that it actually works on the backend.

POC: Okay so you’re a good team.

KD: Yyeah. Good team or working team. I’m not sure. We’re still brothers so we kind of have to work together. [laughs]

POC: Okay well I’m not going to ask how Thanksgiving goes. [laughter] So was the CD ROM company your first company?

KD: Yeah. And we were a marketing agency, we would build backend technologies for  companies and landing page conversion stuff and a lot of.. a lot of the ad agencies in New York City. We were doing that and we were doing a lot of work for hire and the entire time Mike and I would try to really.. we’re like, we gotta do something that isn’t work for hire. We have to do something a little bit bigger than what we’re dealing with.

The third partner, Steve Onostro, who came onto the team, was a high school athlete, he played a lot of hockey and things like that. And between the three of us, we knew that the work for hire was not the way that we wanted to grow. We wanted to grow something bigger than that. So that’s why we came to this.

POC: Well that sounds like a really good lesson for entrepreneurs though, that you have to think of something that is scalable because otherwise you really are at the mercy of an individual client or losing a contract.

KD: Mhm. And I was going to say, we spent years, I mean, we spit balled so many goofy ideas that just got to the white board and that seemed great at three o’clock in the morning when we’re sitting there, talking on a video chat or something like that and it’s like, oh this is gonna be awesome. And then the next day it’s like that was a terrible idea. I mean, we just threw so much stuff against the wall. And we had a prototype, we’d rapidly prototype little things and try it out.

That was the big lesson is just do it. Right? Like, a lot of people get stuck in this paralysis-analysis kind of mindset where oh, I have to have the right thing and we’ve got to have a fully working thing before we go to a customer and then we have to test it against all these different metrics. Or, you just ship it, get it out the door, have people use it, get that feedback, modify, iterate and repeat.

And that is how we’ve lived our entire lives – get it out the door, get it in people’s hands, have it be used and then learn from those experiences and go. The paralysis-analysis just puts you into this mindset of it’s never perfect enough and if you live by the it’s never perfect enough kind of development way in getting software and stuff like that out the door,  you’re right, it’ll never be perfect enough. Because it’s perfect for you as your own user and what your own ideas are, but until it actually gets into user’s hands and actually gets onto the streets and is used by people out there then it’s just still an idea.

POC: You said you had probably hundreds of ideas that sounded really good at 3 AM and then at 10 AM not so much. How many things though did you actually start putting into, as you said, testing mode or some kind of development mode before you really found something that worked?

KD: We tried an online retail store for a little while and gained a little bit of traction but found a lot of hard limits in our ability to grow it that were way out of our own understanding and control. And the only way to grow that would’ve been a massive amount of outside influence. It was just outside of our wheelhouse.

Another idea we had come up with was somebody had come to us with a need to track collectibles online and actually show chain of custody of the collectibles. And we got pretty far with that idea, including talking to a lot of baseball card manufacturers and things like that. The problem there was we didn’t have enough investment and it quickly ran out of steam.  So you learn, ya know, the first one was you didn’t have the right team, the right fit for what you wanted to do and it kind of fell apart. The second was we didn’t raise enough capital and it kind of fell apart.

So when we went to approach with this one, we knew that the team was right and we knew that our ability to reach where we wanted to get to scale with this, like, we could do it but we also made sure that we raised capital and I put a CEO in place who was a strong fiduciary to be able to make sure that we don’t run out of dough. And that was something that we had learned in our previous startups and we approached this the right way and here we are, years later, still running and growing.

So, serial entrepreneur… I failed a couple of times to get to where we have this one running. But never afraid to do it.

POC:  And the question you always have to ask people is but what keeps you going?

KD:  I am called the motor behind it a lot of times because I do have this strange little well of optimism and energy that just keeps us going. Honestly, there’s a certain mindset of trying to.. I don’t like being told no and I don’t like being told that it’s not going to work when I know that we can figure it out. And that.. every no becomes a bit of a challenge to me, whether it be a customer telling me that it’s not the right fit and we’re not going to buy it, whether it be an investor telling me it just doesn’t seem like the right market approach or opportunity, those become little fuel rods for me that just move me onto the next thing.

So it’s something I can’t really pass on or teach but it’s something that I just have a strange amount of optimism about what we like to do. But I’m also really pragmatic and realistic about it, knowing that sure, we want to build a ladder to the moon but you need time and capital to do so, so let’s figure out how to build the first couple of runs and show that we can actually do it and then keep going from there.

POC:  But it sounds like maybe one lesson that you would pass on to entrepreneurs is it’s okay to fail. In fact, it’s better to fail because you’re learning from those failures and you’re figuring things out as opposed to just spending all your time perfecting that one idea that you think you’ve perfected it but maybe in the meantime someone else is already out there with it or you just find that for some other reason there is something you didn’t think about and it’s not going to work. And here you’ve, instead of going forward and actually starting with it, you have lost all this time and time is the one thing we can’t make more of.

KD: Absolutely. It was interesting, when we got into the market space we thought we were so unique and we’re the coolest new thing and nobody else has done this, nobody else thought of this. And you get out there into the market and a couple years into it there’s three or four competitors. And it turns out that you all kind of started right around the same year or right around the same time.

So if we had sat around thinking about it then we would not have been one of those competitors out there and there would have been other companies doing what your great idea would have been. So you have to get out there as quickly as possible so that you at least have the lessons, the market awareness and understanding of what customers want and customers need.

And when you show up to.. for us it was showing up to a trade show and there was other booths out there. And it’s like, oh, well, they’re doing the same thing? Oh, they were founded the same year, around the same time? Like, you’re actively out there and you’re actively doing it and if you had sat in the room with the development team and yourself, just drawing and redoing and drawing and redoing and not actually being in front of customers and using it, then you would not have been at that trade show because those other competitors would have had more market share. So yeah, man, you’ve gotta get out there and you’ve gotta get it on the street and ship it.

POC: What is next for CoachMePlus, Kevin? I’m going to imagine that you did benefit from the move to at-home fitness during Covid. So what’s next?

KD:  So it’s interesting because the idea of at-home fitness and having people connect in this sense has been a core value of who we are since we’ve become a company. But the fitness space and the fitness market wasn’t really prepared for it. Like, 95 percent of revenue had occurred with personal trainers inside the gym. Well now that’s broken, right? Like, coaches, gym owners, personal trainers, all have to accept that this hybrid, omni-channel way of doing things is now the way of doing things.

And it almost feels like we’re at the starting gate again because we’ve got traction and these enterprise organizations and everything else like that but the gyms and personal trainers and fitness space is just beginning to wake up to this idea. And our segment in that, our.. I think we have doubled so far this year our number of gyms and personal trainers that use the system and we are on pace to accelerate and continue to accelerate.

But it’s like a brand new space for us. And there’s 400,000 personal trainers and 40,000 gyms out there. So I’m chomping at the bit to get out there and help these people find the best value and help their clients reach their goals.

POC: Let me ask you, Kevin, you probably don’t want to share what those ideas might be but are there other ideas that are percolating at three AM that you think might look good at ten AM some day?

KD: There are. And we’re never short of ideas. Everything is just a matter of resources. So the biggest thing that I’ve gotta say that is interesting to us is the wearable technology space, the data and the technology continues to be commoditized and brought down to near zero. And for us, our job is to be nimble enough to accept the new tech as it comes in and make it useful and that is a challenge.

The next generation of wearables coming out is going to include things like body temperature and glucose and blood oxygen levels and all this other information. Who knows how to use that, right? We have to make that useful and that is an interesting challenge for us and we’re going to continuously look at the tech as it comes in and make that a key part of the relationship.

POC: Well, Kevin, we’ll look forward to hearing about the next great 3 AM idea that does make it to 10 AM. In the meantime, where can people find out more about CoachMePlus?

KD: Simply enough coachmeplus.com, twitter handle — coachmeplus. We are not a super active influencer type on social media or anything else like that. We actually like to work instead of influence. [Laughs.] But enough can be found there to understand what we’re up to.

POC: Okay. Well, Kevin, thanks for joining us on This Is Capitalism, CEO Stories.

KD:  Thank you so much.


About the Series: Featured stories from the intersection of the free market and entrepreneurial success. Here we speak with leading CEOs, academics, philanthropists and up and comers on their contributions and perspectives on the American economy.

About Patricia O’Connell: Patricia O’Connell is one of the original contributors to “This Is Capitalism”, a content site sponsored by Stephens Inc. and is host of the site’s podcast, CEO Stories. Patricia, a former editor at BusinessWeek and a best-selling author, blends her experience as a journalist with her passion for storytelling to her role as editor of “This Is Capitalism”.