While some entrepreneurs open businesses based on what they feel is a market waiting to be tapped, others combine business-savvy with a lifelong passion to create something truly unique.
Add to the latter opportunistic timing, and you have Matthew Mansell, founder of Athlo.
Athlo is a sharing economy app focused on the fitness industry that provides a digital platform for gyms, users, and fitness center members to share exercise classes and memberships, and even recoup some of the capital they invested in their fitness efforts.
While the idea on its own has the next fitness unicorn potential, Mansell’s history in athletics and his lifelong pursuit of an active lifestyle gives the company a very personal touch.
Mansell played professional rugby for years, and his journey through that process, and then into the business world, helped shape what would eventually become Athlo.
“In England, I was part of a rugby academy there for two years, and then realized that I probably wasn’t as good as I thought I was at that age,” Mansell said. “But I was really fortunate. I got offered a contract in France to go and play rugby out there for a club called Auch, which was an incredible experience.”
When Mansell realized a career in professional sports wasn’t going to happen, he worked on plan B — returning to the United Kingdom and working in finance for a time — before realizing that likely wasn’t his path, either.
“I wasn’t happy in that industry,” Mansell said. “So, when I left and being pretty active I had a gym membership, a tennis membership, and multiple boutique packages I was paying for in London. Financially, I couldn’t justify that.”
Mansell said he was forced to cancel those memberships and at the same time do some soul-searching on what comes next. That time allowed for observation, and from observation came ideation.
“Frankly, I needed to figure out what I was going to do with my days,” he said. “I wasn’t getting into the office at 6 a.m anymore, and I was seeing these tennis courts I used to be a member of and they were absolutely deserted during off-peak times. That got me thinking.”
Mansell said he was fortunate enough, through his network, to have friends that owned boutique studios or gyms in London. He recognized a pain point for them that was similar to the tennis court issue he noticed previously: underutilized memberships.
“I’m not here to dismantle someone's product offering or the relationships that they have,” Mansell said of Athlo. “I was looking at the research and doing my own due diligence, looking at the utility, the usage, how often people are using their memberships and the trends associated with churn and certain disrupters within the sector, and looking at the recent success of companies like Turo and Airbnb. I wanted to tap into that sharing economy trend. There is an opportunity there.”
Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, so Mansell decided to take charge of his particular predicament and find a solution.
“What we believe we have done is solved the conundrum of creating a product in the fitness industry where every stakeholder wins,” Mansell said. “The gyms benefit from it via higher retention numbers. The gym members benefit from it, as they are able to experience a variety of different fitness facilities without incurring full membership costs or subscription fees, and our members benefit in that they can recoup some of their sunk costs on memberships they have already paid for. Everyone wins.”
Due to this “everyone wins” approach, Athlo is well positioned to be “the next fitness unicorn” startup, and macroeconomic and social factors are lining up well for this pursuit. To echo the words of Women’s Health “This app, truly, couldn’t have come at a better time.”
With the hybridization of work for many, gym users now are often put in a position where they aren’t proximate to their gyms perhaps half of the week, forcing them to make a decision on whether they will carry two (or more) memberships.
Couple that with rising inflation, which could hit 22% in the U.K. next year if things keep on their current course, and the environment is right for consumers — and businesses — to lean into areas that can provide cost savings.
“Airbnb wasn’t the first company to come up with that business model,” Mansell said of the short-term room-stay platform. “But they were launched during a recession. That may have been its defining factor: timing. People were looking to make money on assets they were sitting on, trying to monetize things. This certainly won’t be true for every sharing app, but I do think if you can monetize something and everyone benefits economically, there is certainly opportunity there for a business. And that is what we saw with Athlo.”
As with Airbnb, Athlo will likely benefit from the current economic state, but, also like Airbnb, it doesn’t necessarily have its success tethered to it.
“We have enough going for us in our offering,” Mansell said of Athlo continuing to grow even after the economy turns toward a more “normal” heading. “We are your passport for fitness.”