by Matthew Kish.
It’s a simple problem: Fitness classes rely on expert instructors. But those instructors often don’t get paid very well and frequently change jobs, leaving students in the lurch.
Portland- and Eugene-based Core to Coeur has a solution. The virtual training company passes through 85- 88% of revenue to instructors, well above the traditional system, where the studio keeps as much as 80%.
“We turn the studio model on its head,” said CEO Madison Page. Online Oregon fitness platform takes training virtual during Page, a former professional dancer, co-founded the company in 2017 with Derek Schloss and Anni Sanner. (Sanner has since left the company.)
And while Core to Coeur got off to a slow start, the pandemic has been a boon, converting thousands of people to at-home, virtual fitness and propelling the company to the verge of a sizable seed round of capital.
Page said the idea for the company goes back to when she worked as a dance instructor. She’d drive around from studio to studio and not make much money despite the rigors of the work.
“I had this really unsustainable lifestyle,” she said.
Page said she charged $120 for in-person instruction, but she only kept $25-$30 of it. The rest went to the studio to cover overhead.
Page thought virtual fitness instruction offered a better business model. It wouldn’t require driving, there isn’t as much overhead and it’s asynchronous. Page has always worked with a wide variety of customers, including post-partum women and clients with chronic pain.
Some of them don’t feel comfortable in fitness classes.
“It’s always been about inclusion and access for me,” she said. “We’re working with people and their bodies in a vulnerable part of their lives.”
So Page started teaching over Skype, years before Zoom and Teams became a part of everyday life.
It wasn’t easy.
Page and her co-founders raised $45,000 to launch the first iteration of the business, including $17,000 from Starve Ups.
She built out the software, hired 15 instructors and found about 60 students.
“It was really tough,” she said. “I spent so much time telling people that virtual training was a thing. Nobody believed me.”
Before the pandemic, the company was about out of cash. Page credits Schloss with encouraging her to conserve capital.
“I’m really lucky my partner had built a startup before,” she said. “He told me, ‘You’re not spending money on anything. Anything at this stage that you can’t do for free you’re not doing.”
Then Covid hit.
“All of a sudden I had this deep expertise in a market that was made visible seemingly overnight,” she said.
Web posts about virtual training that Page wrote years before the pandemic started getting thousands of hits. Virtual instructors flocked to Core to Coeur. So did students.
“All of a sudden all training flipped to online,” Page said. “I couldn’t believe the influx of demand. It was very intense.”
The company’s investors put in another $100,000. An angel investor put in another $5,000.
As of last July, Core to Coeur had 900 people using the platform.
Page declined to provide updated numbers because of limitations on what companies can disclose during fundraising rounds. She’s currently trying to raise $500,000 in seed capital.
The company employs four full-time, including a developer. The customer base is international with users in Saudi Arabia, Sweden and London.
“It’s just all over the globe,” Page said.
Core to Coeur now offers classes in Pilates, yoga, mind and body, cardio, wellness, dance and restorative exercise. There are various payment plans, including a simple $10 charge for a drop-in workout.
Page said new customers are sticking with the company.
“We haven’t seen a dip,” she said. “The pandemic was just a boon in customer acquisitions.”
Page declined to disclose revenue but said she hopes to be profitable within the next year. It’s not uncommon for startups not to be profitable for several years.
And what about the teachers? Page said the revenue model has helped the company retain the best of the bunch.
“Everyone says we have the best teachers,” she said. “But we really have the best teachers.”
Portland Business Journal
This story originally appeared in Portland Business Journal on June 24th, 2021.