Leon Cassidy, Founder of Fitr, on How They’re Making Online Programming Less Remote

Remote training programs are going from strength to functional strength. And the trainers, athletes and coaching teams at the vanguard are finding their home on Fitr – an app-based platform the gives both coaches and clients the features they need to easily provide and simply access their remote plans.

But the thing is, Leon Cassidy and his team at Fitr have a better idea. They want to make remote programming, well, anything but remote. We spoke to him in this exclusive interview for the MH Squad, to find out how you will be training in the very near future.

Men’s Health: What was your career before you started thinking about fitr?

Leon Cassidy: I’m a chartered accountant by trade, for my sins. I did my accountancy exams with KPMG and moved up to Newcastle to live there for 10 years, as I worked with KPMG in the audit department. I sort of fell into finance, after uni. I didn’t really know what I really wanted to do and was struggling to find something I was passionate about. Numbers come more naturally to me but I soon realised that, once I’d done my three years of accountancy exams, that it was certainly not where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.

It was a great grounding, though. I did a lot of financial modeling fun, and had a solid understanding of balance sheets, profit and loss and cash flow, which, at the end of the day, is what it all boils down to. but you it was, it wasn’t exciting to me. I moved out of audit and went into corporate finance, advising companies on raising money. The most frustrating thing for me, was once we’d done our job, that was it and we were off to find another. Whereas for me, that was the most exciting part – what you can now do with the money and how you can grow the business and what you can add. What are the next steps? So things were clicking into place for me.

Finally, my family have always been around entrepreneurialism. My dad co-founded Oracle in Europe, and then he went off and did loads of different startups. Some were good, some didn’t work, so I’ve seen it all secondhand through him. Then I was introduced to CrossFit by my brother and my sister-in-law. I did aa CrossFit taster session at Reeboks CrossFit Tyneside.

How did that go?

Well I’d recently done the Great North Run and I felt worse after the taster session! But I thought it was the is the sort of training that I wanted to do. I was hooked. I did one or two days a week, the three, then four, then five, then extra programming and some local competitions. I wouldn’t say I’m anywhere near a great Crossfitter but I really enjoy it.

It was a melting pot of this new passion with where I was in my career, helping companies grow their businesses and giving them money. I felt that I could do that. That’s what I want to do. I wanted to be the person on that side of the table that was growing a business and doing something entrepreneurial. I

had an interest in fitness technology and it all came together. I remember trying to search with the hashtag ‘CrossFit’ in Instagram and you used to get a load of rubbish. I thought that such a massive community should have its own thing.

Once I’d had that idea, I couldn’t ignore it. What if it was the big one? I didn’t want to be sat there. And then in five, six years, 10 years, somebody had the same idea, acted upon it and made something amazing, I just thought I should go for it. The worst thing that could happen is that it didn’t take off and I still had my stable accountancy background to fall back on. So I jumped on the rollercoaster.

What were the first stages of building the business like?

I was in a very fortunate position because of the connections that I had through my dad. I could call on upon very experienced people, who would tell me straight if they thought I was going in the wrong direction. But first I had to find a development house. It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Trying to find a development house who could take the ideas that were still being formed in my head and put them into a tangible thing.

In hindsight, I was too hasty to jump into the deep end and get going. It would have been much better to sit back a bit and take stock; get more feedback. Patience is still not one of my virtues and something I know that I’ve got to work on, especially with the business. Still one of the most frustrating factors of the business is that things take so much time to build. You want a button on screen and when people see that app, they think it’s quite nice. But it might have taken two months to build.

What was the original elevator pitch for Fitr?

It was actually more of a dedicated sharing social platform for videos and pictures within the fitness and CrossFit community. But as it evolved, I didn’t know whether it was enough, you know? Are we going to get people off Instagram? Probably not. There’s got to be a new pull. We had some programming bits in it, but not a lot.

Then the then it sort of merged into of a network for CrossFit boxes, where people can share their results and follow each other on leaderboards. A gym can deliver their leaderboard rather than having it on the whiteboard at the front of the class. We didn’t have any grand schemes of allowing people to sell programming – it was all free. We thought we could make it free and grow form there. That was also a naive view.

So there were certain ideas that just weren’t hitting the mark. It just was off. I actually had a 30 minute meeting with myself to make a decision about where we were going because we were going to have to scrap it and start with a blank sheet of paper if it was going to work. We took the good ideas, the community and social stuff, but at the same time we looked at how were people delivering programming to the world.

We took our community features and could see how we could charge for hosting other people’s programming. And it all just started to make sense. So we started from scratch but this time not make the same mistakes.

Who were the first people to come on board with you?

That was just one of the ‘sliding doors’ moments. My brother and sister-in-law who got me into CrossFit lived in Northern Ireland and happened to train at the same gym as Emma McQuaid. We were early on with the platform and I to wanted to release something. My sister-in-law spoke to Emma and she gave us a shot. As with any tech that’s in its infancy, there were bugs. It was a great starting point but it was the power of social media that made then the next step for us. Emma posted a picture on her socials from al-Fitr. At the time, I was managing everything: live chat, Instagram, the lot. I saw that Steve Fawcett dropped a DM into Instagram. I slid into his DMs we hit it off really quickly. He had a current platform and he couldn’t accelerate as fast as he wanted to, so I went up to see him.

It was the missing element of Fitr. We had a great afternoon and basically decided to come together. Steve would bring JST, an internationally recognised training programming brand within the CrossFit Space and we would bring the platform. That was the summer of 2019. We had a period of six months where Steve would point out what needed changing and adding form his coaching perspective. It was crucial to the development of what we have now.

If he hadn’t seen that post by Emma that day, who knows what would have happened?

How vital was having somebody working with you that had different expertise?

It was a breath of fresh air. I can never look at things through a coach’s eye. I’m very open and honest in terms of things that I’m good and at things that I’m bad at. I struggle to let go and allow other people take control of certain things, for example. I’m seeing it even recently, The plan was always to build the team and bring in people who are far better and more experience than me to expand different parts of the business.

We have some huge things planned for the rest of the year and the product is just going to go from strength to strength. I couldn’t have got there by myself. And that’s something I’m learning as well, moving from the founder to a CEO-type role, where it’s okay to let go. It is fundamental to getting the business off the ground and we’re starting to see the benefits of that.

Was HWPO moving onto Fitr a huge boost?

We’ve already talked about sliding doors…HWPO was already a very big deal but that was Steve and his contact and standing in the CrossFit community in full effect. We already had some big hitters on the platform but when Fraser announced his retirement, we were probably one of 10,000 emails that went to Mat O’Keefe that day. We penned an email saying that if Matt wanted to sell programming then Fitr could do that for him. We sent it from Steve’s email so that O’Keefe might recognise the name. We got an email back within a couple of hours, which was really impressive. He thanks us for getting in touch but said that they’d just signed a contract with Hybrid.

We kept close with O’Keefe and we had a conversation scheduled a while later that we thought was going to be sponsoring Wodapalooza. On the call, O’Keefe basically changed the agenda and said that they wanted to explore a new platform for HWPO and to swing out bat, essentially. You’ve got to be in the right place and the right time. Fitr is still young and agile and we can do things that big boys that can’t because it doesn’t make sense for them at that point in their business.

Whereas we were in a position to say that, if they wanted their own app, their own platform, we could build it with the Fitr engine. I told me designer him to redesign fitr in HWPO gold branding and I was really jealous. It looks, excuse my language, the dog’s bollocks. I’m jealous of how good it looks in their branding. Anyway, we are presented and the stars aligned. Me and Steve get on really well with the HWPO team and we were able to grow together. We’re seeing such accelerated growth for both platforms and we’re free to move things between one another. By osmosis, we will both see the benefits of both systems. We have two development roadmaps going on and it turbo-charges everything.

What do you have coming up in the near future? Is there any more room in CrossFit for you?

HWPO and the rest have given us huge credibility. We know we can’t go pound-for-pound against the big fish in terms of investment or advertising, so that ‘blue tick’ from the well-known training plans in the CrossFit space are huge for us. But we’re certainly not a CrossFit platform. We don’t use the CrossFit term or any CrossFit terminology.

We’re doing some interesting stuff with HYROX, so watch this space on that. CrossFit is great and such a great community but there’s a bigger world out there. Normal coaches and personal trainers could be huge for us. We’re keeping things flexible while we work out how we provide the features for all variety of people to deliver their information through us. Nutrition, physiotherapy, you name it. How do we use our technology to allow people to create sustainable online businesses? That’s always been at the core of what we do. We want Fitr to allow a person to change their income from £500 a month to £1000, to £1500 to £2000, that’s game-changing for that person. Those stories are just as important to us.

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