Lauren FOUNDOS: CEO & FOUNDER, FORTE

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Bio:

Lauren Foundos has an unparalleled work ethic, earning two-time All-American honors in field hockey and All-State in softball.  Lauren played field hockey in the Junior Olympics and went on to play Division I for the University of Maryland, the team appeared in the final four in 2004 and won national titles in 2005 and 2006.  During her demanding collegiate career, she earned intercollegiate athletic honor roll and ACC academic honor roll.  In 2006, Lauren received her BA degree in communications with a minor in business. She spent over 10 years working in finance in institutional sales and trading.  For the past five years she worked on Whitaker’s government bond-trading desk as an institutional US Treasury broker helping to dramatically increase their UST Short Coupon and Bill desk revenues. Prior to that she worked at Deutsche Bank in Synthetic Equities and Cloudview Capital Management, a global-macro hedge fund, as a trading assistant.  Lauren has religiously been attending boutique fitness studios for the past ten years and has developed strong relationships in the studio space, as well as, from her prior athletic career. Lauren excelled in sports growing up because she never viewed practice or working out as a chore. She has always been disciplined as an athlete, as well as, a leader and captain on her athletic teams. Lauren also plays the violin, piano, and loves to ski. Lauren’s overall enthusiasm for life and ability to motivate others has helped her find success in her career on Wall Street, and will continue as she sets out to revolutionize the fitness industry with Fortë.

How did you get into the industry?

Working out has been instrumental in helping me stay focused and grounded.

My earliest memories are all about playing sports and being active. I would have spent every minute outside if my parents would have allowed me to, but fortunately they strongly advised me to focus on school for which I’m thankful today. I wanted to be a professional hockey player like Pierre Turgeon from the NY Islanders as a child. I managed to play enough street hockey with my garage door to become a two-time all-American field hockey player and went on to play Division 1 at the University of Maryland for the nation’s top ranked program.

I spent ten years working on Wall Street where I had to be at work very early. Working out in the morning before work became increasingly more difficult, so I started taking my clients to work out with me prior to our evening events. That was the catalyst for the FORTË concept.

I was self-motivated when it came to working out my entire life and steered clear of studios; but once I began dabbling, I was immediately hooked by the energy and unspoken camaraderie within the room. As I began to build friendships within the fitness industry, I started to realize that what seemed so obvious wasn’t being done. Studios wanted to offer ‘streaming services;’ but it’s costly, and streaming is not their strength (it’s a whole different business). The boutique fitness sector makes up nearly 25 percent of the fitness industry’s revenue and with their increasing popularity, it was evident that I needed to find a way to empower studios and make it accessible to all as the demand continues to rise. After rounding up a handful of excited studios and building my incredibly talented team, the journey began.

Any emerging industry trends?

People’s heightened sense of awareness about their health and overall wellness is no longer going to be a trend but the norm. Health club revenue is expected to grow at an annualized rate of approximately 2.5% to $30.3 billion, including 3.2% growth in 2016 alone (source: IBIS).  IHRSA reports that of the 54.1 million people that had a membership to a health club, 42% of them were also members of a boutique fitness studio (source: IHRSA). We are targeting the people that do not live in close proximity to a studio, have time to attend boutique classes, or do not have the resources for the studios high price tag per session. The shift from people attending traditional health clubs to boutique fitness studios is not slowing down.

All companies today have to adopt technology, whether it be in the form of having their own website or utilizing robots to cut costs and be more efficient (clearly a more extreme example). As brick and mortar studio growth continues to rise and become extremely competitive more studios are exploring online (live and on-demand) streaming to build their footprint, community, and brand awareness at the fraction of the cost. The fitness industry was slow to move away from DVD’s, but the time has finally come and streaming is on the forefront of all boutique studio owner’s minds.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Streaming presents a huge opportunity for boutique fitness studios. It enables them to leverage the great content they create, and bring it to the masses. With Streaming they can access a much larger audience, avoid the hefty costs associated with opening brick and mortar facilities, increase their earning potential and build their brand exponentially.

We are empowering the best brands in boutique fitness and elite coaches from around the world to reach far beyond the confines of their studio walls.

Movie ticket sales have been declining as people are opting to watch them at home on Netflix or HBO On-Demand. Thanks to bigger, higher quality TVs, and audio systems the at-home viewing experience has been significantly improved and has become a much more attractive option. It is safe to say that nothing replaces an in-studio boutique fitness experience (or trip to the movies), but people will begin to view streaming as a much more attractive alternative, saving time, money, and opening the doors to some previously intimidated individuals. Streaming presents a whole new frontier for studios, making the possibilities endless.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

Being active has been a daily ritual for me. I look forward to every workout, and I find the “post-workout high” to be almost cathartic in the best way possible.

FORTË will change the way people engage in physical activity by giving people access to the most cutting-edge fitness trends and industry leaders, and by making people excited to work out - ultimately making them stronger, happier, and healthier.

I spent my entire life working out, but the catalyst for FORTË vision developed when I started taking my Wall Street clients to work out with me before our dinners. It was primarily for selfish reasons as it was getting progressively harder to wake up so early to make it on time to the trading desk in the mornings that I decided to make it part of the evening work activities. I always thought that group fitness was silly, and that I didn't need it because I was self-disciplined and already knew what to do from all of my years as a competitive athlete. Well, boy was I wrong, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

As I began to fall hard for studios, my vision for FORTË became extremely vivid. Somehow, someway, with no engineering background whatsoever, I decided that I must build this technology company to enable these incredible pioneers in the boutique fitness industry to reach beyond the confines of their walls, so that they could share their magic with the world.

We partner with top boutique studios and enable them to do what they are great at which is build incredible fitness content and communities. We do what we're great at, which is to build, innovate, and create new technology to make this very large world a connected, inspiring, and sweaty place. You can expect to see us partnering with top studios outside the United States, as well as, beginning to test new and exciting technology like 3-D video and virtual reality.

I have been going to these studios every day before I even had an inkling of this vision within my mind, so it’s extremely exciting to be building a company that fuels the core of my existence.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

In the next 30 days you can expect to see us entering two new cities in two new fitness verticals. You can expect to see us continue to roll out exciting new features to our web-based platform and begin development of our mobile and television apps. We will be raising our Series A in the coming months, and are extremely excited about the various opportunities that are presenting themselves.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

FORTË continues to be a great success because we are in the right place at the right time. The fitness industry is ready to adopt technology, wearables are advancing, and the world is focused on streaming (content), especially live broadcasting.

I have to say our most exciting partnership to date has been with Exhale. Not only have they built an incredible brand in the boutique fitness industry, but what you don’t see is the incredible team behind the scenes that has made it all possible. To wake up and work with such incredible, hard working, and open-minded individuals is a blessing. Exhale took a leap of faith with us as we emerged into the space as a new player. We have felt so lucky for this opportunity and have worked many sleepless nights to deliver to this partnership as much, if not more than we promised. We are excited about the future of this partnership as we continue to grow together.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

I like to focus on the moving forward when I face difficult moments rather than letting any negativity consume me, so naming a specific moment is a challenge.

I find it difficult to manage people. In my previous career on Wall Street, I was responsible for myself, for my own P&L. If I didn’t perform well, it was on me. The only option I had was to do well or you were fired, it was that simple. Now, I manage many people and I have to deal with various personalities, work styles, and be extremely understanding in order to maximize their work potential. It’s a much different world than I came from, and I have had to learn how to be patient, and sometimes even encourage them despite their shortcomings. This has certainly been a challenge for me because I hold myself to the absolute highest standards.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

Our users are loving the product (see below) because they can now gain instant access to the world’s most popular boutique fitness studio classes right by the tap of a button. Our classes are streamed live and on-demand directly from our partner boutique studios. The people in the classes are real, and you get to experience the studio as if you were there yourself. We are flipping the script and breaking the mold of traditional choreographed exercise videos by bringing you raw, unedited, and live footage. The people are real, the places are real, and you too can visit a studio and actually be a part of a streamed class yourself.

Our users appreciate now having access to these places. It’s more convenient, more cost efficient, and the content is real and always evolving. You can count on the most relevant and cutting-edge workouts in boutique fitness coached by the industry’s elite to be delivered directly to you, whenever, wherever.

Here is what some users are saying:

-I just took one of your classes on forte.fit. Life changing!! I love this new online streaming! I'm very excited to be able to take more of your classes.  Tracey

-Lauren,

I sincerely want to thank you for creating this platform. Forte is such a blessing to me. I live an hour south of Houston, Texas and challenging workouts just are not available to me. Since I found you I've been able to do barre or yoga every day with out having to travel an hour + to Houston. Thank you so stinkin much :). Thank you so much. Gratefully, A

-I just took Bergen's class.  Wow - I feel like I just won the lottery. The clarity and music and Bergen live - AMAZING.

-I contacted Forte Fit today and told them I am sold!!!!  -Marina

-I am such a huge fan of FORTE. Yeah, I have just been watching classes I took in the studio. It's super nice to be able to do classes from home when I can't make it in person. Or like right now when I'm out of town, I normally would have brought workout DVDs but with FORTE I don't have to! I love that I can do the classes anywhere at any time, and that all different types of classes are in one place. FORTE provides the same at home convenience of workout videos but with more variety and relevance. It's AWESOME.

Let me know if I can help promote the brand in any way, I'm a huge fan of what you're doing!

-Maddie

How do you motivate others?

I try to inspire others by leading by example. People get lucky as a result of hard work day in and day out. By holding myself to the highest standard, it motivates those around me to do so as well.

I also motivate others by encouraging them to take risks. I take risks every day; and I’m a firm believer that without operating outside of your comfort zone, you will continue to yield the same results. If you want to be better, you cannot be afraid to fail; and if you do, who cares, learn and move on. Of course there are always challenges, but I like to focus on the positive things, and with that repeated strength will come great success

Career advice to those in your industry?

I had no idea that starting a company meant that I’d never sleep again!

I had absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into. I came from an intense and stressful trading floor environment;  but when that market closed, it was closed. Owning your own company is a much different beast. That being said, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It has been the most exciting 2.5 years of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m in love with what I do; it’s just not easy. I’ve given up everything else in my life to make this a huge success, and I’m determined to do so.

I believe that it is extremely important that you work on things you are passionate about, but with that you must also be incredibly resilient because no great feat was accomplished through all victories. Building your own company isn’t the easy path, but it certainly is a rewarding path.

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