We chat to Julia Stent, co-founder and CEO of fitness recommendation platform Spotter. Julia tells us how she keeps in touch with her co-founders across five time zones and the difficulties of keeping up with new legislation.
Please explain who you are, what your business is, and what it does/aims to achieve?
Spotter is a site built exclusively for personal trainers, fitness professionals and coaches. It lets them earn cash for recommending nutrition products, supplements and sports equipment to clients.
Life can be tough for fitness trainers, too many of whom don’t survive the early years. We partner with almost every major supplement brand on the UK market and products are available at the best prices and with discounts. This means clients can save money as their trainer makes an additional income stream.
What time does your day usually start and end?
It changes daily but rarely nine to five. I might have several calls with our retailer partners during working hours, but I also might work evenings and weekends if needed.
What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?
The best bit is talking to personal trainers to understand their businesses better and seeing the difference our site can make. Positive feedback from our user base makes it all worthwhile.
The hardest bit is deciding on the right place to invest our marketing funds. As we’ve bootstrapped our business, money has to be very carefully assigned.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
My background is in affiliate marketing – I spent eight years in price comparison businesses including uSwitch – and I also work in the fitness industry, mentoring sport and fitness technology startups through London Sport. I have an MSc in Strength & Conditioning, and I’m a qualified nutritionist, certified by the International Society of Sports Nutritionists (CISSN).
The fitness industry is crying out for disruptive startups, and it was clear to me that brands and trainers needed to be matched up. It’s currently not an easy sector for a personal trainer to grow a successful business in. ONS data shows only 54% of health businesses make it past five years.
How did you fund your business?
It’s entirely bootstrapped because, between us – that’s me and the four other co-founders – we have all the tech and digital expertise we could ever need. We share the company equity, but none of us takes a salary because we all have other jobs or businesses that support us.
What has been the biggest challenge for your business?
Understanding how best to reach personal trainers. They’re busy people, and not always as tech savvy as the people I’m used to dealing with day to day in online marketing. We have to help them hear about and understand Spotter so it can help them grow their businesses.
What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?
For an online startup it’s the ever-growing list of legislation, be it the EU privacy directive or GDPR. These have a meaningful impact on any business and the lack of support is very obvious. As a business owner, you feel the message from the government is ‘read this massive document and sort it out or you risk a massive fine’ rather than ‘here are some practical steps and sources that can help you to be compliant’.
Have you made any mistakes along the way and how did you overcome them/learn from them?
It took me a while to work out the right level of communication between five co-founders in different time zones and on different continents. One of my jobs is to keep everyone on track with our targets and goals and to clearly communicate the current objective of any quarter. I’ve got the balance right now, but there were teething problems.
What previous experiences have helped you in starting your business?
It’s all helped because I’d never have come up with the idea for Spotter without my affiliate marketing experience, or my interest in nutrition and fitness. I wouldn’t have realised the need for it, either.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?
Test something quickly. Don’t spend months building the perfect solution before you ever show it to anyone in your target market. Define your audience, and then get something out to them immediately – a working prototype or even just some sketches. Validate your assumptions early on.
Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?
I’d take time to more clearly outline time expectations with my co-founders, and work out a strategy for each month from the start. Our agile way of working took us a while to get in place.
What do you do to relax away from the hustle and bustle of work?
Around friends and family, I fit in powerlifting, and pretending to be a tourist in my home city of London.
Do you manage to achieve a good work/life balance?
Yes. I spent eight years working long hours in high-pressure environments, including director level positions in businesses with £100m+ revenue and a team of 30+. I made the conscious decision to move away from that style of life towards early-stage startups where the focus is on creativity and where I could achieve a decent work-life balance.