Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Launching a BodyBuilding App Without a Clear Marketing Strategy

Jack Ellis
Jack Ellis
June 15, 2021
Category of startup
Health
Country of startup
United Kingdom
Revenue of startups
$0-$10k/mo
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Launching a BodyBuilding App Without a Clear Marketing Strategy

Jack Ellis
Jack Ellis
June 15, 2021
Category of startup
Health
Country of startup
United Kingdom
Cause of failure of the startup
Lack of Experience

Jack Ellis quit his full-time job to pursue Raw Gains, a fitness app focused on bodybuilding & coaching. It was self-funded and worked alone on the project. After a meaningless launch, he expected people would “just turn up” and stopped working on it.

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Hi Jack! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

My name is Jack Ellis. I’m the co-founder of Fathom Analytics, the privacy-first alternative to Google Analytics. We’ve been running this company for a few years now and I quit my job in 2020 to work on it full time. I’m originally from the United Kingdom, but I now live in Canada with my wife & daughter.

Back in 2013, I left my full-time job to pursue my startup called Raw Gains, which ultimately failed. It was going to be similar to MyFitnessPal but completely focused on bodybuilding & coaching. It was self-funded and I worked alone on the project. I was 20 years old at the time and thought I knew everything.

I had such a vision for it. The software would allow you to cycle your calories, plan macronutrients, workouts, and also give access to your coach. At the time, the market was full of tools that were doing this, but they were all quite awful, and I was going after a specific niche. 

We would make money by charging for the service and off of affiliate revenue. Fun story, I actually exchanged emails with the founder of Gymshark about partnering up to sell some of their stuff. This was before Gymshark was a billion-dollar company.


What’s your background and how did you come with those ideas?

My background is in software development. I have worked with web development languages, such as PHP since I was 13. I invested a lot of my free time in honing my skill-set, building non-commercial software, and that gave me a solid development foundation. This allowed me to get a part-time job in college and be offered an agency job immediately after. However, I always knew I wanted to start my own company. I’d started multiple “business” ventures since I was a kid, including selling sweets, washing cars, and offering web hosting. But Raw Gains came out of an interest I had in weightlifting. I found that I wasn’t happy with the available tools on the market, and I knew there were others like me who weren’t happy either.

Raw Gains Logo

So the story of the Raw Gains idea is that I merged my passions (tech & fitness), and concluded that I was going to leave my job and start a business. Ironically, because I was working so hard on Raw Gains, I actually let my fitness fall to the side, but that’s another story.

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How did you go from idea to product?

Going live took over a year. I would obsess about details and get hung up for weeks. The biggest obstacle when building software is getting hung up on irrelevant details. You need to move fast and come up with a system to break out of circular thinking. Also, set aside time for planning, but don’t try to plan everything at once. Plan one thing, then execute, then repeat. If you try to plan everything, you’ll run into problems. You won’t know everything at the start of your project, so stop trying to plan the whole thing out. The only time people should be trying to plan everything is when you’re hiring an external team, and they need a spec.

Raw Gains Landing Page

The lack of external accountability led to poor time management. And quite honestly, I didn’t want to work with anyone. I always thought it would be bad to partner up because a) you gave up 50% of control and b) you’d need to make so much more money for both of you to earn a good income. This viewpoint was one of my stupidest, most dangerous business opinions, and that held me back for a long time.


How did you market Raw Gains?

Twitter & Instagram. Very loosely, with zero real direction.


When did things start to go in the wrong direction?

It went bad from the start, I just didn’t know it. The launch was meaningless because I thought people would “just turn up”. I knew nothing about building an audience/business, and this was a humbling, depressing lesson for me. I had no real clue how to market, and all I’d done was spend money on Facebook adverts to grow a mailing list.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Firstly, when you’re attempting to do something realistic, I believe failure occurs only when you give up or it becomes impossible to do so. If I was to start Raw Gains up again now, I’d succeed, and I’d try to loop my Fathom co-founder into it because we work really well together.

Here are some loose notes on what I’d do differently

  1. Find out if this is a problem people know that they have. If nobody has this problem, it doesn’t matter how many features you have, they won’t use it
  2. Ship something within 2 months of starting. High value, small feature-set
  3. Build an audience of people who are excited about what I’m making
  4. Technical debt is fine. Stop worrying about complete test coverage. Worry about it when you’re a 7 figure company
  5. Less planning, more building
  6. You are a bad designer, Jack, so don’t spend 2 months building the CSS framework

I could probably list 100 more things but those mental models would help me succeed.


Which are your favorite entrepreneurial resources?

I like the Build Your SaaS podcast and I used to listen to Mixergy. Outside of that, some business books & articles. I’m actually listening to Seth Godin right now and I’d forgotten how sharp he is.


Where can we go to learn more?

Follow me on Twitter, sign up to Fathom, and maybe follow the Fathom Twitter account to see what we’re up to.

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