Interview: Hugo Carvalho, CTO of BTFIT
January 5th, 2016
What would a seasoned startupper say to those who are thinking about starting a business of their own? We've had a chance to connect with Hugo Carvalho, the CTO of BTFIT - a digital fitness platform that gives an opportunity for everyone to develop health habits and exercise, regardless of the equipment one has (or doesn't have.) Read about his experience below.
The client is always right... or is he?
I think that users may lead the way, but I know they are not always right, so we have to keep this balance.
If we just do what the users want, we will end up with a Frankenstein monster that will have low "stickness" (i.e. something that might quickly fall apart). The secret to the balance is to identify key users (more loyal customers), see what they are doing, and keep those users engaged, creating features for them. Granted, you might lose some of the clients in the process because not everyone would like the new things, but those who will be really engaged will begin to form a community and make all your efforts worth it.
I would rather have a few thousand loyal customers that stick with us than millions that just complain and don't really use the app.
If I need rapid growth, I can invest in campaigns, but if they don't stick, I'm just "renting" clients. As soon as they stop "receiving" something for their activity, they will go somewhere else.
Do you think startups will continue to blossom as rapidly as they did in 2015?
I think that there is always space for startups. There will always be challenges in the world (no matter if we live in a developed country or not), there will always be opportunities to solve those problems or at least to ease them. Given the current world scenario with huge mobile growth and with the rupture of old models (now the greatest urban transport company Uber owns 0 cars, and the most successful "hotel chain" AirBNB has 0 buildings, for instance), I believe 2016 and the following years will be excellent for startups and for breaking the rules that made sense in the years before.
For instance, here in Brazil, with this big political and economical crisis, we are seeing more and more people leaving their jobs (or creating their own jobs because the unemployment rates are very high) and becoming more entrepreneurial (I think it is in our DNA). They keep opening new businesses and creating new products and services. In my point of view, this crisis has cast a good challenge for people to think outside the box and do something to solve a pain they are living with every day in order to survive. That's pretty much the essence of a startup, right? :)
Did you have a mentor?
In fact, I don’t have a specific mentor. I lived in the startup environment for a few years (already had 5 companies / startups) and as far as I can tell the best mentors are other startuppers who are living the dream (and the pain) that is to have a startup. They got through many problems and talking with them allowed me to learn the most. I was fortunate to have possibilities to exchange this knowledge with many startups not just from Brazil but also from all around the world and I believe the advice that I’ve received from them are the best.
I have many "cliches" and advice I could give, but I think the best advice I can give is something I realized throughout all these years (I made the advice myself):
Growth mostly depends on how much cash you have. Engagement, on the other hand, is the business core and is something you must work hard for, since day one. And you can’t buy it.
So the secret sauce here is to build a memorable solution that solves a real pain and creates a community of loyal users (doesn't matter if in the beginning it is just a few hundred users). Call them, get them to visit the office, and make them a part of what you are building. With this, your solution will become stronger and will have users coming back to it every day. With that in mind, you can start to understand the "personas" that might use the app and the characteristics that are similar to your loyal customers. Then you can invest in marketing / ads targeted and this user profile and make your app grow in a more sustainable way. It does not make sense to invest in propaganda to reach 1 million downloads for your app if in three days 98% of them will delete or stop using it.
Share a bit about your startup?
BTFIT is a fitness platform that allows you to develop healthy habits and practice exercises no matter where you are or which equipment you have.
We realized that many people today are stressed and sedentary, and for most of them, doing exercises is a problem because:
- they spend a lot of time just to reach the gym;
- they can’t be at they gym in the time periods it is open;
- they are somehow ashamed of their fitness level and don’t want people to see them working out;
- they don’t have access to qualified trainers of good gyms;
- and they think being healthy is too expensive.
What people do not realize is that this lifestyle is very harmful and have a direct impact on the quality of life. Our platform allows users to track and experience fitness and exercise no matter where users are and no matter if it is early in the morning or late at night. We developed our service in a way that the user can "experience" a premium quality fitness service and have an online personal trainer/coach in their pocket (in their smartphones and tablets).
We offer new content and group classes every day and we have our own patented algorithm to generate exercises adequate to each user's restrictions and goals and it adapts to the user scenario. If the users do workouts with our app in the gym and goes on a trip, we adapt in real time the exercises from the gym (most of them with equipment) to exercises that the user can do in a hotel room.
What do you like the most about it?
The thing I like the most about it is how BTFIT is changing people’s lives. We keep in close contact with our customers and it is always wonderful to listen how some of them lose weight or change their lifestyles with our help. Stories of how many of them didn't like to workout at the gym but felt in love with home exercises and now are having a healthier life and getting fit. It is a huge pleasure to develop a solution that has real positive impact on people’s life.
If you could change one thing in the way you launched your startup, what would it be?
If I could go back in time (perhaps, one day there will be a startup that will create a time machine), I would've launched our product earlier, as soon as the minimum viable product (MVP) is, in fact, viable. We waited too long to have a product that we considered good enough for the public. And, in reality, the user behavior within the platform showed us that many of the assumptions we made regarding the features that must be "perfect" and that users will love and use every day were not exactly right. If we found out about these things a few months earlier, it would've been much easier (and lean) to adjust it. Right now, we are using a much more user-driven way of doing things and the results are awesome.
Stay tuned for the upcoming interviews!