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Volume 7 No. 149
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Hangin' With ... Freeletics CEO Daniel Sobhani

Freeletics CEO Daniel Sobhani
Photo: Freeletics

DANIEL SOBHANI is the CEO of the fitness app Freeletics. The app gives users a personalized program to help them achieve their fitness goals. Sobhani was not always a fitness enthusiast. While at university, he found that taking care of his body translated to more confidence and a well-rounded life. He was named CEO of Freeletics in '14 and has seen the fitness app's user numbers surge to more than 31 million, becoming the No. 1 health and fitness app in Europe. The company launched its athleisure clothing brand in '15 and has continued to grow its digital offering with three new apps: Freeletics Running, Freeletics Gym and Freeletics Nutrition. In August '18, the company received its first investment from U.S.-based capital firms, leading to its ambition to grow in the North American market. Sobhani spoke with SBD Global about Freeletics' growth and the company's plans for the future.

On the U.S.-based investment ... 
Daniel Sobhani: We have a great group of investors that cover the areas of sports, media and technology, with some strong ties to American professional sports. So next to the capital, we have great networking and deep understanding on the board. Being in the U.S. market is one of the things that we really valued. As we were bootstrapped, the decision to take an investment was a huge and fundamental decision for us. There are a lot of benefits to taking an investment, but you then have an investment so you better make sure you hit your growth figures. What was important for us was that the board and the group of investors have a deep understanding in the fitness space and really buy into our vision. ... And we wanted the U.S. market because it is our strongest-growing market, we wanted to double down on that market. We wanted ties to the sports industry because we are thinking about launching sports-specific programs. Those were all things that helped make our decision.

On how the investment helped ...
Sobhani: Before three months ago, we were bootstrapped. We didn’t have a single investment dollar in our company. ... Now that’s good and that’s bad. It is good in the sense that you’re laser-focused on the user and you can make sure the user appreciates what you provide them, so that there is willingness to pay. The other end of the spectrum is that you lack the possibility to invest in different areas. We now have an investment, we have a lot more possibilities. Our current focus is, for the next six to 12 months, to transform our Freeletics app into what we call “the Netflix of Fitness,” providing our users an almost unlimited range of variety and possibilities to train.

On Freeletics wear ...
Sobhani: The wear line is evolving. The idea behind it was to strengthen the community and movement behind Freeletics. Most of our users understand that there is more to it than just this fitness aspect. They call themselves “Free-athletes.” They meet at offline locations, sometimes with as many as 500-600 people, all run by our users. There is this community spirit to say, “I am a free athlete,” because they are using Freeletics. In becoming this community and this symbol for people, we thought it would be nice to give our users a way on the training ground to express this belonging. 

On plans for sports-specific programs ... 
Sobhani: It would be geographically different. For the U.S. market, the initial two sports that we are looking at are [American] football and basketball. This is due to the popularity of those sports, as well as some physical aspects: what can you do; what kind of training plans; and the connections from our investors. In Europe it would definitely be soccer-focused. That is one of the areas that really excites us because in health and fitness, one of the challenges you have is to support the people to get active. You have to get them off the couch to get active. But if you go to the sports area, one of the main differences is that those people are already active. ... So they might be more demanding on their solutions, but there is a much-higher willingness.

On Freeletics reaching 31 million users ... 
Sobhani: I think there are a mixture of factors in here. One thing is that the people that use Freeletics achieve results, which is the number one thing people are looking for if they are using a fitness app. And because they are achieving results, there is a very high word of mouth factor. ... Also our brand positioning is different and stands out. The other side of all this is that we are, as a business and a team, very good in user acquisition. We understand how to market, we understand how to do this positively because were a bootstrapped company. We are very, very efficient in spreading the word about Freeletics and getting people to use our products. ... Our biggest market is in Europe, where we are the number 1 fitness app. Our biggest growing markets are the U.S., North America and India. It is very international and very diverse.

Hangin' With runs every Friday in SBD Global.