Q&A: Neil Harmsworth, PayasUgym

How did you come up with the idea?

The rise of social networking and smartphones are shaking up every conceivable market. Gyms are no different. I spotted the opportunity to provide a really flexible service for people who don't currently use the gym, or are interested in a more casual set-up. The concept's been around for a while, but not using cutting edge technologies.

How long has the business been in development?

I had the initial idea in 2009 and spent 2010 developing it. This was not easy. We talked to gyms, undertook customer surveys - we needed to pinpoint what would encourage people to go to the gym more often. The website went live earlier this month.

How did you fund your start-up?

It's been self-funded between the three co founders, myself, Jamie Ward and Michael Blake. But we've now got a bit private investment to help us get some scale.

How did you get the gyms on board?

Funnily enough, the gyms have been hugely supportive. They recognise we're in a changing market - they want to get more people using the gym. PayasUgym opens up a wider audience. It's not a rival offering, but more of a complimentary service to the membership model. We're targeting people who don't go to the gym - maybe they work and travel in different places so can't commit to location, or want a range of facilities so don't want to stick to one site. It's just another option. We support membership, but this is for more casual users.

What are the terms of your deal with the gyms?

We provide customers with an online wallet where they top up credit, they buy passes at the gym and we take a commission on every pass that's bought. We do all the marketing and provide the back end but it's only once the customer comes through the door that we get commission - that's a very attractive deal for gyms. The passes are all different prices, starting at around £3.50 to £35 for a luxury spa.

What's your USP?

There's been a sea change in the way people view discounts and bargains: everyone's looking for really good value. We always try and provide a cost-saving to customers based on existing pay-as-you-go schemes. Or, if a gym is 'members only', we broker exclusive access to our PayasUgym users for the first time.

There are a couple of other gym network sites out there but they are more informational. We're the first to market using the e-wallet concept. We're like the streetcar for gyms.

And here's a really important USP: our service doesn't affect any of the gym's internal IT systems. This is a deal-sealer in terms of uptake: PayasUgym is standalone. It doesn't impact on the gym's other services and it takes only 15 seconds to process. That's a big benefit for gyms coming on board.

Why hasn't it been attempted before?

Everyone has smartphone these days. That's the only reason such a concept could be attempted. But even three years ago, the market penetration wasn't quite there.

What are your growth plans?

The service is currently live in London but want to get into Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and across the UK. As we become more widely used, the discounts will increase, providing a bigger incentive for customers to use it. Spreading the net across the UK also benefits customers who maybe live in London but work in the Midlands, say; they'll be able to use gyms in both locations.

What's the status quo?

We've got over 100 gyms signed up in London.

What is your biggest challenge with PayasUgym?

The ability to search by facility and location etc in your pocket is quite powerful. And January was a great time to launch because everyone is thinking about losing weight, saving money, new year's resolutions. The challenge is letting people know about the concept quickly without costing the earth.

Five-year plan?

We want to take PayasUgym national and then break into Europe. But this will take some time. Then we would like to go into other markets, this model could be effective in other industries. Of course, I'm not going to share any details of these plans! But at that point, we'll look for the exit.

Find out more about PayasUgym

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