"If you really want to achieve something great sometimes you just have to go all in and burn the boats - No backup plan, gotta make this work."
Casey Jenks is the CEO & Co-Founder of TrueCoach which was recently acquired by TSG for an undisclosed eight figure amount after only being founded in 2015. TrueCoach is a technology platform built for coaches and gym owners that delivers individualized training programs to clients no matter where they are. Casey is also a former CrossFit gym owner, outdoor enthusiast and married to Lindsey Jenks who is the CEO & Founder of Macrostax.
Congrats on the recent acquisition!
Thank you, we were not expecting it to be this soon. I thought we still had another few years left of building and growing. We were about a week into kicking off a new fundraising effort and had been making great progress with 60% of the round committed, and then we got this unsolicited offer. What ultimately convinced you to sell TrueCoach?
There were a few different factors. First it was just a frothy market at the time. Multiples on revenue were high, way higher than what they traditionally are. So we could have doubled the business this year, but if multiples after that go down, it would work out the same. Things were also going great and I feel like that's the best time to sell. Second, it was a great win for our investors and our team. Third, it meant having the backing of a larger entity with resources to invest in our product and growth and deep payments domain expertise. How important do you think the community was in the ultimate success of TrueCoach?
It was huge. I don't think it would have happened in Florida (where the company started). There’s so many startups and entrepreneurs here in Colorado. It's an active, healthier and bigger ecosystem. Especially when it comes to investment. It's one of the things that drew us out here. Did you come out here mainly due to Techstars?
We actually did Techstars in Chicago. I was in Florida at the time, but my co-founder was living in Mountain View. We realized that we gotta get build this company together somewhere in person. And the front range had everything we were looking for - fitness, tech, and be outdoors. It's been awesome. Big upgrade. You had some great advisors at TrueCoach, how did you build such a great network?
Techstars taught us well on this. It was about trying to get linked up to the right people and getting them involved and bringing them into the fold. Eric Roza, now CEO of CrossFit, was one of your advisors - how critical was his knowledge in the space and helping you build the company?
Eric got involved in the summer of 2018 and was crucial at every major step after that. Eric opened up his network to us and connected us with a lot of other investors and mentors. He led our seed round and also served as our board chair through 2019 and helped us all the way up through acquisition. Before becoming a tech entrepreneur, you owned a CrossFit gym. What compelled you to leave that for tech?
It was never my goal to really be involved in the day to day for too long at the gym. After we got it up and running and were able to hire some coaches on the team, I started taking a step back. Towards the end, or even, maybe a year and a half in, the gym was just kind of where I went to work out and hang out. My wife was more so the fitness brains of the operation and more involved than me. I joked with people that I was on the board there, but not really working there in the day to day.
As an owner, what problems were you seeing at the gym that lead to TrueCoach?
I was seeing a lot of pen and paper notebooks that our coaches were using to train their one on one personal training clients. I had also hired a remote coach for myself, and it was a lot of emails and spreadsheets back and forth. Then you factor in the day to day communications, the payments, the various forms you have to fill out. I felt that for every minute that I spent working out, I spent another minute just trying to gather all of my results and notes and format them to get them back to my coach. So I saw an opportunity and knew that there had to be a better way and decided to start TrueCoach.
At what point, did you think “we might have something here & this might actually work”?
I was able to get the product to beta after about six months, and the beta lasted a couple months long and was free. At the end of the beta, we had about 40 coaches using it to train their clients and I decided to flip the switch to require them paying for access to the platform a couple months into the beta. Every single coach that was using it decided to pay for the product. It’s always one thing when you have people telling you how great your product is when it's free, but the real test is when they have to whip that credit card out and pay actual dollars. That was a real validator. Literally everyone signed up. You sold the gym, and went all-in on your startup. Was that critical?
For sure, I also stopped the web development consulting I was doing at the time. I think too much optionality in life leads to mediocrity. If you really want to achieve something great sometimes you just have to go all in and burn the boats - No backup plan, gotta make this work. What else did you do to increase the chances of your success?
I talked to our customers a lot in the early days. I logged over 20,000 conversations and tickets with customers before we hired our first person to run customer success. That taught me a ton. I also worked my ass off. That might sound like hustle porn but I felt in the first few years that I had an extra battery pack and the work didn't really feel like work. I love doing it and it was super exciting. I’d definitely say it wasn't sustainable long term though. But in the early days you gotta work hard, bust your ass to get product off the ground and that's what it takes. Were there any mistakes that you really learned from?
Hire slow, fire fast. Best advice you’ve ever received?
Early on, someone told me “When you’re building this at the beginning, don't worry about over engineering and creating the perfect solution. Keep it simple and get something out there fast and iterate from there. And that advice really stuck. I think a little bit of tech debt is optimal for a super early stage start up and if you don't have some level of tech debt then you're not moving fast enough. Why is speed so critical early on?
For us it was about finding that product market fit - building the right product, and that takes a lot of learning and iteration. The speed at which you can ship and deliver value to your customers is going to determine a large part of the success of that venture. What were some key factors of TrueCoach’s ultimate success? 1. We invested in advertising digital acquisition early. Probably before the product was really mature enough to start selling. We just wanted to get that data. That was key. 2. Listen to your customers. 3. Keep things simple - really focusing on a solid user experience and trying to deliver a simple product. 4. Humility – It’s one of our core values. Keeping a low ego. I think that's huge. Always realizing there's room for improvement. Where can it get better? That was a was a big part of our success. What about personal habits? What’s had the highest ROI for you?
Lifting weights. I think that’s the single biggest investments anybody can make into their health. But not just your physical health, but your mental health, mindset and overall wellbeing. There are very few problems in life that a good exercise routine and a solid diet can’t help. What advice would you give a graduating senior who has everything in front of them?
Figure out what it is you're most passionate about and what will fulfill you to make you happy. Find a problem that you can really sink your teeth into. Favorite quotes? “There's no substitute for hard work.” - Thomas Edison (found in a fortune cookie) “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” - Carl Sagan
CrossFit has been in the news a lot recently; you obviously know the new CEO pretty well. What's your prediction for the sport?
This is the first time I've been excited about CrossFit in probably 6 or 7 years. There's not a better person that they could have picked than Eric and I'm so happy that he was able to pull it off (the acquisition). I'm super excited to see where CrossFit goes. Not just from the sport perspective, but also the general health and fitness side that is actually 98% of what CrossFit is all about. Sometimes people see this sport only for the CrossFit games, and the freak of nature athletes. But the coolest thing about CrossFit that doesn't get enough attention is just the everyday people that just want to look better, move better, and feel better. And how empowering that is in being a positive force in someone's life and trying to give them the best hour of their day inside your CrossFit gym.