In 2013, Neha Motwani was working with Aon Hewitt in Mumbai as a talent and organization consultant. Motwani, then 27, was searching online for fitness solutions beyond gyms but couldn’t find anything helpful. “I wanted to get fit but didn’t know where or how to begin. I searched online but all that came up were websites and advertisements for some gyms," she says.

Motwani, who has an MBA in human resources from Mumbai’s Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research, spotted an opportunity there. “I thought it would be great to have a platform that helped locate and book fitness classes and gym sessions," she says. Motwani quit Aon Hewitt in April the same year and started Fitternity, a fitness discovery and booking platform, four months later.

Business-wise: Motwani may have acted on instinct when it came to picking her new venture, but relied on meticulous research and planning for the rest. “I wanted to get my facts right and understand the pulse of Indian fitness consumers. So, I carried out comprehensive surveys, interviews, market research, etc, that helped me understand the need, drivers and trends in the fitness space," she says. Motwani defined the go-to-market offerings accordingly. For the rest of that year, she went from gym to gym, met trainers and fitness experts, and struck partnerships. Fitternity’s website went live in 2014. Even today, she prefers learning by research. Fitternity’s latest survey found that the average Indian works out 5-6 days a month but ends up paying for 30 days. “Based on this observation, we recently launched a ‘pay-per-session’ plan where the user just has to pay for the session he/she wants to attend—no up front payments, no commitments," she adds.

The learning curve: Research and planning are crucial building blocks. Face-time with people from the target industry helps

Personal shift: When Motwani was at Aon Hewitt, she was a part of a team. Launching a start-up was a big shift, especially in her mindset and ability to make an impact. “At a job I am a resource: a consultant, engineer, manager... the company has 50 such consultants. I was a part of a bodyshop. But in Fitternity, I can make an impact as an individual and make the most of each day. It’s this need to create an impact in a start-up that stands out for me," she says.

This was a critical point in her journey from a salaried employee to an entrepreneur. With every passing day, Motwani developed the ability to translate demand into offerings, understood the nuances of e-commerce, and built her business block-by-block. “As an entrepreneur you cannot find excuses or blame anyone else for any failure: you are in the driver’s seat, whether you enjoy being there or not," she says.

The learning curve: There is no passing the buck.

People management: After research, the next most important thing was getting the right team in place. Motwani’s first port of call was LinkedIn. She was looking for people who understood the offline-to-online model in fitness or adjacent categories—she even got blocked several times because she tried sending messages to hundreds of people everyday. It was around this time in 2013 that a friend connected Motwani to Jayam Vora, who was then working with a health start-up. He came on board to manage sales. “Today, Vora is my co-founder and chief operating officer," says Motwani.

Being a woman venturing into the fitness space, dominated by men, did not deter her. “I do not think gender has anything to do with starting a venture or trying to make an impact in any industry. Strong and successful women entrepreneurs have taken me on as their protégé. Many have helped me and continue to do so."

The learning curve: Find mentors. Make an effort to find the best candidates.

Managing money: Motwani bootstrapped for over a year before going in for the first round of funding in 2015. “It was a great experience—pitching to investors and getting their support," she says. Fitternity, which now has been used around 6 million people (through its website as well as its Android and iOS apps), had two more rounds of funding in 2016 and 2017.

The start-up currently operates in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi NCR, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. Motwani plans to raise Series B funds later this year to expand geographically.

The learning curve: Bootstrap and expand only when you have funding

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Though Motwani doesn’t miss being a cog in the wheel anymore, she misses her former colleagues who have been a great source of support for her.

Executive to Entrepreneur is a series that looks at the lessons learnt by 9am-5pm employees who set up their own business. Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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