As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Hitchins, an Austin, Texas-based entrepreneur. He is the Founder of FitRankings, the first universal health platform, connecting the world of fitness by unifying the fragmented wearable landscape — any wearable, any app, any activity, under one platform. FitRankings gives organizations the ability to leverage the world of connected health devices by providing turnkey technology, tools, and support to create meaningful digital fitness experiences and build scalable communities.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in downtown Chicago I was an only child, and even as a young kid, I struggled with anxiety, depression, and insomnia. I distinctly remember one December evening around 6pm, it was pitch black and 20 degrees outside. I was in 4th or 5th grade, I had been going through a really bad period and my mom suggested that I go out for a run. I remember thinking she was crazy for suggesting it, but I layered up and ventured out into the cold. I ran a mile to Buckingham Fountain and a mile back, against the wind and cold, and I distinctly remember the feeling I had at the end: my mind was clear. I slept like a rock that night. I’ve been running or exercising everyday since then.
In 2007, I moved down to Austin to help start a company, FloSports.tv, with two friends of mine that I ran Cross Country and Track with in highschool. We covered sports that ESPN didn’t cover, and I was responsible for sales and business development. For the first 8 months, I lived in the office, trying to close business to keep the lights on. Over seven years, in a bootstrapped environment, I grew our revenue from $0 to millions by establishing first time partnerships with brands like Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas. Often I felt out of my element, I had a Master’s degree in Sport Psychology and had never taken a business class in my life. But, ultimately this experience became my MBA program and I’ve been an entrepreneur ever since.
I left FloSports in 2014 to start FitRankings. During my time at FloSports I began using fitness apps and wearables like Strava, MapMyFitness, and Garmin. I thought it was fascinating that I could see how far or fast I ran, but was frustrated that I couldn’t connect this data to the brands, causes, and organizations that I cared about. So, in 2014 I decided to find a solution to this problem and launched FitRankings.
In 2014, 40% of US Adults had a health or fitness app, now nearly 90% of US Adults use a health app or wearable. To this day, very few brands, causes, and organizations can connect to these apps and create meaningful experiences for their communities. Our mission at FitRankings is to empower organizations to build meaningful virtual fitness experiences by providing the software tools technology, know-how, and support to connect to these apps and wearables.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I have always been a slow talker. I mean SLOW. As a kid, I had a few teachers that pulled me aside after class asking me whether I smoked pot (even though I was a good student). Early on in my career I would call prospective customers throughout the country, and I realized that customers on the East Coast, and in New York or Boston particularly, were not picking up what I was laying down. I quickly realized that I needed to SPEED IT UP, or be left behind. I would chug coffee and do some pushups, and come into these conversations with HIGH ENERGY, and manage to talk a bit faster. The takeaway lesson was really just psychology/sales 101: You have to mirror your customer.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Two books have made a distinct impression on me. The first is “How to win at the Sport of Business” by Mark Cuban. It’s a short read, and gives the aspiring entrepreneur a taste of the realities faced when starting your own business and making it. If you read the news all you see is X company raised millions or sold a business for X millions, and it is a distorted picture of the realities of entrepreneurship. Cuban’s book helps put those news headlines in perspective.
The second book is “Endurance”, a story chronicling Ernest Shackleton’s trans-arctic expedition in the early 1900s. Obviously, not a business book, but provides plenty of analogies to the work of starting a business. Ultimately, this book has helped shape my perspective that businesses that can find a way to survive and endure, will be successful. I have used Shackleton’s quote as a mantra for my own work “Through endurance, we conquer”.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Going back to my childhood, and the fateful run I took on that winter evening, I can say that my work has simply been a continuation of that moment and the profound impact that exercise has had on my life. On an individual basis, I see any company or product I have helped create as a moment on a continuum of a lifelong journey and pursuit of understanding exercise and its effect on the human condition. Ultimately, I see myself as working toward a PhD more than a profit.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
There is no single philosophical principle that guides my work, but a principle that I continue to live by: find at least 30-minutes a day to exercise. During a pandemic, with two kids under the age of two, finding the time is not easy! Luckily I have a wife that understands that I need it, and I can also justify the workout as part of my “job” !
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family-related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My wife and I had our second child on March 31st, and for the first six months of the pandemic we had no help and two children under the age of two. Ultimately, you find a way to survive and adapt, and it makes you stronger. The communication lessons that we have learned from this pandemic have been hard, but will benefit our relationship for the rest of our life. The biggest lesson on the communication side is the same one you try to learn when you start in sales: LISTEN.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Over the years we have traditionally worked with larger enterprise organizations like Under Armour, USA Cycling, and Hoka One One. When the pandemic hit we received a ton of interest from medium and smaller sized organizations that wanted to use our technology to put on virtual challenges in an attempt to generate revenue. We wanted to help these organizations keep people on their payroll and stay in business. So, we made the decision to jump into a rapid product development mode to serve them. It put plenty of strain on our engineering and customer success teams, but ultimately, we came out the other end having helped a lot of people and with an entirely new product.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Honestly, I think during times like these you need to fight your urge to constantly watch the news. Stay informed, but do not obsess. Realize that there are things in life that you can control, and those that you can’t. Focus on the things that you can control.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can, of course, try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time, Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Since 2015 FitRankings has been in the business of creating digital experiences using wearables and fitness apps. We worked with many event partners, including Tough Mudder, who had never had a digital/virtual offering previous to COVID. Quickly, Tough Mudder realized that this offering not only generated revenue, but introduced new participants to the brand. Broadly speaking, I think that events will start seeing themselves as brands engagement opportunities well beyond the confines of a certain date, time, and space.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Self admittedly, I am a bit of a germ-a-phob. So this is a loaded question. Paradoxically, I think once we get on the other side of this I will be less of a germ-a-phob because I survived a pandemic!
More broadly, I think people will be more aware of their digital lives. The pandemic has forced many of our connections with others to be digital. In some cases, those digital connections were healthy, generating joy and happiness (reaching out to an old friend across the country on facetime). In other cases, those digital connections were negative (being stuck in a newsfeed full of negativity that we could not turn off).
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
As mentioned, FitRankings went through a rapid product development cycle to be able to serve the medium and small organizations instead of just large enterprise organizations. We were able to help some of the organizations that were hit hardest by COVID (live endurance events), and give them a way to connect with their community, generate revenue, and keep people on payroll. It was our duty to do this.
In a post-covid world, we will continue working with these smaller and medium sized organizations to help expand upon their already successful virtual event offerings. This will allow them to continue increasing community engagement even after COVID ends. Ultimately, this goes back to our mission of connecting organizations to their communities through fitness and health.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage the businesses that made it through COVID to figure out a way to help businesses that were hit the hardest. Whether it’s through building a technology product, volunteering time, or hiring folks, there is plenty our organizations can do to support those in need.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters the same, yours is the earth and everything that’s in it” (Rudyard Kipling). The reality is that creating a business will have some extreme highs and lows. It’s important to remember that neither triumph nor disaster will last, so just keep your head down and keep working.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow me or Connect with me on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/patrickhitchins/