Rajiv is based out of Delhi-NCR and writes stories on startups, corporates, entrepreneurs of all kinds, and yes, marketing and advertising world. His ‘historic feats’ include graduation in history from Hansraj College, master's in medieval Indian history from Delhi University, and PG diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Another forgettable achievement was spending over a decade at The Economic Times as his maiden job. For the first seven years, he learnt the craft on the desk, and the remaining years were spent unlearning and writing for Brand Equity and ET Magazine. What keeps him going, and alive, apart from stories is the heavenly music of immortal legend RD Burman.
Saumya Mittal, Co-founder and CEO, FitBudd
Image: Madhu Kapparath
November 2021, Gurugram. “So how do you manage your responsibilities at home?” asked the person sitting across the table. Saumya Mittal, the mother of a toddler, stared at the venture capitalist (VC) in stunned silence. It was a funding pitch, the chemical engineer from IIT-Delhi was into the early months of her second venture, and with the kind of background Mittal came from—over eight years at Cairn Oil and Gas—the entrepreneur was right in wondering if the person asking the question had gone out of his mind. “I was 100 percent sure he would not have asked this to any male founder,” recalls Mittal, who co-founded a fitness SaaS platform for coaches along with Naman Singhal in May 2021.
After a few fleeting seconds, Mittal continued with the conversation. “What you mean to ask” she paraphrased the question, “is how I manage my responsibilities at the company. Right?” Without waiting for an affirmative nod, she boldly replied. “Just to clarify, I’m the CEO, and I manage growth, sales and business,” she underlined. There is a co-founder, she underscored, who takes care of the other aspects of the business.
This was, however, not the first awkward moment for Mittal. The founder, who started a mobile-first online photo printing platform Pixylz in August 2019, was used to more embarrassing scenarios. Sample this. “Will you continue to be the CEO or the co-founder will take over in the future?” was another such question from a funder. “What makes you think that I will step down?” Mittal retorted.
In yet another funding conversation, most of the questions were directed towards her co-founder. “I am the CEO, and I am also here to answer your queries,” she snapped back. For over a decade in the corporate world, Mittal made a name for herself by excelling in a male-dominated sector of oil and gas. “I always believed the only way to succeed was to have a good education,” she says. “That’s how everybody excels. Right?” she asks.
During her schooling years, the young girl devised an innovative way to excel. Born in Agra and brought up in multiple cities due to her father’s transferable government job, Mittal ended up studying in seven schools across the country. “I was always the new girl in the class,” she says. And the coping mechanism for the ‘new girl’ was to ace all the subjects. “If you do so, then everybody gets to know you automatically,” she smiles. The passion to excel made her clear the engineering entrance in her maiden attempt, and she landed in IIT-Delhi. “IIT changed my perspective, learning and life,” she adds.
Meanwhile, in 2019, Mittal was about to lead a new life. After spending a decade in the corporate world, she co-founded Pixylz in August. Working for 10 years in the energy sector, Mittal realised she had stagnated in terms of learning new things. About eight months after her maternity leave, she went back to her job. But she soon realised the best possible way to get back her energy was to start a new venture. “Luckily, I had a good support system at home, which made it easy to take the plunge,” she adds.
Pixylz, interestingly, was born out of the experience of the new mom. Mittal always used to hunt for innovative ways to print pics of her toddler daughter. “I struggled to find a decent solution,” she recalls. In fact, most of the time she ended up ordering prints from the US. Pixylz emerged as the answer, and Mittal collaborated with multiple printing vendors across Delhi-NCR. The bootstrapped venture clicked for a year. It added over 7,000 paid users in 12 months, and was in talks to close its first round of institutional funding.
Then came the pandemic. All funding talks ended, revenues evaporated, and the 10-member team gasped for oxygen. After two months, around May 2020, the founding team decided to shut the venture. Though the pandemic killed the startup, Mittal introspected for a few months to find out the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ things she did in her maiden stint. She started by jotting down the wrong ones. The biggest mistake was wrong market sizing.
She explains. The venture was never tailored to meet the needs of the masses. Though the idea was relevant and resonated with a lot of people in her circle, Pixylz was never a ‘must’ product. “It would have never scaled,” she says. The second learning was there was no customer stickiness. “There was no way to make recurring money,” she says. People loved the product, but they would use it twice a year. “That’s it. They won’t come back every week or month,” she adds. Though the venture shuttered, Mittal was crystal clear that she won’t go back to the corporate world. “I got a taste of the founder’s life,” she smiles.
Though the pandemic cut short her maiden venture, it offered a silver lining for her next venture. One of her friends connected her to a fitness trainer in the US. Mittal had arrhythmia—a condition in which the heart beats with an irregular rhythm—and the idea to have a personal trainer was to have somebody who would help her take care of her workout. Though Mittal started working with the trainer just before the pandemic, she continued over the next months and realised the value that the coach added to her fitness journey and life. “He didn’t cost me a bomb. Just $70-80 a month,” she says. Her experience made her realise the need to build a global SaaS platform for health and fitness coaches.
The global opportunity is indeed massive. Mittal explains. Over 600 million people worldwide use self-serve apps or get gym memberships but most are unable to achieve the results due to lack of motivation and accountability. “That’s what a personal coach brings in,” says Mittal, adding that an estimated 70 percent of the people who engage a personal coach are likely to get the desired results.
FitBudd solves two core problems. It helps coaches better engage with and retain their clients at scale. Additionally, it allows them to be far more accessible to clients across the globe, enabling them to grow internationally. The SaaS platform, she underlines, offers a robust CRM (customer relationship management), payments, comprehensive fitness and nutrition modules, advanced tracking and analytics, interactive chat, and video calling capabilities.
Over one-a-half-year into the journey, FitBudd has managed to make steady progress. It raised $3.4 million in seed funding in October last year; counts Accel India, Beenext, Sequoia Capital India and Waveform Ventures among its backers; and signed over 1,000 coaches across 20 countries who run their business on the SaaS platform. “We have crossed the $1-million mark in annual revenue run-rate,” claims Mittal, adding that 75 percent of the revenue comes from the US, 20 percent comes from UK, Australia and Canada, and the rest from India.
Manasi Shah, vice president at Accel, is excited with the big business opportunity that Mittal and her team are chasing. There is a clear shift, she reckons, in the $47-billion fitness and wellness industry of solopreneurs breaking away from institutions and building their own digital and hybrid businesses. “FitBudd is accelerating the success of these solopreneurs while providing personalisation at scale for end-users,” adds Shah.
Though the TAM (total addressable market) is massive, the challenges are equally daunting. Mittal lists out the biggest one. “We must maintain the quality of product and services as we scale rapidly and globally,” she says. Another challenge, and it also has the seeds of opportunity, is to increase the revenue pie from India which stands at an abysmal 5 percent. “People in India are still not spending enough on their health and fitness,” she reckons. “But things are changing, and will change,” she says.
Ask her what has changed for women entrepreneurs, and pat comes a reply. “Fifty percent of the consumers in the world are women,” she says, adding that nobody can build only for a man or a woman unless it’s gender-specific products or services. And is there anything that she would love to change? Mittal doesn’t shy away from listing out her solo wish list. “Women shy away from asking for help. If you don’t ask, you won’t get,” she smiles. “Just ask. There is a high chance that you might get it.”