It was the year 2013. With a buddy from my MBA class, we worked on our first start-up, called Rungea. It provided services for “Transform commuting time in health, fitness, business network, and friends.”
The problem to be solved was well documented by many sources around the world, such as the World Health Organization, the NHS in the UK, the EU, and so on. It was the sedentary lifestyle and its consequences.
A lack of physical activity is one of the leading causes (being related to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, depression) of preventable death worldwide and it’s related to high healthcare costs. Research showed that the main reasons to not be active were:
- Lack of time to exercise
- The passive mode of transport
- Fear of aggression when exercising alone outdoor
Data consistently showed that more than 60% of the population in western countries was affected. We were on a mission to change that.
The solution was original: using back-home-from-work commuting time, to exercise while getting back home, running home with Rungea Runners Groups. We targeted two markets and five segments. Additional services were planned to be released, once a user base of passionate city runners was built.
The idea was not totally new, though. A similar run-commute concept, with a totally different business model, started in London roughly at the same time. The difference here was the business model. The London startup focused on using the commuters as living adv platforms, with sponsored t-shirts and materials, similar to a football team. Our aim instead, was to build a subscription business out of passionate amateurs runners, who liked the networking and camaraderie of exercising regularly, while exploiting the commute-back-home time together with similarly-minded individuals. Socially responsible companies were the second market. Subscriptions to our run-commute groups could be offered by innovative companies eager to provide their employees with health-focused benefits. We pitched our model to potential investors and sponsors. Financial indicators showed a bit optimistic (I think that’s quite a common pattern in startups), forecasting positive cash flows starting from the second year of business.
Alas, it never came to life
We tested running routes in Milan, with small groups of friends and had promising early tests in terms of customer demand by an MVP website. Some potential investors, including the Municipality of Milan showed interest. Unfortunately, we were not able to get the funds to really create the company and start selling the services. In hindsight, we could have invested a bit more from our pockets, to sustain the creation of a first user base, with a minimal, basic set of running routes, proving the validity (or the fallacy) of the model. It would have been the best learning.
But even so, it was a great exercise in envisioning and fact-checking, and it gave me a good understanding of starting up a new product. And as a byproduct, I ran my first marathon and raced my first Ironman the following year. So there was good learning, at least, and a good dose of fun.