Learn how Victoria and the BetterMe team leveraged social media to go from 0 to 15 million downloads of their health & fitness apps in under 2 years.
Davis Baer: What’s your background, and what are you working on?
I’m the CEO of BetterMe, an ecosystem of health and fitness apps I co-founded in 2016 which currently offers guided workouts, meditation, yoga and walking.
Our apps are used by millions of people who try to lead healthier and happier lives, and we specifically focus on “entry-level users,” helping them ease into the fitness world.
We are already one of the largest and fastest-growing health & fitness app publishers in the US, and are planning to take the top spot within the next three years. Our goal is to have a family of apps that would alleviate all major pains for anyone trying to take better care of themselves.
Currently, BetterMe has five apps available on both iOS and Android:
- BetterMe: Weight Loss Workouts
- BetterMe: Calm, Sleep, Meditation
- BetterMe: Yoga
- BetterMen: Workout Trainer
- BetterMe: Walking
In total, our apps have 15 million downloads, growing at around one million downloads a month and bringing in tens of millions in revenue every year. We also have a very strong social media presence with around 5 million followers — the highest among all major health & fitness app publishers. I attribute this growth and success to our outstanding product, analytics and user acquisition teams.
My personal story is also not very typical. BetterMe’s headquarters are in Ukraine, which boasts a healthy startup scene, but where the overwhelming majority of high-tech entrepreneurs are male. Since the early age, I had to persevere and study hard to get a scholarship to the top economics university in the country that allowed me to move from the remote town I was born in to Kyiv, the capital. Upon graduation, I was lucky to get into a large international FMCG corporation before making a switch to the startup world and taking BetterMe from an idea to a thriving business.
Today, one of my ambitions is to set an example for other girls in Ukraine that they too can break stereotypes and build the companies of their dreams. I think establishing such role models is very important for my country.
What motivated you to get started with your company?
It all started nearly three years ago. I was an entrepreneurial 24-year-old and, along with my co-founder Vitaly Laptenok, worked at a large media publishing company Genesis — one of the top viral content producers in a variety of markets, including the UK and US.
In over 10 years of active social media presence, Genesis has amassed billions of data points and has become incredibly successful at creating content for up-and-coming industries, gathering millions of likes and followers.
While working on viral campaigns at Genesis, Vitaly and I noticed the rapidly growing demand for high-quality health and fitness content. We researched the industry looking for numbers to back up the trend and found out that seven out of 10 people in the US are overweight now, and eight out of 10 will be by 2030.
This will constitute a major problem for most families not only in the US but also in Europe and the world overall. In the US, medical expenses related to obesity already amount to $150 billion annually, while the size of the whole health & fitness market is just around $170 billion.
We also found that the fitness app market has skyrocketed from virtually nothing to $500 million in just a few years. Going forward, a significant part of the larger fitness industry will migrate online, including mobile apps, which are the easiest and cheapest way to set up and track goals.
In the end, we decided to capitalize on the opportunity by publishing our own workout app and monetizing it through timely and relevant content delivery via a subscription model. That’s how BetterMe: Weight Loss Workouts came about. The experiment has exceeded all our expectations, primarily due to creating content our audience wanted to see.
What went into building the initial product?
Throughout the process I was guided by Reid Hoffman’s quote, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
So our path to MVP was quick, but not reckless. As our products target mass market, we had to consider how the functionality would be perceived by people who never exercised or meditated before. Which, conveniently, was nearly everyone on our small team at the time.
So we hired professionals and gurus to design our workout, weight loss and relaxation programs, and then tested them ourselves, meditating and measuring our fitness progress on a daily basis. That shaped the apps’ essential features and also made obvious which ones we could do without.
Tone of voice also proved to be important. For example, in our meditation app, we didn’t even use the word “meditation,” choosing more widely recognized phrases like “reduce stress” instead.
The technical side of our apps was much more straightforward. We budgeted about three months to build MVPs for each of our ideas — all progressive apps. So we made prototypes and quickly tested our hypotheses by leveraging the fitness traffic we had on our blog. Since then, we have been continuously tweaking our products to achieve better performance.
How have you attracted users and grown your company?
Early on, my co-founder Vitaly, who is highly regarded for his ability to assemble brilliant high-tech teams, scouted out top media publishing professionals on the market, both in writing and video production. For example, our head of content is a graduate of Yale and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine.
While today our team is over 70 stellar people who have created more than 100 highly customized meal and training plans, in the beginning, we were small and our ideas needed to be validated quickly. In fact, we started attracting users even before we had a product at all — just with the desire of making something fitness-related in hand, we launched a blog and wrote content for our cuctomers, relying on social media to drive traffic.
When our intuition proved to be right and we had tens of thousands of people reading our guides and tips, ranging from chiseling your perfect abs to incorporating superfoods in your diet, we pulled the trigger and developed the first app.
Our audience has been growing continuously since then. Right now we have over 5 million people following our content on social media, mostly Instagram and Facebook, which organically converts to about 20% of our total downloads.
Contrary to the popular notion, we found carefully produced ads on social media to be extremely effective. Even with our sizeable following on social media, we wouldn’t be able to match the amount of paid traffic organically. We mostly promote our apps through branded videos set to significant reach, which also helps with brand awareness.
A very important side note is that our paid ads bring profit, as we prefer to fail fast and cheap and double down only on things that show results. I have no doubt that if your product truly satisfies the need of a particular target audience, you can find them by offering digestible content via well-targeted ads.
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
At the moment, we keep things simple — our business model completely relies on recurring monthly subscriptions through our apps. So we nurture our customer base of over 200,000 paying subscribers and are growing fast enough to hit one million in a few years.
Keeping the source of our revenue straightforward allows us to easily experiment and see the direct influence on cashflow without unnecessarily complicating things with multiple tests at multiple price points at once and then spending resources to support that legacy work.
Another important notion here is that we want to offer so much value to our customers that they would actually be happy to pay us in return. This acts as a never-ending reality check that keeps us on our toes. If people wouldn’t see the results from our programs they would stop paying. So far, I can see our customers telling us we are doing a good job. We receive hundreds of grateful messages and success stories, which for me is still a very humbling experience and frankly the best part of it all.
What are your goals for the future?
In thinking about the future, we always come back to our vision of creating a mind-body harmony among the general population. In the end, we want people to lead better and happier lives.
Besides growing our customer base, I do have plans to expand into corporate wellness and personal training to diversify our revenue streams. Those ideas are still in early stages, but it’s also likely that we might get into other aspects of personal health, such as offering supplements. We are currently trying to zero in on our next big idea, but I can say that something new would come out very soon.
On the more practical side, we have a goal of becoming a unicorn company and top health & fitness publisher in the next three years. My team will be able to do so by expanding our product offering from five apps to 10 or so in the future, capturing more and more of the $170 billion health & fitness market.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Honestly, as a CEO, I encounter seemingly impossible challenges every week. In the health & fitness industry, it’s easy to rise fast on the wave of a trend, but also just as easy to fall when the fad is over.
I learned this the hard way as, in the very beginning, we made quite a few mistakes by trying to create products that would compete for traffic and attention with other social networks and already existing solutions. In just 1 year before we launched BetterMe, we’d introduced BoredMan, a fun app targeted at men to kill some time, BeautyHub, for women, and FeedYourKid, a collection of food recipes for children. All of them lost money because they didn’t address immediate and important enough problems.
With regards to challenges I have today, BetterMe is dependent on lots of external factors, such as social networks and their ever-changing algorithms, which influence the way we work and attract new users on a daily basis.
Besides, managing a fast-growing company, you are always catching up, whether it’s hiring new team members or doing some way past-due paperwork. Sometimes it feels like you need to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same spot. But then you sit down and take time to think of new ways of doing something, and hope that it’s going to work out. And it usually does.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I find that cultivating the right amount of energy and motivation tends to make things easier and better, especially if you also allow for enough time to recharge and reflect.
Setting flexible goals that require me to jump over my head has always been a good motivator. I look at the top 10 companies by market cap and I ask myself whether I can create something similar? Can I create a truly global company within my lifetime?
I know that market cap is just one metric, but it helps with goal setting. If we say there are medals in sports, then there is money in business.
Other than that, I try to wind down regularly and read as much as I can — in the last year Ray Dalio’s Principles has given me a lot of food for thought, pondering things like how do you structure your life and work so that everything grows in harmony.
On the listening side of things, Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman inspires me a lot. Actually, his new book Blitzscaling is also a fantastic guide to turning your fledgling startup into a large enterprise.
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Remember that there is more money in the world than people who can grow it. If you can show that you can make something useful, that you can be trusted, that you have the necessary grit, you’ll do well.
Some people have money but no energy. And I think having energy is just as equally important as having money. Try to experiment and fail as much as you can early on so you know what works and what doesn’t.
If you have the burning desire to create value, sooner or later you’ll make it happen, regardless of the exact path you take.
Where can we go to learn more?
When I started BetterMe, I did write a lot of our content myself. But over time, I delegated most of it to my team.
That said, I recently started running my own Twitter account @RepaVictoriato get an occasional bit of inspiration and document my thoughts on what running a fast-growing startup is like from the inside. I’d love to answer any questions and help in any way I can there. Also, people can feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.
Other than that, I would recommend reading BetterMe’s blog for ideas on how to make a step towards your better self today.