When Austin Cohen ’16 (’11CC) was an undergrad, he studied neuroscience, planning to become a doctor. Come senior year, Cohen realized that his heart wasn’t in medicine; still, his passion for health never wavered, so he set out to create a fitness brand that would keep users in shape no matter where they are.
At CBS, Cohen explored various ideas for fitness companies before landing on a way to cater to millennial and Gen-Z consumers, whose priorities when it comes to fitness tend to be flexibility, variety, and mobile accessibility. In 2018 he founded FlexIt, an app that provides users with on-demand access to fitness brands around the country by offering both virtual personal training and entry into gyms. With more than 100,000 downloads, his business, Cohen says, is “a lifestyle, not a job.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, FlexIt allowed users to pay by the minute to work out at gyms where they were not members—a model especially handy for business travelers. But in March 2020, when gyms closed, Cohen saw an opening in the market. “We had a change in focus when the world changed,” he says. He and his team adapted FlexIt’s model and created the Virtual Personal Training platform, which offers live personal training sessions of 30, 45, or 60 minutes. Users book a live session with an instructor at one of FlexIt’s partner gyms such as Blink, Gold’s, [solidcore], Physique 57, SLT, and many more. They can work out with the trainer one-on-one or gather up to four friends for a group session.
“FlexIt Virtual Personal Training is built for anyone—wherever, whenever—so consumers who have no equipment can get just as good a workout as consumers who are able to access a full gym,” says Cohen.
While many businesses have been hard hit by the pandemic crisis, Cohen says his brand has thrived amidst the demand for home-based workouts. “We had a great product for in-gym access and now we have what we believe is the best access to virtual training,” says Cohen. “The combination is revolutionary and the future of fitness is hybrid.”
Here, in his own words, is a day in the life of a fitness-startup founder during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Day in the Life - Morning Routine
5:30 a.m. I wake up and immediately make myself a double espresso.
I’m always accessible to my team, whether it’s by email or text, so I spend the first part of my morning answering messages.
6:00 a.m. I like to knock a workout out. Since COVID, I’ve been using FlexIt exclusively. I love to work out one-on-one with Chris Pabon from Blink Fitness. He’s a phenomenal strength-training instructor.
7:00 a.m. I make breakfast–I like to keep it pretty healthy–usually eggs, a protein bar, a glass of water, and fruit.
7:30 a.m. I sit down at my desk and turn on my three massive monitors.
We launched our own proprietary video tech built specifically with personal training in mind; it offers a clearer and faster picture than traditional video-conferencing software. It even has screenshot and draw features so trainers can correct form.
We also use it for internal meetings, so I leave it open for most of the day.
A Day in the Life - Afternoon Routine
10:00 a.m. We treat video meetings as a conference room, so people come in and out throughout the day. We also have a meeting where everyone on the team gets together every day, even just briefly, so it’s as if we are still in the office. We have about 25 people on the team now.
1:00 p.m. I have meetings with internal staff, external partners, investors—it runs the gamut each day. One of the best things about what I do is that I work with such a large breadth of people and organizations. Before COVID, I would spend my days traveling and having meetings. Now, I’m at my desk running the company through video.
2:00 p.m. I don’t have time to go out during the day, so I usually try to have lunch already prepared. I stick to a paleo diet–usually a turkey burger, broccoli, string beans, quinoa.
3:00 p.m. On our platform, users select what type of workout they want to do—strength, cardio, or yoga, for example.
We’re always onboarding new fitness brands. Users can read bios and watch videos of trainers to select who they want to work with.
FlexIt customers are also able to use our Workout Builder: if I exercise with my trainer Mondays and Wednesdays and we cover chest and back, my trainer can send me his leg workout to do independently on Tuesday.
A Day in the Life - Evening Routine
4:00 p.m. I love our business. I’ve committed my life to it. We are doing really cool stuff that didn’t exist before. Bringing it into the world and seeing people stay fit and healthy has been especially rewarding throughout COVID. Virtual fitness is not new, but COVID unequivocally accelerated it.
Brick-and-mortar fitness is not going anywhere; at the end of the day, strength training at the gym is different than at home, but the future of fitness will be a hybrid model.
6:00 p.m. More healthy proteins, vegetables, and fruits for dinner. I am a big fan of steak and sushi.
8:00 p.m. There’s not a ton of downtime between the end of the work day–I usually stop working around 1 a.m. – and the actual end of the day. But in my free time, I love working out and spending time with my parents and siblings who live nearby.
1:00 a.m. I turn the TV on and watch sports—basketball, football, or hockey—I’m a big Knicks, Jets, and Rangers fan. I’ll watch news if I can, although Monday through Friday I rarely have time. Then it’s lights out.
FlexIt & CBS Columbia connections run deep throughout the company. Cohen works with Liz Wilkes ’13, founder of wellness company Exubrancy, and partners with Jennifer Vaughan Maanavi ’00, founder of Physique 57, offering the studio on FlexIt. He has hired three recent CBS graduates, multiple CBS interns, and several summer fellows from the Lang Center for Entrepreneurship and…
A big part of what we are doing here is inspired by and driven by Columbia.