Founders: Arnav Dalmia, Shivani Jain, Ryota Sekine
Company Description: FitnessCubed makes Cubii, an under-desk elliptical trainer with the goal of fighting the sitting disease common in today’s working lifestyle.
Company Site: http://www.fitnesscubed.com/, Twitter, Facebook
Date of interview: October 2014
Shivani Jain is the Chief Marketing Officer and one of three co-founders of FitnessCubed. While doing her undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago, she met her co-founders Arnav and Ryota. They started working on the concept through the University of Chicago’s College New Venture challenge, and when they won in the summer of 2012, they knew they were onto something.
After graduating, she and her co-founders all took full-time corporate jobs, and worked on FitnessCubed on nights and weekends. In June 2014, they participated in NeoCon, North America’s largest design exposition that takes place at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. Right after that, they officially launched their Kickstarter campaign with a goal of funding $80K to help ‘“kickstart” Cubii manufacturing. They over-reached their goal hitting almost $300K.
The moment I remember the most was after NPR did an article – that night we were getting a new backer every millisecond. It went viral! It was really exciting.”
Since then the team has been riding the momentum from the feedback and interest they’ve received and is working on investor meetings, product design, manufacturing, and increasing and targeting marketing efforts to get the first production line of Cubii orders out in time for 2015 New Year resolutions.
On choosing KickStarter, crowd-funding and customer interest:
“We needed to validate the idea. The hardware space is a lot more risky than software because it requires so much more working capital to get started. We knew we needed to get more feedback and validation. We chose KickStarter specifically because it has so much volume already as a crowd-funding platform.
“More than the funds, we needed to see what peoples’ reactions would be and if they were willing to pay for it.”
“The customer interest and numbers help us go to investors and give us confidence that people are interested in buying this. Without marketing, we get at least 2-3 orders/day. It means there is a need. It puts a lot of pressure on us to deliver a spectacular product – people are trusting us. It’s not an expensive item compared to other products, but it’s not pocket change.”
At the time of the interview, there were 1500 Cubiis on back order.
On manufacturing challenges:
The trio of founders were all science and liberal arts majors, with no experience or education in manufacturing products – so how did they figure out how to actually make a product?
“(Manufacturing experience) was probably the biggest challenge we experienced and still experience. It’s exciting because it forces us to self-learn. In college we were lucky to have had a lot of access to people willing to help us through professors, mentors and the accelerator program.
“You have to be very proactive. You have to seek advice on anything and everything.”
On being in Chicago:
“We plugged into maker communities in Chicago – people who have launched and made products before and have connections to manufacturers. We continuously seek their advice. When we started, there weren’t many hardware startups in Chicago – it is increasing now. The communities we became a part of have doubled since we joined.”
“From the Health and Wellness side, it’s the place to be. You have easy access to big hospitals, it’s crowded with health companies and now there are health and wellness accelerators in addition to organizations like Illinois Healthiest Employers and Vitality Institute. We’re fortunate we launched here.”
On being an entrepreneur:
“ I knew I wanted to have a business of my own – I just didn’t know I wanted to do it this soon. I envisioned that I would work for a couple of years and start a business later. But the idea got so much traction that we just fell into it. It just kind of happened. I think that sometimes if you try too hard to make it happen it doesn’t. There are a lot of factors – luck, timing, resources, supportive parents.”
On advice for others:
“Trust your instinct.”
“We had so many mentors and we had lots of opinions. One can get lost and lose the vision of what you wanted to do in the first place. Go with your instinct and what you want to do. As a founder, you have the luxury to stick to what you want. You of course should value what people say, but don’t follow everything. You can get delayed if you start questioning everything – everyone will have an opinion, but not everyone will be right. It is very basic advice, but it is something we learned and we’ve been learning”
We hang around a little longer and talk about her personal fitness preferences. Her and the other founders weren’t using their own Cubii yet since prototype manufacturing was still in progress and the one they had was so expensive that they were afraid to touch it! She most enjoys jogging along the lake and walking over taking public transit, at least until the snow comes. In terms of what else employers and companies can do to support the health and wellness of their employees (besides buy everyone a Cubii) – she believes that if people would just GET UP and stop sitting by having walking and standing meetings, then we are taking a step in the right direction.