My Story and SmartGym
A lot of friends constantly ask me about my story. What’s the deal with SmartGym? And SoundShare? How did I start? Why did I choose this path? Why don’t I simply get a normal job at an awesome company and so on…
I’m known to be really secretive about my personal life and specially about my work life. I will probably continue to be, after all, mystery is great for business. :) Although, a few years ago I wrote a similar post focused on SoundShare.
But I will try to tell my story and how SmartGym came to be.
I’m from Belo Horizonte, Brazil and I’m currently 31 years old. And since I’m a kid, I’ve been passionate about technology, music and building stuff.
In 2007 I went to college to study Computer Science. I chose Computer Science because I wanted to be an animator at Pixar. I always loved their movies. Toy Story, Ratatouille, Wall-E, only to name a few. My dream was to learn as much as I could and then go to Pixar. But God had other plans for my life. That year of 2007 was the year that technology would change forever. The year the iPhone was released.
I was never really passionate about phones. But the iPhone was different. As soon as I saw the keynote (which btw is the best presentation of all kind that I’ve ever seen), I had to get it. It was amazing, magical, from another planet. It was far ahead of everything else. It was the future. And boy, what a beautiful future it was.
So, even before I got one, I started reading a lot about it and studying every single detail. I spent hours and hours every single day trying to understand as much as I could about this incredible device.
Then, in 2008 Apple released the App Store and the ability to write apps. Wow. I downloaded all the documentation that I could download, and started reading them all. Didn’t understand a thing, but was focused in learning as much as I could. By then I knew already some Java and was starting with C++, but oh boy, how bad was my college in teaching us how to code. I had to start learning it all on my own. So I started with C++. Playing around, trying to understand pointers, how it all worked. Started to become good at it and by the end of 2008 was already coding some stuff on iOS.
In 2009 I bought *a lot* of books on how to code to iOS. One specifically thought me pretty much everything that I needed to know. Beginning iOS Development, from Dave Mark and Jeff Lamarche. Also, by the same time, Stanford released their first iPhone course with Evan Doll. I took it as well. And by the end of 2009 I was becoming pretty good at iOS.
In 2010 I was not really satisfied with my college, with what I was learning and was desperate to start my own company. I was 100% certain that mobile was the future and I thought that if I kept losing my time with college, I would lose a tremendous opportunity. So, by the end of 2010 I dropped out of college to start my own company. Yep, end of 2010. 6 months before graduation. I know, I know, 6 months??? Yep, I lost 3 and a half years on that. ;)
So, 2011. No college, all the free time in the world to study iOS and startups. Now what? As I said in the beginning, I’ve always loved technology and music. And always loved the experience of exchanging music discoveries with friends and family. I did it with my dad and also saw all my friends do it between them. This social experience was amazing and I felt that I needed to take this to the digital world.
Then started the idea of SoundShare. My first real app. And I started coding it from scratch. But although I already knew how to code, I didn’t know how to design. And as I didn’t have money to afford a designer, I needed to learn it myself. And so I did. Although, I still believe that God designed that app, because there was no way that I could have done it. Specially because just a couple of months before, I didn’t know a thing about design.
But since this post is actually focused on SmartGym, not SoundShare, I will spare you of the details about SoundShare’s development. If you want to learn more about SoundShare, you can continue this story over here.
With SoundShare, I learned a lot. I learned how to create a business, how to manage people, hire new talent, work with marketing, make deals, work with celebrities and a lot more. It opened the tech world to me and gave me access to experiences I had only dreamed of.
In early 2014, I decided to create a second company. A while back, my brother had suggested I should create an app for helping users at the gym. But I had another idea. I wanted to re-invent the gym experience entirely. I wanted to create an entire system, with modern technology, focused on mobile, that would allow gyms around the world to better manage their clients. Everything inside the gym would be managed by this system. They could schedule classes, setup appointments, create routines, track their clients' progress, suggest changes to their workouts and a lot more. Also, rumors that Apple would launch a smart watch were getting stronger. And I knew in my gut, that if Apple did that, then this service would be one of the best apps for the Watch (so much so that my initial SmartGym prototypes for the Watch, dates back to November 2014 — right after Apple announced the device).
One of my closest friend, Bruno Fazzi, became my business partner on this journey. After a couple of months, tons of prototypes and brainstorming sessions later, we came up with version 1.0.
We called it SmartGym. A B2B company, that would sell the entire experience to gyms around the world. It offered all the training needed, support, and the service itself. All for a monthly recurring fee.
We started focused in Brazil, one of the largest markets for this kind of service.We thought that if we could make this work in our country, then we could take it to the rest of the world.
But right after we launched it, our country went into a huge recession. Many gyms went bankrupt. Companies that had signed our service for 1 year, simply stopped paying us. We were spending a lot of time with our legal team, and even going to court. And this took the fun out of our company.
At the same time, SoundShare received its biggest investment to that date. And as the CEO of SoundShare, there was a lot to deal with. So, Fazzi and I decided to kill SmartGym in 2015.
I moved on with SoundShare and he moved on with his life and other businesses he had.
Then came WWDC 2016. Amazing things were happening with SoundShare. So amazing that I can't even share. ;) And during WWDC 2016 Apple introduced watchOS 3. As I said, my dream was to have SmartGym on the Watch one day. And watchOS 3 addressed everything that I needed in order to fulfill my dream. Fazzi was there with me. So I asked him if I could restart SmartGym as a personal project. Him being the nice person that he is, had no objection and even encouraged me to do so.
This time, SmartGym would be B2C, focused on regular users and with a beautiful app for the Watch. It would be a simple way for users to track their routines, progress and measurements.
SmartGym was only supposed to be my small personal project, since SoundShare was going through amazing things and required a ton of my time and focus. Also, as the CEO of SoundShare, I chose not to have a salary. Even though we had received a major investment, I was still living with my parents, and wanted all the money raised to be directly invested in the company.
Also by then, my incredible girlfriend and I, had been together for 7 years. Which means, the pressure of getting married was already beginning to pile up. But, there was a problem. I had no income. So, if SmartGym could generate any kind of revenue, that would be really welcomed.
In late 2016, I released the app to the public. Simple. Focused. Paid upfront, since I didn't have enough time to implement all the In App Purchases APIs.
The launch was good, but didn't pick up much traction after it. I emailed a bunch of people in the media, but was having a hard time getting noticed.
But then something really weird and awesome happened. I started receiving replies to these old emails, many months later. And it wasn't just one of them. It was many of them. Sometimes we might not really understand God's path, but we have to always trust Him.
These emails started something amazing. SmartGym got some initial press. I started getting some help from what would become mentors and great friends. And SmartGym started to get a lot of traction. And with that, I started getting a ton of emails from users.
I then used all the feedback I was getting to drastically improve the app. SmartGym was becoming a global app. And with that, I learned so much about diversity and how different cultures, and different backgrounds would result in different ways of working out. In order to appeal to a broader audience, I needed to understand all kind of people. And that’s what this initial traction of SmartGym allowed me to do. Connect with so many people around the globe and learn as much as I could from them. What issues did they have? How did they workout? What were they missing in the app? And with this data, apply my own solutions to their problems.
A few updates later, something awesome happened! SmartGym went on to become #1 most downloaded health and fitness app in over 30 countries! It then became App of the Day all around the globe! How cool is that? But God had so much more!
Every year SmartGym would drastically evolve. In late 2017, I launched SmartGym 2. Packed with awesome new features. Also, SmartGym was growing to a point of becoming a real source of revenue for me. Which was great!
So, early 2018, with SoundShare doing really well, and SmartGym generating a good income, I asked my lovely girlfriend to marry me (she said yes by they way — well, at least I think she did).
Then in mid 2018 came my biggest update ever to SmartGym. It was a mix between my original idea for SmartGym (the one targeted directly at the gyms) and the current one focused on regular users. It created a way for Personal Trainers to manage and track their students. It also changed our revenue model. Where we moved from a paid upfront, to a free + subscriptions model. This was terrifying in the beginning. What if I receive a backlash from my users? What if no one subscribe and only use it in our free trial mode? After all, SmartGym was my only source of income. I was pretty much risking everything with this update. But I felt that God was in control and I knew I had something special with this update.
And I was right. This update was insane. SmartGym skyrocketed. And by the end of 2018, Apple chose it as one of their favorite Apple Watch apps of the year. I was completely blown away. But that was not all. A couple of days later, Forbes and iMore featured SmartGym as one of the best Apple Watch apps too.
By that time, I was completely sure I had another really special app in my hand.
So, with everything working this great, in early 2019, I got married to the love of my life. I still can't believe this happened. And I still can't believe that SmartGym, the app that started as a personal project, was my only source of income and was what allowed us to take this huge step. God is really faithful!
But little did I know, that more insane things were to come. During WWDC 2019, I went to the Apple Store in Apple Park to buy my wife a new iPhone. While she waited for the Apple employee to get the device in the back, I was playing around with the iPhones in display. And then I saw something mind blowing! SmartGym was pre-installed on every iPhone in display in that store. Not only that, but I discovered that it was pre-installed on every iPhone, on every Retail Store in the US, Brasil and other countries. It was really awesome. We started taking pictures and after a while a few gathered around us, curious to why we were so excited and taking pictures of the iPhones in display. When we explained them what was going on, they were also extremely excited. And started asking me all kind of questions.
Then, a few months later, by late 2019, I released a huge update focused on iOS 13, iPadOS and watchOS. And what followed next, was out of this world. SmartGym was:
- App of the Day in the US.
- #1 most downloaded Health and Fitness app for iPad in the US.
- #4 most downloaded Health and Fitness app for iPhone in the US.
- Featured as one of the best apps for iOS 13.
- Featured as one of best apps for watchOS 6.
- Featured as one of the best apps for iPadOS.
- Featured at apple.com in the Series 5 page.
- And last but not least, Featured in Apple’s latest Apple Watch Series 5 Ad.
I still can't really believe all this. God did above and beyond my wildest dreams.
During all this journey I had the opportunity to meet so many awesome people. John Geleynse, an amazing guy, who I've met way back in 2012, because of SoundShare. He has helped me so much! John became a really good friend and someone that I can't thank enough for everything he has done for me.
I also had the pleasure to meet Evan Doll (the guy who taught the class at Stanford that helped me learn how to code to iOS), way back when he was still at Flipboard. Evan is an awesome guy. I shared many ideas with him and had the privilege to get many feedbacks on SmartGym.
Jay Blahnik, who Evan introduced me to, during WWDC 2017. Such a positive and encouraging guy. Also ran many ideas with him and loved his feedback and suggestions to SmartGym. One of the features in the Personal Trainer app was Jay's idea. :)
Also there are three really special friends that are really important to me. If it wasn't for them, SmartGym wouldn't be what it is today. I always say that I'm extremely thankful to God, for putting them in my life! For privacy reasons, they asked not to be named.
SmartGym is a proof that perseverance, excellence, patience and iteration can take a product to extremely high levels. Of course, I only got to this point because of God and because of everyone who have helped me with this journey.
If God taught me something along the way it is this: That I should always dream big, because He is huge, I should always do everything with excellence, paying attention to the smallest details and last but not least, I should always persevere on my dream.