First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Lauren Foundos: I am very grateful to say that my family and I are doing well, and fortunately, healthy. I am very saddened by the tragedy this pandemic causes, from people losing loved ones to the entire industry’s getting destroyed.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded FORTË.
Lauren Foundos: My parents are Albanian, and in fact, the name of my company, FORTË, means strong in Albanian. It’s a little homage to my folks, which I feel very lucky to have as parents.
I grew up on Long Island and had two older brothers. I was the only girl in my family and my immediate family. If I wanted to play with my brothers, it meant that we were playing sports, so needless to say, I became a pretty good athlete. I was always trying to keep up with them. I ended up earning two-time All-American honors in Field Hockey, played in the U.S.A. developmental program, and went on to play in college at the #1 ranked D1 team in the nation.
Working out has always been instrumental in helping me stay focused and grounded. I aspire to make others feel the same way. To be grateful that they ‘can’ work out and not view it as a chore.
I spent ten years working on Wall Street, where I had to be at work very early. Working out in the morning before work became increasingly more difficult, so I started taking my clients to work out with me prior to our evening events. That was the catalyst for the FORTË concept as I became very immersed in the gym and fitness industry.
It became clear to me that the fitness industry has evolved very little from a technological standpoint over the last few decades. Fitness was booming, and amazing gyms and studios of all types were popping up everywhere. The studios are limited by capacity, but with streaming, they did not have to be. They were already creating great fitness content every day and just needed a way to broadcast that content seamlessly and through a good end-user experience. Today we are in a world of convenience, and going to the gym is not always convenient. The gyms needed to adapt to the evolving consumer, and thus my vision for FORTË became very clear in 2015.
My company, FORTË, has developed the fitness industry’s only end-to-end premium digital solution for gyms and boutique fitness studios. FORTË has the only live, on-demand, and two-way streaming solution on the market, enabling gyms to create high-quality yet cost-effective digital content through proprietary hardware and software that we spent years developing.
I hope that we can help as many gyms survive these unprecedented times, and get back to thriving as they once were pre-pandemic.
How does FORTË innovate?
Lauren Foundos: My company is constantly thinking about our next innovation. In our current world, so many aspects of our lives have changed right before our eyes, and because of this, we need to think and react quickly to adjust to our ‘new normal.’
We started by building a marketplace for top boutique fitness studios, but now, we also build white-label digital solutions for gyms.
As a response to the pandemic, we added two-way video streaming in addition to live-streaming fitness classes because staying connected to your community was made impossible when gyms were closed. With two-way video, people can see their friends and trainers making it a more immersive and accountable experience. We are constantly innovating, iterating, and learning all the time.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Lauren Foundos: The pandemic is extremely unfortunate on so many levels. However, it does positively affect my business. It’s weird even to say that. I hope that we can help as many gyms as possible survive these unique times, stay connected to their communities, and get back to thriving.
The fitness industry wasn’t evolving as fast as the consumer, so in a way, this reset and immediate focus on how to adopt technology to save their business will benefit gyms in the long run. We live in an on-demand economy, and gyms weren’t providing that to their members before. The only way to work out with your favorite gym was by going there, and so with the pandemic, many gyms have launched digital offerings that give the customer the flexibility they were seeking. The pandemic has fast-forwarded the adoption of technology by 5 years or more in the industry for sure.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Lauren Foundos: Deciding to leave my very lucrative Wall Street behind to build a tech company was a very difficult choice. I literally knew nothing about tech, nor was I an engineer. I didn’t work in the fitness industry, but what I did feel very certain about was what the industry was going to look like in 5, 10 years (and guess what, it looks exactly as I said it would).
Building a company is extremely hard and almost a crazy decision to make at times because of the amount of work it takes to make a successful venture. That said, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. I think the most important thing I learned is that you just need to dive in headfirst. Even if my company ends up not working out the way that I hope it does, I won’t trade this experience for anything in the world. I love what I do, but I think the most important thing that I learned was that I didn’t really know what loving your job meant until I started doing this. It was great to work on Wall Street, you make a lot of money, but I look back now and wonder to myself, ‘what was I really doing.’ ‘Was I making a difference in the world?’ Today, my company helps make working out more accessible and makes people’s lives better. This sense of purpose is nothing I could have ever fathomed had I not taken a leap of faith and left what I thought to be a perfect life. So my advice to you is to take a leap of faith. You may not land where you intended to, but you’ll definitely end up somewhere great.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and FORTË in the future?
Lauren Foundos: Working out is my medicine. If I’m stressed or simply feeling off, then I just go for a run and reset. When I sit back down after a workout, then suddenly, everything feels much more manageable.
My other life hack is not to procrastinate. Write the email or thing you want to do the least, first. It’s very important to stay on top of things, or quickly everything can feel overwhelming. I’m very organized and keep a pretty rigid routine. It’s necessary for me to do this, or I wouldn’t be able to manage the schedule that I currently have. Know what you need to keep stress levels manageable and hold yourself to that.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Lauren Foundos: We have no direct competition today. We are the only company that can help gyms build an end-to-end digital platform. We help from the content creation all the way to the end delivery platform. We enable studios to stream live, high-quality video because we spent years developing proprietary automated hardware and software, which requires no humans to produce TV grade quality content with an automated camera and audio mixing. We also have no competition from the platform perspective as our current ‘competitors’ are not focused on the fitness space and are just video hosting platforms. We really understand our customers’ needs and will constantly iterate our technology to meet those needs and stay ahead of any competition that may arise.
Your final thoughts?
Lauren Foundos: If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, remember, You must always believe in yourself. If you don’t have conviction in your idea and your ability to execute, you can’t expect others to have it, whether it be investors or potential hires.