This is big for me as CEO, and for the business I co-founded and launched in 2011. Rebranding and, more importantly, renaming a business is a serious decision to make.
For the first time, I have felt compelled to write down my thoughts on this process that kicked off a journey of self-reflection and discovery. In the end, the decision was easy because I finally found real purpose in what we are building.
PayAsUGym was conceived in 2009 to solve a customer problem. The problem was that people couldn’t visit good gyms or health clubs without some sort of commitment. We were convinced this was holding the entire industry back. In every other industry, the products and services were becoming easier to consume, however, the gym industry still imposed significant barriers.
Our simple and effective solution was to agree a day pass price with the gyms we partnered with and sell that directly to customers online. We were the first ‘fitness’ marketplace globally. This simple concept spawned a global industry that is attracting hundreds of millions in investment every year.
Our initial pay-as-you-go solution solved part of the problem. Our customers loved the commitment-free nature of pay-as-you-go passes. The product worked well for those sporadically working out or trying out a new club. However, for those wanting to work out more frequently, the set price per visit quickly became restrictive. Our solution was to create 30 and 90 day passes so that customers could visit their chosen club as many times as they liked for a set period of time.
Again we had solved another part of the problem. Our customers told us they liked the unlimited nature of the new 30 and 90 day passes. However the advantage of the pay-as-you-go passes was that they could visit different clubs; near work, home or wherever else their lives took them.
Our solution was our Monthly+ pass. It allowed our customers to visit any club as many times as they liked for a fixed price each month. The pass could be stopped, started or paused as they wished. The Monthly+ pass quickly became our most popular product. We dropped the 30 and 90-day passes but kept the pay-as-you-go passes, as they still solved a specific problem for those working in different locations sporadically.
Now we had something we could scale.
As we evolved it was clear that our brand name, PayAsUGym, was getting out of sync with our product offering. I’m a problem solver. I’ve always taken a ruthlessly logical approach to problem-solving and this approach seems to work for me. In 2018 we took our largest investment to date and as part of that investment, I committed to answering the question: Will the name PayAsUGym inhibit the growth of the business?
In our board meetings, there was no clear consensus. Some said to get on and re-brand while others pointed to companies, like Carphone Warehouse, whose brand name had been irrelevant to its ultimate product and success.
At the same time, our lead investor had commissioned a ‘fitness to scale’ study on all of its portfolio companies. Through a number of surveys and interviews, the study assessed a number of factors that would establish if the company was ready to scale. We fared well in most of the factors apart from ‘purpose’. Initially, I was surprised, I thought that my team bought into what we were trying to achieve and was upset they felt we didn’t have a purpose. Perhaps I thought that purpose comes from within and is personal. When I realised that even I couldn’t clearly articulate the purpose of the business I’d been building for the past 8 years, I knew something was very wrong.
My next thought was: if our team don’t feel the business had a purpose then do our customers feel the same? Initial research showed that our customers felt exactly the same. In summary, they told us that our proposition solves real problems, what we have built ‘works’, it’s transactional but it didn’t create any emotion. Worse than that, our brand felt cheap, uninspirational, faceless and dull.
That’s a dangerous place to be, especially in the world of fitness.
In the summer of 2018, I hired the team that had led the ‘fitness to scale’ study to work for us directly and another specialist on building brand propositions. One team to focus on our customers and the other to focus on us as a team. We needed to find our purpose before considering if rebranding was the right thing to do.
I kept getting told ‘it’s going to be hard for you to change the name of the business you’ve built, PayAsUGym is your baby’. All I could think was ‘ugly baby’. My lack of emotion towards the business I’d worked so hard to build shocked people. Good advisors will have the courage to tell the CEO if there is a problem. They did for which I’m grateful.
I started by trying to understand why PayAsUGym had evolved into a faceless transactional brand. How did we get here? The answer to that really came down to understanding myself.
Firstly, as mentioned, I am a logical problem solver so it’s no surprise the brand and the brand name evolved in a similar vein.
Secondly, I’m not a fitness fanatic. I like staying fit. I know I’m mentally stronger and perform at my best when I am fit. Fitness makes my life better but fitness is not my life. Shock horror…the founder of a fitness marketplace is not a gym bunny! Worse than this, I actively dislike the vast majority of the fitness industry’s brand messaging.
I believe the industry relies too much on imagery of perfect looking people to guilt the rest of us mere mortals into working out. Some studios in the boutique sector have exacerbated this by creating the feeling you have to be ‘uber cool’ to even enter the building. They’d call it community; I’d call it, at worst, gang mentality and bullying. I’ve read countless studies on the effects of this type of messaging on mental health, body image, eating disorders… the list goes on. With a 9-year-old daughter and two younger boys if I let my business do the same I’d be doing a disservice to them and my own beliefs.
Over the years, our inability as a business to balance aspiration with the right message left our brand bland and transactional.
Where do we want to go? The answer came from the question that usually followed the shock of my lack of emotion towards the PayAsUGym brand, which was: Why did you start this business if you are not a fitness buff?
Instinctively my answer has always been that I saw a problem and wanted to fix it. That was true (well actually it was my co-founder that saw the problem) but as I was pushed I realised it was much more than this. A decade ago, my wife convinced me to travel and see the world so we both quit our jobs in professional services and headed off around Asia and South America for a year. On returning — before either of us had got a new job — we found out we were going to be parents. Feeling enlightened by my travels and the thought of becoming a dad I decided to start a business rather than return to my previous career in mergers and acquisitions. I no longer wanted to be sent on long projects on the other side of the world. I wanted the flexibility to work how I wanted to in a way that suited me. I wanted to control my own life.
I simplify my life to four elements; career, family, friends and fitness. Getting the right life balance is really tough but when you get it right, it feels great. The fact is for most of us fitness is the first element to suffer when life gets busy. I know this from personal experience. What dawned on me is that we’d built a business that created flexibility and control in how people fit fitness into their lives. I realised that the purpose of this business was to help busy people with that fitness element of life balance and to help make it work out.
Our mission ‘Make Life Work Out’ was born. We finally had a purpose that I and every single team member could relate to.
Will the name PayAsUGym inhibit the growth of the business? I don’t know the answer to this. I don’t have a crystal ball. However, having a purpose you believe in, means almost every decision is easier to make. I’d known for a long time the name ‘PayAsUGym’ was a weak name but with a new found clarity of purpose, I knew it had to change. Rather than jump to rebranding our proposition, I wanted us to focus internally first. We had to start embedding this mission into our culture before we could genuinely build a brand around it. We spent months with our team understanding and creating our business values. Then working on how we would use these in every aspect of our business.
My experience of trying to make my own life work out was to start a business. What I learned from this is that it is possible to find a better balance in life, if you are prepared to work incredibly hard to achieve it. This created the foundations of our culture.
As a business, we now work hard to ensure that our team has the right life balance. This control and flexibility are not a right; it is earned. Get out what you put in. This shift in thinking has led us to carve out time for fitness twice a week and move our entire team to an office in Waterloo station. Fitting fitness in during office hours and commuting to work easily makes life work out. We’ve spent as much time making our purpose a reality for our team than we have building the new customer-facing brand. Developing a culture is not a ‘quick fix’. It is a challenge that will never stop and needs continual focus.
It’s a tough brief for a brand agency to create a brand that is aspirational but not pretentious, empowering but not tribal, savvy but not pushy. Particularly when that brand is in the fitness space. We wanted a name that described the challenge of making life work out. We wanted a name that attracted people who relish this challenge. We wanted a name that could help us tell our story. That said fitness is part of the balance of life, a balance you need to work hard at to get right.
To make life work out, we all need to Hussle.
From now on PayAsUGym is no longer. Now we are Hussle. I don’t know if we got the rebrand right, you can be the judge of that. What I do know is that our brand will evolve but our purpose is clear and we will always Hussle to Make Life Work Out for our team and customers.
Forget the app just found it on play store.
This works excellent for me as a national worker, if I am lucky I get home late Friday and then away again on Monday morning. Some of the hotels have gyms and pools but not always leaving me with the option of read a book or sit at the bar. having the flexibility to go to most gyms in the UK at the drop of a hat is brilliant and would benefit even more from an app with my account details on there to save logging on to websites every time I have the chance to frequent a gym.
The concept of 'pay as you gym' is a fantastic idea and it has helped solving a problem in the fitness market, I congratulate you in our initiative. I did think that the former name 'PayAsUGym', although being very clear and straightforward, sounded a bit like a text message, and was lacking impact. However, I am not convinced about your new choice, HUSSLE. To start, as I began to receive emails informing me about the re-branding, my mind was instinctively spelling your new name as HUSTLE, which is , by the way, the right one. Then, I decided to make some search online and I came across a few definitions for Hussle in an urban dictionary, starting from the 'misspelling of Hustle', followed by slang to 'make money', and a few more. In addition to this, I also found the artistic name of an American rapper who died last march, Nipsey Hussle. I can't deny that the new name and logo have a lot more impact, but I feel like it is more directed at the young and 'cool' generation. To finish, between Hussle and Hassle (sounding pretty similar) there is only one different vowel.
I think you have got the rebrand spot on. People today need flexibility and options and they also want to experience a little bit of everything. This ticks all the boxes for me. Thanks for the free pass too!
I know nothing about branding - but I really enjoyed reading this. and THANK YOU for making those of us not built like models feel welcome too! I think the fitness industry does have a responsibility with images and messages, glad you recognise it.