Not many people get inspired to start a business while watching sports highlights, but for Cameron West this set in motion the idea for his entire business concept.
West is the founder of Sydney-based business Pro Training Programs, an online database of sport and fitness training programs, as used by professional athletes.
West talks to StartupSmart about working for the Wests Tigers Rugby League Club, how he developed Pro Training Programs, and why the fitness industry is charging forward.
What prompted you to launch Pro Training Programs? What niche did you identify?
I studied exercise and sport science at the University of Sydney for three years. Through my time at university, I was also working as an online marketer.
When I graduated in 2009, I had to make a decision about which path I was going to go down.
To help me decide, I worked for a season part-time with the Wests Tigers Rugby League Club, and part with a search marketing agency in Sydney.
I also became involved in setting up a not-for-profit organisation, Volunteer Alliance. I finally decided to focus on online marketing because it meant I could also do more for Volunteer Alliance.
The idea for Pro Training Programs came to me one night when I was watching NRL highlights on TV. That same evening I saw a local rugby league team training on the park across from my house.
My university degree in sport science helped me to understand why the professional training programs at the Wests Tigers were so effective, and naturally I began thinking about how much more these local athletes could be getting from their efforts at training if they had access to the same coaches, trainers and training programs that the professionals had.
I remembered a time when I was at university, and training for touch football, the strength and conditioning coach of the university’s Talented Athlete Program gave me a professional pre-season program, which he had obtained from the Canterbury Crusaders (a Super Rugby club).
I was so excited about the training program and I remember how much I improved in that pre-season compared to previous seasons.
Pro Training Programs was the perfect combination of my formal training in sport science and my work experience in online marketing.
The niche I saw was enthusiastic non-professional sportspeople. I understand that this is almost too broad to be considered a niche.
That being said, I am seeing everyone from “weekend warriors” who just want to be better in their social competitions all the way through to semi-professionals who are trying to break into the big time, purchasing programs from Pro Training Programs.
How did you fund the business?
I funded the business myself. The main cost was building a website, which I needed to do before I was able to approach the coaches and trainers of professional teams.
How do you promote the business?
My primary promotion has been online. I have spent a lot of time optimising the website for search.
This includes search engine optimisation, improving the website rankings in natural search and search engine marketing, paid advertisements on relevant search engine result pages and publisher websites.
I like focusing my efforts online while I am still a start-up because it allows me to test everything (pricing, positioning, etc.) through my web analytics.
I am learning a lot about the market and how to provide a service that is more effective from a user/customer perspective.
How do you stand out in the market? What’s your point/s of difference?
There are a number of personal trainers offering their training programs online. However, I only work with the best coaches and trainers in Australia.
These coaches and trainers work with professional clubs in the NRL, AFL, Super Rugby and other professional sports in Australia.
The sport training programs I offer are scientifically designed for maximum performance enhancement.
This means that people who follow these professional training programs are guaranteed to get the most from their efforts at training.
What has been your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?
The greatest challenge was establishing a relationship with the professional coaches and trainers.
I was able to connect with a number of coaches and trainers through my contacts at the University of Sydney.
However, it was difficult to find a way to work together that was not too time-consuming for them and didn’t infringe on their contracts with the professional sports clubs and organisations they were working for.
There were legal fees, plus a lot of meetings and emails, but the coaches and trainers I am working with are truly committed people so we made it work.
With regard to personal fitness programs, where do you think the market is heading?
I think it is great to see more people trying to work on their fitness.
I would love to see social sport really take off. Australia has a reputation for being a sporty nation, but sometimes it seems that means watching sport rather than playing.
I think sport is such an easy way to start exercising. I know for me personally it is so much easier to exercise if you are playing a sport.
It doesn’t feel like a chore, you don’t need to be a superstar, and it is a great way to get out and see friends.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
The biggest risk I face is if the professional clubs who my coaches and trainers work for decide to enter the market.
If the clubs can come to an agreement with the coaches and trainers to offer their training programs under the club’s brand, they will be able to capture market share by marketing directly to club members and fans.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I would have been faster to market.
I knew when I started that it was important to be fast to market. However, I was juggling a number of different jobs so I could only give Pro Training Programs so much of my time.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in the fitness industry?
It’s probably a bit too early for me to be giving other entrepreneurs advice.
But what I have learnt is that with the fitness industry growing, and with the right knowledge and skills, you can make a business out of supporting the rest of the industry rather than needing to compete with it.