064: Converting an in-person experience into an online membership – with Aaron De Jong

Readapting a business from an in-person experience into an online membership is not for everyone. Aaron De Jong, Founder of Movement108, joins us to explain how he converted a live experience into a digital membership while increasing the value of his brand.

✍️ Show Notes

📄 Show Transcript

This transcript is computer generated, please excuse any errors 🙂

Ward Sandler: Aaron. Hey, welcome to the Membership Maker.

Aaron De Jong: Thanks Ward. Excited to be here and to have a nice chat with you.

Ward Sandler: Yeah, definitely. All right, so let’s just kick things off. Let folks know who are you, and what is the membership business that we’re going to be talking about today?

Aaron De Jong: I’m Aaron De Jong. I am the founder, owner, operator, head trainer at a studio, in Vancouver, called Movement108. It was an in-person studio for six and a half years, and then this year, we flipped it over into an on-demand membership platform, where we film our classes or our workouts, and we post them for our members and that lives in our membership space.

Ward Sandler: And to give folks an idea, roughly how large was the in-person studio, in terms of customers or clients you had come in in a weekly basis or something like that.

Aaron De Jong: Yeah, I mean it fluctuated. I started super small and then we went into a bigger space. Our space was 2000 square feet. We had a second space, and still have a second space, where we do our filming, which is another 1500 square feet. So at our peak, we had 12 trainers, we had like 2,500 people through a month, that’s 2,500 visits, probably about 800 unique people. Our class sizes were anywhere from 3 to 15 people, and we had seven classes a day throughout the week, and then we specialize in personal training as well. So it was a pretty robust community. It was a really fun space and then converting it over into something more digital-focused it’s quite a trip.

Ward Sandler: Yeah, it sounds like it. So you basically went through this process of converting a very in-person experience, right? Like a gym one-on-one personal training classes in person, you converted that to an online membership. Walk me through kind of how that went from not just the practical, but also like emotionally, what has that been like for you?

Aaron De Jong: Yeah, I think like, I mean, it would be remiss not to say that what pushed us into this world was COVID right. With our gym, we were the busiest we’ve ever been through 2019 and through the winter of 2020. And then when we came to March again, like March 10th, we wrapped up a very typical week where we were full across our class schedule. And then March 13th, we close our studio down just in sort of a preventative or like just a cautionary. Let’s just see what happens here. And the fortunate side of being cautious there was that we close about a week before every other gym in Vancouver closed down because of, you know, local public, suggestions or, or mandates to lockdown. And that week gave us time to say like, well, what do we want to do? You know, because this isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast. And we have a huge client load that is looking to continue moving in what is a very dramatically shifted lifestyle for everybody right now.

So, one of my coworkers and I just started saying like, well, what do we want to do? They started doing these Instagram live workouts, which everybody in the world did; you probably saw 1001. That was really cool for a little bit, and we were like, well, that’s really nice, but doesn’t it. I actually serve our business. So we started looking at what could we do? So what I did was I got, I use my Dropbox account and use our existing platform for class bookings, and we just offered people with existing credits, or if they wanted to purchase brand new memberships, to unlimited class, we posted six classes a week and we just saved them in the Dropbox. It was super clunky, very inefficient, but people were willing to adapt at that time.

So people were buying these, and we made the memberships weekly because we were like, we don’t know, we might stop the membership next week. So we don’t want to charge you for a month and then refund you. And that just grew, you know, like we really rapidly grew. Everyone was willing to jump on that we had like 120 people, um, jump in that, uh, which really mirrored our like core, um, like a group of people coming to the gym, and then what was nice about it too, is that we saw a lot of people that had been to the studio that who had moved to different cities who are now living in Australia, who are living in like Michigan coming in and being part of our membership platform, which was really exciting. But the membership platform sucked. Right? So it was just like, it was a terrible piece work but people figured it out. And then, and then that one thing led to another, and that continued through to the summer, and I started thinking, you know, we’ve got to change something that’s more sustainable here.

Ward Sandler: Yeah, it’s interesting because it’s like one of those unintended positive consequences or silver linings of COVID for some businesses, obviously not for all, but for some, you see with the in-person gym, it’s like, if I move out of Vancouver, I’m not going to go to Movement108 if it’s an in-person experience. But now everyone, you and, your staff, and your network of people have come in contact with Movement108, and it’s like, ‘oh wait; there’s an online thing. I like those guys; I like those girls. They were great. Let’s see what they got’ and now suddenly you open up to more customers, which is interesting.

Aaron De Jong: Well, totally. And I think like the thing for us that I know, I recognize, and I think everyone’s trying to solve right now is that we went from this like very intentionally community-led space, we had two main offerings: one was this class and personal training product, and we’re very proud. I’m very proud of sort of the exercise methodology that we’ve created in our studio. We’re different from other spaces. Like everyone says, they’ve got their own thing, but we created a very unique accessible and it worked strength model that people loved, right. And it was very approachable. Ppeople were seeing results. It was good. And then we had this community aspect. So it was like between the community and this like very inclusive, welcoming environment. Plus the actual exercise method, we had this really magical sauce, and it was immediately clear that we were able to continue the magical sauce of exercise.

And then over this last year, it’s really been about how do you problem solve community, um, accountability, people connecting with each other in a very much more digital or hybrid world, you know? And that’s been the continued problem to solve in my mind.

Ward Sandler:Yeah. And it’s real, one quick question on the Dropbox methods. So, you had videos you’re uploading to Dropbox each week, it sounds like, and everybody just went to the same Dropbox folder, right?

Aaron De Jong: Yeah, it was interesting. Cause it was so unintentional. Right. And Dropbox was not made to be a video hosting platform. So what I did is I created a private folder, and then in that folder, there was like, you’d see five videos and they were the videos for the week, and then at the end of the week, those videos would go into their subfolders and people could go into the subfolders that they could go. They could go in and look at any workouts they wanted, but they had to look and read the whole line of texts. The date, the workout, who the instructor was, there was no like a preview video, nothing.

So when we started using it and it started to grow a lot. We’re like, well, people are figuring this out, but this is super inefficient. There are lots of complaints. And the funny thing was, I didn’t know that there would be a limit to a number of people sharing the same folder, but the week we launched our new site with member space was the same week, Drop Box locked us out twice. They said there’s too many people coming into this link, there’s something fishy about this. They’ve got their own protective measures up on it. So I just chuckled. I was like th th the timing was so, sort of rich with irony in, in a weird way.

Ward Sandler:Yeah, cool, Aaron. So I think that’s a really great stuff. Why don’t we wrap up here and if you could just share your website or anything else you want to kind of plug, any social media or anything like that?

Aaron De Jong: Yeah, sure. I mean, Check out the platform obviously at Movement108, it’s pretty self-explanatory. We try to make it as simple as possible. You can learn a lot about what the what’s special or the workouts, the balanced offering that you get every week in terms of mobility, some strengths and weight stuff, and kettlebell workouts, social media, is the same on Instagram. We do every so often Instagram live workouts, so you can kind of get to know conversationally the trainers myself and the other trainers I work with. And then I’ve got another project, check out the Movr app, in the app store. That’s a different offering, but something I’m super passionate about. So lots of ways you can find me and move your bodies with me.

Ward Sandler: Awesome. Thanks, Aaron. That’s great stuff. Thanks very much for the time, we appreciate it.