November 5, 2019

Bringing Structure to the Fitness Studio: Amira Polack, Founder and CEO, Struct Club

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Bringing Structure to the Fitness Studio: Amira Polack, Founder and CEO, Struct ClubBringing Structure to the Fitness Studio: Amira Polack, Founder and CEO, Struct Club
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Editor's note: 
Welcome to the Unusual Founder Spotlight series! The goal of this series is to introduce the founders in our portfolio who have the rage to master and are currently building the future across categories and industries.

With one out of every five Americans heading to the gym, the fitness industry has experienced exponential growth in recent years with an estimated revenue of $99.9B globally, up from $87.2B in 2017. According to Goldman Sachs, Millennials have spurred this fitness movement and are exercising more, eating smarter, and smoking less than previous generations. Another major factor behind the fitness industry’s rapid expansion? Group class experiences like SoulCycle and Orangetheory, and the advent of virtual fitness à la Peloton. Studio membership grew 121% the past 5 years and show no signs of slowing, according to FITT.

With the explosion in popularity of group fitness, fitness instruction has become not only a growing gig, but also a competitive one. Gone are the days when fitness instructors could fly by the seat of their pants. Instructors are now responsible for conceiving, creating, running, and promoting classes and customers demand a consistently high-quality and unique experience. Essentially, instructors are no longer just instructors — they are required to be Exercise Scientists, DJ’s, Choreographers, Teachers, Inspirational Motivators, and Salespeople.

Unlike other professions, today’s fitness instructors lack the tools to do their job efficiently and effectively. Struct Club Founder and CEO, Amira Polack, experienced this gap firsthand when she was in business school, teaching cycling classes on the side. Frustrated by the amount of time it would take to plan a class — often three to five times longer than the actual class itself — and the inability to share information on the structure of a class should she need a substitute instructor, Amira felt something needed to be done. That something came in the form of technology and Struct Club, the app that brings structure to instructors of music driven fitness classes with software that simplifies planning and coaching a class.

We recently sat down with Amira to learn more about her aha moment that led to the formation of Struct Club, who inspires her, and more.

Unusual: Can you give us a little background on yourself?

Amira: I grew up in LA and am the oldest of three girls. My mom immigrated from the Philippines and while working at a semiconductor company, met my dad who is an engineer, originally from New York. I studied political sciences, international relations, and public policy at Princeton, but have spent most of my career in entrepreneurship and working with mission-driven technologies. I wanted to use my career to make a difference and help people problem-solve. While I started with my eye on public policy, I became fascinated by the potential of tech and entrepreneurship to enhance human ability. I launched Struct Club in grad school while I was getting my MBA at Harvard Business School.

Unusual: What was your “aha” moment that led to begin working on Struct Club?

Amira: My “aha” moment was a moment of anger — and I’d call that moment the spark that ignited a bunch of moments that had been accumulating during my first six months of really struggling to teach fitness classes. I was in my second semester at Harvard Business School and I obtained my fitness instructor certification to teach cycling classes to spread my love of fitness, and also help pay the bills. There were a few things that I was discovering over time. One was that it was taking three to five times the amount of teaching time — the time I was actually spending in class — to prepare for the class. There was just a completely re-inventive process of curating playlists, memorizing the playlist, writing down notes on paper, taking mental notes, memorizing my instructions. Then I’d jump into class and be stranded between different sources of untimely information and endless checklists. I didn’t feel like I could be totally present with the people I was teaching, which was the whole reason I got into teaching to begin with. As I made friends in the fitness industry, I started to notice the same pattern more and more.

The real tipping point came when I was out of town for a bit and I needed a substitute for my classes. There was no way I could share information with the substitute about how exactly class was supposed to be structured for the program I was teaching.

Consequently, I received angry or sad emails from my own clients and when I returned, half of my clients were gone because they felt there was an inconsistent experience with the substitute who was recycling old material because they didn’t have time to prepare before class. I thought, “This has to be easier and less re-inventive. We’re all doing the same things over and over again and spending a ton of time to yield suboptimal results.” Then a lightbulb went off and I thought this was exactly what I had been doing in enterprise tech for the past 4 years. Technology is supposed to solve these types of problems, so why not do something about it?

The Struct Club Team

Unusual: Can you tell us a little more about Struct Club?

Amira: Struct Club stands for bringing structure to instruction for the fitness and health club community. Our debut product is a mobile platform that allows fitness instructors, their managers, and studio owners — basically any music-inspired fitness creator — to choreograph, run, and scale their class routines. Struct Club has been used in tens of thousands of classes in at least 40 states, 11 countries, and at places like Equinox and SoulCycle, but also YMCAs, university gyms, and numerous local community studios.

Unusual: What have you found to be the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur?

Amira: Things take a lot longer than you might ever anticipate. Products take time to build and a user experience takes time to get right, so I think being patient with myself has been one of the biggest challenges. I see a lot of articles about young tech professionals valuing themselves based on productivity, but it’s going to take time for the outcome you’re looking for to manifest itself and there’s always going to be an endless list. I have to remind myself to focus on basing my worth on what I value and how aligned that is with what I’m working on. Otherwise, it’s going to feel like running around on a hamster wheel.

I recently read an article featuring Heartbeat’s co-founder Kate Edwards talking about this topic and it’s interesting to reflect on feeling like you are a reflection of your business and the difficulty in separating those two things: the business and your identity, as opposed to feeling like your identity and your business are one in the same. They’re actually very different — your business is a separate entity and you are a separate person. You have to accept there are things totally out of your control and that luck also plays a central role in the success of companies.

Unusual: Who has been your biggest inspiration and why?

Amira: My mom — she’s the bomb. She sacrificed her own career to take care of my sisters and me growing up and has been the ultimate role model. One time in the third grade, I came home celebrating a quiz that I scored 100% on. She said, “You forgot the extra credit. You could have gotten 110%.” When I called my parents to tell them I was accepted into HBS, my dad began cheering as if we scored the winning touchdown at a big football game and my mom just said, “Of course you got in. They’d be stupid not to let you in.” Her sacrifices and level of confidence in me have always inspired me to think big, reach high, and value myself on my own terms, and not worry about what others say.

Amira and her mom

Unusual: Have you ever thought about quitting?

Amira: There were definitely days where I think, “There’s something I’m doing that just isn’t working,” And I need to have a micro quit where I put stuff down for a day and go to sleep or go workout. I think temporary quits or micro quits where I allow myself to take a break are actually really important. I wouldn’t say that it’s important to quit, but there are times when I’ve been blazing down a path and maybe I was being stubborn about something and hitting my head against a wall. In these moments, I needed to take a step back and forge a different path. I think some people may call this quitting. Others may call it pivoting, but essentially stopping and walking away. Moments like these where I’m frustrated and struggling to see a path forward, I think, “I am pretty sure that if we don’t figure this out, somebody else will. Why can’t it be us?” There’s just no reason for this not to be out there in the world and I think our team is the best team to do it. I’m pretty convinced. It’s going to take some time to make it happen, especially at the fullest expression of how we want it to happen.

Learn more about Struct Club, the platform for music-inspired fitness instructors

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