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Leaning On Others: How Lauren Foundos Is Shaping the Future of the Fitness Industry

Lauren Foundos, founder and CEO of FORTË, is on a mission to transform the fitness industry. As the only premium live and on-demand streaming solution on the market, FORTË allows some of the biggest names in fitness to bring high-quality, cost-effective, and interactive digital experiences to their members.

After spending a decade working on Wall Street, Lauren initially was looking for early-stage startups to invest in. It was during that time when she reflected on her past experience as an athlete and became fixated on the idea of shaping the fitness industry. Through the process of building FORTË, Lauren speaks to the power of leaning on others.

We asked Lauren about how she found her way to entrepreneurship, the hardest and unexpected parts of her journey, and the lessons she has learned throughout her experiences.

Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding: How and why did you start working on FORTË? What problem does your business solve?

A: FORTË helps gyms deliver online fitness experiences to members wherever they are. This is a significant problem fitness facilities were exploring pre-pandemic to adjust to shifts in consumer behavior and the on-demand economy. At the start of COVID-19, most gyms were not equipped to offer a digital experience for their members to compliment in-person memberships. When the pandemic hit, adapting digitally became the only way for them to survive. Gyms are not tech or media companies, so they’re not positioned to create virtual offerings. But gyms are great at building communities and developing impactful fitness programming. FORTË enables them to focus on what they do best by providing them with the proprietary hardware and software needed to live broadcast, and a white-label, branded interactive digital platform that’s integrated into their website and app to create a seamless user experience.

Q: What are some of the most meaningful impacts FORTË has had so far?

FORTË has helped keep businesses open and viable during the pandemic, has helped countless people across the world stay fit, and has brought some of the largest brands in fitness online including:

Helping these gyms reach their members, evolve to meet adapting needs, and set themselves up for success as the fitness industry changes has been an incredible journey thus far, and it’s just the beginning.

Q: What makes FORTË different from others?

Currently, we have no direct competition. FORTË spent three years building our proprietary hardware and software that enables major fitness brands to seamlessly live-broadcast classes every day to their own white-labeled website as well as iOS and Android Apps. This ability allows them to reach far beyond the people who can physically attend in-person classes. FORTË’s automated SaaS solution handles all the video production , mixing of multiple camera angles, streaming, and website and app management. Through our automated hardware solution, clients can live broadcast with TV-grade quality in a cost-effective way.

We are the only platform to offer live-streaming, two-way video where you can choose to show your video only to the trainer, your friends, or to the entire class. You can connect your Apple Watch, FitBit, Garmin, and MyZone heart rate monitors to compete on our live leaderboards, chat with friends, follow other users, high five others, track your progress, earn badges, create challenges, and much more.

We also offer a menu of legally compliant music options, which is important because music is key to the fitness experience and music rights become a complicated issue when broadcasting. This is actually part of the reason fitness companies did not put content online sooner.

Lastly, we integrate with merely all of the gym management and software payment providers in the space including Mindbody, Mariana Tek, ABC Financial, Daxko, CSI, and Club Automation to create a seamless member experience.

We have thousands of inbound inquiries simply because we’re the only company that can do what we do. If a gym wants to create a premium digital experience, we are the option.

Q: In what ways has your upbringing or past experiences contributed to how you operate as an entrepreneur? Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

A: I had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur. Prior to founding FORTË, I spent a decade working on Wall Street, most recently as a Government Bond Broker. As I was looking into investing my money outside the market, I started looking at early-stage companies that interested me. I became familiar with the market and have always been super active. I was an athlete growing up, so I’m a big consumer of fitness. It started to become very clear to me what the future of fitness would look like, and I became more and more fixated on this idea. I began chatting with gyms to see if they agreed, and some of them wanted to begin streaming their classes. I would sit at work distracted every day thinking about this, and I knew if I didn’t get started on making this vision for the future a reality, then someone else would. I didn’t want to tell a story when I got older that I thought of something first and did nothing about it. So here I am today!

Q: What’s been the hardest and most rewarding part of your entrepreneurial journey? What’s been the most unexpected part of your entrepreneurial journey?

A: The hardest part of my journey has been having to give up so much to make FORTË a success. In the early days of the company, the success and momentum relies solely on you as the founder. Now we have an incredible team, but the pressure to grind and work extremely hard is still there, just in a different form, as we have many institutional investors, employees, and companies relying on us to do an incredible job and deliver a strong, and reliable digital service.

This whole journey has been full of unexpected twists and turns. I would say that I’m most grateful for this entire process. I used to think that my old job was incredible as it was exciting and quite lucrative. But when I left to start this company and build something that’s making people’s lives better and helping companies thrive and do well, I really learned what the saying “do what you love and you’ll never work a single day” meant.

Starting a company was a huge risk, but it’s incredibly fulfilling. Founding FORTË has helped me find my purpose.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made?

A: I’ve made many. If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not taking big enough risks. I would say a big initial mistake that I made was hiring the wrong people. A very smart person who works at a highly-regarded large company, as smart as they are, may not be the right fit for your company at your stage. Be sure to hire people who are ready to get their hands dirty in the early days. Hire people who make sense for the current stage of your company, and set clear expectations of what is required.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception that others have around entrepreneurship?

A: That it’s freeing and you can create your own life and work schedule. All of that is true, but if you want it to succeed and your goal is to build a massive business, then your work schedule is pretty much around the clock.

Q: Have you struggled with self doubt as an entrepreneur? How do you navigate this?

A: Of course, I think everyone does at times. Often during the fundraising process you get one thousand “no’s” before you hear a “yes,” which can certainly be defeating. However, it is in those very times that I remind myself that I think about this every single day. This is uncharted territory. I’m the one who stays up until the sun rises working on this, and no one knows it better than me. You need to hold your ground, and believe in yourself or no one else will—whether it’s investors, potential future hires, or people you're trying to sell your product to.

Q: Have you felt like giving up? What made you persist?

A: Of course. I think every founder has experienced dark days, weeks, or months, where nothing seems to be going their way. However, just when you think you can’t take it anymore, something amazing always happens. The leaders with the most grit and persistence are the ones who win the game.

Q: We dare you to brag: What achievements are you most proud of?

A: I am proud to have built an incredible team and to have our previous funding round more than 200 percent oversubscribed. My most recent big win was being the only company on the reality show Unicorn Hunters, and getting all of the show’s judges to commit to investing in our latest funding round. These judges include Steve Wozniak, Rosie Rios, Lance Bass, Moe Vela, Silvina Moschi, and Alex Konyankhin. To be the only female entrepreneur on the show and the only company to get buy-in from all the judges was a surreal and very exciting experience.

Q: What resources or people have contributed the most to your successes?

A: I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support of my family and partner. Their support means the world to me.

From a business perspective, I would not have been able to start this company without the support of Dreamers & Doers, founded by Gesche Haas. She was instrumental in helping me find my way in the early days when I knew nothing about tech, building a company, or starting a business from scratch.

Q: How do you celebrate successes along the way?

A: That’s a good question. I probably need to take more time to do that. It’s hard as a founder to slow down and soak in just how far you’ve come. The other day I found some notes that I took the first week home after quitting my job. I wrote down things like, “what is venture capital,” which now to me is an absurdly silly question. I have now raised $10 million dollars from institutional investors. Finding that piece of paper was a small reminder of where I started and how much I’ve grown as an entrepreneur.

Q: Have you discovered any underappreciated leadership traits or misconceptions around leadership?

A: I have discovered that being your true self always wins. I’m probably not your normal leader. I hug people. I call them and ask what’s wrong or how they are doing when I can sense something is going on, and I’ve found that people really appreciate that. I also genuinely care. At the end of the day, this is work. Your health and family always should come first.

Q: What have you learned about building a team and a support network around yourself?

You cannot succeed without a great team and support network. No one can do it alone. To build a large company, you need to build a team of A+ players who you trust implicitly. You need to empower them to lead, and you need to surround yourself with people who have skills and personality traits that compliment yours.

Q: How would you describe the journey you’ve had in a few sentences? Would you do it all over again?

A: My journey thus far has been the ride of a lifetime, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s been full of ups and downs, and surreal experiences from meeting Steve Wozniak and having him commit to investing, to signing the largest fitness brands in the world and building a great team of incredible humans and a company that fills my soul.

If you’re thinking about getting started, just do it. You may not end up where you intended but you won’t regret taking the risk.

Q: What’s next for you and your company?

A: My goal is to build FORTË into a Unicorn! We are currently raising a large round of growth capital to accelerate the business with blitzkrieg speed.

Lauren is a member of Dreamers & Doers, an award-winning community that amplifies extraordinary women entrepreneurs and leaders by securing PR, forging authentic connections, and curating high-impact resources. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and get involved here.

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