In a country where more than three quarter of its population is physically inactive, resides Folusho Ogunwale, CEO of the ...Read more
In a country where more than three quarter of its population is physically inactive, resides Folusho Ogunwale, CEO of the $50-million-fitness chain. iFitness, has now got Nigerians moving via a fitness chain that is looking to expand across the Sub-Saharan African continent. The vision, he says, is “to build a global fitness platform that grants many thousands of people access to live happier and healthier lives”. iFitness commenced operations in 2015, got the backing of Cardinal Stone Capital Advisers (CCA), a Lagos based growth fund manager in December 2019, just before the COVID 19 Pandemic.
To him, the company presents a wellness culture that makes fitness common, fun and more affordable. The life expectancy in African nations is amongst the lowest worldwide. In Nigeria, the average life expectancy of males is 54 years, and that of females is 56 years, according to 2020 data from the WHO.
“There are several factors contributing to this. One of the most significant of them all is physical inactivity and harmful day-to-day life choices. Creating an enabling environment in the urban communities in West Africa where people can exercise and embrace a culture of fitness is a way of changing this statistic. We have an opportunity to touch many thousands of lives, helping people have access to healthier and happier lives,” Ogunwale said.
According to him, “making fitness more appealing to the average urban dweller considering the enormous economical and social pressures inherent in the nation,” he says of the company, iFitness, which began expanding rapidly in 2017, just two years after it launched.
Ogunwale, a serial entrepreneur, had previously worked at a bank in its Sales and HR units before leaving to start a business in the mobile electronics retail space. The University of London-trained financial economist began his serial entrepreneurship journey in 2011 with the founding of Premier Impact Ltd, which later became Yes Mobile in 2015.
Company records show that Yes Mobile’s annual turnover surged from $2.5m in 2011 to $20m per annum in 2016 before entering into an acquisition deal with Yudala Nigeria Ltd, now Konga Ltd.
Creating a “neighborhood gym”
“There just weren’t affordable and easily accessible centres back then, around 10 years ago,” he says, adding that many of the fitness centers around required a yearly subscription fee that ran close to a million naira, with no option of quarterly or monthly subscriptions.
The solution? Providing a fitness chain, he says. By making fitness common, affordable, entertaining and convenient, he could perhaps help create a healthier community of people. The chain of fitness centers “is our own way of promoting the culture of health and wellness among thousands, perhaps millions of people. It is my desire that the existence of this chain touches millions of lives and promotes healthy living as a way of life,” he says.
Asked to comment on what the vision was when the company launched and if there has been a change to that vision today, Ogunwale says, “we started by wanting to be Africans preferred fitness chain. After six years of operations, we really don't see ourselves as just a fitness chain that provides the only access to gyms.
“Rather, we now see ourselves as a fitness platform capable of providing various kinds of fitness products and services. The gyms have now become one way through which we connect to people and change lives; other areas are now being developed because we now see ourselves as a fitness platform; not just a fitness chain.”
Success in Nigeria
Starting from a tiny 150 square meters space exclusively on bootstrapped funding seven years ago, the banker-turned entrepreneur has recorded growth across Africa’s largest population of more than 200 million people and is looking to grow the chain to 40 in the next two years.
In Nigeria, where there is a “high and increasing prevalence of physically inactive persons”, according to a study in the Journal of Public Health, Ogunwale sees an opportunity to provide a “preventive healthcare” system that targets a portion of the 48.6 million inactive people in the country, per the journal.
The most recently installed branch in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, with a budget spent of $1.5 million totals the number of fitness chains 16. By 2022, Ogunwale says he sees the chain growing to 20 from the current 16, in addition to his first cross-border expansion into the former Gold Coast, Ghana, where he might open two branches while other locations are still being considered.
“This expansion is vital to us because it fits into our vision to make the culture of health and fitness common in all urban communities of the nation using our well-spread branch network. For us, fitness has become a part of the health care delivery system, that is, preventive healthcare,” he says.
But how does the serial entrepreneur measure growth? According to him, the biggest and the most significant of all is the number of lives his company is touching. "Now we have access to many thousands of Nigerians; by this time next year, we will be in other West African countries, which means we are touching more lives outside the borders of Nigeria. This is truly inspiring for us," he says.
With the company rapidly expanding across the country, and as it sets its gaze beyond the country of over 200 million people, Ogunwale says he's leveraging on three key strategies: the people, operations and revenue generation.
"Having the right team, especially in a nation where fitness is new and emerging, creating and building manpower capacity is crucial, and ensuring we have operation execution of our plans intact," he says.
Ogunwale says the company and its teams are also focusing on growing member engagements across the board. “We are always concerned about building relationships with our members because our business is heavily relational. Creating that youthful, friendly, and entertaining environment for members is a top priority,” he says.
Having sufficient resources to weather the storm as it builds "the pathway in the fitness industry is crucial, without sufficient resources to weather the storm; the execution of our mission becomes stiff" is also a priority for the company, according to Ogunwale.