Lauren Foundos is founder and CEO of FORTË since 2015. FORTË streams live and on-demand, cutting-edge fitness classes from well-known boutique studios worldwide directly to you. FORTË is a tech company (b2b) and a subscription based fitness streaming platform (b2c). FORTË builds hardware and software that is installed into their partner studios which enables them to seamlessly live stream classes directly to the FORTË platform. Their Netflix-style hub showcases leading global boutique fitness studios and coaches with a variety of classes ranging from meditation, to boxing, yoga, HIIT, and more.
Before launching her own company, FORTË, Lauren spent a decade working on Wall Street with the last five years in finance on the trading floor as an Institutional U.S. Government Bond Broker at Whitaker Securities where she helped to dramatically increase UST Short Coupon and Bill desk revenues. Prior to that she worked at Deutsche Bank in Synthetic Equities and Cloudview Capital Management, a global-macro hedge fund, on their trading desk. Lauren graduated from the University of Maryland in 2006, with a BA in communications and concentration in business. She earned ACC Academic Honor Roll, and Intercollegiate Athletic Honor Roll during her time at Maryland. Lauren is a two-time all-American field hockey player and even played in the Junior Olympics. She went on to play Division I field hockey at the University of Maryland, the nation’s top ranked program. She plays the piano, violin, has two older brothers, adores her parents, and loves to ski!
Lauren, what is the idea behind your project / product, and how did you come up with it?
Working out has always been instrumental in helping me stay focused and grounded.
My earliest memories are all about playing sports and being active. I would have spent every minute outside if my parents would have allowed me to, but fortunately they strongly advised me to focus on school for which I’m thankful today. However, I did go on to become a two-time all-American field hockey player and played for the nation’s top-ranked program.
Upon graduation, I spent ten years working on Wall Street where I had to be at work very early. Working out in the morning before work became increasingly more difficult, so I began taking my clients to work out with me prior to our evening events. That was the catalyst for the FORTË concept.
I was self-motivated when it came to working out my entire life and steered clear of studios; but once I began dabbling, I was immediately hooked by the energy and unspoken camaraderie within the room. As I began to build friendships within the fitness industry, I began to realize that what seemed so obvious wasn’t being done. Studios wanted to offer ‘streaming services,’ but it was costly, and streaming was not their strength. Streaming is an entirely different business. After rounding up a handful of excited studios and building an incredible team, the journey began.
We are empowering the best brands in boutique fitness and elite coaches from around the world to reach far beyond the confines of their studio walls and the 30 bodies or so that can physically attend their class. With streaming, the entire world can be their audience. We make the hottest fitness studios and trends accessible, affordable, and convenient.
When did it all start, and do you have other members in your team?
Fortë was incorporated in May 2015. We spent over two years developing our proprietary, fully-automated, end-to-end live-streaming technology solution before launching. Our technology is our secret sauce; and currently, we are the only company around that can produce livestreams seamlessly around the world with TV-like production quality and no human operators. Of course I have a team, nothing great is built alone. I have an incredible COO/CFO, Toby Dingemans, as well as a team of engineers that are responsible for building our complex technical streaming solution.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
From 2015 to the present and still going strong. We will not stop until we win this game, and completely revolutizine the fitness industry.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The most challenging part of founding a company has been fundraising. We have raised over seven figures to date and are certainly making money now, but as a tech company we must continue to raise funds in order to execute with blitzkrieg speed and secure our spot in the fitness industry.
What I have learned throughout my fundraising process as much as I hate to admit it, is that women are at a disadvantage. I have had to fight an uphill battle with investors. In my former job, my success was clearly defined by my monthly numbers; and with strong numbers, you earned respect no matter who you are. But in the tech world, fundraising from venture capitalists is more abstract. Male venture capitalists have said things to one another while I am in the room with them like, ‘can she handle this pressure,’ or ‘we should find a real CEO.’ This adversity is not in my head; unfortunately the statistics speak for themselves. 1-2% of female-led companies get funded, 2-10% of female/male-led companies get funded, and 90% of male/only-led companies get funded. Despite the unsettling statistics, I will not let this hold me back. It’s an obstacle, but one that I am confident that we will continue to get around thanks to great organizations like Women Who Tech and others!
What are your biggest achievements to date?
My biggest achievement is founding Fortë and leaving behind a very secure and lucrative job on Wall Street. I loved my old life, and never thought that I would leave it; but as my vision for Fortë crystalized, I knew I had to at least give it my best try. I’m grateful for this experience because it opened my eyes to an entirely different career path. I feel so fulfilled waking up every day and knowing that I am working to improve the lives of others, to make them healthier and ultimately happier. It gives work a whole new and incredible meaning.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
The challenges of being a female founder are very real as I stated above. The amount of money invested in women-only companies is nearly non-existent. I am thankful for those working to close the funding gap.
I also feel that being a woman is my secret weapon. Boutique fitness classes are more heavily attended by women than men. I am a heavy user of the space and my product. I am the person that men are trying to build these companies for, so I don’t have to study the pattern of women in their 30’s because that is me.
What projects are you currently working on?
I don’t want to bore you with a list of 1000 projects. The work is endless when you own your own company. Currently, my main focus is fundraising as we are working to close our seed round of funding.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you, and if yes, why?
Absolutely yes as you can see from my previous answers about obstacles that I have encountered on my journey as a female founder. We must change these statistics as we are 50% of the population and have valid ideas and comparable skills (some may say even better) to our counterparts.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
My best advice is to just get started, and stop thinking about it. Once you begin, it is imperative that you surround yourself with like-minded and supportive individuals, because you cannot do this alone.
What will be the key trends in the health tech industry in the next 5 years, and where do you see it heading?
The future of digital health is a very exciting one. I believe that apps, wearable devices, and integrated software will not only improve our quality of life but help us to understand ourselves better as well as give doctors more information about us in order to better care for us. Wearable devices are great to wear during workouts because they help you to track your performance. It’s important to understand whether you are working out too hard or not hard enough. As technology advances it will be important for us to continue to show people that working out is in fact positively affecting their long-term health. We aim to show our customers that their hearts are working more efficiently, that their sleep is improving, and that they should refrain from focusing solely on weight loss.
I also believe that with our increased ability to collect, store, compare, and analyze data from around the world, we will be able to solve and more clearly understand many of today’s health problems that continue to remain a mystery.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in health tech?
Payal Kadakia - Founder of ClassPass
Julia Sutton - CEO of Exhale
Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, the founders of SoulCycle
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This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic.