Female fitness studio chain AimFit has raised a seed round of $1 million to become the first VC-backed fitness start-up out of Pakistan. The oversubscribed round was led by Indus Valley Capital, a Pakistan-focused fund started by LinkedIn’s former VP Growth Aatif Awan.
Angel investors include an unnamed unicorn founder, the founding team of Atoms amongst other high profile investors.
Co-Founder sister duo Mahlaqa and Noor are on a mission to make women (across emerging markets) fit by launching a viral online fitness platform that caters to localized needs, a gap that they see ignored by the western fitness offerings. After returning from studies at Oxford University in 2014, AimFit has quietly led a female fitness revolution within Pakistan, serving an ultra-engaged community of over 10,000 women with over 42,000 5-star fitness experiences to date. At Oxford, Mahlaqa and Noor were both a part of their college rowing crew. Mahlaqa later moved to London and was introduced to the world of group fitness. Upon their return to Pakistan, both sisters were avidly searching for group fitness options for females but could not find a single holistic platform. That’s when they decided to start something of their own.
What started as a personal passion, quickly expanded from a small rented space in Lahore, Pakistan to four of its own studios served by a team of 55 instructors, all of whom were trained through AimFit’s own instructor academy and certification. Leveraging its viral brand, AimFit launched a bootstrapped online offering within 24 hours of the COVID-19 lockdown to strong online traction from its members. It now plans to turbo-charge this growth through its online platform complemented by expansion of its studio footprint across Pakistan.
Co-founder and CEO Mahlaqa Shaukat comments “We’re on a mission to revolutionise female fitness in Pakistan and across similar emerging geographies. We’ve seen the transformative impact AimFit has had on its members who refer to AimFit as #MyHappyPlace. We envision a planet where a fit and healthy lifestyle is within everyone’s reach. With this as the goal, we’re working on a viral online fitness platform. COVID-19 expedited our online launch and we now plan to double down on our omni-channel model by rapidly expanding across Pakistan over the coming months, before targeting international expansion”
With the 5th largest population in the world, Pakistan shockingly ranked 149 out of 150 countries for recreational physical activity by participation in 2018 measured by the Global Wellness Institute. Other health indicators such low-life expectancy compared to regional benchmarks also point to significant room for improvement, which presents a massive, under-tapped opportunity. The situation across other similar geographies is no different with large markets like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Srilanka also recording less than 26% participation rate in physical activity. The AimFit sisters are set on changing this statistic, a feat that the boom in online fitness start-ups of the west has not managed to tackle.
While the last few years have seen a boost in health and fitness clubs in the major cities of Pakistan, smaller cities and the female population have largely been ignored. With increasing proliferation of smartphones and high-speed internet connectivity, AimFit plans to use its online fitness solution to reach this segment. Post COVID-19 lockdown, AimFit shut down its fitness studios and launched an online, home workout offering for its members. The popularity of these pre-recorded fitness classes, ranging from Dance Fitness to HIIT and Yoga, propelled the company into its next phase of growth in the online fitness market. Technology will help the brand reach millions of women in their houses, removing barriers to physical fitness existing in a conservative society.
AimFit’s impact already goes beyond serving its core members, through its wide community engagement initiatives ranging from activations in schools to nationally televised children home workouts and mass female-only fitness festivals.
Co-founder and COO, Noor Shaukat comments, “We know in our culture that women, as primary caregivers and nurturers, put their own health on the back seat to look after others. All evidence clearly points out that a health-conscious matriarch is better for the family, society and economy. The barriers to women adopting a healthy lifestyle in the emerging world are real though – Lack of information, motivation and skills, spouse & family support, accessibility to places for physical activity, cost-effective services and time are real challenges. AimFit aims to remove these barriers using its dedicated online platform and flagship studio locations aiming to foster an engaged online and offline female community.”
With a duo of female founders at the helm, and a mostly all-female management team, the company is well-aware of these issues. Mahlaqa adds, “We are excited to shatter false notions of what women can and cannot do. The AimFit team has already converted 1000s of women to the cause of fitness. Simultaneously we have championed a cause of training, hiring and keeping women in the workforce with flexible working hours and supportive policies. As mothers to young children, Noor and I both fully understand the challenge for women to juggle a career and family as well as prioritize their health and well-being. We use our personal experience to help inform both our product, service and management strategy.”
Commenting on the competitor landscape, Noor adds, “The last 5 years has seen a boom in the fitness industry in Pakistan and we are proud of the role AimFit has played in enabling this ecosystem of independent fitness studios. While there isn’t a direct online competitor focusing on a scaled, online fitness solution for women, there are multiple individuals and brands in the market. We are excited to see this growth since the biggest challenge is to encourage more people to take up a healthier lifestyle. The more players there are in the market, the more our target market is educated on the need for our product.”
Aatif Awan, the founder and Managing Partner of Indus Valley Capital, who in his previous role helped LinkedIn grow to half a billion members, commenting on the occasion, said, “At Indus Valley Capital, our mission is to help founders build the most transformational companies in Pakistan. We believe that AimFit will transform the country in an incredible way by bringing fitness to millions of women in their homes. Being able to achieve fitness goals as part of a community is truly empowering and has a spill over effect into improving other aspects of life, including family, work and mental health. We’re thrilled to partner with AimFit in revolutionizing female fitness in Pakistan.”
AimFit plans to use the investment to build its technology product and expand its studio blueprint enabled by the development of a strong management team. The company will be launching Flagship studios across major cities of Pakistan in addition to rolling out it’s online platform across all Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. To be one of the first to access AimFit’s online platform, sign-up via their website here.