The interview

The interview

CoachUp CEO John Kelley catches me up on how his startup is doing. It's the prelude to our hour-plus workout and basketball lesson.

Photo by Ryan Light

Warm-ups

Warm-ups

CoachUp coach Brandon Ball shares some tips in between exercises. Jumping rope was my most humbling performance of the day.

Photo by Ryan Light

Commence the sweating

Commence the sweating

The early drills were about getting the blood flowing and testing our balance and endurance.

Photo by Ryan Light

More drills

More drills

I'm already out of breath, and we haven't even touched a basketball yet.

Photo by Ryan Light

Hand-eye coordination

Hand-eye coordination

You try dribbling a basketball with your left hand (without looking down), catching another ball with your other hand, and throwing it back.

Photo by Ryan Light

Check it out

Check it out

We got this.

Photo by Ryan Light

Score

Score

A successful right-handed layup. (At least, I think this one went in.) My coaches back home would be proud.

Photo by Ryan Light

John Kelley sinks one

John Kelley sinks one

I'm thinking he dunks it next time.

Photo by Ryan Light

Xconomy Boston — 

As I step onto the basketball court, I feel a flash of giddiness mixed with a tinge of nervousness. Just like when I was a kid, warming up before a game.

I’m dressed in dark silver athletic shorts and a worn-out Marquette University basketball T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. My laptop is stowed in my backpack, along with a pair of black sneakers and a stretched-out headband, both waiting to be called to duty after months gathering dust in my closet.

I drove to this gym in Waltham, MA, to meet with John Kelley, CEO of Boston-based startup CoachUp. His company runs an online service that connects athletes of all ages with private coaches in a variety of sports, and I’m about to embark upon what is probably the most intense product review Xconomy has ever conducted. Kelley has graciously agreed to sacrifice his body and join me in a basketball torture training session with CoachUp coach and former professional basketball player Brandon Ball. (See photos above, and read more and watch video highlights below on page 2.)

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Kelley says before our workout, and I’m not sure whether he’s joking. “I’m still nervous. I’m like, ‘Let’s do a golf lesson.’ [But] I’ll take one for the team. I’ll do anything for CoachUp.”

Before we get started, I pull out my laptop and chat with Kelley courtside about how business is going, CoachUp’s efforts to broaden its appeal, and plans to incorporate more video technology in its online platform. Consider it a mental warm-up to our hour-plus workout.

The Evolving Fitness Industry

It’s Xconomy’s first in-depth interview with Kelley since he became CoachUp CEO in early 2015, succeeding co-founder and former pro basketball player Jordan Fliegel.

Kelley, previously a top marketing exec at The Princeton Review, Monster.com, and other firms, says he’s having fun running CoachUp at a crucial juncture. The five-year-old company, which employs over 30 people, has shown there’s ample demand for its online matching service. Around 20,000 private coaches are on its platform, and they have led more than 250,000 training sessions since CoachUp got started, Kelley says. (CoachUp makes money primarily by taking a cut of what clients pay coaches for each lesson.)

Kelley won’t share exact revenues, but he says they’re on track to grow by a percentage in the “high double digits” this year.

Kelley says the plan now is to enhance CoachUp’s offerings and expand its use among people outside of the service’s core demographic of athletes ages 12 to 18.

To that end, the company created CoachUp Play, a service for groups of kids ages 4 to 10, aimed at introducing them to sports and encouraging healthy habits and teamwork.

CoachUp is also getting more interest from adults, Kelley says. Frustration with traditional monthly gym memberships is causing people to switch to alternative services such as ClassPass and CoachUp, which allow them to perform a variety of workouts led by trained instructors, he says.

“The whole fitness industry is undergoing an evolution,” Kelley says. Adults have an “interest in trying different things and changing it up frequently. I think we play into that very well, particularly because we’ve got all kinds of coaches in all kinds of sports.”

Kelley says kids tend to use CoachUp for team sports, such as basketball and soccer, while adults mainly hire coaches in what he calls “lifestyle sports,” such as golf, tennis, yoga, and strength and conditioning workouts.

“We’re now beginning to really expand our messaging and product to appeal more to younger kids and older folks like me,” Kelley says.

Building Coaches Up

CoachUp is also trying to make its platform more useful for its network of coaches, beyond the benefits of helping them connect with clients and handling back-office work like scheduling sessions, managing billing and payments, and other services. The company is adding video capabilities that will enable coaches to upload recordings of sessions to the CoachUp site so they can go over critiques with clients and give better feedback, Kelley says. That’s especially useful for helping athletes see how they can improve the technique of their golf swing or their jump shot, for example.

Coaches will also be able to post promotional videos on their CoachUp profile page, which might help potential clients get a better sense of their experience and personality, Kelley says. Many of CoachUp’s coaches have other jobs, but some of them accumulate enough clients that they can coach full-time, he adds.

But the biggest opportunity Kelley sees for video technology is … Next Page »

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