Courtesy Photo | "We are improving the fitness industry," StrengthPortal CEP Matt McGunagle said.

Kait Freeberg
Special to Mustang News

Living in a hotel room for six months might not be at the top of most Cal Poly graduates’ aspiration lists.

But sharing bunk beds, living in small quarters and cooking without a kitchen are some of the sacrifices the founders of StrengthPortal have had to make.

“We are just trying to stay alive and survive,” StrengthPortal CEO Matt McGunagle said.

McGunagle, Kwaku Farkye and Ken Orvick are the creators of this fitness management website for personal trainers. The student startup was McGunagle’s idea. He was inspired by his younger brother Andrew, a Cal Poly kinesiology student who became very good at personal training and powerlifting. The brothers spent time doing these activities together, which led to Matt falling in love with fitness.

However, Matt saw the problems his brother faced as a personal trainer: keeping track of his clients’ workout schedules and files with pen and paper.

“We do it handwritten; all the trainers have the clients’ info, and we write all that stuff down, and for the workouts we handwrite those, too … it’s all a bit prehistoric,” said Karisha Dearing, fitness director at Kennedy Club Fitness in Paso Robles.

In November 2013, McGunagle said everything clicked. He combined his three passions — entrepreneurship, technology and health and fitness — and started developing his idea.

“If I can build the perfect product for my brother, then I am doing my job,” McGunagle said.

After graduating from Cal Poly with a business administration degree, McGunagle stayed in San Luis Obispo, working at a local restaurant during the day and working on StrengthPortal at night. Orvick also held a day job, and his nights and weekends were dedicated to the website. In June, they met Farkye, who moved to California from Boston to join their team.

Living in San Luis Obispo, the team was able to use resources such as the SLO HotHouse and the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“I have known Matt for five years, and he has always been working on some kind of startup,” said Jonathan York, co-founder and director of Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and industrial technology professor. “With any startup business it is always the same thing: figuring out who the customer is and what they need. That is what I helped Matt do.”

McGunagle and his team took the smart approach, as York said, by not building the technology too far without knowing what the customer needs.

“I think he has found enough trainers and people in that area that feel this is a problem that will use his solution,” York said. “There is a big difference between an idea and a business … he is going to have a business.”

Over the summer of 2013, StrengthPortal and its team were accepted into the Silicon Valley Boost Startup Accelerator program. This 12-week program allowed for entrepreneurs to meet with seasoned mentors, listen to speakers and work on team-building exercises, providing the means to make the startup successful. The program invested between $10,000 and $15,000 for a 6 percent stake in the company.

Now, after completing the program, the team is looking forward to presenting at a large networking conference in front of 100-150 investors. Once the presentation is complete, angel investors are next on McGunagle’s list of people to reach out to. They will be able to provide the website money to further their product.

Right now, the team is concentrating on the website.

“We are improving the fitness industry and empowering personal trainers,” McGunagle said.

York said the secret to entrepreneurship success is to “create something with so much value that people can’t ignore it … something that makes your life easier.” This is exactly what the StrengthPortal team is focused on.

Farkye is working on developing, programming and designing the back end of the site.

“He takes crazy ideas and puts them into realities, he stays up until 3 or 5 in the morning,” McGunagle said about his partner.

Orvick spends his time in marketing, implementing front-end design, coding and promotion through social media.

“He is a jack-of-all-trades; he taught himself everything,” McGunagle said.

McGunagle is focused on finding investors for the company, but admitted they need more customers.

“Our numbers have not gotten to the point where we want them yet,” he said. “We need a compelling system, we need to make the product better.”

With approximately 200 trainer accounts created on their site, the team would like to see that number increase.

Growth indicators include how many trainers are registering on the site and are active, as well as how many different workouts are being created.

Dearing asked her staff what they thought of the StrengthPortal website and if they would use it.

“I had a chance to ask some of the trainers and had them take a look at it, and they all had a really good response and liked a lot of the features. The general consensus was that it was a little pricey and there are some apps that are less expensive that do similar things,” she said.

For personal trainers with 25 clients, the website is $50 per month, and for those with 50 or more clients it costs $100 per month. For trainers working on building their client list, they are able to use the site for free with five or fewer clients.

The team has been focused on two goals, both of which were suggestions from trainers who use StrengthPortal.

“We see if we can validate the idea and see if it will work … they give us a problem and we build a solution,” McGunagle said.

This week, the iOS app for iPhone was launched. The Android app also went live recently.

The team will add a communication tool to their website, which will allow trainers to message their clients. Some will have them write daily reflections on their workouts or keep a weekly nutrition log. The team said this interaction builds the trainer-client relationship.

While it may be easy for the StrengthPortal team to be concerned about finances and the future of their product, it does not seem to be getting them down — living in a hotel is OK for now.

“We are passionate about working as a team and building something of our own.” McGunagle said. “It is a calculated risk. If that means we won’t have money for a while, it’s OK. We believe the long return will be worth it.”

The team said each of them could go out and get a job at an established company with a real salary, but they don’t want to.

“If you are a lap away from finishing the race, you should finish the lap,” Faryke said.

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