This week on the ‘Why I Built This’ mini series we’re bringing you a local guest from San Francisco who stands really close to our hearts. Jenn Pattee, who had not always been a health & fitness professional, is the founder of Public Recreation. If someone wanted to describe Public Recreation in a few words, they would probably say ‘it’s a fun, entirely outdoors workout group at an affordable rate’. But the truth is that it is so much more than that…
Listen to this week’s episode to hear all about Jenn’s story from being a designer at Apple, to starting a real revolution in the health & fitness industry. Learn about Public Recreation, a workout group that really feels like a community!
But First Little Surprise To Our SF Listeners…
Public Recreation’s new Ferry Building location, just across the street from it, opens in 2 weeks on March 19th. They are offering an insider deal to our listeners, 3 months of unlimited classes for $90. Normally it would cost $180… So there you go! Just go to publicrecreation.com/shape to sign up. It’s only valid until March 10 though, so hop to it!
Three Things You Will Learn
1) The Benefits Of Outdoors Workouts
Exercising out in the wild can sound a bit intimidating at first. But if you are brave enough to take the first step and leave the “safe environment” that is a gym, you’ll shortly see great rewards. When you’re doing an outdoors workout, you gain skills and use muscles that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to gain and use in the gym.
Tune in to learn about the benefits outdoors workouts have and how you can hack the city to become your “free gym”.
2) The Story Of Public Recreation
Jenn has one of the most exciting career stories to share. She has gone from politics to design and finally when she realized that the most important thing from her life, taking care of her health & fitness, was missing she decided to change.
Her first business in the fitness space, which was also built around outdoors training, inspired Public Recreation. However before getting to what it is today, Jenn and the team went through a number of ideas, such as ‘outdoors fitness furniture design’ and ‘subscription for a box of outdoors workout equipment’.
Press play to hear Jenn’s story from getting chased off public spaces in San Francisco by security guards to Public Recreation!
3) Why You Won’t Miss A Single Class At Public Recreation
There are so many workout groups out there and all give you kind of the same: burning some calories with a group of strangers. But there’s one exception, Public Recreation. And the main difference between Public Recreation and the others is not the fact that it’s outdoors, but that it’s more than just a workout group. Public Recreation is a real community that won’t just get you fit, but also introduce you to your local neighborhood and the people living there.
Listen on to hear how Public Recreation is using its power of community to ensure that you never press that snooze button on your alarm to skip a workout again!
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Visit ritual.com/shape to learn more and start your ritual today!
Subscribe To 20 Minute Fitness
00:04 Martin Kessler: Hi and welcome. I’m your host Martin Kessler. It’s time for another episode of “Why I Built This,” a mini theme on the 20-minute fitness podcast. On every episode, I bring to you an exciting entrepreneur that is working on a new and potentially disruptive product or service in a space of health and fitness.
00:20 MK: Today, I’ve got Jen Pate on the show. Jen is actually a founder right at the heart of San Francisco. She’s been deeply involved in group fitness for the past 10 years, after leaving a pretty successful career in design at IDEO and Apple behind. Since then, she’s moved to the forefront of really changing the conventional approach to fitness. The result is a YC backed startup company that has come up with a new kind of gym that is completely outdoors. But before we move on, I would like to thank our sponsor ShapeScale. ShapeScale is a 3D body scanner scale, and fitness tracker. You simply step on it, and it digitized your body composition in photo-realistic 3D. Now available on pre-order on shapescale.com.
00:58 MK: All right. We’re here in our studio in San Francisco, and today we have a very interesting guest. Local guest actually from San Francisco working on Public Recreation. Jen, why don’t you introduce yourself a little?
01:09 Jen Pate: So I’m Jennifer Pate, and I’m the co-founder and CEO of Public Recreation, and we’re a new type of gym. We’re all outdoors. We offer unlimited classes, like strength training, boxing, and yoga for $60 a month.
01:23 MK: And how did you get into that?
01:25 JP: I grew up outdoors. I was born in San Francisco, grew up on the Peninsula, but I grew up running around outdoors and playing outside as a kid. That kind of continued all the way through college. I went to UC Santa Cruz. But being active and being outdoors was just part of my daily existence. It was the most natural thing.
01:40 JP: And after I graduated from college, and I started my career, I found it very hard to stay fit and have that outdoor and incredibly healthy life that I had growing up. So I was very career focused. My first career was in politics, and my second career was in design.
01:54 MK: Oh, how did that happen?
01:55 JP: Well, I’ve always been interested in massive, systemic, social, positive change.
02:02 MK: What does that even mean?
02:04 JP: Creating positive change in the world. So politics seemed like a really good way to learn about systemic change and people’s ability to influence that. It turned out I was just way too impatient for a career in politics.
02:16 JP: So then I was curious, how brands work. Companies seem to be able to use these brands to influence people’s hearts and minds. I wanted to understand how that worked. So I went back to school to study design, ended up working as a graphic designer in different product-design companies. My first job was at IDEO, and then I went on to work at Apple. Along the way, I just ended up spending so much time sitting, and in my car, and commuting. I had so little time to exercise and eat. All of the exercise options available to me were just weird and shitty to me.
02:43 MK: Define weird and shitty.
02:43 JP: It was all indoors, and I wasn’t used to exercising indoors. So it was boring and in front of a mirror. Then it was like step aerobics and weird jazzercise, which is great if that’s your deal. But it wasn’t my deal, I wasn’t coordinated in that way. I was more of like an athlete. I like to be outside. So none of the options worked for me. Meanwhile, I just kept on stacking on the pounds. I put on about 30 pounds, and I was also just mentally, emotionally very unhealthy, stressed, anxious. So my search for basically losing weight was I wanted to fit into my skinny jeans.
03:18 JP: I just wanted to feel better. Eventually, I found a trainer at the YMCA, here in San Francisco, who taught me how to use a gym. It took about a year and a half, but I followed his program. I ate what he told me to eat, and I went to the gym about three or four days a week to lift weights.
03:33 MK: Oh, wait a minute. That’s all indoor…
03:35 JP: Well, yeah, that’s how we ended up outdoors. When I finally reached my goal, I was like, “It looks like all we’re doing here is pushing or pulling heavy things.”
03:44 JP: “Can I do that outdoors?” ‘Cause I knew I had to keep working out, but I just never wanted to go back to that gym again. And he was like, “Yeah, that’s outdoors. That’s where real athletes train.” I felt like I just been released into the wild. So I went out and I found former athletes, coaches who were training people outdoors that was retired professional athletes, boxing coaches, former military. It turns out there’s a lot of guys and women who train people outdoors.
04:06 MK: And why is that, is it a style kind of thing, that they also don’t like to be indoors, or is it a different benefit that we might not immediately see?
04:14 JP: Yeah, well, actually it’s like retired pro athletes, which are a lot and they’re pretty young, former military. You know it’s free to train people outdoors, so they don’t have to deal with working at a gym. And there’s just a certain type of person, real athletes prefer to be outdoors. You’re gonna end up with a certain type of client. My experience in training outdoors is not only was I in the best shape of my life, I was also developing a mindset for how to deal with chaotic and uncertain environments. Because you never know what the outdoors is gonna to throw at you, or what the weather’s gonna be like.
04:45 MK: So you’re one of those that doesn’t mind if it’s raining or anything?
04:48 JP: No.
04:50 JP: Yeah I mean we’re in San Francisco so your body warms up pretty quickly.
04:53 MK: Right.
04:54 JP: It’s actually like, remember when you were a little kid and it was raining outside, you were so psyched to go and jump in puddles and play, rain was something that you played in.
05:02 MK: Right. What changed that? [laughter]
05:03 JP: What changed, right? And so, that was the experience that I started having. Also you come out of an outdoor workout, and it’s raining, it’s 6:00 AM and you watch the sunrise, and you’re doing hill repeats, or you’re running on the beach. At the end of that work out you feel amazing, and you feel like nothing can touch you. It is a wonderful way to go into your work day or go in to your life, with that kind of confidence.
05:22 MK: No, I can totally see where you’re coming from. I spent a number of my years in Hong Kong, and it was hot and humid. You were working out every now and then, going for a run, but it was really difficult to get a really good workout in there. Also you have pollution and so forth. When I moved over here to the Bay area, it’s just a different feeling. You go outside, you breathe in the fresh air. Mother Nature is right there, you feel connected. It’s a different feeling than what you get in the gym.
05:47 JP: Totally. Yeah, I felt more connected to my city and to nature. I felt more connected to my body. After I started my first company, we were doing classes outdoors. So I felt more connected to the other people. You feel more connected to people you’re working out with. It was like these multi-layers of connection. It was a profound experience for me, because before that I felt very disconnected and alienated. I think that’s a feeling that a lot of people in cities, especially cities can relate to is this disconnection.
06:16 MK: Alright, hang on. I’m gonna to stop you right there. You were saying you were working for Apple as a designer, and then suddenly you mentioned that you started a company?
06:23 JP: Yeah. So then I started training outdoors and I noticed that there was a void in the marketplace for this type of outdoor training.
06:30 MK: Which wasn’t just running, you wanted to have strength-resistance training, what you have in the gym and take that outdoors?
06:37 JP: Yeah, and actually, I had come full circle ’cause I grew up playing soccer, and I played soccer at UC Santa Cruz, and this is how soccer players train. Many collegiate athletes… Strength coaches will train their athletes this way and there was nothing like that kind of strength and conditioning.
06:50 MK: Okay, can you describe how like a resistance workout outdoors looks like?
06:54 JP: Yeah. So a typical…
06:57 JP: The program that I developed from my last company, you would work out, you would do strength training and cardio in every workout. It was actually also following a typical body builder approach. It was exactly what I was doing in the gym with my trainer, I was just doing it outdoors. So Monday would be… The strength training would be back, biceps and triceps. So, pulling motions, right.
07:15 MK: But what do you use to get that resistance? What do you use like TRX or would you bring in some medicine balls? So how do… How would you make up for not having… Would you take out dumbbells?
07:25 JP: I didn’t take out dumbbells. That’s something we do now, but at that point, I would use resistance bands.
07:30 MK: Mm-hmm.
07:30 JP: Sometimes TRX. I love TRX. And sometimes medicine balls, and then sometimes we’re just using what we find in nature.
07:36 JP: Sometimes trees, poles… And that led to another epiphany. As we were trying to use the city to exercise on or with, it was very hard. Actually, one of my favorite things to work out on was a Muni bus shelter. That was… [chuckle]
07:48 MK: No way.
07:49 JP: Yeah, it was on Lyon Street. ‘Cause when I started my company, it was in the Marina and there’s tons of things you can push on. So, Mondays was pulling, Tuesdays were pushing, Thursday is pulling, Friday pushing and there’s tons of things you can do push-ups on.
08:00 MK: Most people don’t realize, we already have a lot of resistance by just using our weight, right, our body weight, right? That’s a lot of weight when you compare that. We probably weigh at least 140-150 pounds, most of us. That’s a lot of weight to carry and right now we are only using our legs for the most part. But what happens when you use like a bar for instance to pull yourself up, you have to suddenly move all that weight.
08:19 JP: We are better than a kettle bell. Yeah.
08:21 MK: Way better.
08:22 JP: Yeah. And so… But finding things to pull up on is actually really hard in our cities and even in the natural environment. And so there was a bus shelter, we would met at the Palace of Fine Arts and run often up to… Up Lyon Street to the Lyon Street stairs, another great piece of workout equipment and we would stop along the way at this bus shelter that was on a hill because at that time, the Muni bus shelters were different now, but they had this gutter on top that was perfect to put your hands on. And depending on whether you are tall or short, since it was on a hill, you could find a sweet spot and then your partner would spot you in class, and so we would just crank out pull-ups on the bus shelter and do a few rounds and then that was a great back workout.
08:57 MK: So you turned those workouts into a business. How did you do that?
09:00 JP: I mean, it’s simple now, ’cause you see a lot more boot camps and stuff like that. But at the time, there weren’t that many outdoor training programs and most of them were run actually by those very militaristic trainers that would bark at you and really try to create this military experience. But that wasn’t what I was after or what my trainers were after we were more about like yeah, we’re going to help you be in the best shape of your life, in terms of your fitness, but we’re also gonna show you how physical activity can be a vehicle for so much more.
09:28 MK: Yeah.
09:28 JP: So we’re gonna help you discover that you’re capable of more than you think you are. And we’re gonna design workouts that surprise… Where you surprise yourself by what you can do.
09:36 MK: It’s kinda different when you think about, right? You go to a gym and you stem all this weight, and it’s kind of like wasted energy almost, right, because it’s like those man made fixtures that we use, right? Whereas out there you could actually start using your strengths for, I would call it, functional strengths where you do certain motions and actions that maybe you never thought you were capable of, right?
09:57 JP: Yeah. And I think gyms are great for doing certain things and…
10:00 MK: Like what?
10:00 JP: They’re great for shaping your body in a specific way. I wanted my back to look a specific way when I was at that point in my fitness journey, I wanted a very specific… A look that I was going after. So I could target very specific muscles on a very specific machine in a very efficient way for that aesthetic goal. But yeah, for me at that time training outdoors just allowed me to do so much more with much less. So I could train a person’s entire body, give them a full workout, using a rubber tubing that cost two dollars. And so, as a business, it was an amazing opportunity for me because I wasn’t paying any rent, I could launch the business with a $500 investment out of the trunk of my car. I didn’t have to ask anybody for permission to do anything. I could throw up a website for next to nothing.
10:46 MK: When was that actually?
10:47 JP: That was in 2008.
10:48 MK: Quite a while ago then, huh?
10:50 JP: Yeah.
10:50 MK: Okay, so you were doing classes. And you did that for how long?
10:52 JP: About ten years.
10:53 MK: So what changed? What brought you to Public Recreation and how is it really different from what you did then?
10:58 JP: So, what brought me to Public Recreation is I had this moment, halfway through the business, the clients, the consumer clients who I was was training in the Marina, a fair amount of them went on to start companies. Or they had a leadership position at a company and they had such a good experience working out with me on their own, that they wanted to bring me to their company to share that experience with their employees. And so it’s like, “Hey, will you come and train 20, 50, 100 of my employees?” And I was like, “Yeah, why not? That sounds great.” I’d never imagine that as something I was gonna pursue, but I loved the idea. And so I started meeting people in the financial district, at the front door of their company and scooping up these employees and taking them to do the workouts I was doing out in the Marina District but trying to do them downtown, and there was a lot of space there, but it was being used for other things. It was actually kind of hard to find public spaces to do these workouts. And on average, these classes were about 10 people.
11:47 MK: What’s sort of spaces were you typically looking for? Like a park or a playground?
11:50 JP: Yeah, like a park. I don’t need a lot but you kinda need some benches, you kinda need… You wanna be out of people’s way. You don’t wanna be on a sidewalk where somebody can’t walk to lunch or walk to catch the bus. And so I found a few spots, but I kept getting kicked off of them by security guards and I just got used to it. Like, “Oh, here’s the security guard at that location who’s gonna chase after me and say ‘I can’t do that here.’ Even though this is a public space, it’s not private.” And also, what we’re doing is non-obtrusive, we’re not in anybody’s way. But finally, I was on Levi’s Plaza, which is a public space and a security guard came after me and I was with five guys, all guys, and we were doing push-ups and yoga, like behind a bush, too. ’cause I would like hide.
12:29 MK: When you say “Came after me,” I’m imagining him chasing you around.
12:33 JP: Yeah, he was chasing… He was in a little golf car, and…
12:35 MK: No way.
12:36 JP: We were literally behind a bush, next to a bench and so he comes after me, and he was like, “You can’t do this here, you have to go.” And I was like, “Okay.” I was used to it. But then I looked over and there was a guy on the bench, and he’s like drinking a beer and smoking a cigar, and I was…
12:48 MK: How is that okay?
12:49 JP: This is crazy. You know, why is it okay for him to be drinking and smoking but it’s not okay for us to be doing push-ups. And it just really bothered me ’cause more that I started thinking about it is like if you look at the health of our country, something like 75% of us are more likely… Most likely to lead a shorter life of about five years because of some disease related to our lifestyle because we’re not doing yoga and push-ups.
13:13 MK: Yeah because we’re all sitting in our office for 8-10 hours a day. And then after that, we jump right back into our car where we then drive home where we then just lie back on our couch again, right? It’s crazy.
13:23 JP: Yeah, and so, if you look at it that way then trainers like me, and there’s a ton of trainers like me out there trying to do this stuff, help people in this way, we are as important and significant and effective as doctors and surgeons are because we’re preventing the diseases that cause people to be sick.
13:39 MK: Right about that.
13:39 JP: And we need to do that and so we should be, I think we should be subsidized, personally.
13:44 JP: But we should at the very least… There should be a vehicle for us to be able to work with people in this way. And then I realized whoever could figure out how to partner with the property owners to help them see this or better yet to make them… In their interest for these type of activities to happen, could not only take over the world in terms of tackling a very expensive problem. I think the more expensive the problem, the more valuable the solution is. But we’d also do a lot of good. We could potentially impact millions of people because we would be able to get them moving more, and it doesn’t take a lot more movement in terms of introducing physical activity into a person’s life to have a tremendous exponential impact on their health. Especially because America’s really not moving enough.
14:25 MK: Yeah.
14:25 JP: And so that’s when I started working on the idea. And then I brought on my co-founder, Adam, who was just an expert at bringing innovation into public spaces. And then I brought on my third co-founder, Emily, who is an expert at sales and growth.
14:37 MK: So what changed then? You start to involve the property owners?
14:40 JP: Oh yeah. So what changed then is that my expertise is not developing innovative business models, but Adams is. And so originally the company was actually ended up being a street furniture company thing we were trying to solve for originally is how do we make our cities healthier? The city of the future should be designed for health, what would that look like? The city of the future would be easier to work out on. And so we had this idea of active architecture. I was hacking the city when I was using that bus stop because I was using the bus stop, the infrastructure in a way it wasn’t designed.
15:11 MK: Yeah, that wasn’t meant for workouts, but it could very well be used for workouts because nobody was using it at the time for anything but.
15:18 JP: Yeah. And so if there was a pull up bar, if our infrastructure was just designed with little nudges and cues that made it easier to work out on that would be pretty cool.
15:25 MK: You know what that reminds me of? So my background obviously I’ve been living in China and Hong Kong for some time. And there, they actually start to develop those playgrounds for adults and elderly actually that involved a lot of different bars and workout gear to exercise outdoors. But it’s super common. You would get up at 6 AM, you would see lots of people there using it, right?
15:43 JP: Yeah, it’s all over the world. And from where I sit as a designer, I look at that stuff and I’m like, “That is hilarious. We could vastly improve on that, ’cause from a design snob standpoint, it’s like you look ridiculous sitting on that thing, pushing that way or… ” There’s so many ways you can improve upon that. So we decided to go down that rabbit hole of how could we make really cool well designed stuff that you could put on a sidewalk or assemble in a public plaza that encourage people to work out but it’s also beautifully designed and encourage people to come together and hang out? So we designed this whole line of what we’re calling fitness furniture and that was actually the idea.
16:16 MK: You we’re trying to sell that to City officials or to who?
16:19 JP: Cities, enterprise companies, Google. Basically anybody that had public space that they were looking to promote health and wellness in that public space. So, for example, Google has a lot of public space, they have a lot of employees. We would’ve even… If they wanted to buy it to put on their private campus that’d be fine with us too.
16:35 MK: So then what happened?
16:36 JP: So then what happened is, ultimately, when we applied to YC the first time we came to them with that idea, and they basically gave us some really good feedback saying, “The market is not big enough, you’re basically going after that outdoor fitness furniture market, it’s a very small market.” And so YC gave us some really good advice after we got our interview and got rejected, they’re like, “What would be interesting to us is if you were to open up a branded outdoor gym with fitness services layered on top of it.” I was like, “I think there’s something here. This is the answer to the riddle. Let’s go follow this.” And so then we went back…
17:07 MK: Hang on there for a second. Because a lot of our audience may not know what YC actually stands for. Maybe just briefly explain.
17:14 JP: Yeah. So, Y Combinator is a startup accelerator in Silicon Valley. It is one of the few options for startup founders to get early stage seed funding. And anybody can apply. So you don’t have to pay anything to apply, applying’s free. And they open their application period twice a year. And so we had applied to their winter 2017 originally with this idea. Just the process of filling out their application online is a wonderful exercise.
17:40 MK: It’s a bit like a business plan.
17:41 JP: It’s a bit like a business plan, yeah. They ask you some really key questions in a very smart order. And you get very clear about what you’re doing after filling out and submitting their application. And it’s hard to get in, you’re lucky if you get an interview. Getting rejected is often the best thing for the company.
17:54 MK: So you applied and then they turned you down.
17:56 JP: Yeah. And then they gave us a bit of advice. And so we had a space in Hayes Valley that I had built out with as a prototype for this earlier concept of a city design for health. So I had secured this public space, a parking lot in Hayes valley. And I was running my last company out of it, and I had some kind of fitness furniture in it that we were working out on, but I didn’t have a business plan. And I also I knew that I didn’t wanna be doing the size of the business I was doing before, I was only interested in doing a business that could scale and become big.
18:24 MK: Right. You didn’t just wanna run a lifestyle business, you actually wanted to do something that has a much larger impact than that.
18:28 JP: Impact, yeah. Because I knew I could impact a lot of people and I knew it wouldn’t take much to have a big difference on their health. And also around this time Trump had been elected president, and one of the first things that he was going after was ObamaCare and that one really got me because I’m a health worker essentially. And I was like, “Oh my God. We had just gotten to a point in this country where we could provide basic health insurance to everybody. You cannot take that away. What are we gonna do? What can I do?” And I was like, “I can’t fix health insurance, but I can make it possible that maybe people won’t need their health insurance because they’re healthy. So how do I do that?” And so that’s what I was going after. And so, anyway, so we got this advice from YC of this fitness, this platform, this new type of branded outdoor gym with fitness layered on top of it. And so, we had this…
19:12 MK: What do you mean by platform?
19:13 JP: Okay, yeah, good question. So, basically what we were offering people we printed out this locker that we had in Hayes Valley as part of this other idea. It was filled with work out equipment like a TRX, a bosu ball, kettlebells, dumbbells, all this stuff. And you could if you were a member of public recreation, for $30 a month you would get access to this locker full of equipment, so you wouldn’t need all of that stuff in your tiny San Francisco apartment anymore, you could just rent this locker, check out the equipment. You would get 24/7 trainer support.
19:40 MK: That’s kinda cool.
19:41 JP: Yeah.
19:42 MK: It’s like always on access gym outdoors.
19:45 JP: Yeah, right.
19:46 MK: It’s kinda cool.
19:46 JP: Yeah, so cool. We thought it was so cool. You would get digital content, you’d get a video every week with a workout, and you would get classes and then you would get… I don’t know, maybe one other thing, I don’t remember what it was. So it was like five things.
20:00 MK: At that point, did he have any plan to actually have instructors on site? Or was it really just meant to be a gym that people can use whenever they like to?
20:07 JP: Yeah. We were very fortunate in that we saw somebody, a trainer came and he was training a client at our site, and I liked how he was training her, I liked that it was people of color using our site. ‘Cause it was very important to me that we weren’t just opening up a service that was just for one, the 1%, I was doing that in my last business and that was also a big motivator to do something that was made fitness more accessible ’cause it bothered me that I figured out a way to help people become really fit. It was effective. We were measuring our results. So I knew it was working in addition to like Yelp reviews and all the feedback that I got, but you had to be part of the 0001% to benefit from what I was offering. You had to live in the Marina and you had to be able to afford me, and I was relatively expensive. And so whatever solution we came up with it had to work for the masses, and what we’re trying to do is come up with a price point that everyone can afford. We’re not quite there yet.
20:57 MK: What’s the price point?
20:58 JP: $60 a month for unlimited classes.
21:00 MK: And how would you say that compares? Because not everyone lives in San Francisco, so they might not get what somebody would normally have to pay for a class in general…
21:08 JP: Oh, right so that’s like two classes at Barry’s Bootcamp.
21:11 MK: Right.
21:11 JP: And that’s…
21:12 MK: So about half price of what you would pay for some of those boutique, exclusive, more expensive gyms.
21:17 JP: Yeah. And I think I don’t know how much ClassPass is, I think its in the hundreds, so its probably half of ClassPass. And I think Equinox is like $175. Yeah, so it is considerably less for unlimited classes, but I’m hoping that we can bring the price down even lower, and that’s the plan as we open up ’cause plan is to open up a network of gyms in cities across America so that you’re never more than a 10 minute walk from a public recreation gym or class.
21:40 MK: All right, I wanna take a quick break here to give our kind and awesome producer Alila a chance to share a few words about our sponsor.
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23:17 MK: And we’re back on air. And so where you guys at now? I mean you have three locations you were saying?
23:24 JP: Yes.
23:24 MK: And they’re all in San Francisco?
23:24 JP: Well, we have two locations with a third one coming, and they’re all in San Francisco.
23:27 MK: So what’s next for you guys?
23:28 JP: So, what’s next is our third site is going to be a big site in the financial district. Assuming that it goes through, it’s gonna be a chance for us to open a large flagship site. We have about 40,000 people that walk past this site every day. So we’re hoping that it’s going to be in a really key location for folks that’s close to where people work, and from there we will expand to other sites around San Francisco to really button up our operations and our classes, and we’re launching a digital platform to make it really easy for people to find and book their classes. And then once we really validate that, we’re making something people want that we have product market fit as a goal for this year and then we go to other cities.
24:06 MK: And is that how you got into YC in the end?
24:08 JP: We got into YC in the end because we did what they told us to and we had customers. So we had launched a lot of companies in YC have not yet launched. We definitely launched before we were ready which they like to see. We had customers we had 25 customers, and we’re very lucky because they had just opened up a category called Brick and Mortar 2.0, and we fit squarely into that category. And I think that they were interested in service businesses, you know the service industry or a service vertical has been kind of the last segment that’s been kind of disrupted cause service services are just, it’s hard to scale and do them differently and better than how we do them today. And so, we were interesting, Brick and Mortar 2.0 company that had an interesting business model that could scale in the way that technology or SaaS scales, and they really liked that.
24:57 MK: Right, and did you guys also raise some investment money besides YC?
25:00 JP: We had three angel investors who invested in us prior to YC.
25:05 MK: And how did it go like for you guys fund raising? Did you get a lot of push back first because like you were saying it’s incredibly hard to service business?
25:12 JP: Before or after YC?
25:13 MK: I guess both maybe give us the story.
25:16 JP: So before YC, fundraising was incredibly difficult because I’d never fund-raised at that level before. I’d never fund-raised, I had done a successful IndieGoGo campaign, and that was it.
25:27 MK: Why do you actually needed to fundraise in the first place?
25:30 JP: Cause we had no money, we had to fund raise and so we asked, we went into, not every VC firm, but just every…
25:37 MK: And what did they say?
25:38 JP: We got kicked out and laughed out of… We had a white board and I think that there were 200 names of angel investors, VCs, and accelerators, every source of capital that we could possibly find and we got rejected and kicked out and laughed at.
25:53 MK: Was it because you guys didn’t have that technology component that a lot of the investors here are looking for?
25:58 JP: Well, some of the reasons that they gave us were valid. They’re like, talk to us about your unit economics. And we didn’t really have well thought out unit economics. So that was a really valid question that that person asked. But I can’t, it was such a blur at that time, all I heard was the no’s and so we eventually figured out, and YC encourages this, that you go after angel investors that don’t even bother with anybody else. And so ultimately our first investor was my co-founder’s best friend’s dad, who I met while his best friend and I were running a trail race and he was a developer in Arizona, and he was an artist and he was a wacky guy and he just really liked the idea and he was looking for new ideas to invest in and he liked me, he liked Adam and he was like, “I like what you’re doing, I like the cause.” And so, he was our first investor, thank God.
26:46 JP: And then our second one was a female colleague of mine who again, she just liked me, liked the idea, was looking for an impact business to invest in. She came along just as we were about to run out of money and then I think that there was one more, but what was amazing is that we had run, almost run out of money so many times and we had been on food stamps, for about a year before and during YC and San Francisco has great health insurance, which is fortunate, but we, my co-founder, was like, “I didn’t wanna tell you when we only had $200 in the business bank account, we didn’t want you to freak out.
27:15 MK: How much more pressure do you really need? Right?
27:18 JP: Yeah, yeah.
27:18 MK: Oh yeah,” and that must have really, really being a stressful time for you.
27:21 JP: It was really stressful, but it was also… We developed some survival skills that we still use today. So one of the survival skills, we developed was ultimately you can’t personalize it, you have to just not care. And so this kind of resilience, we developed very early on, it was just like, we got to a point where we just… We were weeble wobbles. You can keep trying to put us down, but we just kinda kept popping back up. And you could put us down and we would pop back up. So that was definitely a survival skill. And then we tried to have as much fun with it. It was…
27:47 MK: How can you have fun with that?
27:48 JP: I don’t…
27:49 MK: You have 200 bucks in the bank account, like let’s party.
27:51 JP: Adam started taking these photos that were for our memoirs and part of these photos include… We took a photo of me being at Peet’s Coffee buying coffee with pennies.
28:00 JP: Like what? It was like that, no this is, this is good, this is good. But yeah, so we ended up having a sense of humor about it and then we were able to get through all of that and then finally get to the second YC interview and then we got in and then everything changed.
28:15 MK: So you raise some money, do you think you will go back to investors again after that experience?
28:19 JP: I would love for us to reach profitability before we run out of runway, but that will be very hard. That’s our goal. But we will probably have to raise a Series A, after.
28:31 MK: Right. Well, so, how’s it looking now, you had this vision of making, being active, more accessible to everyone, especially to those that typically cannot afford it, as much as somebody that is like the 1% or even 10% or 30%. Did that turn out to be the case?
28:46 JP: We’re tracking in that direction. Right? So during YC, we were very surprised to learn at the end of the 100 days, right before Demo Day, that we were one of the fastest-growing companies in YC. And part of that, we were fortunate in that we had already launched, a lot of the companies hadn’t yet launched, they got in with an idea but we ended up growing 30% week over week while we were at YC. And typically, YC encourages you to shoot for 10% week over week. If you’re doing 10% week over week growth, you’re…
29:12 MK: And that’s revenue or…
29:13 JP: For… Yeah.
29:13 MK: Sign-ups.
29:14 JP: Yeah, for us, it was revenue but it was… We were measuring how many people were buying membership, how many people are signing up. And so we were able to go from like 25 to 450, sign up 450 members in a 100 days.
29:26 MK: Right. And I guess given your mission though, you wanna counter-act what is the typical gym business of having people sign up, but then never really show up.
29:34 JP: Yeah.
29:35 MK: Like how do you do that?
29:35 JP: Yeah, so a couple of ways, The first way since we’re outdoors and in public spaces, people see people working out. And so most of our members live in Hays Valley, so they live in the neighborhood, so they’re walking by and they’re seeing other people work out, they’re seeing their co-members of public recreation working out. So it just works on so many levels. You’re like, “I should really be in that class. It is hard to miss class. People who are members but they aren’t working out…
30:00 MK: Really? I’m just imagining…
30:00 JP: They have to go…
30:00 MK: Rainy day, 6 AM.
30:02 JP: But they have to go out of their way to hide from us if they’re not coming class, it’s very inconvenient, right? And then on a rainy day, we take pictures of the people in class so you see the people who are hardcore enough to come to class and you see them smiling and laughing and a sense of accomplishment. They’re… Like I was saying before, there’s no greater sense of accomplishment than finishing a workout in the morning in the rain, you just feel like such a badass and it’s such an amazing way to start your day. And then they hear that, from the members who show up and they see that and it just becomes this constant, I think encouragement and support. You can do this, you can do this, it can be fun to be mildly uncomfortable. There’s benefits, there’s dividends that come with that. And then we also, in the course… ‘Cause the Chapter 2 is after YC, we were the fastest-growing company or one of them, I don’t know, but then we experience what they call the post-YC slump where we lost a lot of members. And so then we had to learn about retention in a whole new way, we had to understand like…
30:57 MK: How did you end up losing them?
30:58 JP: Part of it was I think the expectations that we set when we signed them up, the weather changed, and… But the biggest thing that we learned is that when we sign people up in that moment, they’re so psyched ’cause they’re about to start this new thing and it’s gonna work for the them and then we wouldn’t book them on the…
31:11 MK: So who are these people? Are they like your average Joe that is looking to make a change? They wanna be more healthy, they set themselves, like some goals, either realistic or unrealistic and then they show up for your class every day for four weeks and then things get tough and they drop off. Is that what it is, or?
31:27 JP: One of the things that’s tricky for us is we don’t really know what our segment is ’cause there’s so many different types of people who are members. It’s different ages, it’s probably like equally distributed among people who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and we do have a fair amount who are in their 50s, different income levels, different socioeconomic… Which we’re having a hard time figuring out who our customers is. We have a sense that something that they share is that they’re fearless.
31:51 MK: Why do you need to be fearless to join your classes? Are they that tough?
31:54 JP: They’re not that… They’re not that tough but kind of going to a gym or a boutique studio is a very controlled environment. It’s very straightforward and our customer is looking for potentially more of an adventure. It’s something that’s new and different that’s not that. And so, our early adopters, or people who are like, “Yes I’ve been looking for something like this, something that’s outdoors, and something where I get to meet the other people in my neighborhood. I just moved here. I wanna feel like I’m part of Hayes Valley and not just in a random person in a random city, without any sense of connection to my neighborhood.” So it’s a really easy way to feel like you’re connected to this place. We end up… Neighbor’s there and the people there, and our members tell us like, now when I walk around, I wave to the security guard at that school and I wave to the garbage collector, because I see them every day, because I see them on my way to class, and they see me and we’re starting to be friends with each other, but our members are people who are looking for something that’s radically different than what they’re gonna get at a boutique studio or at Equinox.
32:52 MK: And I think you will always only have that if it’s outdoors or do you ever think like of maybe starting some level of indoor location?
33:00 JP: Yeah, I mean, right now we’re outdoors because there’s more spaces readily available for us. We like that we’re a commercial and we think that our marketing, the best marketing that we do is people get to see other people having a good time because we don’t have any walls. So you can see what’s going on in class and people are like, “Wow, that looks like fun,” and that’s the best marketing. And we don’t really have to pay for it. It’s just happening during our classes. And people tell us like, “I see you. It’s an easy sell.”
33:24 MK: I guess it could be very polarizing though. I guess there’s also a certain person right here is like, “I don’t wanna be seen, I don’t wanna be this public,” right?
33:31 JP: Yeah. So that’s called the spotlight effect and it’s a legit psychological phenomenon where people think that everybody’s looking, that people are looking at them outdoors when actually they’re not really looking at you.
33:41 MK: Yeah. Nobody even cares. [chuckle]
33:41 JP: And people tell us… Some of our members are like, “Yeah, I thought that would be a thing. But then I started doing class and then I felt like I was part of this group. And then I didn’t really think so much about how people on the outside were perceiving me.” But for us, we’re outdoors now because those are spaces that have benefits for us as a business, but we don’t necessarily plan to stay indoors. We can go in any underutilized spaces that make sense for us.
34:04 MK: Maybe like some abandoned factory?
34:05 JP: Sure.
34:06 MK: I heard there’s a lot of space in Detroit right now.
34:08 JP: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We hear about people send us recommendations all the time now. They’ll take pictures of there’s a space in Seattle that used to be an aircraft carrier or something where they started doing yoga classes and one of our friends was like, “You guys should totally turn this into a public recreation gym.” And you start… Once you realize… I think what YC saw in us was a vision of the future where it’s absolutely crazy that what we do today, that we get in our car to drive to a mall and we pay a gazillion dollars to work out in a box with people we never meet. That’s crazy. So what we’re suggesting is a vision of the future where you don’t do that anymore. You walk to a class that’s with your coworkers or neighbors or friends or people in the area where you are, you walk there. It’s a 10 minute walk away or bike ride and you do not pay a gazillion dollars but you still get a workout taught by somebody who’s very good at what they’re doing and it’s fun and they understand how to make it engaging and exciting and something that you look forward to coming back to and effective.
35:10 MK: And how do you think you can make it even more accessible? Is it really a location thing being close to everyone’s neighborhood or is it a money thing or what do you see there as your main challenge?
35:21 JP: The number one thing people tell us that they love is proximity, that we are close to where they live. The second thing we’re testing is does it make a difference if we’re close to where they work. We’re basically letting our users and letting the market pull the product out of us. When they talk about product market fit, they say your market will pull it out of you but you have to listen and you have to ask and you have to talk to your customers. So that’s what we’re very focused on right now is talking to our customers to understand so that the market can pull out of us what the product is, what the ultimate service is gonna be, how it’s going to look and what we’re optimizing around according to what our users want.
35:57 MK: And speaking of what your users want, what have you learned so far about retaining them cause initially you had the drop off coming and being a challenge to you guys, right?
36:05 JP: Yeah. We know that people really the sense of community that they feel through our program. We’re trying to get really concrete information about what does that mean? What exactly? What is community? How does that…
36:17 MK: Yeah, how do we facilitate that?
36:18 JP: Yeah, how do we facilitate that? What feels like community versus something that that did not feel like community?
36:24 MK: But because at what point do you see the drop off? Because I can see like, I don’t know, I’ve been member of the group, my regular group for several weeks or months even. I know people by name, they hold me accountable for showing up. But I guess there’s also those people that only show up once and then never show up again and they don’t have anyone in the group.
36:41 JP: Yeah. So when we first launched, we didn’t really have a way of taking attendance. We didn’t track people’s how many classes they were coming to. I don’t even think you could enroll in a class when we launched you. We would send out an email. Maybe it was a Google form. I don’t know, it was crazy.
36:56 MK: You didn’t really have to. You were charging one fee for the entire months unlimited class.
37:01 JP: And our slogan was just show up, which very quickly started driving our member customer service person insane like, “You cannot do that anymore. They need to register.”
37:10 MK: Did you ever have classes where you had 100 people show up or something?
37:13 JP: Yeah, we had 30 person classes, but it was more of our first community member hire was also very data focused and really helped us understand how important it is that we get a data scientist on our team so that we better understand people’s behaviors. But we didn’t have that in the beginning. So we just in the last few months got to a point where we could see who was coming in, what classes were they attending, how often do they come and what kinda behaviors are we seeing in them, what’s different between the people, who are the power users and they stay. And now we’re doing cohort analysis and we’re watching.
37:47 MK: I can see you definitely utilize a lot of the startup methodology. You’re not just your average service business, you’re really trying to be sophisticated about your approach of how you can make this work.
37:57 JP: Totally.
37:57 MK: And you could bring it to everyone.
38:01 JP: Yeah, totally. And I think that the thing that we’re ultimately providing for people is a routine.
38:06 MK: Yeah. It needs to be a habit. It needs to be really a routine that every day I get up at 5:00 AM I guess, and then show up at 6:00 AM?
38:13 JP: Yeah. Most of our classes are at 7:00 AM the 6:00 AM people, activation.
38:15 MK: Because the harder part is getting there. It’s not actually doing the workout. It’s actually getting to the workout. Cause we all have that voice in our head telling us, “Well, I wanted to just sleep in for another hour.” [chuckle]
38:26 JP: Yeah. Yeah.
38:28 MK: So much easier.
38:28 JP: Morning voice, don’t listen to them. Do not have your best interest. [chuckle]
38:32 MK: I guess you can have another voice then in your head say telling me, “Oh, but then Jen is gonna be really, really mad at me if I don’t show up.
38:37 JP: Well, yeah. And yeah, and so there’s all these little hooks that you can put in there to help people overcome that voice. And definitely knowing that you have a group of friends or people that you look forward to hanging out with is helpful. Now we text people the night before. We have our own way of… I think any good trainer has their own ways of communicating with their clients to get in their heads. That’s when I know that I’ve really succeeded in changing a person’s life is when my clients tell me like, “Jen, I hear you in my head.”
39:07 JP: Because ideally, it’s like, you should go for a run, or you’re gonna feel better.
39:11 MK: Yep, that’s where you need to be.
39:12 JP: Yeah. So, yeah, we’re definitely learning about how to retain people and what kind of behaviors need to happen when they’re being onboarded, like getting them booked for their next class and communicating with them in a certain way so we’re learning a lot.
39:22 MK: Maybe you guys need to make like a next hire, like a behavior risk or a psychologist stuff.
39:25 JP: Totally. That’s definitely gonna be our next hire.
39:27 MK: Awesome. Well, I just wanna wrap up with a quick fire round. So what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna ask you a few questions that I really want you not to think too hard about and just give me a relatively quick answer.
39:36 JP: Okay.
39:36 MK: So, let’s start with an easy one. What did you have for breakfast today?
39:39 JP: Oh, boy. I actually had a bagel.
39:41 MK: You had a bagel?
39:42 JP: Yeah.
39:42 MK: Plain?
39:43 JP: No, I had cream cheese and Luxe. I don’t usually eat salmon or fish, but today that’s what I had.
39:48 MK: Any fitness or health apps or wearables that you’re using?
39:53 JP: No, because ShapeScale hasn’t launched.
39:56 MK: That’s a good one. Speaking of habits actually, you have a habit that you have introduced into your own lifestyle that has really made a dramatic difference for the better?
40:05 JP: Running for a minimum of a half an hour trail running everyday.
40:08 MK: Everyday. When do you do that?
40:09 JP: Usually in the morning.
40:10 MK: Wow, that’s incredible. Trail running even.
40:12 JP: Yeah.
40:13 MK: In San Francisco?
40:13 JP: Yeah, there’s tons of trails.
40:15 MK: Wow. And what would you say about diets? Are they useless? Do you follow a certain diet?
40:20 JP: All diets work in the beginning…
40:22 MK: I see where this is going.
40:24 JP: Yeah, I know. All diets work in the beginning and then most of them fail after that. I do not have a lot to say about diets because it’s a highly controversial subject so I’m focused on getting people…
40:35 MK: And some asking.
40:35 JP: Yeah. [chuckle] I’m focused on getting people moving but I think that people should just generally eat what tastes good and feels right. And you know what my diet is? Don’t eat crap. I don’t eat crap.
40:46 MK: That’s really difficult.
40:47 JP: No, but it’s…
40:48 MK: There’s so much good crap out there. Well, they seemingly good crap.
40:49 JP: I know, but it is the best diet because we all know what crap is.
40:53 MK: I know.
40:53 JP: We all could hold up…
40:54 MK: We all know what to do.
40:55 JP: Yes!
40:55 MK: Yet we don’t do it.
40:56 JP: I mean, we don’t need to diet, just hold up that thing that you’re about to put in your mouth and ask yourself honestly, “Is this crap? Or is this real food?” And you know if it’s crap, and if it’s crap, don’t eat it. So, that’s my diet. I try not to eat crap. I don’t always succeed but it is the simplest diet. I also, I don’t drink so eliminating alcohol from my diet has also turned out to be a really great diet. It’s another diet that’s really easy. If you’re trying to figure out what I eat, how do I lose weight, it’s to stop drinking. This is the only food item that 100% more or less of people and experts in the world would say like, “Yeah, if you eliminated alcohol from your diet, that would be a good thing.”
41:32 MK: Most athletes don’t drink alcohol because it is poison, right?
41:36 JP: Yeah.
41:36 MK: I mean, first of all, this is like pure sugar and then second, it’s really slowing your metabolism to an extent.
41:40 JP: Everybody hates me when I talk about this, I’m not gonna talk about it but basically… I mean, that works for me but basically, people try not to eat crap and then if you are gonna eat crap, make sure that you really enjoy it, sit down with that. For me, sometimes I eat chocolate chip cookies. If I eat a chocolate chip cookie, I just make sure that I am sitting there and that I enjoy every bite of it.
41:58 MK: Mindful eating.
42:01 JP: I Enjoy that cookie. And then I go and I work out and run and just do my thing, but that’s my eating philosophy. Don’t eat crap; if you do, enjoy it.
42:08 MK: Right, right, right. So as you know, our listeners are really into health and fitness, do you have a book that you were recommended to read?
42:16 JP: I really enjoyed Scott Jurek, the trail runner. He had a book that just… I can’t remember what it’s called, maybe it’s Eat to Run or Run… It was some running book. I wish I… I’m loving that you’re looking at the Internet right now but I’m enjoying reading the… I enjoyed reading his book to see what his upbringing was ’cause you read about these… I’m very interested in trail running and ultra running, and you don’t always get to know the back story of these ultrarunners.
42:41 MK: What’s the longest ultrarun you have done?
42:43 JP: A hundred miles.
42:43 MK: Wow, straight running or you were doing some walking as well?
42:47 JP: No, I had a segue for most of it. Yeah, so in a hundred mile race is you run… I run the down hills, I jog the flats and then I power hike the uphills.
42:57 MK: Nice. And where was that?
42:58 JP: San Diego.
43:00 MK: Nice. And final question, what would you say most people get wrong about health or fitness?
43:04 JP: The thing most people get wrong about fitness is they go out too hard, too fast, too furious, too soon and then they internalize that they’re a failure because they didn’t hit their goal, they didn’t achieve their goal. But really, that they just went out too hard, too fast.
43:18 MK: Maybe just set the bar to a high as well.
43:19 JP: They set the bar too… Or, I mean, for me setting a bar high is actually really motivating, but it’s much more effective if you set the bar low on the daily, right?
43:28 MK: Yeah.
43:29 JP: If you’re running…
43:30 MK: I mean, that’s what I see all the time. People set themselves some unrealistic New Year’s resolution like, I don’t know, I wanna run 50 miles every week. And how many miles have I been running last year, every week? Zero. Well, how am I gonna get to 50? It’s not gonna happen in one day. Maybe you’re gonna do it for the first couple of weeks, but at some point, it’s gonna be so hard for you because it’s never been really part of your lifestyle.
43:51 JP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I would take your question and flip it. I think the best way to set yourself up for success and your health and fitness is, like the mantra for our last company, in my last company that I very much believe as my philosophy is, the only workout worth doing is the one that you look forward to. So as you’re trying to get healthier and exercise more, be more active, choose things that you really look forward to because the success of the health and fitness is achieved by showing up everyday, by doing it everyday. Consistency is key. So pick something that you really enjoy and give yourself fitness credit for doing that.
44:26 MK: I guess that’s also where Public Recreation comes in, right?
44:28 JP: Oh, thank you.
44:29 MK: Do a workout that’s fun for you and then, it’s suddenly no longer a workout.
44:32 JP: Yeah. And then when you do it, really, let that sink in. Notice how you feel at the end of that workout. Notice that you feel different than you did at the start. Because humans are a lot like dogs, we learn by association. So if you just take a minute to check in and notice the good feeling that you feel at the end of your workout, your brain is gonna be like, “Oh, when I did that thing… ” whether it was running or circuit training or whatever it was, it led to that good feeling. And over time, your body is gonna start to crave that good feeling and your body’s gonna associate, your brain’s gonna associate it with that thing that you did before. So if you go for a run or a hike or whatever, just spend a little… Like five minutes, one minute at the end of it and just tune into your body and notice how you feel and really feel that good feeling, and then associate it with that thing that you did right before, and that really helps you stick to it and look forward to your workout again.
45:17 MK: Yeah, I guess it’s all about being a little bit more mindful about our actions.
45:20 JP: Yeah.
45:21 MK: Right. How do people find more about Public Recreation if they’re in the Bay Area? How do they sign up?
45:26 JP: If you are in the Bay Area, you go to PublicRecreation.com and you can sign up for a free class. And we would so much love for you to come out and let us know what you think and try us out. Or if you have friends in San Francisco, send ’em our way and if you live in a city that you’re like, “Wow, I wish Public Recreation would come to where I am,” please go to our website, fill our info form and contact us and say, “I live in Detroit,” or, “I live in LA, I wish you guys would come here,” there’s a great space ’cause we’re very much interested in, again, giving people what they want and finding out where people who want what we’re offering, where you live, and how can we work together?
45:58 MK: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for helping on this show, Jen. I really appreciate it, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
46:03 JP: It’s so much fun.
46:04 MK: And I would say it’s a wrap. As you can tell, Jen is a really colorful character, and it’s been a blast to have her over here at our studio in San Francisco. I think today’s show has been really telling that fitness innovation doesn’t always have to involve new technology per se. Public Recreation is really making fitness more accessible by moving your workout literally to your backyard. I’m crossing my fingers really, that Jen and her team will be able to steal the business so that everyone here in the country will get a chance to experience the very novel concept. Public Recreation is actually just opening up a new location right across the Ferry Building in San Francisco in about two weeks, on March 19th. Jen’s been kind enough to offer up an insider deal to our listeners and you can sign up for three months of unlimited classes, which is 90 bucks. Normally, it would run you at a, I think it’s $180. And yeah, but they love our producer, Alila, so much that they’re giving us a solid here. So, there you go, just go to PublicRecreation.com/shape to sign up. It’s only valid though until next week, expires on March 10th so better hop right to it.
47:04 MK: As always, we put everything mentioned on our show in our show notes, which you can find at 20minute.fitness. Also feel free to email us at [email protected] and let us know your thoughts on the show’s content and also don’t hesitate to suggest potential guests that you would really like to see on our podcast. If you’re enjoying our podcast, please make sure to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Breaker, or whatever your favorite podcast app is. Doing so really helps other listeners to discover our podcast. Thanks again for listening, and I’m your host, Martin Kessler, and I hope to see you next time. Bye.