Hitting The Mark
Conversations with founders about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success.
Ep008 – Colin Szopa, Founder, Plankk Studio
Fabian sits down with Colin Szopa, Founder of Plankk Studio, an on-demand streaming service that lets fitness enthusiasts sweat it out with on the go workouts alongside their favorite fitness influencers. We talk about the art of app naming, how to work with influencers and what branding means to Colin.
In this episode, we dive into influencer marketing with Colin Szopa, who created a brand for fitness influencers to connect in deeper ways with their tribes.
We debunk the myth that influencers are Prima Donnas to work with, learn about how personal brands support each other versus compete with each other on the same digital platform as well as the art and science of crafting a meaningful and descriptive name for the app store.
You can find Plankk Studio in the app store if you are ready to sweat it out with some of the biggest names in fitness.
F Geyrhalter: Welcome to Episode eight of Hitting the Mark. Today I’m joined by the founder of a brand that enables other brands and in this case of Plankk Studio those brands are personal brands. Today we enter a world of personal trainers and influencers and the man that helps them monetize their audience. Colin Szopa is the founder and CEO of Plankk an only two year old technology and content company that partners with fitness influencers to create custom fitness apps that help them monetize their audiences. The company recently released Plankk Studio a new on demand streaming service that lets fitness enthusiasts sweat it out with on the go workouts alongside their favorite fitness influencers. You can have on the go workouts with the world’s most elite fitness trainers from any screen. And thank God you don’t have to stare at a mirror the whole time while doing so. Okay. That was potentially marketing another brand that’s been in the news recently, but enough of my monologue.
F Geyrhalter: Welcome Colin.
C Szopa: Yes, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. Thank you.
F Geyrhalter: Oh absolutely. So Plankk Studio. This is exciting. So it’s described as the Netflix of health and fitness. It is a crowded space, obviously, that is not lacking in innovation. But the way you approached it was from a very different angle. You first created apps for influencers basically helping them build their brands. And now in a way the tables have turned and you are building your own brand, your own app Plankk Studio based on their personal brands. Tell us a bit about how the brand, how this the app of all apps came about?
C Szopa: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s really an extension of the vision that Plankks always had, which is how do you connect the influencer, these fitness creators that have a massive community and following, you know, on their social media channels already. How do you connect them and bring them closer to that to their audience there and kind of humanize that relationship? So what Plankk Studio is doing is it’s extending these personalized training apps that we’ve been able to build for each one of our influencer partners and bringing that relationship a little bit closer through this live streaming experience. So if you were to think about, attending a workout class somewhere and on the go, whether that’s at your house or at a hotel room, if you’re traveling and you do want to do it at a gym, you’re able to actually work out right alongside this influencer through a curated livestream experience for that particular class that you like.
F Geyrhalter: That’s very cool. And you have some of the world’s fitness elite using the platform. There’s Valentina Lequer alone who has I think 1.4 million followers just by herself and you creating a big new Plankk Studio community, the Plankk tribe, as you have referred to them, out of these elite fitness trainers own communities. So how hard was that upsell, if it even was an upsell, for these influences to basically share their communities with all the other trainers that are now on one and the same app? What is your value prop to them?
C Szopa: Yeah, absolutely. And I think what’s really interesting about it is that, you know, you still have the engaged experience through these individual apps that each one of these trainers do have with their communities. But what Plankk Studio is doing is it’s bringing it under that one umbrella where people are able to, like I said, not only work out alongside them in a livestream, but they can share their progress inside the Plankk tribe community inside of the app. There’s a more engaged kind of experience where you can communicate directly with the influencer on your before and after photos and your progress pics and just get coaching you along if you will, to hit those fitness goals. So that’s really the intention of it is the influencers are able to kind of get one step closer to their community through the Plankk Studio platform, whether that’s through the live streaming or if people want to attend it on demand class as well.
F Geyrhalter: And so they don’t seem to be concerned that people are gonna flip around to other influencers on that on that same app destination.
C Szopa: You know, what’s really interesting, it’s a good question is that at this point we’re at 58 total influencer partners that Plankk’s working within, you know, the two and a half years we’ve been around. And what’s really interesting about it is we’re noticing that as social media continues to grow, there’s a new social media user that gets created every 15 seconds in the world. You have this rising tide lifting all boats of people coming on to this social, online experience for maybe even the first time when you think about developing countries around the world and you’re really starting to push these influencers higher and higher of how big their communities are.
C Szopa: But what’s really interesting about it is we’re not seeing any overlap, whether that’s through our existing apps that we build. We haven’t seen one user that’s used two of our apps that we’ve built. And then even inside of the Plankk Studio platform, we’re noticing that people tend to really liken themselves to particular influencer or creator. So we’ve tried to bring the world’s top creators on to Plankk Studio that offer a differentiating fitness experience, if you will. So whether it’s Valentino who has a very engaged, strong community of women and we have Ashley Kaltwasser who is a three time, you know, Miss Bikini Olympia. So we have somebody that’s maybe looking more for a gym experience. Particular workouts for maybe if you wanted to build your lower body or if you’re looking for more hit or training. We also have males on the platform. So really I think people kind of come to the platform, almost as if you were watching like your favorite television show on Netflix. You kind of have your favorite one or two that you follow. And that’s curated in that same way.
F Geyrhalter: That’s really interesting. So basically either you come in because you are ready, you’ll really have one favorite influencer and trainer and you just want to see him or her doing the workouts. Or you actually come to Plankk studio and you start realizing, oh, this is the channel I want to go into. And then you just get sucked into it like a Netflix binge, just you just keep in to it.
C Szopa: Yeah, and that is exactly what’s happening. Right? So it’s a certain training style that may be somebody coming in or maybe they really like to use resistance bands, right? And we’ve got a curated workout experience for influencers particular for that equipment piece.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And so you talking about this idea of humanizing influencers, right, that they can formulate a better connection with their audience. What is some ways that you found made that possible within your app?
C Szopa: Yeah, absolutely. So we have a community feed inside of the app that allows you to engage directly with the influencer and other app users. So there you are able to post words of motivation, how your progress is going, different pictures that you’ve taken along the way in your fitness journey. And you can comment on that directly with each one of these users and follow them. It’s really interesting because that also allows you to see who’s attending other livestream classes that you want to attend. So it kind of creates this, you know, almost of a challenge if you will and you can see how other people are doing inside of the app. And then again, feel that connection a bit closer to the influencers that are engaged with you. During the live stream experience, we have the ability for you to chat directly with the influencers. So if you have questions during the warm up or the cool down when you’re stretching, maybe in between circuits, you can actually ask a question directly to the influencer via the livestream chat module and then the influencer creators going to be able to give you an answer. Um, you know, in between those reps or sets.
F Geyrhalter: that’s fantastic because it doesn’t put any burden on the influence. It’s not that much more work, but it’s got its really high touch and it’s going to change that conversation completely so very …
C Szopa: And they wait, too. Yeah, you’re bang on. Like the influencers do love that because they want to be helping their community. Right. They want to feel a little bit closer to them as well. So that’s really what those live streaming experience is doing is it’s bringing them one step closer.
F Geyrhalter: It’s taking it off of social media, which is the only one of the key places they currently play. Right. So it kind of opens it up for them.
C Szopa: Exactly.
F Geyrhalter: I’m totally putting you on the spot here, but let’s talk about naming an app, just for a second entertain me here. Because you know, we as a consultancy, we do a lot of naming and naming for the app stores is very complex as you have a lot more check marks to check off then simply naming a company. Not the naming a company is simple. But can you tell us about the journey for, not even specifically this app, because this one most probably came a little easier based on the background of your company name, but apps you launched in the past. What are some of the hurdles and tests you go through to ensure that your app floats to the top and that the name helps stand out rather than hurts it by floating to the bottom. Are there any tricks you can share?
C Szopa: That’s a great question because you know, there really are so many health and fitness apps already in the app store as it is. Right. And as you probably know, you can’t have the same app naming. It’s reserved in Apple’s database to just one particular way of spelling. And you can’t copy that.
F Geyrhalter: And it wouldn’t be smart would it?
C Szopa: No, no. But in Google it’s interesting. You can see the overlap. It’s a little bit different how they use their metatags to differentiate it. Whereas Apple, that just the core name for the app can’t be the same. So, we are, the majority for our company I think is at 85% IOS users. So obviously we have to make sure that it coincides with what Apple accepts for naming. And first and foremost, we always start by asking where’s the brand stand right now that we’re trying to represent inside of the app store with the naming of this app, you know, whether it’s our white label apps that we’ve built with each one of our influencer partners or with Plankk Studio. And the intention there is just how do we bring that brand to life a little bit. So if the app is a little bit more focused on maybe a gym program, for example, we’ll come up with a name like Lift with Cass. And so Cass Martin is an influencer we work with. That was a name that she really liked and we saw how that made sense from a gym program perspective. And so we wanted to make sure that that was representative. The name, we’ll have some other ones that are a little bit more focused on maybe a hit style training or at home. We have another influencer by the name of Sean Booth, so we kind of got a little creative with him and use his last name to create Booth Camp. We’re just trying to bring a little bit of uniqueness to it. So it’s not always just fitness with so and so. Right. We try to bring a little bit of creativity to it that represents their brand and the program that they’re offering inside of that app.
F Geyrhalter: And it helps sort it. Yeah. Which is great.
C Szopa: Yeah. And helps boost it. And then with Plankk studio, really the intention there is we’re bringing this boutique fitness experience into the comfort of your home. So it really is, if you can’t make it to a studio to attend one of these classes, why don’t we bring that to you wherever it’s accessible. And at the same time, we’re bringing the power of the world’s top fitness trainers with you. And so that’s really the intention between behind the naming of Plankk Studio.
F Geyrhalter: And it was kind of a brand extension of your own rights so it made a lot of sense.
C Szopa: Yep. And you can do keyword searching and all that. I mean Apple has their own database of how you can enter in all of the different metadata for getting your app name to rise up in the different search results when people are folded around the app store.
F Geyrhalter: Right, right. Exactly. So that, thank you. I appreciate it. You going off off subject a little bit, but it all goes back to the idea of branding an app. A lot of listeners, something that I’m really curious about is, they toy with the idea of working with influencers themselves to promote their own brand and what are some learnings you could share, some red flags or big epiphanies you had on how to create a win win I guess situations for the brand, the influencer and the follower. And be honest here. Is it difficult to work with some of these top notch influencers? I mean, I had my fair share of working with Hollywood in my earlier years and I have to say, besides a few very rare exceptions, celebrities can be very tough to manage. And now you have an entire brand built, based on this new wave of celebrities. How do you work them or do I give them a bad rap for no reason?
C Szopa: Yeah, I mean I won’t go into too many examples, but the interesting thing is where influencers differentiate from the celebrity group if you want to tag it as that, is they’re really just more relatable, authentic people that in a lot of times have just kind of stumbled into this, right? So they haven’t come from a big, whether that’s a TV or movie contract or if they’re sports celebrity, some notoriety in that space where they’ve got these teams behind them and large brand endorsement deals already in place. They’re really coming more from one or two man shows where they’ve come into this from, whether that could have been a reality TV show to modeling, to even just becoming a little more Instagram famous through trending in the discover feed. Right. So to build on that a little bit, and I think what’s really interesting when you see the influencers that are successful versus the ones that aren’t, at least the longterm, is they’ve started to figure out why they got that attention in the first place and who their target demographic is. And so if you start to hone in on that more and more, what becomes really important for the integral, I guess almost you could say for their success, is to make sure that they’re not associating with too many brands and confusing their audience. Because if you start going too many different directions and you’re taking affiliate marketing deals here and pay per post here and you know, appearance fees left, right, and center and even just how they, what type of content that they’re putting out there on a weekly basis. If there’s a lack of consistency there, it’s going to end up turning into a lot of churn with their weekly plus minus on how many people are following them because people aren’t really sure what to get from them. So you almost have to figure out what your shtick is and what people are really enjoying. And a lot of influencers know this and they start to figure it out relatively quickly. But then you have to make sure that you’re making the right decisions with which brands and companies you choose to associate with. And if you go too far down that rabbit hole in 20 different directions, you’re gonna end up confusing your audience and then you’re gonna have a hard time converting them into a product that you are trying to endorse or a brand that you want to hook up with and that’s becomes a problem because then you don’t have as much value to these companies that are looking to partner with you in the first place.
F Geyrhalter: Oh absolutely. I think that was really, really important to say because in a way it’s like any other brand, it’s all about clarity of who they are and then focus on that and only that, right? Like we exist to do A, B and c. And so as a personal trainer, you exist to do A, B, and C. This is your tribe. These your people. This is you as a personal brand and only associate yourself with a couple of other brands. Don’t overdo it. Be authentic. And I think you touched on something really interesting that I naively did not immediately see, the idea that celebrities and Hollywood celebrities and the typical A list and B list celebrities are very different from influencer celebrities because they basically just, they had to hustle to get there, but different than in Hollywood where they just basically it happened suddenly overnight and they know exactly who to thank for, which is not one source that pushed them up there or one movie that they get into. But it’s actually hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people. It’s their tribe. So I think they are grateful. And so I think that that’s the difference that you must probably really enjoy working with influencers because they know that you’re adding a lot of value to them and you’re pushing them further out.
C Szopa: Absolutely, no, you hit the nail on the head. We really do enjoy it because of that reason is they feel, they just feel more approachable. They feel like if just, another one of us, if we’re working alongside them as a full suite partner that we are, we’re a team. And so it very much feels like a partnership and not like a client relationship in that way.
F Geyrhalter: Vendor.
C Szopa: Yeah. A vendor relationship. Thank you. So that’s really where Plankk kinda was born from, to be honest, is influencers are recognizing that they have an opportunity to build a business here, to go and do something with the clout that they have in the market. They’re seeing that there’s more and more people that are catching on to them and following them as they kind of hone in on that value offering that we were talking about before. And then they realize, okay, well, where do we go with this? And really that’s what Plankk has set out to do in the offering the platform that we have is, okay, we’ll partner with you and not only help you with the custom design and development of your app and the photo shoot that goes along with that. And then all of the launch marketing, branding as we’re obviously talking about today, growth strategy, even social media strategy. We’ll help out with each one of our partners into how we actually get a little bit more conversion coming into their app and even just helping to grow their following. We’ve really become a full suite partner to them to ensuring that as they grow and their brand becomes more successful on social media, that in turn it’s relating to the products that we’re working with them on to help them monetize. And to grow a successful program around that.
F Geyrhalter: And obviously since it’s the trainers are so invested, like when you actually created Plankk Studio as an app, I’m sure you get continuous feedback from them and from the actual potential users. Right. I’m sure there was a lot of that back and forth work. Did you ever go against what they believe the app needed to do or did you add a feature you or your team obsessed over and they were just not sure if this is going to work?
C Szopa: Yeah, no, it’s a great question because I mean part of being in technology is to your point, you always want to be getting that customer feedback and figuring out, what does that next thing that maybe the users asking for or doesn’t know yet and we’ll end up becoming addicted to, and wanting to tell their friends and ultimately result in the success of the apps. So I’d say the biggest thing for us that we took a bit of a gamble on with that would have been live streaming. There really hasn’t been, obviously Instagram and Instagram Live and what they’ve rolled out with Facebook Live and across all their platforms has become the household name as far as a live stream experience goes. But there really hasn’t been anybody that’s come into the health and wellness space and built this and curated this live streaming experience around fitness. And so we wanted to take our influencer partners and their audience and also add more people to the community so that people can find our influencers on Plankk Studio, and build this curated livestream experience that really was world class and like nothing else out there. And obviously there’s a couple now that people know with some of the competitors in the market, but we really feel like Plankk Studio’s taken it to the next level. And that was a risk that we had to take, in assuming that the users would like that.
F Geyrhalter: Yeah, no, absolutely. So here’s the million dollar question. No one receives money doing an exchange. But what does branding mean to you? You know, it’s such a nasty word. I mean it gets such a bad rep, but what does, I guess like influencers, right? That those are all words that are so mistaken, but what does branding mean to you, now that you worked on, on establishing so many other brands in one way or the other.
C Szopa: Yeah, no, I think the biggest thing is just making sure that you’re aligned with what people think about your company and what you actually do as a company, what you actually offer them. Because the last thing you’d want as is some sort of false belief there for what people are hoping to come in and have an experience and walk away with something completely different. So for us, when we think about what’s that like to come onto a live stream experience with my favorite fitness creator in the world, we want to make sure that you feel like that live stream was better than just pressing play on a YouTube video. We want to make sure that you feel like the livestream on Plankk Studio is bringing you closer to Valentino or Ingrid, Romero or Whitney Johns, inside of the Plankk Studio ecosystem because you couldn’t quite make it down to LA to work out with them at their gym or wherever you are around the world. So it’s making sure that there’s alignment between what you’re representing as a brand and then what the consumer is feeling as a result.
F Geyrhalter: That’s great. Yeah. And marketing and product, right. How do the two relate and how do they walk the same walk and talk the same talk. What is one piece of brand advice besides maybe that has been it, because that was great brand advice for founders of apps, or founders in general as one last takeaway. Do you have anything where you can think of, well that’s something that we screwed up in the beginning or that’s something that I learned that it’s so important or is it really that idea of you know, of product, that marketing kind of like being in the same …
C Szopa: Well, I mean, Fabian, to further build on what you’re getting at there with the product and marketing side of it is when you’re first starting out, that’s really is what matters. A lot of people felt guilty to okay, we have to go and find a brand and then build around that to be successful. But it’s really the opposite. You’re going to build, if you go and you build a strong product and you have some strong marketing and people you surround yourself with. Like for us, we actually started off with a different name and it was really just meant to be a working title because we knew that the brand would come later. And it wasn’t until our first product hit the market and was out there, and we had our first app that had the screens that said everywhere, Powered by Plankk, that we really had that turning point as a company where our brand was out there and it was going to be trusted. And that’s kind of what matters, is in the early stages, people end up fretting so much about the logo and the name and this different little things that just get them down rabbit holes as opposed to just focusing on a strong product and what the actual opportunity is and then how to get the right first customer or people working alongside you so that you can get that product to market and then have it be successful. And at that point you should be thinking about what the brand is evolving into and where you want to be. And that’s really what happened with us is when our first app did hit the market, you know the Powered by Plankk branding that was everywhere, then started to give confidence to these other people that we had talked to that were like, you know what maybe I should be doing an app with Plankk and people started to come to us.
C Szopa: So I think people, just to circle back to your question, often fret too early and too much about branding right out of the gate, as opposed to just kind of taking that next step in the right direction of the company.
F Geyrhalter: Create trust first and once you have trust, there will be income and once there’s income, you can focus on the brand.
C Szopa: Yep. That’s a good way of putting it.
F Geyrhalter: You can basically go for growth. I think it’s great. I think that’s one of many different ways of doing it. But that is the way where you really know you’ve got product market fit and then afterwards you can start investing.
C Szopa: Yeah. And sometimes it might not necessarily mean you know, income. Income can Be defined in different ways, right? Whether that’s users, not everybody’s looking for revenue rate out of the gate, even product market fit can still be a little further down the road, but at least knowing that you’re on that track and your customer facing now and you’ve done the right research and you’ve got the pilot or feedback loop in place so that you’re able to say, yeah, like we can see where this is evolving, where this is going to, let’s make sure we’re making the right steps as a company on our brand for the decisions we’re making, who we’re working with and why. And that’s really, when we came up with the name Plankk at that point was we wanted to make sure that it was something that was going to be a strong name that represented our product and represented the platform that we have between, connecting an influencer of their community. And then as well as just making sure that it had some sort of fitness connotation to it. So you know, that’s where Plankk really was born from is when we were client facing, we wanted to make sure it was representing where we saw the company going.
F Geyrhalter: Where can anyone find and use your app? I guess I have an answer. I have a feeling I know where but hey, maybe you’re hiding apps well outside the app stores.
C Szopa: Yeah, no, I mean it’s definitely easy to find. Yeah, we’re available on Plankk Studio is available on the Apple Store and the Google Play Store and yeah, I mean that’s probably the best place to go and to check out this kind of higher quality experience that we’re offering with live streams and on demand and you can also access it online as well. And Plankkstudio.com is the place to find us.
F Geyrhalter: Thank you, Colin. This was really insightful and it was tons of fun.
C Szopa: Yeah, I had a great time. Thanks for having me
F Geyrhalter: And thanks to everyone for listening and please hit that subscribe button and give this show a quick rating. This is a brand new show and it needs ratings, ratings, many ratings. S’il vous plaît. Bitte. Please. Por favor. This podcast is brought to you by FINIEN, a brand consultancy, creating strategic, verbal and visual brand clarity. You can learn about FINIEN at finien.com. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness One. I will see you next time when we, once again, we’ll be Hitting the Mark.