‘A Netflix of Fitness’
Alum’s Streaming Service Helps Customers Work Out From Home, Stay Connected to Gyms and Studios
Buttering up clients on Wall Street might mean bougie steak dinners, rounds of late-night drinks at a club or prime seats at a sold-out concert—unless you’re Lauren Foundos ’06. In that case, hold the butter.
As a fitness-obsessed bond trader, the former Terps field hockey standout liked to invite business associates to work up a sweat at meetings centered around her preferred pastimes.
But it became increasingly hard to deny where her priorities lay. Once at a spin class, much to her chagrin, a customer tried to interrupt the instructor mid-session—a major etiquette breach.
“So embarrassing,” she recalled. “He was like, ‘Lauren, you looked at me like you never met me before.’”
This passion that put exercise class over client relations finally motivated her to leave her Wall Street job for the world of fitness. The high-tech avenue she pursued—a streaming service that puts subscribers virtually in classes with instructors in gyms all over the world—led to the founding of her business, Fortë, in 2015.
And with much of the world still in the grip of a pandemic-driven lockdown that has shuttered gyms or made fitness aficionados question their safety, the business has been building its own kind of muscle.
“People will start going back to gyms once the pandemic ends,” she said. “However, I do think that people will realize that now they can get an efficient workout at home.
Foundos’ passion for fitness drove her to leave her career as a stock trader and develop a streaming service that offers subscribers a studio-like workout experience inside their homes. Started in 2015, the online content platform, Fortë, connects clients and studios to offer on-demand and live fitness classes.
Competition and constant motion have been the main ingredients of Foundos’ life since childhood. After earning All-State and All-American honors as a field hockey player in high school, she came to Maryland, where she won two NCAA championships with the women’s field hockey team.
During her time at UMD, she pursued internships with Deutsche Bank in New York City, which translated to a full-time job after graduating with a communication major.
“The (financial world) has a reputation for (having) sort of an athletic environment, it’s very competitive,” Foundos said. “A lot of things I was drawn to for playing field hockey at Maryland—the same reasons—very fast-paced, a very high level of execution and exciting.”
As she rose through the ranks of the financial world, she moved to a job trading treasury bonds at another Wall Street brokerage firm. Soon after, she started looking at innovative ventures for long-term investments. Her passion for working out, paired with her experience in business, made her start thinking about bringing innovation to studios and gyms.
Foundos wanted to leverage the internet to make working out more accessible by bringing a fitness studio-like experience to people’s homes.
“Nobody was really attacking this (area),” Foundos said. “I realized gyms shouldn’t be bound by 20 people who work there.”
In 2015, she quit her job to lay the foundation of Fortë, a service that customers could sign up for to stream live and pre-recorded workouts in their homes. The name, which means “strong” in Albanian, is homage to her parents’ place of origin.
Fortë COO Toby Dingemans said subscribers get access to a slew of prerecorded workouts, along with the opportunity to participate in live fitness sessions included in the monthly subscription fee. “It’s intended to be a Netflix of fitness,” he said.
When the company reached out to fitness studios to stream their content on the Fortë website platform, some gyms said they were open to broadcasting content but under their own brand name, he said. The company then expanded to creating customized websites and streaming solutions for large fitness studio and gym chains to help them broadcast content to their own members.
“We realized we could also be the technology powering other (fitness) businesses,” Dingemans said. “There are 60 million people in the U.S. who are members of gyms and studios, and convincing those people to use a digital service provided by a club that they're already a member of or already using is a much easier proposition.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the fitness industry, Foundos said that local gyms and fitness studios were slow to meet customers’ changing needs and create opportunities for them to work out from home.
When the pandemic began infecting daily life, gyms in most states were forced to shut down or operate at reduced capacities, and they had to adapt or close. Since last year, Fortë has doubled its subscriber base on its streaming service—its client gym partners now have over 10 million members.
In the past year, Foundos said she’s heard from individual exercisers and fitness business alike about all that Forte has helped them accomplish—whether getting in shape or just staying financially afloat.
“Nobody told me I made their life better when I worked in finance,” she said. “I think that’s been the most fulfilling thing … seeing that there’s a greater purpose of your work.”