Like a lot of startups, Aarmy faced some big challenges when the pandemic forced widespread shutdowns in March.
Up until then, Aarmy was offering in-person fitness classes from its locations in New York and Los Angeles. Trey Laird, who founded the startup with trainers Akin Akman (chief fitness officer) and Angela Manuel-Davis (chief motivation officer), told me that within 48 hours, the strategy shifted online, starting with fitness classes via Instagram Live — something it continues to offer, while also launching a digital subscription program over the summer.
The startup is backed by celebrity investors including Jay-Z, Chris Paul and Karlie Kloss, as well as firms like Mousse Partners, Valia Ventures, Pendulum and Wilshire Lane Partners. Laird said that the team always planned to launch an online business, with a few physical locations serving as “content engines.” The pandemic just accelerated those plans.
“What changed is, we thought we had time to perfect everything,” Akman said. “[Once the pandemic hit,] we didn’t have time to have all these in-depth conversations, we didn’t have time to wait. We wanted to get out there.”
An Aarmy subscription costs $35 a month, or $350 a year, offering access to a full digital library, including live sessions with Aarmy trainers, with 20 new practice sessions uploaded every week. The company says it already has “thousands” of paying subscribers, with a conversion rate of more than 70% from its free trial, and an 88% retention rate overall.
Manuel-Davis acknowledged that Aarmy’s coaches have had to rethink their approach, particularly since they can’t shoot themselves “in a room with 60 people” as originally planned. Now they have to provide all of the energy themselves, and they need to be “super intentional” about planning their sessions, rather than simply responding to the activity of the athletes in the room.
Beyond the classes, Aarmy has also launched an apparel business, selling a variety of fitness gear on its own website and via Net-a-Porter. In fact, the company says this side of the business has already brought in $450,000 in sales.
Akin described the overall Aarmy strategy as one that’s as much about mental conditioning as it is about physical fitness — which he argued has been well-suited to the pandemic era, when so many people are struggling with feelings of depression, isolation and the sense that they’re “victims of circumstance.”
Laird added, “For a brand where the inspiration and the mental strength and finding that inspiration is as important as the actual movement or actual workout, it’s been the perfect time. It’s presented a great opportunity to connect with people around the world and show what differentiates us.”