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Kyle Zagrodzky fulfills software niche

for fitness clubs

 

Cover Story by Patti Parish-Kaminski


A
lexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison.  We’re all familiar with these famous inventors who in their lifetime, recognized a need:  the need for people to communicate with their  voices over long distances, the need to stay warm and cook indoors, the need for an efficient and trustworthy source of light at night. Not only did these visionary inventors recognize these needs, they invented ground-breaking solutions to meet these needs and created products to improve our daily lives. Bell, Franklin, Edison and, Kyle Zagrodzky, a Fort Bend resident and Founder and CEO of Go Figure, Inc. who, like these famous inventors, saw a need in the health club industry and developed a membership management software that is revolutionizing operations in over 8,300 health clubs in 25 countries.
     So how does a 38 year old, native Houstonian and University of Houston graduate with a marketing degree develop a product that has become the world’s largest provider of membership management software?  Entrepreneurial spirit.

 
From High School to High Impact

     “I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life,” said Kyle.  “When I was in high school, I collected used band instruments and auctioned them off.  I thought what happens to all of these expensive instruments when the kids are finished with them?  So, I held an auction, auctioned them off myself and sold all of the instruments.”  Just as spirited inventors have always done, Kyle recognized a problem and created a solution – a process that has worked well for this young CEO.
     “When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do like most people in their 20’s,” said Kyle.  Working in real estate for the first few years after he graduated, Kyle was drawn to the fitness industry by one of the icons of the industry:  a pretty girl.  Kyle married Brenda, who was a nurse at the time with a fitness background.  Kyle, who is a Black Belt in five different types of martial arts, called on his martial arts background and the couple soon decided that they wanted to work together in a business and the fitness industry was their common ground.
     “About that time, I stumbled on Curves,” recalled Kyle.  At the time, Curves had 85 locations and Kyle had a friend who knew the president of Curves.  The franchise was opening a location in Beaumont, so Kyle and Brenda drove out to take a look.
     “When I saw the concept, immediately I understood it and knew that it would work,” said Kyle.  “So, we bought a resale Curves in Pensacola, Florida.  We had no money and had to get a loan to buy the club.  We moved out there with only five to seven days notice.”
     The quick move was a result of the state of the club.  The Curves had about 15 members and was in jeopardy of closing.  The president of Curves had never closed a location so the pressure was on Kyle and Brenda to move quickly and be successful.
“It was exciting,” said Brenda about the new venture, “But, of  course, you always have the fear of what if things don’t work out.  
Still, we were pretty confident that we could make it work.”
     Kyle and Brenda relocated, focused on the challenge and indeed made it work by turning the fledging club around.  “We increased the membership to around 100, sold the location and came back to Houston,” said Kyle.
     With a success under their belt, Kyle and Brenda forged ahead and acquired eight Curves locations in small towns in Southeast Texas over the next two years.  By 1999, the Zagrodzky’s were awarded the Curves Multi-Franchisee of the Year in recognition of their innovative strategies on employee training, retention management and leadership within the Curves community.


From High Impact to High Tech

     Managing eight clubs taught Kyle and Brenda a great deal about membership management and the challenges that came with it.  “I  didn’t want to write software; I didn’t have a software background.  I wanted to buy software but Curves had a pen and paper way of running the businesses and I found that I was putting in fifty hours a week just doing paperwork,” said Kyle.
     Kyle began to search for software to run the club but his research was disappointing.  The majority of the software was very expensive making it cost prohibitive for a small business owner.  Additionally, Kyle found that the available software would meet only 75% of their needs at Curves.
     Unable to find a solution, Kyle’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to hire a software developer right out of college.  To assist in the development stage, Kyle asked other Curves’ club owners to pitch in on the cost.  As word spread through the Curves’ network that Kyle was working on a software system to specifically address Curves’ needs, more and more club owners wanted it.
     “As the word spread about the software and the inquiries kept coming in, I knew I had a business opportunity.  I set up a corporation and business model and got to work,” said Kyle.  At that time, Curves was growing at a rapid rate and was the largest fitness chain in the world with 330 locations.  Because Kyle knew what club owners needed in a software system, he recognized the potential in developing it.


Kyle Zagrodzky,
CEO at Go Figure, Inc.
     About a year into the development, the Curves’ franchise owners started putting pressure on Curves International to develop software to assist them with running the clubs or to officially endorse iGoFigure as their official software.  The owners wanted a change in the Curves’ philosophy of running the clubs by pen and paper.  They  wanted a more sophisticated and efficient way to do business. Unwilling to venture into the software industry, Curves endorsed the iGoFigure software for their clubs and then, things got hectic.
     “When my Go Figure hobby started taking off, we invested everything in the company,” said Kyle.  “I hired some software developers and put a team together.  I had been running the clubs with Brenda and my focus completely shifted to Go Figure. That left Brenda to run our Curves.”
     Brenda ran the day to day operations of their eight Curves’ clubs to fund what Kyle referred to as “his little Go Figure hobby.”  
“Sometimes it took everything we had,” said Brenda.  “I was doing the hiring, training, teaching classes, paperwork – things Kyle and I had both done at the clubs – and then trying versions of the software that Kyle was working on.  I’d run the software in the clubs and tell him what I liked, what I didn’t like, what worked and what didn’t work.”
     With the growth of Go Figure, Kyle slowly started selling off the Curves clubs.  They kept two clubs, one in the Richmond/Rosenberg area, and Brenda ran them while Kyle built Go Figure.“I loved Curves and working in the fitness industry,” said Brenda.  “And, I loved the freedom the software gave me while running the clubs.  We always felt that we needed to be out on the floor taking 
care of the ladies and not sitting behind the desk doing paperwork. With the Go Figure software, I could do just that.”
     With two clubs to run, Brenda began a new chapter in her life that would prove to be just as challenging to run but without the benefit of management software.  First came Austin and then Logan, the new generation of Zagrodzky inventors.  By that time, Kyle and Brenda had bought a house in Fort Bend to be close to their Richmond/Rosenberg Curves, the largest of their clubs.
     “When Brenda got pregnant, we sold the last two clubs so she could devote her time to being a full-time mom,” said Kyle.  And just how  does managing two toddlers measure up to running two Curves’ clubs?  “It’s a lot more work than running Curves,” said Brenda.  “It’s a lot of fun and I’m glad to be able to have the opportunity, but it is a much different life for me now.”
     Even though Brenda focuses on managing their one and three-year-old sons, she still previews new editions of the software as they are updated.  “Kyle has come a long way in the past four years with the software.  He really has a gift for knowing what Curves’ owners need.”

The Go Figure Difference

     Listening to Curves’ owners and responding to their needs has always been a priority for Kyle.  So much so, that Go Figure has an advisory board comprised of Curves’ owners to provide important feedback on their products. Gail Ferguson, a multi-club owner says, “I’m using iGo Figure software to run my six facilities and I love it! It’s user- friendly and has all the main features to manage every aspect of my business.
     Their technical service team is friendly, professional and committed to customer satisfaction. Using iGo Figure has helped me focus on getting and, more importantly, keeping customers instead of managing paperwork. I am so happy that I’ll never have to use a pen and calculator to manage my businesses again.”
     The cost of the software with a low up front fee and small monthly licensing fee makes it easily affordable to small business owners.  And in response to some clients’ concern regarding a monthly fee, Kyle has incorporated revenue producing advertising opportunities on the system.  Additionally, Go Figure’s training department and technical support are testaments to the small business owners who operate companies just as Kyle and Brenda once did.
     “The majority of small business owners have very basic computer skills so we created software that is almost a paint by the number process,” said Kyle.  “In our tech support, we created a one stop shop for our clients without going through the labyrinth of possible problem scenarios. If they are having trouble with their windows operating system on their computer or their printer, we help them.  The philosophy behind that is that our software is the software that our clients use 99% of the day.
     If anything goes wrong with their computer, their first reaction is that something is wrong with their Go Figure.  Whether it is the program or not, I don’t want their mindset to be off of what they do to make money every day.  If they pick up the phone and call us, I give them the freedom of our tech support staff so they can get their problem solved and get back to doing what they need to do.”
     With their steadily growing staff of 65 employees, Go Figure handles about 800 phones calls per week on their tech support line and has an average hold time of about 1.5 minutes, an impressive customer service response time.  Only about 33% of their calls are related to Go Figure software, but this unique approach to customer service has insured that Go Figure rarely loses a customer.
     Improving the quality of the product is an ongoing goal for Kyle and the nearly twenty members of the Go Figure software development team.  “About four years ago, we made the decision to rewrite the software from the ground up.  I felt that many of the decisions we made at the time we initially wrote it were not forward thinking so we decided to reinvest and rebuild which was a huge decision for us.   It took us nearly three years, but ultimately, we felt we needed to make it better.”
     And make it better they did.  Kyle and his team of new developers created software that not only managed membership data, but managed virtually all aspects of a membership-based business  including inventory management, integrated credit card processing, tax reports and more.  “Now we have the best software product for managing members in the world.”
     Kyle’s philosophy for inventing a successful product may seem a bit unconventional but clearly it works for Go Figure.  “I never look at the money.  It distracts me from what matters so I avoid it.  If we focus on the quality of our product and the quality of our support, I know the money will take care of itself.”

     Fortunately for Kyle, he has had his family to look after the finances of Go Figure.  Initially, his father served as CFO for the company, but two and a half years ago, his retirement brought another family member on board.  Kyle’s older brother, Matt, joined Go Figure as CFO and General Counsel leaving trial law for the world of software development.  “It was a life-altering experience for me,”  said Matt about joining Go Figure.  “It’s a much different stress than being a trial lawyer, but much better.”
     So what does the future hold for this Fort Bend entrepreneur who recognized a need and developed a groundbreaking solution? They have already expanded beyond the Curves community with several fast- growing fitness franchises around the world including 123 Fit, Express Train for Men and Kaizen. Now they have set their sights on even more.
     “We’re expanding outside of the health club market now and making the software more generalized so it could run in karate schools, med  spas,  chiropractor’s offices or  daycares. We’re currently test  marketing the software in other industries and plan to break into additional markets within the next year.”


Matt Zagrodzky,
CFO at Go Figure, Inc.

      In his spare time, this young entrepreneur is writing a book about the people and events that have influenced his life, a project that got put on hold when two more important people influenced Kyle and Brenda’s lives:  their sons Austin and Logan.
     Now, this inventor still develops software solutions but also tackles teaching a three-year-old the art of fishing.  Who knows? Maybe Zagrodzky and sons will develop the newest innovation in the fishing industry.