An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Kaleen Canevari (co-founder and CEO) of Flexia Pilates, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Flexia – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
I am a mechanical engineer and experienced Pilates teacher who developed a Pilates machine that uses artificial intelligence to quantify mindfulness and make fitness more accessible for people with pain and mobility challenges.
I personally experienced the power of Pilates and the mind-body connection first hand when I found myself unable to pursue the activities I loved for over a decade after suffering a debilitating knee injury playing competitive soccer.
After starting Pilates on the reformer, I was surprised to find that it solved a problem that doctors, surgeons, and physical therapists were unable to help me with. By reconnecting to my body, improving my body awareness, and increasing flexibility, I was able to be active without chronic pain.
However, many people do not have easy access to a Pilates studio and they struggle to see these changes in their body without data to quantify it, which is why I developed a machine and the technology for people to experience these benefits at home.
My mom is a 62-year old physical therapist who loves to hike, swim, and garden. As she’s gotten older, she’s made significant changes to her lifestyle to support her health and longevity, and Pilates was something she was very excited to incorporate into her routine. She was sold on the many benefits of Pilates from the start, and excitedly began searching for local Pilates studios and trying different instructors to see who she resonated with.
Time after time my mom’s out-of-home Pilates practice lapsed. Paying $35 per class (or more) and commuting to a studio multiple times per week after a long day at work was not how she envisioned spending her time or money.
Try as we did, Pilates at home didn’t stick for her either. She even bought a professional grade reformer. One day, we were talking about her struggle to stay consistent in her practice, and she told me, “I’m an uncoordinated person. I know Pilates is good for me and I should do it, but it’s really hard for me to recognize when I’m making progress.”
She loved her Peloton, even though it was just a regular spin bike, because she had a number that told her how well she did each day.
“Why doesn’t Pilates have that?” she asked me.
At first glance, it seems obvious to slap a heart rate monitor and load sensor on a reformer and start measuring how much weight people move and how many calories they burn. This would make Pilates just like any other traditional fitness method. This is not the case. I know this because I have taught and met with thousands of people who do Pilates. The reason why people love Pilates is because it’s different from traditional fitness. The essence of Pilates is far more complex than one number like watts on a spin bike.
The magic of Pilates has everything to do with a more sophisticated output like tempo, control, consistency, and range of motion. If I could capture this spirit, then my mom and other people like her would be able to stay engaged and live a longer and happier life.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
As a first-time founder and CEO, there is an incredible hurdle to overcome in projecting confidence in your ability to build a business and deliver results. When I first started, every single investor I spoke with asked where my proof was. Did I have traction?
Of course, I was frustrated. My experience and ideas were awesome! But I thought I needed money to continue moving forward. How could I have traction without money? This is the eternal entrepreneur Catch-22. Investment dollars can lead to traction, but traction is essential to receive investment dollars.
So, I got creative and decided to run a pre-sale to prove that the demand was there. I had less than 300 Instagram followers, spent about $500 on ads, built my own website, enlisted a friend to help me write the marketing copy, and paid an artist I found on Wpwork $800 to take my chicken scratch and make a few illustrations of my idea.
With this grass-roots marketing effort, I generated $140k in sales in 19 days.
It sounds simple, but it took months of careful planning.
Once I had that proof point, I went back to the investors. They still weren’t ready. Now, they wanted to see a prototype. So, I took the presale dollars and used them to build the first reformer myself using my dad’s woodshop and a local metal fabricator.
I continued in this fashion, identifying the next hurdle and figuring out a scrappy way to clear it, always with the end goal in mind.
What does the future hold for Flexia?
In the near-term we’re focused on building out our content library, refining our real-time feedback and tracking algorithms, and listening closely to our users.This builds a foundation to grow from as we guide the user to success.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Sacramento?
Sacramento is a tight-knit community of ambitious entrepreneurs and talented mentors. Many of the community’s resources, including courses, programs, and individual leaders, were invaluable to me in the early days of Flexia, and I am grateful for the folks who are there to help us make our visions come to life.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Success comes from a combination of belief and consistent, well thought-out action. Act before you feel ready and before you’ve proven to yourself, or anyone else, that you will succeed. Don’t worry about getting it right the first time – focus on consistently taking steps forward. As you go, evaluate what works and what doesn’t, and then use that information to make your next (better!) decision.