The Best Thing About Your Startup is the Team
by Mark Hogan, 10th August 2015
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Gymr - Elevator Pitch:
"Gymr is the award-winning mobile app that allows users to browse, review, and purchase passes to fitness classes right from their phone."

Hi Nick and welcome to our inspiring startup talks with entrepreneurs! Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up being an entrepreneur. 

Thanks for having me!

My name is Nick Hynes. I’m Irish, have lived in Ireland most of my life, and am delighted to see Dublin increasingly being recognised as a major European tech hub. It’s great to be part of that story!

I went to Belvedere College, UCD, Smurfit Business School, and then made a jump into the Army where I ultimately served in Afghanistan in 2010 / 2011 as an Army officer. I left the Army in 2012 and talked my way into where I sold to startups and SME’s for a few years.

I’ve been interested in tech startups ever since business school and was a sideline enthusiast until I took the plunge and signed up to a Startup Weekend. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

I’ve won two Startup Weekends and am now the CEO of Gymr - the idea I pitched at the last competition.  It’s been awesome!

What do you like about being an entrepreneur?

We  all strive towards freedom and self-determination and I feel that entrepreneurship is the path to achieving that end goal.

At this very early stage, that path is hard to see amongst the bushes of doubt and the brambles of uncertainty.  However, even in that dark place being able to walk that path is a wonderful feeling and I’m enjoying the experience.

Probably the most enjoyable thing about the experience so far has been seeing the build out and the development of an idea which only a short while ago was a little idea spinning around in my mind. It’s extremely rewarding.

You describe yourself online as "an ex-Army officer bringing military operational experience to the tech sphere". How has this experience translated to the tech world? What is the best advice you can give to startups on running an efficient business?

I think you found the tagline I wrote of F6S - I’m going to have to change that! Ha ha!

Yes, I think the Army definitely has shaped how I think about business and my approach to Gymr.  The best military commanders look get a true picture of the situation they face, assess the variables, balance the risk vs. reward, and make a plan to achieve the mission they’ve been set or have set for themselves.  Then the translate that to their team and the commander along with the team does everything they can to complete that mission.

So, the way I see that translating to the startup environment, is that I am looking to see what the competition are doing, looking to spot a trends, the economic environment, and balancing the risk (time, energy, money) vs. the reward (success, money, other avenues for growth).

In the business sphere it’s important to keep that end goal (the mission) in mind as something for us a team to strive towards.  Heading up the team, I need to be able to take a step back and ask myself ‘Right, we’ve taken another few steps forward, are we still on the right track? Has the situation/ picture changed? If so, what do we do next to get closer to achieving the goal?’.  This is what a military commander needs to do at each phase of a mission/ operation, and I think it’s a good approach for a startup - particularly in the early stages when things are changing so fast and you’re still on unsure ground.

The other thing I would say is that as an Army officer we were trained to understand, at a general level, how to do many things - but we were not expected to be experts on many of these things.   I feel it’s the same when you’re heading up a startup.  For example, if you don’t know how to code (like me!) you don’t necessarily need to go and learn how to code - you simply need to understand at a high level how that code works, how it fits into the bigger picture of the project, and what you can expect from you subject matter expert - the developer himself.  So, understand and be conversant in what that expert does, but don’t necessarily try and emulate his skills yourself - simply, be able to manage his skills and expertise and stick to what you’re best at.

The Gymr Facebook page has some great picture of the team working together. What tips have you on building and getting the most out of a team?

Here’s the thing: the best thing about Gymr is the team. Full stop.

When it comes to building a team, it all starts with being clear in what you want to make and then identify the gap between your skills and the skills required to get where you want to be.  Once you’ve done that, you can start hunting down the kinds of people you need.

When it comes to the building of a tech product this is can be the start of an uphill struggle because of the high demand for developers and designers.  The most important step is to understand what your product will be built on and then to find a CTO who understands the project scope and what he needs to create the product. Sometimes this can be as simple as him recommending other people he knows and trusts to join the team.  Another option is that the CTO helps to build out a remote team that is contracted to help with the build out.

Either way, it’s crucial that the CEO and the CTO get on well together and can work with one another in a frank and open way so that the business is always coming first.

In terms of getting the most from a team, I feel that people should be given freedom and trust from day one. Good developers and designers know what they’re doing and a CEO should trust in them to be able to do their jobs, to think and work as they need to, to explore their creativity and learn throughout the entire process.  Also, people start and join startups to move towards a more liberating work experience. If you as a CEO create an onerous environment your team will not enjoy their work and your product will grind to a halt. Your business will soon follow.

What techniques have you found successful or unsuccessful in convincing outside parties (i.e. gyms) to use Gymr?

The most surprising thing I’ve found so far is the lack of difficulty in getting buy-in for studios and gyms.  Gymr makes total sense to these owners and trainers as we help them to see that our ‘fitness-on-demand’ model is going to take over the fitness industry. So, they want to be part of that story and they don’t want to be left behind.

The most compelling way of getting these gyms on board as been to meet them face-to-face and demo the live app right there and then in front of them. Even better, put the app right into their hand for them to play with and they’ll get it right away!

Gymr is currently in BETA form. What are you focusing on most during this and what goals do you need to meet to fully release the app?

It took us just 9 weeks to go from idea to our app being launched onto the Google Play store.  It’s an incredible achievement and it’s tesament to the tech skills of the Gymr team.

My attitude is always to get something out there as quick as possible and then iterate from there.  Our beta is a fully functioning, payments processing application but there are a tonne on improvements we’ve identified even after just one week in our user’s hands.  We’re all about listening to our user’s feedback so we making some changes are I speak to make Gymr what users want it to be.

Once those tweaks are made, our focus will go back to business and customer development to get more gyms and studios on board.  When we’re at a level of signups that we feel is right, we’ll transition from beta to a full launch of the app.

You have won best pitch at Startup Weekend  twice now. What do other entrepreneurs need to know about pitching so they may become as effective/successful as you?

It’s been a great honour to win Startup Weekend two times.  Needless to say it’s something I’ll always be proud of and grateful to the judges for selecting me/ us for on both occasions.

I feel that pitching is a huge part of what being a CEO is.  Effectively, pitching is selling, but it’s a monologue of sorts and the customer (audience member) isn’t getting a chance to jump in and ask questions like a normal buyer would be able to do in the buyer/ seller dynamic.  So, as a pitcher, you need to have pre-guessed their questions and be able to address them for the audience member before they ever get a chance to raise their hands.

The other thing that is key here is that pitching, unlike selling, is a performance. You are standing up there, whether it be in front of 5, 500, or 5,000 people and you are performing the one-man play that is your startup and your vision. So, perform, give the audience what they want: tell a story, excite them, pull them in, take them along for the ride, and make them feel like they’re privileged to have been present for early days of something that is going to turn the industry / market/ world on it’s head.

At a very practical level, if you really do want to work on pitching, then I’d go to the theatre and watch some really good professional actors do their thing where there are no takes and they can’t take a break to look at their lines. Even better, take some acting classes or get involved with your local drama society and do a play or two. You might think this advice is nuts but I challenge anyone responsible for pitching in their startup to come back to me after this experience and say they aren’t a better pitcher as a result. How do I know this? Because I’ve done it.

Why would you recommend Startup Weekend and other similar startup events to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Yes. 100%, yes.

If you were like me and you really didn’t know where to begin with all this startup stuff but you really wanted to get involved then there is no better way that I know of than throwing yourself headfirst into a Startup Weekend.

If there’s no Startup Weekend in your town or there isn’t going to be one for ages, look for one in Europe that’s coming up and jump on a flight. I defy you to not enjoy and learn something from the experience.

And hey, you might walk out the door on Sunday being the CEO of a brand new startup! :D

How beneficial has Dublin's startup ecosystem been for Gymr? Are there any initiatives or events you would recommend?

Gymr has definitely received a lot of support from the startup community in Dublin since Startup Weekend in April.  Gene Murphy was crucial in getting us onto StartupNext (the pre-accelerator program) and that opened up tonnes of doors for to a national and international network.  Also, once you’ve got a well established concept, prototype, or beta, then I strongly recommend emerging companies to display at the aptly named DublinBeta. We had a stand at the most recent DublinBeta and we were lucky enough to win on the night - so perhaps I’m biased!

Obviously there are tonnes of grants and funds to avail of but I think you guys have done a good job of covering a lot of that here already.

The main thing to note is that Ireland and Dublin are small, but the community is growing and we’re all in this together. I’m a firm believer that you need to give before you should ask so even with the little bit of knowledge I’ve picked up so far I’m always willing to lend advice or try and make introductions for people.  Do the same and good things will come back to you and your startup too.

Finally, what does the future hold for Gymr?

Like I said, we’re transforming the health industry by creating the fitness-on-demand model, so we’re going to be doggedly pursuing that goal from hereon in. We’ve got a number of things in the pipeline but I can’t talk about them just yet.

That said, our users come first and we want to make an app that they want to use.  So, I want to hear from users and we want them to help us create or future together!  Fire me an email with ideas or suggestions and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

Before we let you go, where can we find you online?

You can follow me here on Twitter: @NickyHynes

Connect with me on LinkedIn:

Or send me an email and say hello at



What drives you as an entrepreneur?

What is the best advice you received as an entrepreneur?


Mark is a current journalism student in DCU and has covered a range of topics across print and radio. Having taken a class on entrepreneurship, he found startups were the most exciting thing happening in Ireland and developed a keen interest in them. Apart from technology, Mark has a love for biographies and Woody Allen films. You can contact him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Author: Mark Hogan

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