Meeting Mr. Runtastic
Some call Florian Gschwandtner the ‘Powerpreneur’ – and it does fit him well. The 31-year old Austrian leads a team of 100 employees of 15 different nationalities, ensures the growth of Runtastic fitness tracking app portfolio and still finds time to run and go to the gym up to five times a week. Founded in 2009, Runtastic has now offices in Austria and San Francisco, and closed an investment deal with the German publishing house Axel Springer. Besides the original running tracker, Runtastic product portfolio includes apps for cycling, swimming and ski as well as hardware and accessories such as a sports armband and weighting scale.
Photocredit: Runtastic/Florian Gschwandtner.How many interviews have you survived? Isn’t it difficult to conciliate your daily executive responsibilities with being Runtastic spokesman and brand face?
Maybe 400? To be honest, I have lost count of how many interviews I gave. It’s definitely a challenge to conciliate the day-to-day as a CEO and still attend to marketing and media demands, but I don’t mind it as I really believe in what we are doing. I work hard and collaborate closely with our product team to make sure Runtastic gets even better and more successful.
400 hundred interviews? How’s then your celebrity status in Austria? Can you still go for a run in Linz without being disturbed?
(Laughs) That’s a good question. Let me answer it in this way: I don’t have any problem when going for a run in Linz or nearby, but it can happen that a few people stop me to say hello. It’s normal as I’ve been in many Austrian and German magazines. For me, what is really important is that I see more and more runners using the Runtastic app and sports armband.
Which continent offers the better opportunities for entrepreneurs: Europe or America?
The European and American mindsets are radically different and I think the US is still way ahead when it comes to entrepreneurship and building your own company. Europeans have much to learn from the Americans in terms of how to execute an idea and how to remain motivated. But we do have good people and good behaviours here too. I believe that everybody has a lot of potential and when you really fight for your dream, you are able to achieve a lot. That doesn’t mean you will necessarily and immediately become successful, but you will learn a lot and you will get in contact with new people.
How does your personal approach towards your business look like?
I spent a lot time with the things I believed in and we are now doing. So much so that friends and family were sometimes neglected. But everything is manageable. I’ve learned that you should think big and dream about changing the world. If you keep that in your head, your decisions will be completely different and you will approach problems from another angle.
How does the fitness routine of Florian Gschwandtner look like?
My routine is quite simple. I go to the gym four to five times a week and also for a run other one to three times a week. I am the beta (or alpha!) tester for all Runtastic products. Right now, my knee bugs me a bit, but overall I’m doing fine. Not long ago returned from a crazy week at the Men’s Health Magazine Bootcamp in Andalusia, Spain. We practiced sports every single day, up to five hours each day. After the second day of training, your whole body is sore and you have no clue of how you are going to leave your bed in the morning. In a group of 120 men, though, there is not a chance of sleeping in.
At this point, I see the combination of hardware and software as adistinction to many other competitors.
Hamburg-based magazine Business Punk stated that “Runtastic shall be the next Nike”. But Nike and Runtastic went about fitness tracking differently. What are the benefits of Runtastic’s approach to the sports tracking business? What are the company’s unique strengths and how did they contribute for the great (and fast) success of Runtastic?
I wouldn’t complain about being the next Nike, but you are right when saying we are going about the business in different ways. We are generating our reach via the digital world and via our portfolio of apps, which means starting a business without the necessity for big investments or without spending tons of money on developing hardware and facing the challenges of distribution. At this point, I see the combination of hardware and software as a distinction to many other competitors. It is very important to me that Runtastic is becoming a brand that you can touch and feel and not only know it as an app on your phone. Beginning in Austria was also a competitive advantage and a good thing: we had to start with internationalisation very early and now we support a variety of languages and can export to the whole world.
You are very active on social media, keeping profiles on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. How did creating and running Runtastic impact your activity on social media?
I’m kind of transparent in social media. There are many reasons for that. In the beginning, I didn’t share much about my life or what I had been doing during the day, but as Runtastic grew, more and more friends – as well as other people – manifested their interest in knowing more and having a glimpse of my daily life. On top of that, social media is a good marketing tool and by using it, I can show the things in which I believe and how we are working to make things happen.
Surely there is a downside on being so open online…
On the downside, getting more followers and friends means more work: I can’t answer all my open messages, reply to all emails and some people get disappointed or frustrated. The point that they are missing is that I have about 10.000 unread emails, more than 500 LinkedIn messages and 150 Facebook requests.
Are you ever offline?
Yes! Fortunately! But not very often. An entrepreneur has to be able to distinguish between business and private life, otherwise it can become really hard after a while. I know how to enjoy my weekends with my friends, go partying and have fun after a full, heavy work week.
Florian with his founder team; Photo credit: AplusBRuntastic counts 85 million downloads, 40 million of them are registered users. You seem to be an exception in terms of how much and how fast an Austrian venture can develop. Which characteristics have helped Runtastic success?
In the last couple of years, there has been big progress! I like to think that Runtastic helped at least a bit and paved the way for things to happen. We were able to grow very fast because we work really hard. The three cofounders Christian Kaar, René Giretzlehner, Alfred Luger and I put a lot of effort in it, even when no one else believed in our idea. After a couple months, we won this 50.000 euros prize for the best idea in Austria and this money propelledthe business: we invested 49.000 euros into the company and only took 250 euros each as our income. At the time, we had no income at all from Runtastic. We were lucky to be at the right time in the market, but many people believe that all they need to be successful is to build an app – and that’s not true. As an entrepreneur, you really need to work hard, combine soft and hard skills and believe in what you are doing. I think people with this kind of mindset and resilience are quite rare.
And what’s next?
For sure there are always new projects in the pipeline. I am also working as a business angel and adviser for another startup called tractive.com. The startup already has 15 employees and a Series A funding. Everything is going great! Besides that, I really try and am going to focus on Runtastic as I would like us become even bigger than we are right now.
This story is brought to you in partnership with AplusB, a programme funded by FFG.