The Business of Fitness
Backstories behind 15 Austin-based health and fitness companies that are experiencing all-time success in their industries
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There’s no shortage of media coverage for the sport of football in Texas. But there’s a huge gap between what’s available news-wise for sports like football and for other sports like wrestling or track. That was, until now. Brothers Martin and Mark Floreani are the founders of FloSports, a company based in Austin that provides live-streaming services for sporting events across the country.
Martin, who wrestled at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), and Mark, who ran track at the University of Texas at Austin, realized that there was an opportunity to provide live video coverage of niche, or less dominant, sports. “When we were in college, there was no [video coverage] on our sports,” Martin said.
In 2003, Martin started covering wrestling events across the country while Mark finished his senior year at Texas. Shortly after graduating, Mark joined Martin on the road and began adding his own footage of track events.
The two brothers trekked across the country in a van to capture live sporting events, and FloSports was born. The response to their coverage was enormous. Most of the athletes they filmed had never seen live coverage of their sport before. The athletic communities were so thankful that they often gave the brothers a place to stay, saving them from sleeping in their van.
A turning point for FloSports came when Mark and Martin filmed Ryan Hall win the Houston Half Marathon in 2007. Hall set the U.S. half marathon record and became the first American to break the one-hour mark for a half marathon. Mark and Martin’s YouTube video of the event, which included commentary and an interview with Hall’s wife, generated more likes than any FloSports video had before.
Fast-forward to today, and FloSports operates out of an East Austin office with a growing team of more than 100 reporters, video editors, and other operational staff members. The company has expanded to include coverage for specific areas of track and long-distance running, gymnastics, and even CrossFit. In June, the company launched their FloSoftball website.
While niche sports are the primary source of content coverage right now, the Floreani brothers are open to covering all sports—as long as they fit the FloSports model. “We’re not going to cover sports the way everyone else covers them,” Mark said, echoing their tagline—“Sports coverage for athletes by athletes.”
Martin and Mark agree that the business climate of Texas matched with the entrepreneurial spirit and centralized location of Austin “makes life easier” for their growing company. The laid-back Austin culture also sits well with the athletes that work at FloSports. Active sports competitors themselves, employees will often wear their workout clothes to the office.
“We are the fittest company in Austin,” Martin said confidently. For a company composed of former collegiate and professional swimmers, runners, wrestlers, gymnasts, and more, he just might be right.
– Emily Laskowski
By now, most have heard of the new (but actually very old) way of eating called Paleo—a diet consisting of foods our ancestors likely ate, such as meat, nuts, and berries, and excluding processed, high-carb foods and dairy products. Austinites may be even more familiar with the term since the largest Paleo conference in the world is held right in our own backyard.
Keith and Michelle Norris decided to create an experience in Austin to help people explore the functional side of Paleo, and in March of 2012, the first Paleo f(x) conference was held. In 2013 and 2014, the conference doubled in size each year, and in 2015 the crowd of attendees more than tripled. The quickly growing conference now has a team of employees, and almost 100 volunteers are needed to run each year’s event. Speakers and visitors have traveled from across the world to teach, learn, sell, buy, and taste all things Paleo.
While the Paleo f(x) conference plans to expand to more cities around the world, Michelle said that Austin was the perfect place to launch the project because of its growing culture of fit-minded people, adding that Austin has one of the largest Paleo meetup groups in the country, with more than 1,700 people attending weekly events.
“We call [Austin] the epicenter of physical culture,” Michelle said, “and it’s also the epicenter of the Paleo-sphere.”
– Lauren Pape
“Going local” is a highly touted belief system here in the heart of Texas. Local restaurants, gyms, beers and even local eggs are placed on a pedestal among Austinites who appreciate the heart and soul behind startups.
So when Matt O’Hayer and his wife, Catherine Stewart, thought about starting a company devoted to “going local”—with an emphasis on sustainability—they couldn’t think of a better place to start a business than Austin.
In 2007, O’Hayer proposed the idea to his wife about getting back to their roots and living the farm life. Vital Farms, a hen farm and egg supplier, was born.
O’Hayer had raised chickens in his youth and got his start in the egg business as a teenager in 1968 by selling eggs door-to-door on the Brown University campus.
Thirty-nine years (and much business experience) later, he was ready for a new adventure—particularly with the heightened awareness around “buying organic” and “cage-free” eggs.
After conceptualizing their business idea, the couple moved to Austin, purchased a small piece of land, and began raising their first flock of 50 rescued, organic laying hens.
Within months, the pasture-raised, organic eggs were being sold to farmers markets around the metro area, and were soon selected to stock the shelves at the king of healthy grocers: Whole Foods Market in Austin.
Vital Farms only continued to grow from there.
The entrepreneur in O’Hayer saw the opportunity to do something more than just sell eggs to a few stores, and with encouragement from his wife and the help of a Whole Food’s Local Producer Loan, he transformed a backyard pastime into a transformational business.
One by one, Vital Farms started to supply their pastured eggs to hundreds of grocery stores and restaurants coast to coast. The couple worked hard with new farmers around the country to create the highest level of quality and accountability on their own farms.
Today, Vital Farms is in partnership with approximately 90 independent small family farmers in six states and has set the national standard for the hen welfare with their authentic, pasture-raised product (not to mention eye-catching graphics and design on their egg cartons).
In doing so, Vital Farms has sparked a movement of conscious consumerism. They now spread the endeared Texas belief system of “going local” nationwide—encouraging consumers to migrate from their traditional egg choices while creating opportunities for more family farms to move away from harmful industrial practices.
– Lauryn Lax
Austin Sports & Social Club
What do you get when you combine a city of singles (approximately one-third of Austin’s adult population is single) who have a love for fitness and keeping active with social events practically every night of the week?
You get Austin Sports & Social Club.
Founded in September 2005 by Marc Tucci, the club started out with kickball teams before expanding to include flag football and volleyball. Today, it boasts up to 14 different sports leagues, plus regular group fitness classes and a jam-packed social scene at various locations throughout the city (think happy hours, kickball and softball pick-ups, and restaurant outings).
Even the non-athletic can find a sense of community. All Sunday Funday games are followed by an official, post-game happy hour. The club website states, “Professionals need not apply. This one is for the masters of the 12-ounce curls!”
For the more sports-driven folks, the competition scene is what you make it, and there are plenty of opportunities to be “on top.”
Tucci’s Austin Sports and Social Club is busy making fun happen here in Austin—serving our city of fitness enthusiasts and social butterflies alike.
– Lauryn Lax
Ever since childhood, Austinite Tommy Williams knew he would be involved in the food business. A professed “foodie,” he grew up walking the aisles of the original Whole Foods Market.
His childhood hobbies included slicing, dicing, stirring, and cooking meals with his parents in their kitchen.
After Williams graduated from Concordia University in 2010, he felt a passionate call to enter the food industry with his best friend, and co-founder, Justin Yeager. With support from his father and brother, the family business was launched as Tommy’s Superfoods: all natural products made from recipes created by Williams and derived from fresh and organic ingredients.
Described by Yeager as a “bootstrap business,” the company has continued to expand on a small budget. Striving to “innovate an outdated category,” the duo decided to redirect their products from salsas and seasonings to focus on frozen foods. After making the shift, Tommy’s Superfoods was fortuitously picked up by Whole Foods and H-E-B and is quickly expanding to the national market.
Their current frozen meals include: Santa Fe Rice Vegetable Medley, Fiesta Quinoa Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Roasted Cajun Potatoes, and Super Greens (Spinach and Kale Medley).
Vegan, healthy, all-natural, and easily cooked, each side dish boasts a unique blend of Williams’ spice mixes.
This Austin-based family business has become the poster child of a boy having a dream and making it come to fruition.
– Kristen Turner