December 2, 2022
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Santa Barbara startup Expond raises $1.25M in seed round

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A fitness professional using the Expond platform leads a group of hikers in the Santa Barbara area. (courtesy photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in the Sept. 30, 2022 print edition of the Pacific Coast Business Times.

In Santa Barbara, a mountain hike or a beach yoga session are only minutes away. What is harder to find on short notice are the fitness and wellness professionals who can help someone with those activities.

That is what Santa Barbara-based Expond is hoping to change. Expond — short for “experiences on demand” — was founded in 2021 by Jason Baker, a 20-year-veteran of the fitness industry who also founded Fitness 805 in Santa Barbara. The company recently raised $1.25 million in a seed round of venture capital, and plans to use the money to expand in the Santa Barbara area and launch in a new city in the coming year.

Expond is an online booking platform connecting individuals and companies to health and fitness professionals offering customized wellness services. It operates almost like Uber, with a team of 65 independent contractors who go to clients’ locations for workouts or other fitness and wellness experiences.

“The whole moral compass of this company is the positive effect we have on others is the ultimate form of currency,” Baker told the Business Times. “Watching COVID transpire, I realized that there’s so many people that need the services, with anxiety and depression and everything else, so there’s this huge gap that we need to help fill.”

In 2006, Baker founded Fitness 805, which helped bridge the gap between health professionals marketing themselves to find clients and those same clients looking for trainers or other professionals.

The inspiration for Expond came during the pandemic, when health and fitness professionals were out of work and gyms and yoga studios were closed or restricted in their operations.

As things began to open up, operations like hotels had reduced staffs and therefore could not offer the same hospitality services that existed pre-pandemic.

“That was the birth of Expond,” Baker said. “And it works, because on the hotel side, they lost 30% of their staff and they already weren’t sure about offering these services, so we thought, well when guests do request these services, what if they could get it right away, just like when you call for an Uber?”

There are more than 65 health and fitness professionals working with Expond, providing approximately 155 recurring monthly classes. In the last 3 months, they have facilitated 45 large group events and on average, trainers and professionals with Expond conduct almost 400 sessions each month.

Expond founder Jason Baker (courtesy photo)

The company also has hospitality partnerships with hotel operators such as the Rosewood, the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons.

“I feel like everything that I’ve done in the last 20 years is a stepping stone to this point,” Baker said. “I set out a long time ago as a trainer to really help people, and to be able to do it now at this level, and be able to scale it and really make our mark on changing this industry and helping people find the right people — it’s just exhilarating.”

According to Expond, the “experience industry” is projected to be worth about $12 billion by 2023, which still pales in comparison to the global wellness economy’s valuation of $4.8 trillion.

The company’s user base and revenues are growing every month, Baker said, adding if the fiscal year started Oct. 1, the company would clear $1 million in revenue over the next 365 days.

Baker said Expond pays health and fitness professionals better on an hourly basis than their other options, because they don’t have to be tied to a specific location.

“It’s allowing them to be able to take gigs elsewhere and do things that they’ve never would have done before, whether working in a hotel with guests or working at another studio in town or working at one of our corporate events,” Baker said. “It just offers more flexibility as they build their careers.”

One of the company’s goals is to bring that flexibility to more wellness and fitness professionals, and help them pay less for certifications, equipment and other necessities, using the relationships Baker has built in the industry.

“Unfortunately, health and fitness professionals have not been able to capitalize the way they should and they’re worth every penny We’re trying to figure out ways for more professionals to be able to get into this market and offer their services. By doing this, we will be able to help even more people,” Baker said.