If you had to come up with five words to describe martial arts, you probably wouldn’t put “hi-tech” on that list.
Digital marketer Brad Cumbers was working as a part-time kung fu instructor at a local school when he noticed his gym used little notecards to track attendance. They had zero data on why students were coming or going or the characteristics of those who attended.
As a marketer, Brad knew this was a missed opportunity. He recruited his coder cousin and longtime business partner, Glen Kleinig. Together they created Martialytics – a data-visualization and attendance-tracking tool marketed specifically to martial arts gyms.
Today they service hundreds of martial arts gyms in over 50 countries and have helped dozens of small gyms grow into multi-location franchises. Here’s how they did it.
The Dynamic Duo
Brad Cumbers and Glen Kleinig are cousins who grew up in Perth, Australia. Brad is the designer and Glen is the coder. That’s how their relationship has been since childhood.
Growing up, the two were on the frontlines of web design. At the age of 14, they teamed up on projects on GeoCities, an early service from Yahoo! used to create free websites. As they grew older, they freelanced together and as part of larger local agencies.
In his 20s, Brad took a shining to Chinese Kung Fu. He joined a local gym and began practicing frequently. This quickly turned into him teaching lessons on the side. “At that school, if you’re training a lot and show leadership, they put you up as an instructor,” says Brad. “It was a great experience and I even went on a trip to Guangzhou to perform in front of the grandmaster of my particular style of Kung Fu.”
As Brad rose through the ranks, he noticed his gym tracked attendance through a clunky, pen-and-paper notecard system. “They didn’t have any metrics on it,” says Brad. “They would just say, ‘Oh I guess the class is big tonight,’ or ‘Class is small tonight.’ They had no way to track growth.”
As a marketer, Brad knew the power of good data analytics for any business. He co-opted his cousin, Glen, to design a small system for better tracking attendance.
Building Martialytics by Winning a Hackathon
Like most founders, Brad and Glen started researching the market. “There was some software already in the space and they were charging a lot,” says Brad. “These software businesses all looked like access databases from the late nineties or early 2000s. They were just not well designed. With my background in design, I knew we could make something a lot nicer to use that ticks the same boxes.”
To get a little bit of pocket change to expand the project, Brad and Glen took their idea to a local hackathon in Australia in 2013 called GovHack. They ended up winning big.
“We were a two-man team and everyone else in our cohort were bigger teams of four to eight,” Brad laughs. “We were ignored, but we sat in the corner and pumped out this little visualization tool showing how the Australian budget was spent over the last 40 years. And then, to enter other categories of the hackathon, we incorporated every data set for every category. We made this big visualization mash-up of everything and ended up winning most of the prizes at that hackathon.”
That 15,000 AUD (~$10,600) cash injection was all Brad and Glen needed to get their company on the road. They bought their first company laptop and repurposed their visualization software to track attendance at martial arts gyms.
Once online and incorporated into Brad’s gym, their first move was to do a small Facebook marketing campaign for local martial arts schools. Once a couple of businesses tried out the service, they tapped into the well-connected martial arts community and word got out.
“The martial arts community is quite tight-knit. As soon as something new happens in it, they all talk to each other,” says Brad. “I don’t want to use the word viral, but word spread very fast organically.”
Suddenly, a small project to fix a small problem was getting big.
“For the first few years, we were doing some consulting and things on the side as well. Just little web and digital projects. User experience stuff,” says Brad. “Then Martialytics started to take off. I think we ended the first year making about $5,000 total. Now we do that on some days.”
Giving Small Gyms the Tools to Become Big Gyms
Martialytics today not only tracks attendance, but it also does billing, scheduling, waivers, digital signings, and more. Nothing about it is new technology. Brad and Glen just introduced a better way to do things.
“There are hundreds of thousands of martial arts schools in the world,” says Brad. “At least half of them still use pen and paper or Excel sheets to track things. There’s just so much more they can know about their business by using analytics. Our program gives them live reports without having to spend days collating data. You can see the health of your school at a glance.”
“What makes us different is we focus on simplicity,” he continues. “User experience is at the top of our priority list. What’s great about a simple platform is that it saves us money by keeping support costs down.”
Brad and Glen haven’t followed any particular roadmap for rolling out new features. They simply listen to their community and expand accordingly.
“We constantly talk to the customers and they tell us what they need,” says Brad. “We go away and think about how we can solve that problem, deploy a solution, and then repeat the process. That’s how we’ve managed to develop the roadmap and grow this software to where it is today.”
For monetization, Martialytics tackles subscriptions in a tiered system. They have a different pricing scheme for schools of under 20 students than for those of 150-plus.
“We segment pricing to cater to the smaller schools,” says Brad. “We host for free at the lowest levels so people can grow their schools and then pricing scales as they get larger. We like to see smaller schools use the insights to grow.”
And they have seen lots of success in helping schools grow. Glen and Brad say they’ve helped schools increase from one to eight locations. Today they have schools in 52 countries with most in the UK, the US, and Ireland.
“We give gyms great tools for growth. For example, visualizations of where their students live. That gives gyms valuable data for which parts of a city may be best for building a new location,” adds Brad.
Today they boast about $40,000 in MRR putting them close to half a million in annually recurring revenue (ARR). Those are big earnings for a team consisting of Glen, Brad, and a small part-time team in Perth developing apps.
The COVID Pivot
Unlike many tech companies, COVID provided a real challenge for Martialytics. How would they keep gyms subscribed to their service when these businesses were closing their doors?
“Lockdowns were strict, especially on the east coast where most of our Australian customers happen to be,” says Brad. “They all shut their doors for 12 weeks or more at a time. Same in the UK. Unfortunately, a lot of these business owners are self-employed and there wasn’t a lot of relief for that group. A lot of businesses closed. We had to quickly pivot to start building tools to mitigate that churn.”
To give gyms more options during lockdowns, Brad and Glen pivoted to online training. They made tools to upload curricula and study files for asynchronous training.
“We needed tools so gyms could train their students offline and online,” says Brad. “We knew many students might have had kids at home and couldn’t all get together at once over Zoom. Instead of focusing on online lessons, we built a tool that we call Study. It lets gyms upload curricula, information, videos, and PDF files of instructions so students could keep training online or asynchronously.”
As a result, Brad and Glen grew their business even during COVID. Now that lockdowns are starting to lift, businesses that bought Martialytics’ Study service are now signing up for others.
Brad says, “We’re seeing people that went out of business getting their students back which is a good sign. The industry’s bouncing back even though it took a big hit.”
The Future of Martialytics and Advice
Now that Martialytics generates half a million dollars per year, Glen and Brad acknowledge that they should consider expanding their business. Brad wants to explore merchandising and marketing. They’re also thinking about launching an app dedicated to martial arts students.
Brad and Glen’s advice for other SaaS founders?
When everything above the hood seems almost too simple, you’ve got a great product.
“As guys who come from a digital agency background, we know that we’ve nailed a product when we ask, ‘Is that it?’” says Brad. “When everything above the hood seems almost too simple, you’ve got a great product.”
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to make a new business. Sometimes all you need to do is take something that you know works and find a market that hasn’t had access to that tool before. Old, established industries plus new tech equals huge growth. Simple math.
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