Generation Start-up: India’s largest fitness chain muscles its way into the UAE

Online healthcare platform opened two gyms in Dubai this summer and plans to open dozens more opened its first centre in Dubai on the Palm Strip in Jumeirah in June. Ruel Pableo / The National opened its first centre in Dubai on the Palm Strip in Jumeirah in June. Ruel Pableo / The National 

If there is one thing is not short of, it’s funding. The holistic online healthcare platform has raised around $250 million (Dh918m) over four funding rounds since it started in 2016 in India. Now it has set aside a fraction of that - $10m - to invest in the UAE market, marking its first international expansion.

“We aim to get 15 to 20 per cent market share in the next three years and open close to 50 gyms in the UAE,” says Ankit Nagori,’s co-founder and a former chief business officer at Flipkart.

That means it will compete with Fitness First, which has around 35 outlets in the UAE, and other major players such as Gold’s Gym. The UAE’s fitness market was worth Dh2 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 9.7 per cent to Dh3bn by 2022, according to a 2018 report by Ken Research. The market is highly fragmented with over 950 of the 1,040 fitness outlets being independently run, rather than chains.

In Dubai we know there are a lot of international chains, but we feel that we’ve got a pretty good product, because we’re not just fitness. Ankit Nagori, co-founder

The platform is made up of four subsidiaries: offers fitness classes; provides healthy and nutritious food; focuses on mental well-being through yoga, meditation and psychological counselling; and is a subscription-based preventive healthcare programme. As a whole, it has $100m in revenue and approximately one million customers with a presence in eight cities in India. earns the bulk of’s revenue. It became India’s largest fitness chain with more than 200 centres following several acquisitions, including Cult for $3m in 2016, Tribe Fitness for an undisclosed amount in 2017 and Fitness First India in an all-stock deal last year. It has the ambitious goal of growing to 800 centres in 50 Indian cities by next year.

In the UAE, opened on the Palm Strip in Jumeirah in June and Dubai Media City last week., a yoga and meditation studio, opened at the Shorooq Community Centre in Mirdif earlier this month. Mr Nagori says they have already signed nine more locations to open by the end of this year, including Dubai Marina, Bur Dubai, Al Barsha and Dubai Mall.

Of the 50 outlets planned for the future, 35 will be in Dubai and the rest in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Some of the centres, such as Dubai Mall, will incorporate, and

“In Dubai we know there are a lot of international chains, but we feel that we’ve got a pretty good product, because we’re not just fitness,” says Mr Nagori. “We feel our customers need a fully integrated solution.”

Through the app or website, members who have signed up for a package ranging from one to 12 months can book for and group classes, like boxing, dance fitness and yoga. But they can also access workouts and meditation exercises to use at home. Soon Dubai customers will be able to order healthy meals when is added. members can book group exercise classes, such as boxing, dance fitness and yoga, through the app. Ruel Pableo / The National members can book group exercise classes, such as boxing, dance fitness and yoga, through the app. Ruel Pableo / The National is slightly more complicated. The “offline-online clinic”, as described by Mr Nagori, is currently running in two Indian cities. The first 6,000 square-foot centre, which opened last June in Bangalore, houses 10 consultation rooms, an in-house laboratory, a diagnostics section and 10 doctors. Online, patients can book health check-ups, consultations and physiotherapy sessions, and follow up with doctors through an online chat platform.

It is unclear whether that model could be brought to the UAE. “It requires a lot of compliance and rules and regulations,” says Mr Nagori. “It’s a long-term project.”

Preventive healthcare was Mr Nagori and co-founder Mukesh Bansal’s aim when they started in 2016. Mr Bansal had founded Myntra - India’s largest online fashion retailer - which was bought by Flipkart for $330m in 2014 (Flipkart in turn was bought by Walmart for $16 billion last year). Mr Bansal served as the chief executive of Myntra and head of commerce and advertising for Flipkart before leaving to start

Although both founders came from an e-commerce background, they saw a need for technology intervention in the healthcare industry. “I think there are a few industries which have not changed significantly in the last few decades - healthcare is one of them,” says Mr Nagori. raised $15m in its first funding round, led by American venture capital firm Accel. One of’s first acquisitions was Cult, which started in 2015 as a single centre in Bangalore founded by IT-professional-turned-fitness-trainer Rishabh Telang. Catering to what is known as India’s Silicon Valley, Cult offered 50-minute group classes in strength and conditioning, mixed martial arts, Zumba and boxing, among others.

Mr Telang is now a part of the team with the job title of “dream chaser” on his LinkedIn profile. That is not unusual as Mr Nagori’s title is “stargazer” and Mr Bansal’s is “W.I.P.” (work in progress).

Part of’s strategy is to market through multi-million dollar endorsement deals with Bollywood actors such as Hrithik Roshan. “That’s a very important part of the strategy because we realised that for people to stay healthy, they need massive inspiration,” says Mr Nagori.

In the UAE, Mr Nagori says they will start by tying up with local social media influencers and towards the end of this year will evaluate a couple of celebrities who appeal to a local audience. “Some of our Indian Bollywood celebrities who still have some popularity in the region will be visiting in the near future,” he adds. decided to come to the UAE for several reasons, including proximity to India, overall spending power and the available infrastructure.

“I think there was a comfort level in coming here,” says Mr Nagori. “We also believe the overall Dubai start-up scene is booming … The success of Careem and Souq is very, very inspiring for entrepreneurs. And in India, I think a lot of Indian companies are now looking to come to the UAE - if you look at Zomato, if you look at Urban Clap, also Oyo. A bunch of these companies have come to Dubai and they’ve been doing very well. This is how we are thinking about the market.”

If in the UAE is successful, Mr Nagori says the company will invest another $10m in other GCC countries, including Oman and Bahrain.

“We see the overall Gulf as a pretty big market,” he says. “If I look at the GCC countries plus South East Asia, plus Europe, I think these are the three regions we will launch in the next two to three years.”

Ankit Nagori co-founded with Mukesh Bansal in 2016. Photo supplied
Ankit Nagori co-founded with Mukesh Bansal in 2016. Photo supplied

Q&A: Ankit Nagori, co-founder of

What already successful start-up do you wish you had started?

I think there are two, three companies I really get inspired by. Of course, Amazon is a pretty cliched answer and the things they’ve done are insane. But I also really like what Tesla is doing - really, really inspirational stuff. If you look at what Elon Musk has done, he has picked a problem and built an entire solution. He started off by building electric cars, now they’re building the entire charging network, and then the entire servicing network. It’s like Henry Ford all over again.

What new skills have you learnt in the process of launching your start-up?

I think the biggest one was to be able to run offline stores. In our previous experiences, we have run large e-commerce companies, but running an offline store requires a slightly different skill set, where you have to make sure that stores are in a great location, people walk in [and] there’s great customer-facing staff who greet them and service them.

What is your next big dream to make happen?

The biggest dream right now is we really want to touch 10 million [customers]. Right now we are at one million and 10 million is the number which we want to achieve in the next five years.

Updated: June 24, 2020 05:34 PM


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