Dreaming Big: Topstretching ME Co-Founder And Partner German Gussakovskiy Hasn't Let A Pandemic Stop His Ambitions For His Enterprise

According to a research report by Data Bridge Market Research, the fitness app market is expected to witness market growth at a rate of 21.30% in the forecast period of 2020 to 2027- and entrepreneur German Gussakovskiy wants to take a bit out of this opportunity.
Gussakovskiy isn’t new to entrepreneurship, besides his background in macro-finance, macro-economics, and investments, he is also the co-founder and CEO of Digital Falcon, a multimedia marketing agency in the Middle East that is known to have partnered with entities like Dubai Police and Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and has offices in UAE, Russia, and Bahrain. Now, Gussakovskiy is diving into the fitness sector with Topstretching ME, a fast-growing chain of stretching and functional fitness studios training specifically catered for women in MENA, with a team of professional Russian gymnasts and training instructors. The brand is also bringing the experience online with its iOS and Android applications, which offers similar stretching and functional fitness training programs.

Gussakovskiy was motivated to launch the brand in 2019 after seeing Topstretching CIS, a chain of 21 stretching studios in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), specifically Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. He saw the demand for alternative fitness offerings, and noted its potential for the Middle East market. “Instead of franchising, we have partnered with the founders of the brand in the CIS region to grow Topstretching ME,” notes Gussakovskiy. With its first fitness studio at 5,500 square feet in Dubai Marina, the business soon opened its second 25,000 square feet fitness club in Palm Jumeirah, which Gussakovskiy says is one the largest studios in Dubai.

Source: Topstretching ME
Topstretching in Dubai has three main categories of classes (split school, total resistance exercises (TRX), and aerostretching), with the space also hosting a virtual training studio and a hot yoga studio. Boasting over 70 new kinds of TECHNOGYM equipment, it also offers spacious changing rooms, saunas, outdoor running tracks, and an outdoor calisthenics area. The brand’s business model is based on membership and class-based packages, as well as online subscriptions to its app, which features pre-recorded full training programs with 14-45 minutes workouts.

“We believe that the future lies in online training, and it gives us more opportunities to scale up as our capacity becomes unlimited and user acquisition costs is much lower,” says Gussakovskiy. “Given that we have more than 90% customer retention in our offline training programs, we believe that the online business we have launched will have a large growth.” He emphasizes on the brand’s USP of offering unique fitness programs specifically catered for women, that has no alternatives in the MENA region. “We try to build a community of women who can share the fitness and health moments together, who can be empowered and support each other.”

Source: Topstretching ME
Like many businesses, the onset of the COVID-19 crisis has had a “catastrophic impact” on the brand’s operations, Gussakovskiy admits. “In the standard crisis, our business would experienced a downturn but continue standard operations, while in this crisis, the business is left with no revenues for months while continuing to incur huge operational expenses.” Though tough at first, it was then that the company took the opportunity to fully develop and launch its online fitness training application, and thus, provide the business with a second stream of revenue. With a heavy investment in online marketing to boost its customer acquisition, Gussakovskiy is positive that the online fitness training application is set to have 1,500,000 members by 2025.

He is also proud to state that they haven’t made any employees redundant during the pandemic, though they’ve had to reduce salaries and optimized all expenses. “Our team has been very supportive in this period, as they saw a lot of support from us. We have used a significant portion of our personal funds in order to sustain business, and tried to use the idle time wisely in order to grow the online stream of revenue.” What has helped in making difficult choices, Gussakovskiy says, is bringing one's team together to find a common resolution that will not only help them, but also help the company to survive. “[Having] joint forces of brainstorming [to find] amicable and fair resolution to both parties would help you build a reputation as a people’s leader.”

Source: Topstretching ME
It’s worth noting that despite challenges, Gussakovskiy is gearing up the company to grow extensively in the region. Though it has been tough due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the company is currently raising for its Series A funding round, which they plan to use to scale up operations and invest on marketing. Since getting the go-ahead from the government to be operation back in June 2020, Gussakovskiy says that they have doubled their revenues as compared to pre-COVID-19 era, and are continuing to grow monthly.
To fellow entrepreneurs raising funds in the midst of a global pandemic, Gussakovskiy emphasizes the significance of transparency. “There is never an ideal business. There are downsides and weak points in every organization. The investor not only will appreciate your honesty, but more importantly, might be able to help you improve the strength of certain parts of the operations.” Besides that, he points out the importance of being well-organized (especially with your financials and formal documentations) and enthusiastic throughout your journey.

Gussakovskiy’s ultimate dream is to become “a full-scale philanthropist in the area of fair employment opportunities, positive environmental contribution, and health and fitness.” He believes in the future of “digitalization of any analogue business,” and notes how the pandemic has fueled the push towards the growth of the digital industry. As for Topstretching ME, his vision for the brand is to set the trend for new alternative fitness directions such as stretching, as well as to become the largest chain of stretching and functional training studio and online fitness training application in the Middle East.