Sitting before me are the two founders of Pulse Nutrition (now known as DYME Fitness), Ashleigh Collins and Fred Lacasse— both studying at Desautel’s Faculty of Management in their fourth and final year of their bachelors. Beaming with enthusiasm, the pair of entrepreneurs recently won $10,000 as the 2nd place team in the Small & Medium Enterprise Track in the 2015 McGill Dobson Cup. This track is reserved for teams working on projects that can scale at national level and serve local markets.
Following the completion of the Dobson Cup, the pair joined Montreal incubator District 3, and have since renamed their start-up and incorporated under the name DYME Fitness. DYME Fitness aims to provide everyday fitness enthusiasts with a solution to their total fitness regimen needs. DYME puts a exclusive spin on the current trends of fitness and customization, to craft a unique offering of nutrition and exercise programs, delivered in an easy to choose and use, monthly supply subscription box format.
Meet the Founders
Ashleigh hails from an international background; having grown up in Dubai and being raised by South African and British parents, her style, presence and intonation reflecting the eclectic mix of her worldly upbringing. Her academic journey at McGill led to her first taste of entrepreneurship, through classes in management. It was in one of these entrepreneurship classes where she met her friend and cofounder, Fred. Fred, a well-dressed and well-spoken local Montrealer, speaks with calmness and a charming hint of his Quebecois accent. Growing up on North Shore, and attending Dawson College for CEGEP, Fred is an active individual, who loves competitive skiing, surfing and prides himself on being a fitness fanatic.
The pair ended up taking several classes together and working on a handful of projects, so coming up with a business idea was the only next logical step:
“Michael Avedesian’s class on Technological Entrepreneurship was probably one of our best experiences at McGill, it really opened our eyes to hands-on experience with the integration of engineering and business students in one classroom; Peter Younkin’s class was also great, his classes have a challenging twist!” Fred explains.
From Classroom to Pitching infront of Investors
In their final-semester class, Entrepreneurship in Practice, the course was very experiential: “We had to work on a project for class; we had to build a business from the ground up” Ashleigh explains, highlighting the core value offered in James O’Farrell’s class. She continues: “The idea came to us as we are both avid fitness enthusiasts. The current supplements on the market are aimed at big bodybuilders, sold in bulk format that require substantial investment, so if you purchase the wrong one you’re unfortunately stuck with it for a while.”
That’s when their start-up idea was born. Fred believed that having smaller daily-dose packages of supplements that were tailored to the customer’s needs, would help increase customer’s satisfaction and adoption of fitness nutrition. The pair also focused on making supplements accessible to a broader market via it’s personal and welcoming branding. Fred pitched the idea to Ashleigh to see if it would be something she would be willing to work on throughout the class. She immediately fell in love with the project and could not stop thinking about the potential of the idea. Fred and Ashleigh started working on making Pulse a reality and knew that the McGill Dobson Cup would be a great way to receive feedback from the world-class judge-mentors who help evaluate the teams.
“We did Dobson a year ago with a project called Kiwi. That project was put together quickly as to get a taste of the Cup and see how far our idea could go. While we didn’t make it far at all, we learned that we worked well together and we received a lot of good advice on how to improve our project and pitch. It was a huge learning experience.”
Fred could only concur, finding that having the first-taste with the McGill Dobson Cup, despite not winning, was a valuable experience: “That experience definitely set us on the right path, we weren’t as strong as we could have been but the judge-mentors gave us a lot of great advice.”
Taking the lessons they learned from their first project, the team was determined that Pulse would be a winning idea. They brought the young idea before the judge-mentors and this time around, the judges loved it. They pushed the young team to focus on gaining traction and evaluate how they would not simply be seen as just another supplement company within a saturated market.
Taking that feedback to heart, Fred and Ashleigh went back to the drawing board and explored how they would differentiate themselves. That’s when the idea for supplying personalized supplements via 30 gram tube format capsules as well as the inclusion of a tailored workout program struck them.
“We realized Pulse would not work as a standalone supplement company, but that we should focus on our ultimate goal, to create a total fitness lifestyle brand.”
Back to the Drawing-board
They determined they could have a unique ‘capsule collection’ in which each would contain a specific mix of nutritional supplements in ratios according to five base-categories of exercise, with the goal to introduce more designs in the future. “The ultimate objective is to reach the highest level of customization for our customers as possible, but as a young idea and start-up we recognize that we need to start somewhere logical first.” However, the team hit a roadblock at this point. Knowing nothing about the fine details of nutrition, they set about to recruit a nutritionist. They noted that they did not realize the challenge it would be to recruit another member for the team. Their search naturally took them to the Faculties of Science and Education, where they reached out to several professors, in the hopes that they would redistribute the message to their students. With much interest and success, they met with a few individuals and went on to strike up a great connection with Neal Prokop, a graduating McGill Masters Student in Exercise Physiology with a Bachelors Degree in Kinesiology from University of Manitoba.
In regards to the support and services provided by the McGill Dobson Centre, the pair declares “That’s definitely something we would change, if we could do this experience over” they explain in perfect unison, the power of both their voices serving to amplify the importance of their point.
“We should have come to the Dobson Centre earlier for help and mentorship; the services here are definitely what helped us succeed throughout the Cup, as much of the feedback we received here helped push our idea to the next level. It was a mentor in the centre who challenged us to get a simple landing page up and running and to go get subscribers and our first customer interest.”
The advice paid off, helping the team gain the confidence and feedback on their product with their first subscribers. “A simple blog post on Facebook helped the idea get exposure. The feedback I received was truly incredible!” Fred explained. With the reality that their idea could become a real product now facing the students, they went out to explore options of 3-D printing their first prototype of the capsule.
This effort, combined with sleepless nights arguing over Google docs and other small details, is what they attribute to helping them win the McGill Dobson Cup: “We showed perseverance and grit. We proved we can make things grow from an idea to a real product. It was a lot of hard work, but it paid off in the end, we are so happy with how far this idea has come.”
During the final pitch round the team impressed the judge-mentors, and were equally impressed by the calibre of the judge-mentors themselves: “To have individuals, who have never seen your product, who have started their own companies and have years of experience, telling you that they love the product and saying that everyone needs something like what we hope to provide, is incredible feedback.”
So what’s next for the team? This question makes both students— now alumni— stare at each other in quizzical silence, but with the excitement in their eyes is obvious. Clearly my question solicited a deeper existential question reserved for recent alumni, as it was better interpreted as “what’s next for both of you, now that you’ve graduated?”- A looming question for most graduates at this time.
Both turning back from one another to look at me, they answer: “We are going to continue working on the project, taking it up full-time over the summer and beyond. We would love to get a final product produced through suppliers in the region. Our focus is to get this product into the hands of real customers and gather feedback on aspects such as taste, colour, size, branding and so on. We want to use this money wisely and slowly expand our team. We’d love to bring on a web developer at some point soon.”
McGill Dobson Cup: A Capstone for All McGill Students
“We’ve told each other that winning the Cup was such a great end to our McGill journey. We put everything we learned over our 4 years at McGill into the Dobson Cup, it’s truly like a capstone project for all students. We appreciate the mentorship and guidance we received. It’s so eye-opening to speak to established individuals and receive their feedback, even over small details such as shipping our product in the US vs. Canada, and the different options regarding this.”
Before finishing the interview, Fred and Ashleigh smile at one another, look around the room, and thank me, as if I had, for that moment, transformed into the physical embodiment of the Dobson Centre:
“We’re so happy with this experience, it is such a great accomplishment! This process proved that we can make things happen, and bring an idea to life. We learned how to work as a team on a real project, with real customers. It’s amazing that putting in so much hard work paid off in the ultimate way possible; being a winner of the Dobson Cup.”
Since the interview…
The team now has a 3rd co-founder Tariq Kaadan, also a graduate of McGill University who joined the team after the Dobson Cup. The team now works full-time on their rebranded start-up DYME Fitness out of the incubated offices of District 3 located in Downtown Montreal. “Dobson was the greatest first step into the entrepreneurship environment, we could not have asked for a better introduction into the start-up world. The learning we received has been paramount in the success we have seen and experienced. We continue to work hard in bringing this company to full fruition, and believe that our hard work and perseverance will pay off in the near future.”
To learn more please go to www.dymefitness.com.