Lead(H)er: Laila Zemrani, Co-Founder and CEO of Fitnescity
Laila Zemrani always knew that she wanted to start her own company. She just had to answer one question: What kind of company would she start?
The Moroccan-born entrepreneur finally found her idea in the health and wellness space, and Fitnescity—which helps connect people with various health and fitness tests while aggregating their results—was created in 2016.
“I spent a couple of years trying to get to the point where I was ready and knew exactly what I needed to do and wanted to do,” Zemrani said. “I knew I was interested in health and wellness, but I didn’t know exactly what was the best market opportunity in that industry.”
While she worked to figure out the best course of action in founding her own company, Zemrani focused on helping others get off the ground.
After getting her undergraduate degree in France, Zemrani worked as a consultant, which she said was the closest thing she could do to starting her own business at the time because it allowed her to work on different aspects of company management.
She left that job to become a founding employee at Dataxis, a France-based market research company that asked her to set up their Middle Eastern and North African branches. Zemrani hired a brand-new team and built up the company’s presence in the region from scratch.
“It was the perfect setting,” Zemrani said. “I already had the company established in Europe, and it just wanted to expand. I was literally employee number one, by myself in the office.”
Zemrani took a break to attend MIT’s Sloan School of Management, which she chose because of its focus on building transformative technologies. Three years after receiving her MBA, she was ready to build her own.
“At some point I did what I think was one of the best things for starting a business, which was to think about solving a problem that you have.”
Zemrani’s problem was that while Fitbits, smart scales, and other wearables and smart devices were all the rage, there was no way to easily see all of the information collected from each device in one place.
“It was not such a user-friendly process,” Zemrani said. “It’s something that probably no one is going to do, because it’s so time consuming.”
So Zemrani and her cofounder, Çağatay Demiralp, created Fitnescity. They were inspired in part by the trend in wearables, as well as the increasingly-popular genetic tests that many people began taking without even telling their doctors first.
With Zemrani’s interest in fitness and tracking and Demiralp’s background in healthcare analytics and data visualization, they were able to create the aggregator that Zemrani imagined would solve her problem.
Fitnescity gives users access to a variety of tests, such as metabolic testing and body composition, that are administered in licensed partner clinics throughout New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Colorado, and Washington, D.C. After taking a test in person, the results are uploaded to Fitnescity’s platform, which helps users visualize their data for a comprehensive and longitudinal view of their wellness journeys. The service also helps them determine which tests to take next depending on their goals and integrates data from wearables and other tracking devices.
“People want to take actions to learn more about their health,” Zemrani said. “We just needed to make it easier for them.”
She and Demiralp are also working on making it easier for Fitnescity itself to visualize the data it collects with new systems and tools that Demiralp is currently developing. Called Fitnescity Labs, Zemrani hopes that this branch of her company will provide new insights into fitness trends and consumer needs.
In addition to Fitnescity Labs, the company is focusing on expanding to other states this fall. With partner labs in six states today, Zemrani plans to continue expanding until Fitnescity makes an impact on as many people as possible.
“Oftentimes we work with people from day one,” she said. “It’s not an easy journey to change your lifestyle, and it’s so nice to see that change in their numbers and in their profiles and the notes and emails that they send. Hopefully that will be at least the beginning of my career goals.”
What do you like to do in your free time?
Besides exercise? I’m not allowed to say that one, probably! But exercise is probably the answer. If I were to give another one, I would say travel. I’ve lived in different places, and I also have family members in different countries and continents, so I love traveling, obviously. I love learning about new cultures and languages as well—that’s one of my passions. Not just traveling and going to new places but learning about new cultures by learning their language and also their habits. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do that anymore a lot.
How do you typically handle stress?
Exercise. To give you a quick idea of how Fitnescity works, we have a pretty stressful but laid back culture in the sense that the hours are flexible, we give everyone an Equinox gym membership, and you’re allowed to go to the gym any time you want during the day. That’s what I actually do, especially at times where it gets a little stressful and I get stuck in my thinking. That’s one of the ways, and the second one is, we’re very close to a park actually here, so the second one would be just walking outside in a park.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
This one is bad—I drink a lot of coffee! I think probably four to five cups. I think right now, I’m probably at my third cup today. I hope this one isn’t my fourth.
What’s your favorite place in the New York City area?
I think this is a classic answer, but I would say Central Park. Just being able to, within a matter of seconds, be in a completely different environment makes it one of my favorite places by far. In terms of maybe neighborhoods, I really like the Lincoln Center area. It’s very beautiful, but it’s also very much inspiring with all the intellectual activity and artistic activity that’s going on. I would say that’s one of my favorite areas, but the park is number one.
What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments, aside from family?
I think probably it would be the company, Fitnescity. It’s a lot of risk to start a business from scratch, and it’s a lot of uncertainty as well. The opportunity cost can be also pretty high, especially when you think about all the other things you could be doing—the stable jobs, the things you could have had, less stress probably, all the sacrifices you have to make. At the end of the day, that’s what I really wanted to do, so I think being able to take that risk was probably one of my biggest accomplishments.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
Yes, absolutely. I know that being in an environment that is sort of corporate is nice, it has its benefits, but I personally tend to get bored very easily. I like the excitement of the unknown, I like being able to build things from scratch, so yes, I think so.
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
There’s one piece of advice that I always give to people at that age, whether it’s here at the company or just outside. I would say take as much risk as possible, in a reasonable way. I think taking risks is something that you can afford to do, especially when you are very young and just out of college. For me for example, if I were to start all over, probably the one thing that I would have changed is not necessarily waiting for the perfect moment and time and idea to start a business. I know that that means higher chances of failure, but at the same time, you’d be surprised at how you’re able to recover even from the biggest failures. At the end of the day, you also learn from it. If you don’t take that risk, you will have missed a lot of opportunities, and with time it becomes even harder to take that risks because you have other types of responsibilities and things going on in your life.