Weight-loss websites shaping up to compete


By Hallie Busta

Don Paullin of Lifestyle Weight Experts

Don Paullin saw a problem. His brother was struggling with obesity, but diets and commercialized products provided only temporary help. So after reading the diet literature his brother had received, Paullin had an idea.

It finally occurred to me that the rebound phenomenon occurred because people didn t change from within, Paullin said. They only changed to conform to the diet.

Weight loss is not a new problem, but two Chicago-area entrepreneurs have found ways to incorporate Internet technology in two new fitness-oriented startups to make their programs available to the mass market cost effectively.

Paullin, who spent 19 years in various senior-level positions at G.D. Searle & Co. and launched and sold a company to Chicago-based Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc., has created a new fitness plan based on a lifestyle makeover. And entrepreneur Jeff Marinucci launched Internet-based fitness program inerTRAIN in September to help people with busy schedules stay fit.

Weight-loss websites an $842 million market

Paullin and Marinucci are part of the $842 million weight-loss websites market, according to a study released this month by Tampa, Fla.-based Markedata Enterprises Inc. (See accompanying SmallBusinessChicago story, Double click for fitness). While the sector continues to grow,   most weight-loss weight sites don’t make money, the study said. But Paullin and Marinucci are hoping to beat the odds.

Paullin started his Libertyville-based company, Lifestyle Weight Experts, in 2008. The company began by providing workout programs and books in print and online, incorporating the Internet as a way to market and sell the material. While the company’s new website doesn t provide a workout-tracking function, customers can purchase programs and, beginning Feb. 20, live presentations posted as online seminars. They are set up as six-week courses designed to guide permanent lifestyle changes.

Some people will want to do it on the Internet, said Paullin. So the live program will exist as a program but it also [will] exist as a backup” for those attending in-person programs.

This was not the first time Paullin had looked to the Internet to help launch a company. In 1999, he sold Internet-based Physicians Interactive and parent company MedSmart, where he served as  president and CEO, to Allscripts. Soon after, Allscripts went public and later sold Physicians Interactive to another company, Paullin said.

He would like to see Lifestyle Weight Experts take a similar path, but  for now, he plans to continue to self-fund the business until it is large enough to attract investors, he said.

It took me seven years to build the foundation for the company, he said of Lifestyle Weight Experts. It takes a lot of work to do the research on what worked and what failed.

A personal trainer that goes where you go

Jeff Marinucci of InerTrain
Jeff Marinucci, CEO of inerTrain, offers an online fitness program that works for travelers

Jeff Marinucci launched inerTRAIN out of a need he discovered while he worked in the corporate world and traveled so frequently that his own fitness regimen was impacted. He wanted a personal trainer who could be accessed anywhere and at any time. Essentially, to be able to pack him up in my suitcase and take him with me, Marinucci said.

Launched as a division of parent company Perpetual Motion Fitness Corp., which Marinucci also owns, inerTRAIN is run by Marinucci and five others. They use an online survey combined with an algorithm to match clients with 11 trainers across the country. Clients also can pick their trainers directly from a profile listing and the network is growing, Marinucci said.

We re building a relationship between two people, he said, adding that the company has been compared to Internet dating sites. You re using online to be able to make that connection, he said.

Trainers and clients communicate virtually, using the inerTRAIN system. Clients alert trainers to their individual fitness needs, and trainers put together programs and provide feedback geared toward the specific client. The program also provides online videos showing how to perform exercises with camera shots of multiple angles.

Internet technology keeps costs low

For both entrepreneurs, websites have provided a venue to host some, or in Marinucci case, all of their programs, cost-effectively.

We are able to do it at a price point that is accessible to a lot more people because of our use of technology, Marinucci said.

InerTRAIN customers can pick between Bronze, Silver or Gold package levels or chose a plan that either provides six sessions at any time throughout the year or as a two-week trial. Prices range from $60 for the trial membership to $3,245 for the all-access Gold level.

In December, Marinucci partnered with his alma mater, Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Mich., to offer inerTRAIN services to students to meet their physical education requirements. He is currently working on marketing the program to other colleges and universities.

For Paullin, the Internet is only one component of his business. Memberships and registration for his Lifestyle Boot Camp are available online along with print and Internet versions of his books. The program, including both membership and boot camp, is offered online for $150, while the boot camp currently has a promotional online price of $35, down from $150 regularly.

For the past three years, Paullin provided one-on-one fitness coaching, integrating it into the business this past November. In February, Paullin plans to offer two six-week seminars live for a group of medical providers and will also launch an online version. It all there to develop into a huge company, he said.