Can you imagine getting a full-body workout in 20 minutes per week in your street clothes and strengthening all your muscle groups?  This is the revolutionary concept at the base of the fit20 franchise. 

Curious to know more about how this concept was started and their success?  We had a chance to speak with Walter Vendel, CEO of fit20 about his journey as an entrepreneur and choosing the franchise business model for expansion.

Walter, how can we get fit in 20 minutes?

Our concept is about high-intensity training for 20 minutes. It’s a very effective and efficient training method positioned as a preventative health program in 20 minutes per week that keeps your body healthy & fit.  Our customers are, amongst others, people recovering from strokes, cancer, diabetes, or overweight. This is an excellent option for them as it strengthens their muscles, supports their healing process and is sustainable long term.

How did you find out about this concept?

My story started when I read an American book called “A new fitness revolution”.  When I first read it, I couldn’t believe what I was reading, but I was intrigued.  A physiotherapist friend said that most people couldn’t sprint for more than 20 seconds with high intensity, but it yields more result than jogging for half an hour.  A studio in New York City was doing this slow-motion training protocol (10 seconds in / 10 seconds out) until temporary muscle failure. This protocol already existed in the US in the ’80’s.  

Why is it essential to maintain muscle mass?

Muscles decline 1% per year after the age of 25 unless you train your muscles.  By following our program for 20 minutes per week with one of our trainers, you will rejuvenate your body.  When we lose muscle strength and muscle mass, our body becomes prone to diabetes, heart disease and inflammation. Increasing our muscle strength allows our body’s ageing process to slow down and for people to stay healthy and mobile for a very long time. 

What type of technology do you use to keep track of people’s muscle development?

We don’t use body scales of any kind but use our own TrainersApp, which records all results. We make use of sensor technology that offers our customers on visual display feedback whilst they are doing each exercise.  Customers can see if they are doing the exercise (range, rhythm & speed) properly and get a score.  Once the data is recorded, a progression graph shows customers their progress after 8 weeks.  After 12 weeks on average, people are 30% stronger. Our oldest member is 94, it’s never too late to start training.

Something else that is revolutionary in terms of working out is that your customers come to exercise in their street clothes and after they are finished, they go on with their day.  How is this possible?

We want to be a quick stop for our customers as if they were going in and out of the grocery store and then going on with their day. You come in, do your workout, and you don’t sweat as you do slow movements in a cool air-conditioned setting. Sweating is a way to cool down when the body is overheating.  Sweating does not necessarily reflect the intensity of effort.  

What studies back up the effectiveness of fit20?

A lot of studies, actually.  Many people are losing muscle mass now during the lockdown as they are more sedentary. This is very dangerous as this compromises their immune system and makes older people more prone to falling and breaking a hip.  When muscles and bones are healthy, you will only get a bruise when you fall. In The Netherlands, the cost from falls already amount to €1 billion since Covid started.  

How did the idea for your business come about?

In the Fall of 2004, I finished reading “The power of 10, a new fitness revolution”.  I used to do aikido, trained 2x per week and walked my dog every day.  As a result, I started to train with my physiotherapist, got results and got stronger quickly.  In 2004, no one had personal trainers in The Netherlands, and I had a gut feeling that there was a market for this. I piloted the first location in Nunspeet as people there were not very open to new initiatives, and I thought that if it could work there, it can work everywhere!  It took four years to fine-tune the concept, and after that, we decided to start scaling it and had a choice of franchising or finding an investor.  I am pleased to have chosen franchising which was launched in October 2009. In The Netherlands, we now have 130 studios, and we are currently active in 9 countries. 

What made you become an entrepreneur?

This idea gripped me, and I had a vision of its potential. I was convinced that this concept could be very successful internationally.  I worked in sales in the IT industry for 20 years, and my ambition wasn’t about money.  My first goal of opening 100 studios over 10 years was reached within 8 years.

Where did the name for your company come from?

We thought about it for 2 months, but obviously, it’s about getting fit in 20 minutes. It was important that the name would be recognisable all over the world.

How did you raise funding for your first unit?

The first unit was self-financed as we were with 3 partners (my brother-in-law, my physiotherapist friend & me). We then grew it from there.   

Which business tactics have been most successful? 

We started our business before there was online marketing.  Grassroots were our best marketing, we were flyering in town, and I had a column in the local newspaper about health & fitness.  Word of mouth worked very well because our members were happy.  We did promotions (‘bring a friend’, local events) but we never did discounts on our membership fees.  The price is the same for every member no matter when they join.  Our value proposition focuses on quality.  

How many hours a day do you work on average?

It used to be crazy 12 hours+ including weekends. Now with our EOS (entrepreneurial operating system), it’s down to 9 hours per day.    

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

My wife also works in the company, so we try not to speak about business in the evening and during the weekends.  The right work/life balance is essential to stay healthy. 

If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I would have started 10 years younger as an entrepreneur; it takes a lot of energy to build something from scratch.

What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs to invest their time in?

  1. Plan time for thinking about your business, not just when urgency requires this.
    2. Surround yourself with a good team around you who are better in their field than you.  Difficult as it can be, trust others to be responsible and learn to delegate. As an entrepreneur, you tend to think that you can do it all better, but you need to focus on what only you can do to grow your business.

How did you make your first franchise sale?

From enthusiasm! The first 5 franchise owners were people I knew.

How did you distinguish yourself from your competitors?

The ocean is big enough for everyone, and we found our niche.

What motivates you?

  1. That what we do makes a positive change in the lives of our members
  2. Creating jobs (more than 300 people now have jobs because I had this vision)
  3. We do something that matters

How do you generate new ideas?

  1. During walks in the wood with my dog
  2. I always have a notebook next to my bed to write ideas down.  I wake up during the night with ideas, and I write to them immediately.
  3. 2 hours a week, I do nothing and sit with a blank notepad to just think or walk in the forest.

What are your growth goals for your company?

  1. This year, we would like to hit 200 studios worldwide, we are now at 164.
  2. Our membership target for this year: 22.000 members worldwide!

How do you define success?

  1. Keep going, after every difficult, lousy day comes a better day
  2. Learning from your mistakes so you can make new ones
  3. Success is doing what you choose to do; it doesn’t have to be materialistic things


Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

Yes, successful entrepreneurs share certain traits

  1. There is a productivity ‘hum’ in their company that allows things to run smoothly. A way to glue all the pieces of the puzzle together effectively and efficiently
  2. They take responsibility for their business, are disciplined and responsive
  3. Success is rarely an accident; it is a result of how they built their companies 

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

We celebrated our 10th anniversary as a franchise in October 2019 and went out with all master franchisors and franchisees. We had a great meal and party afterwards.

What is the most challenging decision you had to make in the last few months?

In March 2020, we heard from our prime minister about the pandemic. We had to announce to our franchisees that they had to close their studios. This was hard. It went entirely against our commitment to helping our members. Not prolonging employee contracts to achieve cost-cutting was another hard thing to do.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

Elon Musk, the guy is a genius who has managed to pull it all together

What business-related book/podcast has inspired you the most? 

  1. The book Traction by Gino Wickman
  2. BNR business radio podcasts 
  3. 7DTV (video interviews with entrepreneurs) 

If you could rule the world, which are the three things you would change in the world?

  1. Have many decisions made at a local level to keep creativity, trust and responsibility at the local community level.
  2. A more sustainable world and economy – how can there still be plastic in the ocean? We all need to take responsibility for the planet.
  3. Increase education and reduce poverty; this offers people more opportunities and will reduce wars.

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