Rabble: How a former international athlete is bringing the fun of kids’ exercise to grownups
If the prospect of a postwork hour in a windowless gym doesn’t fill you with joy, Rabble could be a breath of fresh air. The startup wants to shake up the whole idea of exercise, turning its back on the baggage that often comes with popular sports or gym sessions, and offering up classes that are closer to the playground games you played as a child.
The company recently graduated from Facebook’s 12-week LDN_LAB incubator, based in the social network’s London offices. After successfully establishing regular classes across a number of UK cities, Rabble is now pivoting its business model to one where it licenses its name and concept out to trainers, who can go on to set up their own classes. We chatted to Rabble’s founder, Charlotte Roach, about the company’s origin, and where it’s going.
What problem is your startup trying to solve?
I was a former international athlete training full time for 2012. I had a serious training accident that ended my athletic career. I expected that, after leaving full time sport, I’d be able to enjoy a balanced and enjoyable relationship with being active; just like when I was a kid, enjoying a few different sports and playing them because I liked them and not for any other reason.
I found this really difficult. I felt inferior at sports clubs, often not knowing the rules, not having the minimum skill level to enjoy the game and getting frustrated learning the same drill over and over rather than just playing the game. I found myself becoming one of those people that barely exercised, who society often classifies as lazy. But actually I realised that the fitness industry wasn’t doing anything for them and I felt I had the solution: to make exercise as fun and accessible as it is for kids.
So I founded Rabble. We disguise fitness principles in games, playing everything from British Bulldog to Dodgeball, Capture the Flag and ‘The Hunger Games’. We will play anything so long as it’s fun, social and accessible to anyone. In this way we’re able to engage people who weren’t previously exercising much. We also build really strong communities around our classes, which is really important for keeping people active regularly.
(Rabble founder Charlotte Roach. Credit: Charlotte Roach)
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve managed to overcome so far?
There have been many. As we’re a new fitness concept, there was an awful lot of education to do around the concept. It’s not circuits, bootcamp or dance fitness. Nor are we playing sports that people have heard of. We had to prove that people would participate in the games, that they were enjoyable, and that they would get fit. Then we had to show that it was something that people would participate in regularly, and that we could build a community around it.
What was the most important thing that you took away from your involvement in Facebook’s LDN_LAB?
Our biggest lesson from the LDN_LAB process was understanding the dynamics behind Facebook advertising. The level of understanding from some of the presenters and mentors that we received at LDN_LAB was well beyond anything we’d have been able to access without it.
As I understand it, Rabble is moving its business model to one that hinges on training instructors to set up their own sessions.
Yes, Rabble has begun licensing our concept out to individuals who want to kick off their own local Rabble community. We’ve shifted in this direction because we wanted to ensure that we could remain accessible to local communities across the globe at scale.
Local licensees can price their sessions to local expectations. They can work with a broader target audience and are better equipped, as well as more invested, in building a strong local community and delivering excellent classes.
How will you address the challenges of keeping Rabble a cohesive brand?
At the moment we keep the brand cohesive by releasing new material for instructors to incorporate every month so that they can deliver excellent Rabble standard sessions, we also create marketing materials and websites for licensees to use to stay on brand. We are creating more tools and resources for our instructors to be successful, which should also help to keep them on brand.
Have you had any startups before?
No. But while I was at university, I founded a campaign to build a sports centre on campus. It was due to cost £50m so it wasn’t a small feat. But we got there in the end. We bought 500 red t-shirts and sold them to students, asking them to wear them at sports events (university colours were blue) in protest.
The university is an excellent model, designed to resist change of any kind, I had to fight my way through opaque committee after committee after committee to find out where the real decision-making power was and where the blockers were. I learnt the importance of persistence.
What’s the best advice you can offer about seeking investment?
Make sure that your view for the company and that of the investors is completely aligned before taking any money.
Where do you see yourselves in five years’ time?
Hopefully we will be bringing Rabble games to every local town worldwide.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t die wondering.
Who do you admire in business?
Bill Gates for both his game changing business and his philanthropic focus.
What book would you recommend?
The Lean Startup [by Eric Ries] is a bit of a cliche but it’s a great method for getting any small idea off the ground into something with traction.
Lead image credit: Rabble