Lawyer-turned-tech CEO Sylvia Kampshoff is at the forefront of providing personal training for women with busy schedules.
By Claire Misfeldt, Photo by Todd Farr
Sylvia Kampshoff experienced just how difficult it was to be able to go to the gym and work full-time after she moved from London to Houston in 2014. She felt that she spent more time trying to get to the gym than actually working out. She decided to take matters into her own hands and founded Kanthaka, with the goal of catering to a client’s schedule, something she feels is lacking in many working women’s lives. Kanthaka offers a new type of personal training service, one where the trainer shows up at the client’s home instead of the client going to the gym.
At the time, Kampshoff worked at a law firm and was pregnant with her first child. Not only was it difficult to get to a gym in a timely manner; finding a trainer that cared for her well-being also proved to be a struggle. Rescheduling, cancellations and traveling: just some of the challenges she faced.
“It took me forever to get somebody on the line,” Kampshoff says. “Then they couldn’t make it when I wanted to [workout].”
After becoming a mother, her schedule was even harder to manage.
Kampshoff knew her experience was just one of many among those just like her—busy women over 35 years old. She saw a gap in the marketplace for this demographic and wanted to provide a solution. Kanthaka launched in 2017 with one mission: to get trainers to clients’ houses for more affordable and convenient workout sessions.
“Personal training shouldn’t just be for the rich or for people with more flexible schedules,” says Kampshoff. “It should be accessible to everyone.”
Starting Kanthaka meant leaving the law firm to become the CEO of a tech startup. Kampshoff had very little experience and no network in the tech field during the beginning stages. However, she contacted several people in the tech industry who became her mentors and business partners as her company grew.
Kampshoff expanded her network when she joined the spring 2020 program of the startup accelerator company Sputnik ATX. She worked with Oksana Malysheva, CEO of Sputnik ATX, on ways to grow Kanthaka into a bigger company. Being part of the program also helped the app adapt to the pandemic, as Malysheva encouraged Kampshoff to go completely virtual as soon as possible.
Sylvia Kampshoff & Sputnik ATX
“Having [Sputnik ATX] by our side during those times when [we]really didn’t know what [was]going to happen was the best,” said Kampshoff.
Malysheva’s advice paid off. Kampshoff moved all of the personal training sessions to an online format within a week. With many gyms closing at the time, Kanthaka’s user base grew outside of the initial target audience of working women over 35 years old. That first month alone sold 1,350 sessions, and the user base grew 700% within a year.
This growth meant Kampshoff could add a service team to Kanthaka. The team works directly with clients to find the right trainer, reschedule if any issues arise and handle refunds. Many of the new clients weren’t looking for one training session, but were trying to use Kanthaka to plan their workouts. The new service team helps address the needs of the clients who joined in response to gyms shutting down.
“[The newer clients] are looking for a long-term solution,” Kampshoff says. “They see us as their provider to help them live healthier and happier. So it didn’t end up being, ‘I need someone in an hour.’ It’s more now that they plan with us.”
Toward the Future
The ability to schedule workouts around a busy life was missing from Kampshoff’s work-life balance when she first moved to Texas in 2014. Kanthaka filled that void. Her two children often partially or fully join the virtual workout sessions.
“My son can do planks and side planks,” she muses. “They know what yoga is. Due to the solution we provide, it really helps women,” she continues. “They can say, ‘My family joins [the workout]at my home. I don’t lose time traveling to a gym.’ And that is hard.”
Kampshoff also wants to expand Kanthaka with a holistic approach on mental health. She wants to help build community with women over 35 years old who the market doesn’t necessarily cater to. She is focused on transitioning back to providing in-person sessions as gyms begin to reopen. Many users are eager to have trainers come back to their homes instead of joining a video call. Last month, 90% of the sessions sold were in-person. However, as a wellness professional, her main priority is to make sure both client and trainer are safe and satisfied while there is still uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.
“We all now know that we can live longer if we live healthier and it really makes you happier,” Kampshoff says. “So my big vision is to become the place to go for them.”