One day, my talented software engineer friend and I came up with a wild idea: create a software called Approach that would make it easier to run a climbing gym. (Ok, it wasn’t actually that wild, but we wildly underestimated how difficult it would be to build.) Behold: the idea that would become Approach.
When we first began in 2017, our technical Co-Founder Luke’s sole focus was to build a backend data structure that would allow Approach to scale, and at the same time, offer gym owners the flexibility of using enterprise-level business intelligence tools and integrations.
I hated the process… as a gym owner struggling on old software and with zero knowledge of what backend code required to build, I was desperate for something different and fast. I just wanted to see a single user interface screen but that didn’t happen for some time.
It was a painful year for me as I fundraised and tried to sell software that at that point was just an idea. What I didn’t realize was that Approach’s meticulously built data structure would end up making us one of the most scalable and powerful platforms on the market, ensuring the success we are now excitedly experiencing.
Fast forward to 2018, when I presented our beta software for the first time at the CWA. I considered myself a pretty good public speaker, but when it came time for me to speak, everything went downhill: I didn’t have enough time to set up, the internet connection barely worked, and my speech landed on (mostly) deaf ears. It didn’t help that my own personal circumstances related to the sleep deprivation from a 2 day-old newborn mixed with being jet-lagged led to an awful migraine right before the presentation.
It wasn’t the moment I expected! It wasn’t my best showing, but it was an awesome learning experience, and we found out that a number of gyms were eager for a new product on the market. At the end of the day, there was a lot of interest but our platform was simply not yet developed enough to get the traction we were hoping for.
By January of 2019, we launched the first active beta version of Approach with one of my gyms in Kansas City. We were finally processing payments, making check-ins happen, and had a production version of the platform. Next thing we knew, Grayston Leonard took a bet on us and we onboarded his gym, Long Beach Rising. A huge thank you to Grayston for believing in us; we wouldn't be here today without his original trust!
By the end of 2019 we had raised some seed funds and onboarded eight more gyms. Nothing crazy, but it felt good. We were finally selling our product and making headway in the industry. I mostly focused on raising funds and selling Approach to gyms while Luke did an amazing job of growing the team, taking junior developers and helping them grow quickly in skill and expertise. Then 2020 happened, which was tremendously challenging. The question we pondered during COVID was simple: Who on earth is thinking about changing software platforms when they are struggling to save their business?
As painful as it was to experience slowing sales, somehow the pandemic only made us better. We didn’t know it at the time, but our product still wasn’t quite ready to meet the demands of the industry. COVID slowing us down helped us clean and refine our solution, and above all, build the features that our clients really needed.
Like any good startup story, there has to be a near-death experience, and the following is ours:
Towards the end of 2020, our company was doing fine, but we needed to raise some money to maintain and grow. Without money quickly, we would likely have to let go most of our team and run a skeleton crew just to survive. We had a big investor lined up, but closing on the investment was taking much longer than expected, and then right around when we were expecting the investment in December, the investor dropped out. We only had enough cash to make it through one more month of payroll, and things were not looking good. Something special needed to happen or everything would quickly come to a halt.
After some anxious scrambling, Client #1, Grayston Leonard, put me in touch with Kevin Goradia, a pretty special investor down in Texas, who was leading investing in the climbing industry. I called Kevin and immediately could tell he was sharp and also had a lot of experience investing in software companies. I only hoped that he could see our vision and understand the value of what we were building for the industry. Well, he did, and ended up leading our seed round which quickly gained traction and closed at $1.5 million. Since then Kevin has remained a friend and advisor, who is not afraid to speak his mind or tell you how it is. I truly appreciate having people like him in our corner.
The last two years have been an absolute, exhilarating, and challenging blur, as we have released new features almost every two weeks in a routine we call the “treadmill.” Our goal has been to grow the product organically for those who really love it, and then do the best we can to serve them as we scale our team. We now have over 130 gyms all over the world that trust Approach to serve their businesses. This spans from small bouldering gyms to large 15-gym national chains in the U.S., Canada, Germany and Australia, and we’re continuing to evaluate new markets.
One of the amazing things about Approach’s journey is that we haven’t spent a dollar in marketing, instead focusing our efforts on building a developer-heavy team oriented to building, building, building! And the building won’t be stopping anytime soon, so get excited! Our team is grinding away as I type, pushing updates, fixes, and new products into testing, and moving testing to production. The “treadmill” is humming and picking up speed.
We’re grateful, excited, and determined to make our suite of Apps the best it can be.
Thanks for your support!