My startup chronicle

Team Info
  • CEO: George Zhou

  • Co-founder/Design director: Jian Shi

  • Co-founder/Technology: Qifan Nie

Main Stages
  • Feb 2016 ~ June 2016: Business planning and R&D preparation

  • June 2016 - Oct 2016: Mobile app development/website/Initial marketing

  • Oct 2016 ~ now : Skiing marketing/Skiing site iterations

CooPals is a location based, easy-for-use, trustable and reliable online-to-offline application to provide a platform helping users find good trainers and helping trainers to expand their potential customers. CooPals is the new generation to learn what you desire to know and teach what you love to share. 

This idea was initially brought up by George Zhou, my partner, the CEO of CooPals. We spent a whole year so far exploring how to execute this business idea, who the end users are, and how we can target our key market. Our team has been through ups and downs, and finally have made it thanks to our persistent efforts. Here I'd like to share with you our story and it's just the beginning of the long journey.

Business Planning 

The three Co-founders find fitness industry very interesting, as well as painful and lacking channels to get quality services. So there's big opportunity to use internet to make a difference. We kick off this project by researching and analyzing the current industry and ideate on multiple potential solutions.

Pain Points 

In North America, hiring a personal trainer is the most effective and popular way to get trained or earn something new such as skiing, surfing or scuba diving, etc.However, most personal training resources are monopolized by various institutions, which  caused general overpricing, and the quality of services, on the contrary keeps descending.


People considered taking personal fitness training service but GIVE UP every year in USA


To contact or make reservation with personal trainers


Each has only limited amount of personal trainers and customers

The Solution

Connect cool pals, learn from the best and she the new world. Our goal is to create a location based, simple and reliable O2O application to help users find excellent trainers and to help trainers expand their customer base.


Break monopoly, promote competition and bring more opportunities


Instant message to trains instead of email or negotiation with gyms


Immediate updating of all information includes schedule and location within certain regions.


Agile Development 

Things are always hard at the beginning. We hired some CS students in UT austin as our interns and rented a small apartment in Texas . But the design is remotely done in New York at my side, so it's impossible to keep instant commutation between design and dev. So we are using several useful communication apps, and constantly improving our working method by keeping it agile and adaptive

We carefully analyzed the project scale and our visions, and planned out sprints/iterations accordingly, keeping design and development both active throughout the whole project, so we can save time and make up for the shortage of instant commutations. Design is generally ahead of dev a little, and in each iteration,  we evaluate the work done and in progress, give feedbacks and make significant decisions on changes from both sides, thus we are making sure that we are on the right track and can be very responsive to various situations.

Mobile App design

Our rookie dev team are more experienced with android, so we spent the first few month figuring out our product logic by building the Android version first, in order to lay down a solid foundation for fast iterations for IOS. The front-end fidelity really depends on the version we worked on at a specific period, while the completion regarding functionality is accumulating throughout the whole timeline.


We set off to pitch CooPals to some potential investors very early before we finished the app Development, knowing their minds and potentially to receive constructional feedbacks about our objectives and how to market our product. We had our first off-line marketing campaign on UT austin campus, and it received great attention and was quite a bit fun. 

Start from skiing

Rushing into fitness industry as a very big category as a rookie team is kind of risky. This is something becoming clearer as we keep exploring this industry in depth, which is also revealed from the feedbacks that we need to narrow down our beachhead, maybe one specific sport, starting low and focused, so we can fully utilize our limited resource that could make it a solid start, on which we could seek to expand in the future as we grow in the future

Most people want to learn and practice skiing with a personal guide, especially beginners, but it’s not such an accessible or frugal option. The price for a personal training session in skiing or snowboarding from an intermediary organization, such as the ski resort, is close to $800/day. There are no other places to find guides who know the mountain well, so the ski resorts have a monopoly. When I came back from the ski trip, I realized this could be a huge opportunity and started doing research. I found that a ski trainer who works for a ski school at a resort makes no more than $120/day even though the resort charges the client’s $600/day or more for his class. This is the case for trainers not only in ski/snowboard schools but also in scuba diving, fitness, and nearly all sports which require personal trainers. This was when I decided to create CooPals to help both the instructors and the skiers/snowboarders. It helps the clients by offering them a chance to get privately trained in skiing/snowboarding at a reasonable price. It helps the instructors by providing them the opportunity to receive full and fair payment for their services. The CooPals website for skiing/snowboarding started marketing in December 2016. We made more than 250 successful deals for our clients and instructors in Colorado, Utah, and California in just three weeks! And that number is increasing by 15% every week! In the future, we hope to expand our services to include any and all other sports which require personal trainers, such as fitness training, martial arts, scuba diving, and countless others.

Coopals - the Ski Site

Our team started our campaign from Utah and Colorado. we interviewed a lot of local ski professionals  in person, understand their personalities, daily lives, as well as their interests and thoughts regarding joining our community. Until now we have expanded our business to 7 states across the US. We built a website aiming at connecting these two groups of people with simple steps, and smooth user experience.

When explore trainers at state level, you can see all the Ski towns on the map. Click on a town to sort out the trainers who are available to meet you there

You can use the search bar to see the complete list of ski towns in California and the click on the one you are interested in, or simply type in the name


Iteration 1

In order to fast forward our skiing web project. We kept our agile way and kick off our first iteration based on the wireframe I did. Everything was quickly flashed out from the project logic we acknowledged including all the main functions and the basic flows, and was sent for development immediately in order to get the functioning web online as soon as possible. Then we go back to iterate on the details based on the feedbacks from the real users. 

Iteration 2

Based on the feedback from the first group of users, we learned that a very noticeable commonality of them is that they lack experience of using online services. Because it isn't a very popular lifestyle in those areas we started our initial marketing. Half of them needed assistant taking them through the reservation steps. So in the same time we are updating the new visual style, we are trying to restrict the process into small chunks, which will show you the next step only when you have filled in the previous blank.

To be continued....