Digital Gainz : The Kayla Itsines Phenomenon

Kayla Itsines takes over personal fitness with her online workouts.

Personal fitness is one of many industries taken by storm in our recent digital shift.  Gone are the days of needing a personal trainer or class to get your sweat on; there are now an abundance of apps, blogs, and videos that will take you through what you need to know in order to achieve your nutrition and fitness goals.  One individual has been particularly successful in capturing a large and devoted audience.  That would be Kayla.  I challenge you to step into Shad and not find at least 5 people “sweating with Kayla”.


Kayla Itsines, Australian fitness guru with a cult following, started with humble beginnings in 2008 as a personal trainer1.  As a personal trainer, the number of individuals she could help was limited by her hours in a day.  The value Kayla added at this point was teaching her clients how to train and how to eat; she delivered on this by working with individuals.  As she gained popularity, Kayla began to take advantage of social media and the web to not only enhance her operating model but her business model as well.

Enter Kayla’s BBG.


In her next stage of growth, Kayla created a 12-week workout program (the infamous “Bikini Body Guide”) that individuals could purchase for $52 and began to grow her internet presence on Facebook and Instagram.  By doing this, the value Kayla created expanded beyond your workout to include a community of other BBGers who would help motivate you along your journey.  As added inspiration, Kayla’s Instagram is filled with motivational before and after transformation pictures and stories.  The community she has created is incredibly supportive; each transformation post has an abundance of comments filled with praise and encouragement.  As for her operating model, Kayla was taking a step in the right direction of maximizing her impact.

This community is possibly her largest competitive advantage.  While many other online fitness programs exist, none have achieved the same level of support (Kayla has 25 million followers2).  P90X, which targets men and women with similar types of workouts, also has an online community; however, the community isn’t as accessible as Instagram and Facebook which is likely why they only have 3 million followers3.  Similarly, female fitness guru and creator of Blogilates, Cassey Ho has 3-4 million followers4 despite starting around the same time as Kayla and targeting the same demographic.  Cassey focused more on YouTube (which is where she posts workouts) which doesn’t have as strong of a following community as does Instagram.  Kayla was very strategic about choosing social media platforms to focus on which has led to her cult following.

From an operational standpoint, taking advantage of digital is brilliant since it allows you to reach more individuals.  What is difficult here is keeping individuals motivated.  Kayla’s focus on community is what keeps users engaged.  Most people using her workouts don’t workout alone; this helps one stay motivated and focused without actually needing Kayla present.

sweat-with-kayla countdown

In the latest iteration of her business, the “Sweat with Kayla” app, she takes the benefits from the BBG model to the next level.  Her promise of providing you with great workouts and motivation are all captured within an app.  The BBG program is only 12 weeks long so you might run out of workouts (something that wouldn’t happen if you had Kayla as your personal trainer) while the app is endless.  The app also keeps individuals motivated; each workout starts out with a 10 second countdown with motivational phrases from others in the community.  This operating model is also significantly more profitable than the one she used with the BBG.  The BBG was a one time purchase (also very easy to share with others) while the app is a $20/month recurring fee.

One of the great things about the fitness industry’s embrace of technology is how accessible workouts have become.  As a result, I think the industry faces two main risks (one for the consumers and one for trainers).  As consumers, some of these exercises can be dangerous if performed incorrectly; so there is a bit of an onus on those creating workouts to be consumed in a digital manner to make sure their clients are working out safely.  Additionally, trainers now face the risk of becoming obsolete and will need to find ways to customize their workouts in order to stay relevant.  With the cost of switching so low, it is imperative Kayla keeps her competitive edge by continuing to listen to her core fans as she grows her business.


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Student comments on Digital Gainz : The Kayla Itsines Phenomenon

  1. Reading this post while sitting on my couch at home has definitely inspired me to get to the gym this afternoon, thanks! It’s really quite amazing how many followers Kayla has been able to attract and presumably keep compared to her competitors. I think one way she could make sure her community stays loyal to her instead of switching away would be to host a few large in-person workout classes around the world. I would imagine that her followers are devoted enough to want to see her in person and experience a real, live training session. This would help keep enthusiasm for the program high and prove to her followers that she really enjoys physical training and isn’t just faking it because it has turned into such a lucrative business model. Plus, these sessions would allow the community to become even more interconnected and meet more people like them, perhaps getting a few new training / accountability partners at the same time.

  2. Really interesting post! I love how Kayla blended social media with fitness to make her workouts accessible to the masses. The decision to develop an app was also a smart move on her part as a way to create “stickiness” for her product, given that the original BBG guide was so easy to send to someone else for free. But the fitness app market is definitely a highly contested space, with some big players such as Nike already aggressively playing in it, and Kayla will have to keep developing her app further to stay relevant. She could consider partnering with wearables such as Fitbit to allow users to track their fitness levels and progress. She could also allow for a greater degree of personalization, offering users the ability to customize their workouts based on their specific fitness goals. Finally, she might want to consider leveraging her image as a “fashionable fitness model” to offer additional advice and how-to’s on her platform on topics such as athletic wear, diets and daily nutrition.

  3. Really interesting post – I dont think I can think of a better example of someone utilizing digital in order to optimize their business model. I first heard of Kayla through my girlfriend who is an avid fan. I downloaded the app soon after and fell in love with the idea behind the workouts. The interface makes it very easy to use and really forces you to be part of the community which I think is main reason why app is so popular.

    The real question is what is next for Kayla? How does she continue to monetize her following yet remain true to her core values? I would be concerned that user growth may stagnate if she does not continue to innovate and come up with new ways to interact with her followers. If she really wants to take advantage of this trends towards fitness I would suggest opening up a brick and mortar store. That would allow her to get her followers to interact with each other and also have a physical presence to gain new followers.

  4. This really is a very clever business model, as is shown by Kayla’s large and devoted fan base. I agree with other posters that Kayla now needs to focus on maintaining momentum, particularly as fitness fans can be fickle and there is nothing currently locking them in to their app subscription. One thing that could help with this is recruitment of superfans who are familiar with the technical aspects of routines and could act as local community ambassadors around the world. The app could let these ambassadors tell people in their area when they are working out and invite them to join their sessions, which could include advice on how to do the exercises correctly. In exchange for recruitment and attendance of fans (who would still need to pay for the app) there could be small financial incentives and access to a “premium” tier of workouts and advice from Kayla. This would enable the online community to be strengthened through offline interactions, increasing stickiness without needing to build a physical presence (which is not currently a core capability).

  5. Shilpa, this is a great post on how a simple idea can be scaled and monetized effectively in the world of digital. To further build this business, my recommendations would be to harness the loyal and passionate digital communities that she has already built to develop an ecosystem of products and services around her brand name. Kayla could look into starting her own line of athletic wear and sports accessories and as the success of Lulu Lemon proves, this can be an incredibly lucrative space. This can also easily be integrated into her existing digital channels, offering purchases in-app or on her social media channels. I also think that she should begin to offer more rich content beyond just the exercises and perhaps create a more holistic ecosystem around fitness, foraying into content and conversation on diet, beauty and active lifestyles. Lastly, in like vein to a lot of the above comments, to create more of an offline following to complement her online fanbase and create an additional revenue stream, it would be interesting to partner with gyms and exercise studios and license her fitness program to them so that they can begin to offer her exercise classes as part of their suite.

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