Flexpower Stories

The “We” in Wellness: Fitness Entrepreneur Selina Tobaccowala

We believe that wellness is for everyone, so we celebrate those helping to being new voices and diverse perspectives into the health and fitness space.

Selina Tobaccowala co-founded Evite when she was still an undergraduate at Stanford University. After that company was acquired by Ticketmaster, she served as senior vice president of Product for Ticketmaster Europe before leaving to join SurveyMonkey as their Chief Technical Officer.

In 2016, Selina and her Evite co-founder Al Lieb created Gixo, an app that streams exercise classes to mobile devices – a surprising move for a woman who once admitted to Inc. magazine “I’ve never been fit…At SurveyMonkey, my only exercise was walking from my car to the train station.” Last year, Gixo was acquired by OpenFit, and Selina currently serves as their Chief Digital Officer.

As a woman and woman of color in two largely exclusive industries – tech and wellness – we spoke with Selina about what we can do better to bring new voices into health, wellness, and fitness.

FLEXPOWER: What, in your opinion, are the biggest hurdles to inclusion in health/wellness/fitness? Is it time, access to facilities, something else? 

SELINA TOBACCOWALA: In my mind when you talk about access there are actually 3 items to consider: Location, cost, and fitness level.   When you look at the research it shows the closer you are to your gym the more likely you are to go.  The second access point is cost – the better experiences and ones with better retention are boutique fitness classes.  Yet these classes are $30 a class on average, which is not affordable for most Americans.  The third issue is that it’s intimidating to walk into an exercise facility if you are not fit.  All of these factors is why we started Gixo which is now Openfit – to make live boutique fitness classes accessible.   

What do you see as the biggest “white spaces” in health and fitness? Why do you think those gaps exist?

There is still over 75% of the population that does not meet the CDC guidelines of 150 minutes & twice a week of strength training.  To me, this means there is huge white space to get people to stick with fitness.  The best way to get someone to stick with fitness is to find something they enjoy—for many people that’s having a mix of encouragement, entertainment, community, and often being told what to do. 

What does inclusivity look like when you’re dealing with health and fitness, which tends to be built around personal – often solo – activities?

Inclusivity in my mind is a) making places outside safe for everyone.   We are a long way away from that. B) It’s creating at home options that are high quality and affordable.  C) Make exercise not purely focused on weight loss but on actually being healthy and finding something you enjoy.  People of different ethnicities have different body types and these need to be celebrated.

Is part of the problem that fitness is often seen as an indulgence rather than a necessity?

I really don’t think this is a big issue.  Getting started with fitness is hard and often boring. 

How would you like to see women, and women of color, reflected in health and fitness content? 

The ideal is that fitness is not tied to weight and aspirational bodies, but rather health & enjoyment.    

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