“I didn’t know when I was 22 that I was going to end up in a wheelchair,” says Gita Sjahrir. “Everyone said, technically it’s impossible for you to become someone who’s active, Gita. Give up.” But she didn’t give up, and now she runs the first fitness boutique brand in Southeast Asia to obtain venture-capital funding. Ajeng G. Anindita reports.
Gita Sjahrir is passionate about life and her business, and frankly, in her own words, she’s really glad to be alive. 2018 was quite a year for the founder and Chief Rider of Ride, the first indoor cycling boutique studio in Indonesia. After obtaining funding in 2017, Ride opened up several studios in Jakarta, including Plaza Indonesia, COCO Work POS Indonesia and Colony Kemang. Soon, she will open one in Pacific Place as well as other venues throughout 2019.
Indoor cycling is not something new for someone who regularly goes to the gym. Also known as RPM, it’s quite a popular workout to burn calories, get lean, improve your fitness. All the while you get to have fun with music blasting during your workout. The first company here to specialise in indoor cycling, Ride has been becoming more and more popular among young Jakartans since its inception in 2015.
Gita’s journey to be where she is right now has not been easy. She was diagnosed with Still disease when she was 21. This is a rare auto immune disease that attacks the immune system and destroys healthy tissue. It brings out rheumatoid arthritis, which means Gita has arthritis in every joint in her body, to make everything worse. The condition was quite extreme, Gita was basically living in a wheelchair, and she went in and out of hospital for two years, as well as being on dozens of medications. She had to learn to do basic things, like twisting open a cap or lifting her arms up.
“That was when I realised I shouldn’t take my body for granted,” says Gita, who holds an MBA graduate from The Wharton School University of Pennsylvania. “I think it’s really easy to take your well-being for granted and to think you will have your health forever. But I learned when I was 22 that that’s not the case. But with a lot of luck and support, and just by showing up every day and being willing to work, I got through it.
“It could come back, however. A big part of it is stress and an imbalanced lifestyle. Even the medical community isn’t 100 percent confident about what exactly causes it. But like anything else, I’m doing the best I can. I sleep a lot, I meditate and I try to stay active. Overall, just spending time together with friends and family. I’m trying to be grateful because I’m still around, I’m still alive and I’m moving!”
The idea of launching Ride came to Gita pretty randomly. She used to live in New York and during that period she started to get into indoor cycling. What began as something she did just because she liked it became a passion for her. “If it’s done properly, cycling can be really comfortable for my joints, much more so than running,” she explains. “It has a lower impact.”
When she came back in Jakarta for good, she couldn’t find any indoor cycling studio as good as the ones she had in New York. She wished she had something similar when she moved to Jakarta. Her brother, Pandu, then called her out on it. “He said: ‘Ok, you can do two things. You can either stop complaining, because it’s annoying, or you can do something about it’. So I did something about it and I created a brand. Here I am now.”
Ride is the first fitness boutique brand in Southeast Asia to obtain funding from a venture capital firm. The company received US$500,000 in seed money from Intudo Venture in 2017. Gita says this breakthrough came after putting in a lot of hard work and shrugging off as many as 60 rejections from investment companies. Passionate and determined as ever, she stuck it out. She saw the positive side of it, as there are successful companies out there that had had received two or three times more rejections than Ride did.
“I’m just going to be up front here,” Gita says. “We essentially went broke twice. Ride wasn’t invested in by my parents, but I really needed capital to grow. And I thought: Let’s find external funding. Venture capital firms are not known to invest in boutique fitness in Southeast Asia. That’s because it’s such a new market, a new concept. Ride, at that time, had been operational for three years, so we had a lot of data to show that we had gained traction. The funding has helps us to become a lot more disciplines about how we run the business. We have become very data-driven, and it also helps us grow a lot faster. They help us collaborate with tons of brands as well.
“There’s one thing I learned from my parents (economist Dr Sjahrir and Dr Nurmala Kartini Sjahrir). They always said: ‘Be really greedy. Go for anything and everything that you want, because a lot of things are possible.’ And then they said: ‘We’re not going to give you a safety net at all. Good luck.’
“What I love so much about Ride is that we believe that anything is possible. I’m not saying that in a cheesy way. I can hopefully show you that if you show up every day, amazing things are going to happen. I did not know when I was 22 that I was going to end up in a wheelchair. Every one said, technically, it’s impossible for you to become someone who’s active, Gita. Give up.
“But then I said, technically, there’s also not enough data points to show that it’s physically impossible. And my ever-supportive brother said: ‘You know what? In life, you can complain about something or you can do something about it.’
“So, I decided to show up and I did something about it. Even if it was only for five minutes a day. And that’s why, every time you show up in my class, I would say that you’re doing better than probably 80 percent of people. Of course, the rest of them are, like, Netflix-ing at home. So, even if it’s for just five minutes, you’re still doing more than them. People need to understand that, in life, what’s really important is showing up, consistently. Which is a hard thing to do.”
In the first year of Ride, Gita used to do everything on her own, from teaching and training new teachers to cleaning the bicycles. “Finding new people is such a headache!” she says, showing her frustration. “In the entrepreneur’s world, everything is difficult, but the hardest thing to find is people! Our trainers, they started out as our customer first at that time. They really enjoyed Ride, and they were interested in training. I used to teach them myself. Now, we have our own master trainer from LA. I found her through pure luck. She has 10 years of experience and, obviously, does a much better job than me to train new teachers.
“We also set quite a high standard. Not everybody will pass our training. It’s like six hours a week. It sucks, and requires a lot of hard work. Hard work will always beat talent. And the ones you’re seeing, now teaching in the studio, are the ones who have worked the hardest, the greediest, in the training.
The 37-year-old entrepreneur keeps going, and it seems like she doesn’t have any intention to stop. When she started Ride, she wanted it to be a big brand. She wanted to create a premium fitness studio that was more specialised and to “make such a valid industry that people would be proud when they tell people they’re a trainer at Ride. I want to see the same pride in someone’s eyes as when they say they work at Ernst & Young as a consultant. Training is hard. You are responsible for people’s health and their bodies. It requires a lot of training, a lot of understanding of biology, physiology. It’s one of the toughest things!
“And yet, why don’t we here have that level of confidence and self-esteem as does a trainer in New York – who gets paid a lot if he or she is really good. Because I think that if you’re really good, you should be making a lot. I think about how I could create a fitness brand that really inspires people and makes fitness this valid, amazing industry that’s sophisticated. I thought to myself: I want Ride to be everywhere, to open as many studios as we can and let’s make this industry a great one.”
Having overcome so many challenges, what has Gita learned about herself? “I have learn two things. First, to only care about things that really matter. You can’t worry about what everybody else says about you, because there are millions of them. You’ll never be pretty enough, skinny enough, big enough, fit enough, not fit enough, smart enough, dumb enough. I don’t know! It’s impossible. If you care so much about everybody else, oh my God, you won’t have anything left for yourself.
“The second is to act with kind intent. To try to act out of goodness. If anyone wrongs you, which as you get older you’ll experience more, don’t worry, and don’t act out of rage. Try to hold that back. The world will keep turning – and karma is so real.”