Pivot’s Brig Leland and April Palmer Set their Business In Motion


In these entrepreneurial circles, there’s a tendency, when hearing the term pivot, to immediately think about the word’s business implications.  But in layman’s terms, pivot is more commonly used as a synonym for rotate, turn, swivel, or revolve.  Essentially, no matter which way you cut it, pivot is inextricable from the idea of motion and movement.  And if there were one perfect phrase to sum up Pivot’s energetic Co-Founders April Palmer and Brig Leland, it would be “on the move.”  Now, they help local fitness enthusiasts get on the move as well through hundreds of on-demand classes at several local Charlottesville gyms without prepaid or recurring fees.

Fittingly, the duo met about six years ago during an obstacle course race in Boston, and although April was a self-described “bookworm” at the time, her fearless spirit and Brig’s fitness aptitude made for an undeniable connection that quickly led to more activity-focused hangouts.  Their first date was a weekend whirlwind of running, surfing (in Hurricane Irene, no less), and bonding over their mutual love of adventure, and the two have been together ever since.  They cite fitness, as well as a passion for living a locally-minded lifestyle, as the core components that define their relationship. 

Prior to Pivot, April and Brig had each spent time in a number of careers that, while varied, can all be encompassed by a shared mission – on one level or another – to help local ideas, nonprofits, and businesses get off the ground.  Shortly into their relationship, April took a new position in Charlottesville, while Brig remained at his job in Boston.  For nearly three years, the two dated long-distance and navigated all of the inconveniences – big and small – that come with that territory.  Chief among those long-distance frustrations for this extremely active couple was the process of managing multiple gym memberships across two states.  While an injury forced April to deviate from her usual CrossFit regimen and instead seek active rehabilitation through boutique studio classes here in Charlottesville, Brig was juggling his own CrossFit routine with bikram yoga classes, among others.  The two began to feel that the resultant credit card bills were staggeringly high for what seemed like a simple goal – to engage in the activities that kept them happy and healthy.  April remembers thinking “it just shouldn’t be this hard and expensive to have a healthy lifestyle.”

The self-described “crazy idea person” knew there must be a business solution for the issue that they were facing.  In December of 2015, she pitched her vision for a pass that “lets you bop from gym to gym” to Brig, her execution-focused complement, and he immediately began drafting up a basic business plan and website, and enlisting their network for participation and feedback, all in just over a month.  Their initial blueprint drew heavily from the techniques and principles of the lean methodology and, accordingly, focused on quickly collecting as much valuable feedback as possible.  “Cheap, fast, and learn…” was the name of the game, according to Brig.

Luckily, the team proved skilled at pivoting quite effectively from a business standpoint as well.  Over the course of that initial test run, Brig and April actually got so much helpful feedback that they decided to completely revamp the product beginning in February 2016.  At its core, Pivot strives to “make fitness easier,” in all the ways that “easier” entails (more convenient, more affordable, and more feasible for both gym and user), so they decided to incorporate the responses they’d received in order to get them closer to that mission statement.

By the end of October 2016, Pivot re-launched with a fully-integrated, self-sustaining technology platform.  The new interface allows customers/users to see what classes are available in real time and integrates with most of Pivot’s studio clients’ already-implemented systems.  The creation of Pivot 2.0 was a serendipitous lesson in exactly what the company was built on – recognizing the fantastic resources right here at home in Charlottesville.  After speaking with developers around the world who said that what Leland and Palmer wanted simply couldn’t be done, Pivot found an invaluable partner in local branding and web design studio Convoy, who enthusiastically told the Pivot team that they “love a puzzle” and proceeded to create the sleek, intuitive site in just about six weeks. 

Looking toward the future, you’d be right in betting that this high-energy duo already has more plans in the works.  On the near horizon, they’re looking to double the amount of classes currently featured through their platform (from 250 to about 400 or 500), laying the groundwork for exciting corporate partnerships helping companies integrate Pivot into their employee health plans, tossing around the idea of expanding to other small “hidden gem” markets, and planning to offer a local-business rewards program, complete with a charitable donation twist.  While they continue to find ways to make exercising more rewarding for their users and studio clients, the most rewarding moment for Palmer and Leland is, by far, when they hear that someone who previously hadn’t found their fitness “jam” was introduced to an unfamiliar workout style or new studio they really clicked with.  That’s when they’re most reminded of the power of fitness to bring people together, just as it did for them.