Indian American entrepreneur Selina Tobaccowala, co-founder of the popular electronic invitation company Evite, is now focusing on global health through her latest venture, Gixo.
Gixo, a fitness startup she founded in April 2016, has its mission to improve global health and activity rates by revolutionizing the fitness experience.
“If you asked people 10 years ago if I would be doing a fitness startup, they would have laughed at you,” Tobaccowala told India-West. “Then in May 2015, my mentor and CEO of SurveyMonkey (Dave Goldberg) died suddenly of a heart issue. This made me take a step back and realize that I wanted to build something to impact people’s health.”
The entrepreneur said that while researching for Gixo, her team was stunned to discover how little activity it took to see massive health benefits. She said the researchers asked boatloads of people why they don’t exercise.
“You guessed it: time and motivation,” Tobaccowala recalled to India-West. “There wasn’t a single person who questioned the idea that exercise is important. Instead, they asked, ‘How do I make time for it?’ and ‘Why does it have to suck so much?’”
Inspired by that thought, Tobaccowala said she and her team were convinced they could create something to solve those problems.
They came up with Gixo, a mobile app that offers more than 180 live fitness classes for anyone and at all levels, every week.
Users can work out from home, the office, their neighborhood or the great outdoors – essentially turning phones into virtual gyms, she noted.
The app has a variety of workouts, including cardiovascular and strength training routines ranging in time with 15-, 25- and 40-minute sessions. Every class has mixed music with a live coach giving feedback and tracking your progress throughout the entire workout, she explained.
The app, available on Apple and Android devices, costs $19.99 a month for unlimited classes or $180 — $15 a month — if purchasing the entire year up front.
Once signed up, the app sends users a notification 15 minutes prior to start time and all they need to do is grab their headphones and sneakers, open the app and start the workout.
“Anyone can follow the workout on their own or join the group conversation by talking to other classmates,” Tobaccowala told India-West. “Gixo also allows users to chat or send friendly emojis to help motivate and congratulate each other!”
Since launching, Gixo raised an initial funding round of $3.7 million with Greylock Partners as the lead investor.
A mother of two young children, 8 and 5 years old, Tobaccowala said that the goal is to make Gixo a global brand that gives affordability and accessibility to consumers for fitness experiences.
A graduate of Stanford University in 1998, Tobaccowala got her entrepreneurial career off to a flying start before earning her bachelor’s degree in computer science. It was as a junior that she came up with the idea of Evite.
“I was a junior in college studying abroad when a friend of mine, Al Lieb, and I came up with an idea that got us pretty excited — so excited that I decided to come home early,” Tobaccowala told India-West. “I spent my last year at Stanford working on the idea and we officially incorporated later that year (in 1997).”
Tobaccowala recalled starting up Evite with Lieb at the time when Yahoo and Excite controlled Silicon Valley and she said recruiters were actively seeking out students at Stanford to join the companies.
“So there I was with this fairly risky startup idea, wondering if I should go with the sure bet or gamble on something innovative,” she explained. “The questions were relentless. ‘Do I take the risk?’ ‘Do I go for something more stable?’ ‘How will we keep ourselves afloat?’ ‘What if we flop?’ ‘I have no business experience. How will I get up to speed?’”
She then recalled a conversation she had with her father — someone she considers a close friend and mentor — and he asked her three questions:
“Do you enjoy working with (Lieb)?”
“Are you excited about what you’re doing?”
“Are you learning?”
When she answered positively to all three, her father pushed her toward following her heart and devoting herself 100 percent to her venture.
“So I went for it,” she said, adding that she has used three pillars — people, mission and learning — to guide her throughout her career.
Tobaccowala served as the co-founder and vice president of engineering at Evite from April 1997 to April 2001 when Ticketmaster/Citysearch acquired the company.
She stayed on with the company, known as Entertainment Publications, or IAC, for seven years from 2003 through 2009, serving as vice president of online product and technology for IAC from 2003 to 2005 and then senior vice president of product and technology of Ticketmaster Europe, based in London, from 2005 through 2009.
Following her time with IAC/Ticketmaster, Tobaccowala transitioned to Palo Alto, Calif.-based SurveyMonkey, where she served as president and chief technology officer from 2009 through April 2016.
During her time at the various posts working for other companies, Tobaccowala said she learned a number of things.
“Make sure you are passionate about the end product,” she told India-West. “For me the thread in my career is to work on products that have an impact on people’s real lives,” she said. “Be all over the numbers,” she advised. “Being a woman, your ideas are questioned more often so it is important to have data to backup your decisions,” the Indian American stressed.
“Work for great leaders,” she added. “But make sure you are being clear and concise about what you want your next step to be.”
Tobaccowala also currently serves as a board member of the online real estate brokerage Redfin, a post she's held since February 2014. She previously served as a board member for Tugboat Yards Inc., a company built to enable Internet media sites to identify, convert and retain their best audience with subscription and other user pay models, from April 2013 to May 2015.