Steppen co-founders Jake Carp, Cara Davies, and Dave Slutzkin.

How a young female founder built - and sold - an app to change the Gen Z fitness game

Cara Davies was frustrated with the state of digital fitness for Gen Z. At 21, she started an app called Steppen, scaled it to over 400,000 downloads, and successfully sold it two years later. Here's how she did it.

My name is Cara, and in September 2023 I sold my startup Steppen, a fitness app for Gen Z to a company called Alta. Along with my co-founders Dave and Jake, we scaled Steppen to over 400,000 downloads, and raised over $2.3 million from investors. This is how we did it.

At 21, I had a problem. Every time I went to the gym, I had no idea what I was meant to be doing. I looked around and realised there was nothing built specifically for people my age. Most GenZers were using YouTube, TikTok and Instagram as a fragmented workout solution. I did my research, talked to everyone who would talk to me, tried other fitness apps, and posted surveys on Facebook uni groups. I was relentless in understanding the problem.

Armed with limited life experience, let alone business experience, I knew that it was I who was going to fix this issue. I was going to be the next Zuckerberg, but instead of building a social media network, it was going to be a fitness app. We would empower Gen Z to live healthier lives and be their best selves! The idea was a homerun. Step 1: I’d build the app. Step 2: Everyone my age would start crushing their ab workouts. I just needed a name. I settled for Steppen.

Turns out, I needed more than a name to guarantee my company’s success.

As reality set in, I realised I had absolutely no idea what I was doing - a theme that would continue for the three years I ran Steppen. What I did have was belief - and boy did that go a long way. I truly believed that Steppen was going to change the world. I also believed that despite knowing nothing about running a business or the obstacles that lay ahead, I could pull this off. This belief in both Steppen and myself was strong enough to make me realise I should at least pause my degree. My parents did not want to hear the term drop out.

Five months into this journey, Jake, someone I went to school with, reached out via WhatsApp after seeing an Instagram post of mine shamelessly plugging Steppen. He wanted to learn more. He soon joined as a co-founder. Two months later, our initial version of the app was ready - we thought it was amazing. However, once we began testing it with our friends we realised that it was extremely average. At the same time, Jake and I were driving around Melbourne filming content creators so that our app could launch with a library of hundreds of exercises and workouts.

We had no money. We had no developers. Did I mention that the product was extremely average? We needed actual investment if this was really going to work. We were lucky that capital markets were strong at the time, and we sold the vision of what we thought Steppen could be very well. As a business, we were soon armed with over $600,000. What that means is that we had money to spend on developers, design, and marketing. We met Dave who became our third co-founder and engineer. Dave added some grey hair and experience to the team. And we launched Steppen on the Apple and Google app stores that same week. We were flying.

Except … almost no one downloaded our app. And the 200 that did? They weren't using it, which is pretty critical when it comes to proving that your app actually has value for people. This was not how things were meant to happen. We were supposed to explode the day we launched.

We'd had some early wins, but it turned out the hard work was only in front of us, and this is where the grind really began. We met a gun performance marketer, who helped us to crack the marketing code, and from there, we grew to over 200,000 downloads. We raised a further $1.6 million just after my 23rd birthday. The trajectory was far from linear, we had huge strategy pivots, redundancies we had to make and different disasters every month. Regardless, early in 2023 we turned our focus to generating revenue in the app, we added an option for people to pay an in-app subscription fee. What we'd managed to do was to build an app with a unique audience, and we started to think that the next best move as a company was to find an acquirer. In September this year, Steppen was lucky to be acquired by Alta Fitness, a martial arts company.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, the same is true for a startup. I was lucky to have Jake and Dave on the journey. We were lucky to be supported by great investors. I am extremely grateful to my parents who encouraged me to pursue this opportunity. Looking back, there were a lot of external factors outside of our control that worked in our favour. I appreciate that this is not the case for many budding entrepreneurs.

If there are two things that I'd love you to take away from this piece, it would be to back yourself and just go for it. Your dreams won’t be achieved by just thinking about them.