Nerissa Zhang: “People aren’t going to get fit in 30 days”

The Bright App completely removes the necessity of gyms as middle men sucking up all of a personal trainer’s profits. With our app trainers can connect with new clients and completely manage every aspect of their client relationship within the app. As a part of our series about strong women leaders who are shaking things up […]

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The Bright App completely removes the necessity of gyms as middle men sucking up all of a personal trainer’s profits. With our app trainers can connect with new clients and completely manage every aspect of their client relationship within the app.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nerissa Zhang.

Nerissa Zhang is co-founder and CEO of The Bright App, a leading fitness management mobile app revolutionizing the way personal trainers do business. Nerissa is also an elite trainer, a USAW Certified Sports Performance Coach, and she owns and operates two private gyms in San Francisco. She manages all this while residing in California with her husband and three young boys. When she isn’t balancing work and parenting, she enjoys powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, martial arts, and yoga.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When I was a single mom with two kids working 12 hour days as a personal trainer in San Francisco, I was barely making ends meet. As I struggled, I also began to learn more about the personal training industry. Most personal trainers are independent contractors so get no employee benefits, however gyms require uniforms, specific working hours, and they keep about 50% of the income personal trainers generate with their clients. While I was actually homeless for a period of time working myself to the bone as a personal trainer, gyms were making massive revenues from my work.

I loved being a personal trainer, but that one inefficiency was something I knew I had to disrupt.

There are several other inefficiencies that also led me to design a tech solution to revolutionize the personal training industry. Nearly all personal trainers also have clients on the side outside of the gym, but struggle terribly for a simple and easy way to manage them. They’re using four or five different installment systems, manually keeping track of sessions, and getting questions from clients from text and email and social media DMs etc. all to do one job.

After years of research, I created The Bright App to disrupt this incredibly inefficient industry and empower personal trainers to make the living they deserve. Personal trainers don’t need gyms to be professionals, but they do need to start using tech solutions designed for them in order to stay relevant in this society which revolves around convenience.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The Bright App completely removes the necessity of gyms as middle men sucking up all of a personal trainer’s profits. With our app trainers can connect with new clients and completely manage every aspect of their client relationship within the app.

When trainers connect with a new client through our online private training marketplace, they’re able to send a package with a certain number of sessions at their desired rate. The Bright App automates scheduling, billing, reminders, and installment. Our app also removes the friction from the personal trainer/client relationship with seamless transparency. Clients will never have to ask how many sessions they have left in their package or when their next session will be. Personal trainers never have to worry again about making a mistake in tracking, ruining a high-paying client relationship because of easily avoidable mistakes.

Allowing trainers to spend less time on administrative duties with fewer mistakes, they become more efficient and have the capacity to take on many more clients. We allow personal trainers to run their businesses with ease and to experience the true freedom of being their own boss. They can work as much or little as they want, connect with clients from anywhere in the world, and keep 95+% of every cent they earn.

A recent study showed that after this pandemic, at least 26% of gyms have closed permanently. If personal trainers don’t adopt the necessary technology to manage their own clients now, they’re going to get left behind without any work in the profession they love.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first launched The Bright App, one of the ways I was getting new personal trainers on the app, was to hire them for a training session, get to know them, and talk to them about the benefits of our software. There was one day when I had scheduled six different workouts with six trainers across Manhattan. They all ended up being high intensity workouts ranging from CrossFit to yoga and bodybuilding. I had met six amazing trainers, but I literally could not walk at the end of the day.

I thought it would be nice to pay for their services and see what type of trainer they were and it was. It was really helpful to get to know them through our shared passion. But I realized after barely being able to move for a few days after that, that I could have just gotten coffee with them instead and bonded over training through conversation rather than high intensity workouts!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I don’t have any business mentors yet, but I’m looking. I do have a mentor in life though. She’s a doctor and university and has been a mentor to me since I was 15. She’s a strong female personality that has always understood and inspired me. We first met because she grew up in foster care like I did. She grew up in the last orphanage they had in Seattle and is a big believer in encouraging women who are coming out of foster care.

She’s been there for me at every stage of my life since we met. She helped me get into college and even helped me move all my things into the dorms. She always taught me that even though I don’t have permanency in my life in the form of a childhood family, I can choose to build permanency in my life. We’re still the best of friends and talk all of the time even though she lives on the other side of the United States.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disrupting an industry is positive when that disruption is helping people. I have a serious problem with the converse when people are trying to disrupt a system in order to further exploit people.

In the fitness industry for example, I’m disrupting a system which withholds autonomy from trainers and makes it incredibly difficult for them to earn a living wage. The Bright App’s disruption to the system will empower people to live healthier and happier lives — trainers and clients.

What is not positive are all of these AI products or fast fitness products and systems that are not only taking jobs away from people, but are never going to improve people’s health in the longterm like person to person relationships can. People are already isolated, lonely, and lacking motivation. Looking into an AI mirror or expecting results in 30-days are only going to compound the mental and physical problems people face. People need another real person to trust and look to for catered advice and care.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. Never listen to the advice of someone you wouldn’t have asked advice from. Would you ask for nutrition advice from a plumber? No. So don’t listen to all the unsolicited advice from people who act like they’re experts in fields they have no experience in. I’ve had several people throughout my life tell me how to run my businesses meanwhile they’ve never started or managed a successful business in their life. Trust your own insights gained through experience and ignore wannabe experts.
  2. Always be aware that many people will say you can’t do something because they couldn’t do it. I get that sort of discouragement a lot from other people in the fitness industry who couldn’t get results. I’ve had people tell me I was an idiot wasting my time with clients who they couldn’t get results with and with people who saw me seeking to start my own gyms and The Bright App. You can’t listen to that nonsense. I didn’t and I’ve succeeded every time where they did not.
  3. Be good to the people who have believed in your journey from the beginning. Be good to the people who support you so that you can succeed. My family, my kids, my clients who joined my gym early on, staff who have worked with us from the start, everyone who has helped me get to where I am today — I will never forget what those people have done for me. I will always do what I can to show them my gratitude.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

While our app will allow fitness professionals to work with clients from anywhere, there will still be situations in which they would like to use a gym for their training sessions. I own two private gyms in San Francisco and we’re going to pioneer a pay per use system for trainers.

Rather than take 40–50% of their sales like most gyms do, trainers will be able to come rent out a space in our gym just for the time they need it. We will even have private rooms equipped to allow personal trainers to conduct professional virtual training sessions.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The world won’t listen to us. Particularly venture capitalists refuse to acknowledge the accomplishments, skills, and capabilities of women disruptors. VCs will tell women and have told me several times dismissive things like, “Oh that’s cute” when I present my fully functioning and already profitable business versus the, “Wow that’s a great idea” that men will get. VCs keep saying what a great idea I have, but that they just don’t think that I can be the leader to carry it out. Meanwhile 98% of all VC funding goes to men often for ideas that haven’t even been proven, have no revenue, and don’t even have a team, product, or service yet.

No matter what I do or how much I achieve, I will never ‘look like success’ to the rich men who refuse to view women, mothers, and women of color as anything but risks and liabilities.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Start With Why by Simon Sinek is a great book and Ted Talk. One of those days that I was going down the YouTube rabbit hole just browsing random videos, the Start With Why Ted Talk came up. Right off the bat I honestly thought it was stupid and was going to clicc through to the next video, but then Simon gave an example about why people love Apple so much and why it’s such a good company because it has always stayed true to it’s “why”. That caught my interest and before I knew it, he had turned everything I thought I knew about about starting a company on its head.

The book dives deeper into the reasons that you should always start with and circle back to your why for your business. It’s not about how a product works, but rather why does that product exist? Who does it serve? When you start with the why of your business, the how and what will fall into place. Using your why as the compass for all of your company’s decisions helps you stay aligned with your values and keep your business on track.

Start With Why really changed the way I think and how I approach business. This shift in my thinking is why I chose not to have monthly fees for The Bright App and keeping our fees at 4% of a trainers revenue. I created The Bright App to empower personal trainers to make a living wage. I’m not making as much upfront revenue, but I am allowing trainers to pay their bills. That’s our why.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Understanding that I’m responsible for my life reminds me to make decisions that will help me grow as a leader. I’m the leader of my house, my companies, my personal training clients… Taking responsibility for myself allows me to lead with actions that reflect who I am and what my values are as often as possible.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement I want to inspire is to turn away from all the fast fitness, fast weight loss, fast health gimmicks plaguing the health of so many people. We need to shift all of the energy being put into fast fitness into true long term health. All these trends to get fit once per year in order to have a beach body, these 30-day fitness fads that promise you’ll get fit in thirty days, these one pill or food cure-alls are actually damaging people.

People can’t just eat one superfood or take one pill and miraculously be healthy. People aren’t going to get fit in 30 days. We need to have a movement that brings people back to valuing and practicing fitness and health throughout their whole lives.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please check out The Bright App website at and you can download our app for free on The App Store and Google Play. You can also find the links to all of our social media channels on our website including Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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