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Tech startup: Zen Planner


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Zen planner

INITIAL LIGHTBULB:

Ben Pate started Zen Planner in 2006 after realizing how much of a pain point scheduling was for the martial-arts studio where he was a student. Due to a lack of effective booking software on the market, he developed his own in Zen Planner.

With a résumé that includes stints at General Electric, Avaya and PaySimple, Jeff Gardner came aboard as CEO in 2011. “I fell in love with what Zen Planner was doing,” Gardner says. “I’ve always had a passion for technology, but my big passion has always been fitness.”

Today the company has 34 employees and Pate serves as CTO.

IN A NUTSHELL:

Zen Planner makes scheduling software for member-based businesses or groups, with an emphasis on fitness and wellness facilities. Customers include martial-arts, yoga and pilates studios as well as tutors, churches and social clubs. Subscriptions start at $55 a month.

Explains Gardner: “Our focus is on managing classes, schedules and event management.”

The platform is something of a one-stop shop for its customers. “What we see is these small businesses spend a ton of money on different tools,” Gardner says. “It’s really complicated and it’s really expensive.”

Conversely, Zen Planner offers a singular solution that handles scheduling programs, marketing, customer relationship management, payroll and online payments. The company has also developed special feature-sets for different customer categories, like workout tracking for CrossFit gyms and belt tracking for martial arts.

“It helps you manage prospects all the way to them becoming customers,” says Gardner.

And the market seems to have responded favorably. “The real growth has happened in the past two years,” says Gardner. The customer-base jumped from 350 in 2011 to “several thousand” today and sales increased by a whopping 115 percent in 2013.

THE MARKET:

Massive. Gardner says there are about 750,000 target businesses in English-speaking markets alone. Beyond that, there are many more in other markets, but Zen Planner will focus on the U.S., U.K., Canada, New Zealand and Australia before porting the system to other languages. “It’s as much business as we could absorb at the current time,” he explained.

FINANCING:

After small funding rounds in 2011 and early 2013, Zen Planner rejected an unsolicited offer for a buyout in June 2013. Gardner says the decision “sparked” the pursuit of venture capital to take the company to the next level. Subsequently the company closed on a $10 million Series C round from San Francisco-based Mainsail Partners in October 2013. Gardner expects the investment will allow the company to double its staff to about 60 employees, refresh the existing platform, and develop tablet and mobile apps by the end of this year.

where Highlands Ranch    |    FOUNDED 2006    |   web zenplanner.com

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Eric Peterson

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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