The founders of the Boulder Movement opened 2 boulder gyms in the middle of Covid-19


Many people tend to confuse bouldering for indoor rock climbing.

To set a record, these are two completely different sports. In addition to bouldering, all you need is sports chalk and climbing shoes, instead of complicated and expensive equipment like ropes, harnesses and carabiners.

Although bouldering requires much less endurance than rock climbing, this robust and dynamic sport definitely serves as a test of an individual’s sense of balance and muscular coordination.

When Boulder MovemenWhen it first opened in Singapore, there were already several existing boulder gyms in Singapore, but they were not adapted for beginners and did not suit adults.

The Boulder Movement entered this space to offer this distinguishing factor and they are now probably the most sleek indoor boulder gym on the island.

Although Covid-19 has forced some fitness venues to stumble and fall, the Boulder Movement is climbing higher and higher and has even managed to open two new outlets in the midst of a pandemic.

Launching an inclusive boulder gym where even newcomers can find their basics

Singaporean climbing enthusiasts Jansen Ko (34) and Joe Fu (32) opened the first Boulder Movement outlet at the OUE Downtown Gallery in August 2017.

Jansen and Joe’s wife climbed with their colleagues at the university, so the two founders met and started climbing together.

Upon graduation, Jansen continued to retain a passion for bouldering, but was frustrated by the lack of boulder gyms that were “comfortable and designed specifically for adult employees.”

Moreover, most of the logs available at the time were not adapted to beginners. “It’s a great pity that the new climbers don’t have a good introduction to the sport and end up leaving the first session feeling discouraged,” Jansen said.

Together with Joe, he decided to solve this problem by launching the Boulder Movement to give new climbers a safe space to explore the sport and gain confidence.

“Who knows? This could be the beginning of a lifelong adventure for them, just the way it was for me,” he added.

stone movement
Image credit: Boulder Movement

As such, Boulder Movement offers climbing sessions and climbing classes specifically tailored to different levels, from absolute beginners to experienced climbers. It is now considered one of the beginners ’gyms, which still offers challenging routes for experienced climbers to test their limits.

This sport is gender neutral, so women can perform just as well as men. In fact, the inclusive and hospitable atmosphere of Boulder Movement makes it very popular among clients, who make up the majority of their client base.

Customers always leave grateful feedback on the welcome and encouraging community of the Boulder Movement, and the gym has since developed into a support space where strangers can establish close friendships while climbing.

They used their professional skills to revive the Boulder movement

Juggling between full-time jobs and reviving their new business idea was not easy. Jansen soon found himself at a crossroads, he had to dive deep and decide what he wanted in the end for his career.

Eventually he came to a conclusion and decided that climbing was his calling.

They pooled their savings to conceptualize and open their gym, and Jansen eventually quit his job as a real estate appraiser and quit the franchise business he was engaged in to focus on increasing his full-time business.

“After seeing many groups of climbers begin their journey in the Boulder Movement, and grow into such successful climbers, I feel emotionally fulfilled and satisfied,” Jansen thought.

Jansen, Joe, the movement of the thunder
Founders Jansen Ko and Joe Fu / Picture of Merit: Boulder Movement

Joe, who is still an architect at ONG and ONG, has contributed his design and project management skills to open his climbing halls. His expertise proved extremely useful, given the rapid spread of the Boulder Movement.

“Being an architect, both Jansen and I, who comes from the real estate industry, have enabled us to study the feasibility of locations very quickly and efficiently,” he explained.

As a young father of three, Joe also had to work on his time management and multi-task skills, and learn to prioritize tasks to take on more roles.

Bolder moves in the face of adversity

As new entrepreneurs, the couple did not think the business would be so difficult, and they thought they would gain strength quickly. Although promising, the initial response gathered by the gym still met their expectations.

Since their first gym was located at the end of the basement hallway of the Downtown Gallery, it saw very little traffic of people.

stone movement
Boulder Movement Downtown / Image Credit: Boulder Movement

The founders initially relied heavily on digital marketing to start a business.

They made many mistakes, but quickly turned around to figure out what would attract instead of alienating their customers, such as understanding the optimal cost structure, for example. They learned a lot through the process of rethinking what customers want, and balanced that with business maintenance.

Initially, the team struggled with a lack of capital, knowledge, and an urgent fear of failure and mediocrity. But with the support of their friends and family, they celebrated every milestone and learned along the way.

Today, together with a good team, they have built a robust system and are ready for new challenges.

Opening of two new outlets in the middle of a pandemic

Of course, new challenges presented in the form of Covid-19.

First, their second gym in Tai Seng was supposed to open in May last year, but construction was halted due to the Covid-19 switch. Therefore, the opening has been postponed to August 2020.

They were engaged in conceptualizing the design, negotiating the lease, renovating and setting the routes to hiring new team members, and at the same time performing day-to-day tasks for their existing branches. They even started selling a new gym to existing and new customers.

As it turned out, Jansen and Joe did not intentionally open their second gym in the middle of a pandemic.

“It was more common that after months of birth the baby had to give birth and we just had to give birth,” Jansen joked.

Boulder movement tai seng
Other gym Boulder Movement – in Tai Sengu / Image Credit: Boulder Movement

When restrictions on sports operations related to Covid-19 were announced, new guidelines were set, including restrictions on how many customers can enter gyms, as well as mandatory closure.

Some users even canceled their subscriptions, and revenue dropped to zero during the two months of quarantine in 2020, and for another two and a half months in 2021. The latter was much harder for the team due to the “nature of start-stop” measures.

The Boulder Movement team was tired and frustrated that it had to close and reopen in such a short time. In addition, the vague guidelines were also contradictory, so many operators in the climbing industry struggled to interpret and apply their own rules.

Although some climbing gyms could remain open, most were forced to close. Unfortunately, the Boulder Movement was categorized along with larger fitness gyms due to the high-risk nature of mask-free activities, although climbers wore masks from the first switch measures.

bouldering with masks
Bouldering with face masks / Picture of merit: Boulder Movement

Local authorities eventually recognized that climbing is a low-risk activity masked by the latest safe management measures that are differentiated by vaccination.

The Boulder Movement was in service again, but not without a two-hour limit and a strict limit on the number of patrons.

“Climbers were used for daily entries before Covid, so there was a sense of injustice that customers still have to pay the same prices with less time to climb,” Jansen said.

However, rents, salaries, and overheads continued to outweigh business owners. Jansen and Joe even had to dive into their own savings to sustain their business, raising funds from shareholders.

They also resorted to state-subsidized financing in the form of a temporary bridging loan, using all possible means to overcome their growing cash flow difficulties.

The two young founders held on to their weapons and continued, in a certain order, to focus on people, products, and profit. They insist it would be a disaster to run the business the other way around.

Through weekly online applications, they were able to motivate their growing team and continued to pay salaries to everyone so that no employee had to suffer a pay cut due to quarantine.

Living by Mark Zuckerberg’s motto of “moving fast and breaking things”, the team was constantly improving its services to adapt to changing regulations.

And the community was flexible and appreciative, responding well to new measures. Their customers returned from each closing with a higher level of energy and enthusiasm, simply happy to be able to climb again.

They also maintained a desire for their clients by changing things regularly. They refresh the routes twice a week to provide new challenges to their climbers, with the intention of teaching certain movement lessons to achieve a range of learning outcomes.

The camaraderie and friendships made at the gym are further proof of their supportive atmosphere. Their field team even greets all customers with their names, cheering them on as they climb.

In response, Boulder Movement received an outflow of support from its customers. The team finally decided to return the encouragement with a new and improved offer as a way to bring back enthusiastic fans.

By building the best facility they could afford, they wanted to provide their clients with something even more exciting to look forward to.

Boulder Movement is the third gym in Rochor
Boulder Movement third gym in Rochor / Image Credit: Boulder Movement

In May this year, it opened its doors and the third Boulder Movement office in Rochor.

With more gyms the team will work on a bigger canvas. They are now able to increase the level of difficulty to satisfy more experienced climbers.

Opening not just one, but two gyms, in the middle of a pandemic requires a lot of courage and confidence. “Even if the market is in decline, we still need to continue to add value to customers. Hopefully when the market recovers, customers can come for a ride, ”Joe said.

Raising the Boulder movement to higher heights

log movement team
Co-founder Jansen Ko and team / Image Credit: Boulder Movement

Some evenings at the gym are magical. From strangers cheering on each other to people determined to win the project, these memories, while intangible, are incredibly fulfilling to Jansen and Joe.

As founders grow their business, accessibility soon becomes their main focus. They are looking for new ways to define accessibility beyond the quality limits of route setting and the nature of the challenges tailored to beginners.

They are considering whether to consider affordability in terms of prices, in order to extend inclusion to users who are financially hard hit by the pandemic.

In addition, they are considering new ways to make Boulder Movement more accessible to all age groups – for example, younger climbers between the ages of six and 13 can also find joy in climbing.

However, accessibility as an ideal remains unattainable; Jansen and Joe hope to seek answers and solutions through more dialogue and discussion.

The team has gone through great difficulties in growing the business, and the fear of complacency still keeps them awake at night. Even when the day is over, their minds are still at work, figuring out which new areas should improve.

Today, these millennial founders are proud to have created something so sincere, out of nothing. With a vision to create a company that customers adore and that their employees are proud of, these guys are doing step by step.

For now, they are working on adding more value to their membership plans, but they are closely tied to all future plans. One thing is for sure, we can expect much more from Jansen and Joe in the coming months.

“We want to push the envelope on behalf of our customers and strive to keep them excited,” Jansen suggests.

Featured image: Boulder Movement

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