Company Spotlight: Health and Fitness App Productization Platform, with Sunny Dulay (Breakthrough)

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Breakthrough is an app development and management studio dedicated to helping fitness coaches to productize their activities into an app.

The company was founded in 2020 and has been growing exponentially since, delivering apps that hit the bull's eye of subscriber/end-user satisfaction. Listen to the episode to hear about 

  • The company’s founding story and growth tactics

  • How Breakthrough differs from aggregators 

  • Sunny’s vision and lessons learned from the world of health and fitness apps

  • Tips on how to onboard an existing community onto an app

  • User habit nurturing tactics for wellness apps

  • The importance and impact of brand awareness and community

and more!


How Breakthrough was born

Before landing on his own startup, Sunny Dulay worked as a software engineer at various companies, from startups to unicorns. Ever since App Store was unveiled in 2008, he has been fascinated by the world of apps, and his peers who launched successful apps inspired him to keep his course toward the business of mobile apps.

As an engineer and a product manager, Sunny naturally learned how software products are built, and SaaS businesses function. Then while struggling through a series of difficult life events, he discovered the meditating app Headspace, which not only helped him realize how much real-life impact apps can have but also the monetization potential of wellness apps. 

Eventually, all the dots led him to found Breakthrough, an app development and management studio dedicated to helping fitness coaches to productize their coaching into an app. 

Breakthrough's business model summarized

Breakthrough runs on various business offerings and revenue sources, including app development, release, and management; app store optimization; and end-user support. 

All of Breakthrough's partnering apps are subscription-based, and shares of those subscription fees are the most considerable revenue stream of the company today.

Breakthrough currently partners with 65+ apps (January, 2023)

Breakthrough and its current 65+ clients come together on a mission to productize fitness activities by bringing in complementary assets: coaches bring in their brand and community, and Breakthrough provides the technology and app business know-how.

Brand awareness and community

When investigating the fit for a new partnership with a new coach, Breakthrough searches out for substantial brand awareness and a solid follower community. 

Sunny believes that coaches armed with those two aspects propose a higher chance of successful productization. 

Sunny witnessed the following positive impacts of establishing strong brand awareness and community before launching the app.

  • With zero paid advertisement, up to 30% of a community following an influencer downloads the app within 12 months. 

  • Apps launched with an existing brand and community achieve an 80% retention rate on average.

  • Users from the community who download the app already have strong subscriber intent.

Following are some other aspect Breakthrough looks for when partnering with a new coach. 

  • A niche on social media platforms such as Instagram

  • Engagement metrics: likes, comments, shares, etc.

  • Previous productization experience in the digital space

  • Entrepreneurial ambition


App aggregators vs. productization infrastructure

Breakthrough's business model may give an impression of an aggregator because it gathers and organizes similar content from different sources. 

But Sunny points out that Breakthrough is not an aggregator but a business enablement platform similar to Shopify because instead of presenting multiple services in a single place, it provides an infrastructure for coaches to monetize and productize their service within their unshared and exclusively branded digital space.

From an end-user point of view, the subscription experience guarantees consistent content delivery. In the context of wellness applications, it plays an essential role in helping users follow through with planned programs and achieve their goals. 

Tips for successfully onboarding a community onto a new app

It can be challenging to bring an existing community onto an app and help them build a new set of habits in an undiscovered space as potential subscribers rather than followers of their favorite influencer. With an unmeasurable impact of such resettlement on the community’s stickiness, many apps will attempt to improve acquisition and retention by simply offering a large volume of content. But Sunny points to the importance of putting effort into helping users identify the right motivation and clear objectives, and delivering strategically tailored content to nurture that journey. 

Sunny's golden tip for successfully onboarding an existing community onto an app is to give a sense of orientation by engaging through the following tactics. 

  • Provide a course format to follow

  • invite to a community challenge

  • create a time-limited project

  • Have an introductory course

  • Give a taste of the app's value through a free trial/challenge 

  • Hook users with a discount

Lessons learned from the world of wellness

After years of delivering products for coaches, Sunny discovered the foundation of the tremendous growth potential of wellness apps - everyone has wellness goals whether it’s to get stronger or to sleep better.

He believes that many of those with wellness goals share two common pain points, which represent business opportunities for health and fitness apps if they can carry the right resolution through the in-app product and content offerings.

  • The majority of them do not have a roadmap on how to achieve them

  • Those with a roadmap often don't have the consistency/discipline

Following are some of Sunny’s tips for wellness apps on providing a roadmap and consistency/discipline to their users.

  • Offer a consistent one-trusted-coach experience.

  • Communicate users’ performance and track record.

  • Invite users to measurable challenges

Episode 17 Sneak Peek

On founding Breakthrough

“This guy, who I've never met, he's essentially scaled himself as a coach. He's productised himself into an app, obviously him and many other people. That idea was super interesting to me”

“We give her the offer, like, "Hey, do you want to make your own yoga app? We're just going to more or less recreate Headspace, but for yoga and have all the cool features in there." That's how it kicked off. Within just a matter of months, Mary had thousands of people paying her $10 a month, $14 a month. That's how the company really started.”

On Breakthrough’s business model

“ I think our mentor business that we look to is Shopify. This is what Shopify does, where Shopify basically gives a platform for anybody to start an e-commerce store. You may go to an e-commerce website, you're purchasing candles or coffee mugs from this amazing brand, but really, it's all powered by Shopify. As a user, you don't know that it's Shopify.”

“With us, they're essentially creating their own business, whereas they have that. That ends up being, I would say, the biggest difference from the end user perspective in an aggregator. Using my own example, when you go to an aggregator, there's so much distraction, there's so much noise. When you go to an aggregator, every day there's a new coach that you're seeing”

“All of these apps are subscription-based apps and in-app purchases for digital content and various other levels of tiers of access to the actual coach and teacher. First of all, the app is launched with the coach's brand on the App Store, iOS App Store and as well as Google Play Store. And we plug into the Apple and Google infrastructure for payments. Basically is if their followers are subscribing to the app, they're subscribing through an Apple Subscriptions to the app. The way really we make money is we do a revenue share with them.”

On benefits of having a follower community

“What we see is anywhere from five, 5% of the audience actually participating in downloading the app and we've even seen up to 30% of some coaches who have a following of over six figures in following. We've seen that 30% of their audience have, over time, over 12 months, actually downloaded their app.”

“In terms of retention, once we see that people have downloaded the app and they've subscribed, we actually see an 80% retention rate for certain coaches that who we have validated and we see that they have a real, true community and they're continuing to feed it. It's not abnormal for us to see an over 80% retention rate. We believe it's because of the whole 1,000 true fans concept because people really, at the end of the day, they just love the coach.”

On onboarding a community

“The first thing I recommend is listing 3-5 team members that can help you, that might be excited, that might also find this feature of win. One of the things that I just suggest is listing them out and talking to them one on one to get their buy-in. Talk about your user research findings, talk about how it ties to your goals, so you'll share your science results, and then you'll share the creative solution that you come up with, and hopefully, you can get their buy-in.”

“ I find that when you have people that are excited about building your feature, not only can you get on the product roadmap, but you're going to have a better launch. You're going to have better communication. You're going to have a better go-to-market. It's going to be more successful, and so that collaborative approach is so key.”

“Waking Up of Sam Harris is an app. What they do is they have an introductory course. So it's like, "Okay, I'm going to start with the introductory course. Headspace has a basic one. "Okay, That's the first course that I'm going to do." What we figured out is, yeah, you need to give people some sort of course format that they can just jump into. And specifically in the course format, we like to rebrand it as a challenge.”

On the world of health and fitness apps

"I think everybody has wellness goals. You can find a stranger on the street, and be like, "Hey, what's your fitness goal? Do you have a wellness goal?" This is not something we have to think about. They know what their wellness goal is. Maybe it's to get stronger, or maybe it's to sleep better, or maybe it's to whatever it is.

“The two things that it boils down to are that people struggle with why they're not able to achieve that, one is a majority of the people do not have a roadmap on how to achieve it…Then number two is, the second thing that we realize people struggle with is, many people will have a road map where they'll purchase a PDF guide on how to get there, but then they won't have consistency. We realize that those are the two big things that… They don't have a road map, and they don't have the consistency/discipline.”

Ep. 17. Purchasely Subscription League Podcast

More about Sunny Dulay

Sunny Dulay, is the Co-founder and CEO of Breakthrough, an App Builder for Wellness Coaches. He is an experienced software engineer, product manager & sales manager. Based on his personal life-changing experience with a single coach-based app, Sunny is a believer in on-demand personality-based coaching through an app. His mission is to help coaches around the world productize and scale their coaching business with an app. The Breakthrough team helps coaches in wellness niches like Yoga, Meditation, Fitness, Nutrition & Sports launch & grow their apps. The Breakthrough platform has generated $2M+ for coaching apps. Sunny lives in NYC!

Episode Topics at a Glance

  • Sunny Dulay's background and introduction

  • Breakthrough Apps' founding journey

  • Breakthrough’s business model

  • What Breakthrough looks for when partnering with a new coach/influencer

  • Difference between Breakthrough’s offerings and an aggregator

  • Sunny’s learning from the fitness space

  • Community onboarding tactics

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