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Entrepreneur is back in business with new partners

BETHESDA — Even after his first attempt to open an indoor cycling studio failed, entrepreneur Marc Caputo said he never  thought that he wouldn’t be able to make it work.

Marc Caputo

“Whether it was three months, or six months, or a year… it was going to resurface,” he said.

And so it has, six months later at the same location with a new name and new partners.

Caputo’s former studio was featured in The Daily Record on Feb. 14 as part of the Sweat Equity series about small business startups. At the time, Velovoom had been open only a few weeks, and  he and his then-partners were trying to get the word out about their unique approach to indoor cycling and fitness.

But Caputo, 45, parted ways with co-owner and investor Kelly Weinberg and a third partner in March, causing Velovoom to suspend classes and close.

Watch a video from the ZenGo cycling studio

“There was just a big change in, kind of, philosophy, and where we wanted to go,” he said. “And it was strong enough that I was the one that ultimately walked away.”

Weinberg told The Daily Record after the breakup that she intended to reopen Velovoom and honor class credits. But without Caputo — who many viewed as the face of the studio — the business could not sustain its momentum.

Six months later, after some regrouping and forming new partnerships, Caputo has set up shop again. This time he calls it ZenGo Fitness.

Open for about two weeks, ZenGo is already filling more than half of its 45 bikes for some sessions, according to class sign-ups on its website.

The logo and branding are all new. Velovoom’s bright orange paint is now a pattern of pastel purple and silver. A jar of purple gumballs now sits at the front desk where a jar of orange gumballs once sat.

Watch the original ‘Sweat Equity’ series video about Caputo and Velovoom

But despite all the aesthetic and symbolic alterations, the philosophy, according to Caputo, is still essentially the same: ”Recharge your mind. Recharge your body. Recharge your life.”  Velovoom’s motto was “Change your mind. Change your body. Change your life.”

The mind-body connection is what separates his studio from others, Caputo says.

ZenGo has also added barre classes, which are a hybrid of yoga and pilates, and the back room has been turned into a barre ballet studio.

Clients could purchase a single class for $24 at Velovoom and a package of as many as 30 classes for $20 per class. Caputo’s prices at ZenGo are $21 for a single class, $20 per class for a package of five, $18 for a package of 10 and $17 for a package of 20.

One of his new partners is master instructor Melissa Kullen, a 15-year fitness instructing veteran who led classes with Velovoom when it opened. Kullen said that during the months when the studio was closed, she craved it. Many clients have come back because they craved it too, she added.

“When it was gone, they wanted it, and they weren’t able to get it anywhere else,” she said. “They weren’t able to get that feel, that sanctuary in there that release, that endorphin flow, that intensity and the fun.”

Kullen, 37, and three months pregnant, teaches one or two 45-minute ZenGo cycling courses several days a week. Her energy makes her a client favorite.

After Velovoom closed, she had been teaching at bigger gyms, but said she never got the same feeling she gets from a class at ZenGo.

Caputo doesn’t have exact figures, but he estimated that about 60 percent of ZenGo’s customers are former Velovoom clients.

As ZenGo builds its customer base, it may face lingering resentment from Velovoom customers who paid for classes that were never held.

Joe Clarke, the chapter chair of SCORE in Washington D.C., a nonprofit that gives advice and guidance to small businesses and entrepreneurs, said Caputo and his new partners should address these issues up front.

“They’re going to have to proactively counter any of the bad memories or bad press that came with the other location and the other instances,” Clarke advised.

Caputo said he has been trying to do that by honoring packages paid for by Velovoom customers who return to ZenGo.

“The public associates everything with him and not his partners, or back-office partners,” Clarke said. “In the past whether he disagreed with it or not … he was still the public face of the dissatisfied situation.”

Caputo’s face is a big reason that Suzanne Greenleigh came back to ZenGo after taking classes with Velovoom.

“I knew Marc’s face was going to be here again,” she said, “which was just a big welcoming point when you walked in the door.”

Caputo said he wants to make sure clients know he’s there, so he said he won’t be hiring anyone to work the front desk for a while so he can work it himself.

Kullen’s reputation was also integral to getting Greenleigh back, she said.

Caputo hopes the changed atmosphere will reel in dissatisfied former customers of Velovoom. He also thinks the   cohesive relationship he has with partners Kullen and Penny Bortnick, a CPA and ZenGo’s CFO, guarantees that a philosophical or managerial dispute will not disrupt the business.

“We really share kind of a common vision and we haven’t had any sort of conflict,” he said. “Most business owners have suffered some failure before you sort of get to a success. I think I walked away a little bit smarter, a little bit stronger and a little more focused.”

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