On Eid, while the rest of the city was downing sawaiyaan and kebabs, a group of people were gathered at the Moin Khan Academy in DHA, Karachi, doing pushups and jumping jacks. For their trainers, Nusrat Hidayatullah and Torsam Tajik, no excuse is big enough to skip a day of their Forty Two Day Challenge (42DC).
What started as a personal fitness regime, 42DC has changed many lives since it opened its doors to public in early 2013 and in the process, made Hidayatullah and Tajik enviable entrepreneurs. As the programme continues to grow, we speak to the power couple about the business side of the story and ask what’s in store for the future.
Labour of love
Sitting in their newly acquired office in the deserted Phase VIII, Hidayatullah tells us 42DC was bound to happen given how hard she and Tajik had worked to come up with the ‘perfect’ fitness routine for themselves. “Torsam and I had been working out and following diets for a long time, and after extensive research and experiments we found what was working for us and what wasn’t,” Hidayatullah says.
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“We did everything a person should do and should not do. We had gone through that trial and error phase before we reached this point where we have our own programme,” Tajik adds.
As their fitness programme started working for them, Hidayatullah says they wondered if it would have the same results for others. “Just as a social experiment, we decided to do a class. We got a little space at MAD School and started our first session with 51 participants,” she shares.
Six months later, Tajik says, the next semester break came and people were urging them to do it again.
Since they both were very young, they had a different outlook on life, says Hidayatullah. “When you are young, you are very passionate and not yet cynical. The younger you are, the more out of the box you think,” she says about introducing new concepts like mixed classes out in the open.
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“We have always been focused on its success, whether the money came or didn’t come. That is the reason why we have flourished even though we have been mimicked and taken for a ride by several partners every time we tried to expand. Despite running 104 fever we were standing in the class screaming. One time, Torsam broke his shoulder and with a bone sticking out, he was doing one-arm burpees in the park,” she shares, as Tajik shows the scars that have stayed with him as a reminder.
Another thing which Hidayatullah thinks goes in their favour is their family-oriented style of business. “Me, Torsam and other people part of the business have very close links; we are friends and family and make a tight unit. People who have messed up with us are people we have not known very well,” Hidayatullah explains. “People who were my friends,” Tajik adds with a laugh.
“Slowly, we have found our groove. There are hiccups but now when we move forward, we are a little more settled and have each other when things go wrong,” she states. Working with family and friends is intense but there is also 100% trust, says Hidayatullah. “You know they have your back. I know if something goes wrong and I tell Zaigham, he will help me on five levels; he is my brother, he is my business partner, he is also close to Torsam etc, etc,” she explains.
Since its first session at MAD School in Clifton, 42DC has expanded to become a registered company and has held Asia’s largest mass class. “We could probably be the largest class in the world, but we have not checked those statistics yet,” Hidayatullah giggles.
As of 2016, the fitness programme has expanded greatly in numbers and has presence in four cities. “We were just 22 years old when we took 42DC to Lahore and we got 220 participants. In Islamabad, we got 200 people and 90 in Hyderabad,” Hidayatullah shares.
The major turnout in Hyderabad with 45 women, she says, was a big feat for 42DC. “We imagined there will be these inhibitions and people won’t show up, but we were excited to see how many people did come,” she says.
Lunging towards success, the dynamic duo has no plans to stop. They are currently working on opening one-of-a-kind health store in Karachi. With live cooking, basal metabolic rate testing, clothing and health products, Tajik says it will be a one-stop shop for those looking for fitness as a lifestyle.
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With so many small businesses built around 42DC providing health food to the participants, Tajik says they thought it would be better if they could control the quality. “There are eateries making our meals and there’s no way to stop them. We had this idea of providing meals when we did our first session at MAD School but we did not have the investment then and nobody took us seriously,” he states.
While building a health store is a strategic business move, Hidayatullah says it is also to ensure their programme gives results to those who sign up. “The restaurants that are making our meals make them in standardised servings whereas according to our meal plan, each participant has their unique requirements and if they opt for these convenience-based food packages, they will be off their fitness targets by a big margin,” she says.
As Tajik bows out of the interview for another meeting, he shares one more component of their expansion plan: A prevention clinic for children. “It will open in February next year. That’s the most we can tell you about it. In the long run, we hope to collaborate all of health and fitness together,” he says.
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, the fact that 42DC’s business model has been cloned numerous times speaks volumes about its success. “This was not a market we broke but created, and given the population of the country, it is a huge market and people thought they could benefit from it. The concept of mimicry is a worldwide phenomenon. That is what, I suppose, the economy of China is banking on,” she quips.
A few such ventures, interestingly, were born out of 42DC itself. In Lahore, some of the participants and one of the main trainers decided to start a rival business named 180 Degrees after what they claimed was an unsatisfactory challenge by Hidayatullah and Tajik.
Hidayatullah, in the defence of 42DC, claims those participants ‘stole’ their trainer by offering him a partnership and ‘threatened’ to use the name of 42DC for their new business. “Despite a two-year contract of nondisclosure and non-compete, our trainer left and told me to my face that he will copy my workouts,” she says. Later, Hidayatullah says, the new business proposed to pay 42DC a 10% royalty payment for using their name - an offer they rejected.
Responding to these claims, CEO of 180 Degrees Umar Jahanzaeb says after the ‘ridiculously conducted’ Lahore session, he first approached 42DC with a proposal to work together to improve the programme in the city. “We offered them 30% on profit-sharing basis and later a royalty payment but they turned it down and then we went ahead with our plan to have a better fitness programme under a new name,” Jahanzaeb says.
On their lead trainer and his agreement, Jahanzaeb claims due to legal flaws in the contract, the trainer had the right to terminate the deal on the basis of his disagreement with the kind of exercises and the intensity of workout done during the programme. He further adds that 42DC is not an original idea and was ripped off the internet from a programme called ‘Six-week, six-pack’ which has been online for years. “This takes away the ownership Nusrat and Torsam claim,” he states.
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“We could have done a fabulous job together, but I am glad that did not happen because we are way ahead of them professionally and fitness-wise given the time gap between when 42DC and 180 Degrees started,” he says.
In Hyderabad, Hidayatullah says their partner Azar Kalwar did a similar thing and announced rival programme - Fit in 45 - at the end of the 42DC workouts. “We were given misquoted rent receipts by him and when we called a meeting to discuss this in Karachi, he did not show up. We felt some dodgy business was happening and there was a chase going on to get in touch with him,” she recalls. According to her, the Hyderabad partner brought a new trainer on board without their consent and convinced their existing lead trainer Sanaullah Rajput to work with him instead of 42DC.
Sharing his side of the story, Kalwar claims 42DC stalled signing the partnership agreement and gave him misquoted receipts for the equipment bought for the Hyderabad challenge and salary of one trainer. He further accuses them of offering Rajput a partnership behind his back to replace him as their Hyderabad partner.
Hidayatullah denies these accusations and claims the lead trainer does not want to work with Kalwar anymore and want to return to 42DC. “At the end of the day, anyone can make anything up but the proof is in the pudding. Will Sanaullah work for Azar?” she says, adding we will have to wait and see.
When The Express Tribune contacted Rajput, he confirmed he is no longer part of Kalwar’s Fit in 45. “Azar hired me as an employee for one of his existing companies and kept me in the dark that I will actually be working for 42DC. When 42DC found out about the financial irregularities, they told me they will end their partnership with Azar and that I should sign a fresh employment contract with them. I did not leave Azar right away but now I don’t work for him,” he says.
Because Kalwar was Tajik’s friend, the 42DC owner decided to put up a status on Facebook to set the record straight. On Tajik using internet as a battle ground, Hidayatullah says she personally did not take part in that social media takedown but says someone needs to keep a tab on public accusations so that the situation remains in control. “Otherwise, everything will go haywire,” she says.
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