How Bebe Ding turned a 'crazy idea' into a successful fitness business

PHOTO: Her World Online

It’s no understatement to describe Beatrice “Bebe” Ding as sporty. The 30-year-old, who co-founded fitness concept Cru with her two elder siblings in 2014, oversees training of its instructors in spinning, boxing, yoga, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Cru now has five studios across Singapore – two for Crucycle, and one each for Crubox, Cruyoga and CruHIIT.

The Ding kids were born to parents who owned businesses in industries such as shipping and real estate. So while striking it out on their own might have come naturally, it was far from easy. “We were all very rambunctious growing up. Everyone thought it was a crazy idea when we decided to do business together,” says Bebe.

Keeping it in the family

Bebe, along with elder sister Valerie, 34, and brother Calvin, 33, spent their early days shuttling between Singapore and Los Angeles. It was in the American city that they attended high school and college, and eventually picked up spinning.

They loved it so much, they decided to popularise the concept in Singapore. Crucycle was the first to open. “In the beginning, when it was just us, my brother and I taught classes on top of doing admin and handing out shoes. I also created the website while he swept the floor,” says Bebe. These days, Calvin handles production, and Valerie, marketing.

And while a family business may sound like all play and little work, it does come with challenges.

“We’re all very strong-headed, so when we were younger and didn’t know how to control our tempers, we let fights get in the way of decisions. We stepped on each other’s toes a lot,” recounts Bebe.

It’s also not just about butting heads. She explains: “There are always fires to put out, especially since our studios are open every day of the year and there’s no real ‘off season’. And with a team of nearly 60 employees in Singapore, that’s quite a lot of people to manage.”

Moving ahead

After eight years of running Cru, Bebe has learnt that the key to effective entrepreneurship is knowing when to pivot, rather than when to expand. In response to the surging demand for home workouts because of the Covid-19 outbreak, Cru introduced TV Bike, a home spin bike with a built-in touchscreen, and TV App, an on-demand fitness platform that offers signature Cru classes. The app has racked up over 45,000 minutes of view time in just two months. In short, business is booming.

And while she’s learnt to delegate, there are still some things Bebe prefers to do herself. This includes interviewing potential trainers to ensure that they’d fit right into the Cru culture. Furthermore, to cater to their work schedules – many have day jobs with office hours – her training programmes start from 5am.

PHOTO: Her World Online

On days when she takes a break from punches and upper jabs, she can be found in the kitchen happily cooking and baking away. “My mother and I cook the family dinners. I go all out when I cook and make things really pretty, like with edible flowers and stuff,” she enthuses.

This go-getter even found time for a course on holistic nutrition, which she completed recently. Yes, she whispers excitedly, she’s working on a food range for Cru.

So what’s the most important lesson she wants to share with others who want to go solo? Be bold.

“Just as an athlete has to be confident to believe she’s going to win a game, you have to stay confident that your business will be successful. I started out at 22, when I didn’t even know who I was yet, but I evolved with experience.

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“As an entrepreneur, some days I’m up, and some days I’m down. I can be overwhelmed one day, and the next, I’m like ‘Oh great, I have good news!’ It’s about navigating things well.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that respect is earned, not given. I believe if you truly want to make it work, you must be ready to pull up your sleeves and do the dirty work yourself.”

Below are Bebe’s three tips for putting together a good team.

Determine chemistry

“I can’t imagine someone being a part of my team if we’re of different frequencies. If the conversation between us flows easily, she’ll probably also get along with my siblings and the rest of the instructors – now that is important.”

Find out their other interests

“We encourage mastering different things. I became a better spinning instructor after becoming certified to teach boxing, and a better boxing instructor after becoming certified to teach.”

Work hard, play hard

“Our instructors and I joke around and have drinks together, but when it comes to teaching, everyone is there to do the work. Our classes are very intense and we aren’t shy about being vulnerable – it’s what gives us a strong presence on stage.”

This article was first published in Her World Online.