Luke McKey, founder of Mississippi-based FitMate Social, used to travel regularly to the Pacific Northwest for work. “Bend, Oregon was a city where I always packed in a few hours of skiing on Mount Bachelor, hiked one of the many trails nearby, played golf or just went for a run,” he says. And he did all these activities alone, despite the fact that there were probably several others in his area with the exact same interests.

That’s what inspired the idea for FitMate Social, an app that connects people based on the activities they enjoy most, from running to rock climbing and everything in between.

While FitMate Social is the first app to connect users based on their fitness preferences, it looks a lot like some of the dating apps already on the market. McKey was banking on the fact that familiar design would make the app particularly easy to use.

Some startups may limit their marketing efforts initially, but not FitMate Social, which opted for a nationwide launch, relying on hired “brand ambassadors” at college campuses around the country to promote the app.

“While I believe my demographic is virtually unlimited, I decided to focus on college campuses because of the receptive nature of younger adults to try new technologies,” McKey says.

The idea is to create a core user population. Then, after a successful launch in a college town, McKey will be able to adapt new strategies to continue to grow in surrounding areas. FitMate currently employs about 22 ambassadors, but the company hopes to double that number soon.

McKey finds ambassadors through a number of different services, even taking advantage of some universities’ student employment listings. He uses a service called Symplicity, which manages job postings on behalf of universities, allowing companies to reach several schools with just one post. Another helpful service is WayUp, which targets college student applicants via social media. Some companies, like Intern Queen, go so far as to manage the entire process of hiring, training and managing recruits on behalf of the employer. FitMate enlisted the latter to help launch two key markets—Arizona State University in Phoenix and University of Southern California in Los Angeles. 

Ambassadors are paid based on user growth in their area. According to McKey, some of FitMate’s brand ambassadors are paid quite well, but the company continues to experiment with using performance incentives as a way to keep ambassadors motivated.