Lou Mooney and Paul Walden are the co-founders behind the startup that’s creating celebrity fitness apps for superstars
Photo credit: Centr
“It’s like his muscles are made of Cotati metal fibres.” Of all the ways Chris Hemsworth’s physique has been described over the years, the throwaway line from Avengers: Infinity War probably sums it up the best – although Drax’s line “It’s like a pirate had a baby with an angel” is a close second.
For the past decade, whenever Hemsworth has reprised his role as the Asgardian deity of thunder, the press has run red hot with tales about how he’s gained his impressive god bod. But as the premiere of Avengers: Endgame drew closer, there was really no need to wonder anymore as the Thor actor had unveiled it all in his new fitness app – Centr, launched in February 2019. Now, anyone interested in obtaining the same results could just sign up for the app and have Hemsworth himself walk them through his workout routine and diet. Users could also be inspired by his wife and Fast and Furious star Elsa Pataky or anyone from the massive team of nutrition, fitness and health experts the couple has assembled throughout their careers.
For Loup, the developers behind Centr, the launch exceeded expectations. Although she can’t disclose the exact number, Lou Mooney, one of the co-founders, says “thousands and thousands and thousands” of people have already signed up. “I’ve been really happy with what we’ve put out because it’s been really well-received,” she says. “Our team has worked around the clock. We’ve had a lot of very tired staff but they’re all very proud of themselves.”
So why did Loup approach Hemsworth in the first place about a year and a half ago? “It was a case of the planets aligning,” Mooney remembers. “We had identified him just in the office. Actually, it was just the girls in the office going ‘Oh my god if we could get anyone in this space, who would it be and why.’ And pretty much, everyone in unison said ‘Chris Hemsworth.’ He’s set to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world and embodies this amazingly healthy lifestyle. And he’s got a gorgeous looking family. They’re all the picture of health. He’s humble. He’s funny. He’s approachable.”
As luck would have it, Mooney’s co-founder Paul Walden spoke with someone from Hemsworth’s team and found out the celebrity was interested in doing something in the fitness space. And despite his stardom, the Loup team found Hemsworth a delight to work with. “Talking about Australian culture, we’re all very relaxed, easy going, love a laugh and he’s no different,” Mooney says. “And so it’s been a really lovely process. And he’s a really smart guy. Really switched on. Understands what our people want and like.”
Centr isn’t Loup’s first celebrity fitness platform. In the past, the Australian app developer launched a service with fitness model and personal trainer Emily Skye and TIFFXO with author, journalist and TV personality Tiffiny Hall.
Nevertheless, Mooney was still nervous about taking it up a notch with the Men in Black superstar’s new service, especially as it meant going global at an entirely new level. Fortunately, her worry was unfounded as people have been very positive even about features they’ve been less happy with. “It’s always been constructive feedback with this programme,” Mooney explains.
Part of the success is definitely due to Hemsworth himself. “He’s incredibly involved – more so than I ever imagined in fact – and just a delight to work with,” she reveals. Clearly, the Snow White and the Huntsman artist is passionate about making Centr a success as the star has taken a huge chunk out of his hectic schedule to help create the platform. “He’s super busy,” Mooney says. “He’s a different level of celebrity but he is involved in the curation. He knows every single workout. He does the programme himself. He eats the food. He talks to me at least weekly about what’s going on, why and [how] to improve things.”
But another reason behind the success is thanks to the startup itself, which may surprise some as it was only launched in 2016. “To many people, Loup was an overnight success but in actual fact we’ve been learning and reiterating this for the past ten years,” Mooney reveals. It all started when Walden and Mooney first met when they were both working at the Australian TV company The Nine Network. “We both had various roles there – Paul [was] in sales and he ended up being managing director there and me in a series of roles in production [and] PR,” she says.
As they got along really well, they decided to launch their first venture together in 2007 – the content agency Abundant Media. While they initially catered to the holiday industry, the founders soon recognised a massive opportunity in the fitness space as more people became increasingly interested in staying healthy. Walking along the beach one day, they realised this could be ideal for them. “We both had a keen interest in health and wellbeing,” Mooney remembers. “Not just fitness and food but also we’ve both explored different styles of meditation and I started out before TV as a yoga instructor and so there were lots of different things that we’d done in health.”
Photo credit: Centr
Recognising the potential of the sector and, importantly, that this was something they were both passionate about, they teamed up with News Corp, the mass-media conglomerate, to find out what fitness and health content people actually wanted. “We got a record amount of respondents,” she recalls. “It was like 75,000 people in Australia, which is big here, over the weekend. It gave us a helluva lot of insights into what people wanted.” Armed with this understanding, they set out to create more content on the back of it.
In 2013, the partners launched The Health Consultancy which later merged with Loup when the latter was launched in 2016. “The Health Consultancy was essentially what we are doing now but without the celebrity face,” Mooney explains. In other words, they explored how to create online health programmes and platforms “that catered to people’s ideas and desires.”
From their previous projects they already understood how to do it right. “We knew that people want a really [easy] package of information in the one environment that is easy to use, beautifully laid out and tailored to them and their goals,” she remembers. But one key insight came from their days at The Nine Network. “No one can sell a message like someone in the public eye can,” Mooney argues.
This insight eventually led to them launching Loup in 2016. Their first project was to create the first iteration of the 28 by Sam Wood programme for the Australian Bachelor 2015 star and personal trainer. In hindsight, he was perfect for the launch. “The women in Australia adored him,” Mooney says. “He chose a single mother, he was super humble and respectful and attractive and also a personal trainer. He just had an immense level of popularity and that is the trick with this business – finding the person that is the start of the wave is vital.” The programme quickly gained a lot of traction. “It was very good and immediate and I look back at it now and I wonder, how did we ever pull this when there were only five of us doing this [and] looking now at my team of nearly 60 people, we are running three programmes,” she continues. While Wood and Loup has since parted ways, that first iteration of the service gave the founders the proof of concept they needed.
Since then Mooney and Walden’s team has kept approaching celebrities to launch new iterations of the product. Each one is picked not just because of their popularity but because of their expertise – they have to either be qualified themselves or, like in Hemsworth’s case, be able to rely on an impressive team of experts. But a massive fanbase isn’t enough. “We choose talent typically where we know there will be a different customer base so [they don’t] cannibalise each other,” Mooney says.
Speaking of, Mooney hints Loup may’ve already picked it’s next star to work with. “Oh I might have but we’ll have another interview about that when we’re a little bit closer,” she laughs. For now, Loup is focused on creating better and more improved features for their current programmes.
And having tried some of Hemsworth’s exercises myself, I don’t mind saying they’ve left me feeling a little Thor.