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Alumnus Partners with UCalgary to Help Find Fitness Buddies

 If you are looking for company while you ski, rock climb, play tennis or go the gym, check out PlayCity. 

By Deb Cummings

Hafiz Mitha’s road to his latest social venture began with a problem. 

For Mitha, they always do.

Two summers ago, when he returned from a trip to Nepal and India, he was desperate to play tennis but couldn’t find a partner. 

“All my friends were working,” explains the 2007 political science grad, “and, unlike soccer and hockey, which I play a lot, I was just a beginner at tennis and so I wasn’t sure I wanted to join a club.”

What followed is what Mitha has gained fans over. Problem: No one to play tennis. Solution: Build an app that would act as a buddy-finder amongst tennis players. Result: PlayCity.

Launched in the summer of 2015, this app has garnered more than 1,000 downloads and partnered with the City of Calgary, Repsol Sport Centre (a.k.a. the Talisman Centre), Yoga Passage, and as late December, UCalgary.

Although first dubbed “Tinder for Athletes,” Mitha now scoffs at that, renaming it “Uber for active people.” Imagine if My Fitness Pal and Uber had a one-night stand in a squash court — the result might well be PlayCity.

Backed by an advisory board, a couple of people/volunteers in marketing and a development team out of Serbia, Mitha is the only full-timer but, for now, feels that’s adequate. That business model will change if his vision which includes partners such as the YMCA, Trico, Westside and other big rec centres happens, but right now the 32-year-old “lives simply” and is motivated by the community-building aspect of this social venture.

Covering a range of sports — from tennis and gym workouts to squash, jogging, soccer, rock climbing, snow boarding and hiking — the app connects people with fitness activities, locations, skill levels, schedules and gender. Users log into the app through Facebook, enter their sport of choice and skill level on a scale of one to five and the conversations begin. Last summer the top sports were tennis, running and working out and predictions for the winter are skiiing, snowboarding and hiking. Although unique to Calgary’s market, other similar apps are Fitness Buddy (in the States), f5e (in B.C.) and Whistle (eastern Canada).

Spend 30 minutes with Mitha and you discover the entrepreneur is no newbie to the world of app developments. Soon after graduating from UCalgary in ’07, he stared a marketing firm called JOI Media. Life was bumpy for a bit but once big players such as Cenovus and the School of Public Policy came on board with branding and online marketing needs, business swelled. By 2014, Mitha felt he’d done what he could in working on sales strategies and business development for JOI, and so he chose to be bought out. Soon after, he got a call from a data analytics firm, Vivametrica, for his business development skills. He jumped at that but, eight months later, he realized he “was an entrepreneur at heart,” and so, pushed on.

What he’s discovered lately is that “life is way too serious. We all need time to play and, somehow, as we get older and start raising kids, we forget to be active ourselves,” he admits. “I am hoping PlayCity makes it easier to stay fit while connecting with other healthy, active people.”

As for applicable job skills that Mitha learned while studying poli sci, he laughs and says, “I learned how to crush out a 25-page paper in three days and learned how to write, and write well. I use those skills all the time, plus I learned the power of community and what I needed for my mental happiness.” 

However, Mitha was anything but one of those extroverted students, the kind involved in a million clubs. Sometimes referred to as a “transactional student,” Mitha would show up for class, go to Mac Hall, but then leave. “I never used the first-class athletic facilities at the U of C,” he admits. “I had lots of friends and cousins who would play squash or work out there, but I never did. What I’ve recently discovered is that the Active Living Centre is amazing.”

Wanting to give back to his alma mater is what prompted Mitha to waive the partner fees for Active Living. And the other bit of philanthropy that Mitha is setting up is Project Play. People with old or underused sports equipment will be able to donate the items to Project Play, laying the foundation for a swap to occur.

Does Mitha regret not following his first path which was to pursue a career in law?

“Not at all,” he says. “Follow your gut, your heart and start something. Lots of people get trapped by what society thinks is successful so I find myself saying, ‘don’t get caught up in the glitz and glamour of a career just because it will get you out of debt. Try not to get in debt to begin with, and live simply.’” 

Good advice for all of us, at any point in our lives. But it’s doubly poignant as we enter the season pf gluttony that often leaves us with fatter waistlines and slimmer wallets. Don’t wait to commit to fitter friendships — start now by downloading this free app.