Cortney Woodruff is young, smart, ambitious and the CEO of Los Angeles-based fitness technology company, TrainersVault. Still in his 20′s, Cortney has already made a name for himself around the globe. Earning a degree in economics and internships at hedge funds meant a career destined for Wall Street. However, after applying and being accepted into the world’s top business school’s five-day summer program (IESE Business School), his passionate business proposal of creating a fitness technology company earned him formal acceptance – without applying — into the school’s business college where his classmates included top executives of global companies. Woodruff has since turned his idea into a reality where he and his staff help trainers increase their reach of potential clients from locally to globally through his website TrainersVault.com.
Cortney Woodruff, TrainersVault CEO”]”Personal trainers do have the opportunity to be branded and looked upon and admired and respected, the same way nurses and physicians have done for decades. I don’t think anyone is really focusing on that.”
BFT: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you found yourself on the path to being a CEO of a tech startup.
CW: I could talk all day on that (laughs). But, just to give you a little background on me because I don’t really think that I necessarily shared this with you guys when we first met. I’m from Jackson, Mississippi which has a population of around 170, 000 people. Ironically my grandparents had a family business which was one of the first African-American-owned grocery stores in that city. And it was actually in the same neighborhood that Medgar Evers was assassinated in. I grew up watching my family run the business, and I think that’s where I get my entrepreneurial “bug” from.
Entrepreneurships has just always been part of my DNA I guess. Anyways, growing up I was always into academics and sports; I had a passion for soccer. I played Select soccer all around the country. And I remember being quite young and having a lot of opportunities. And I ultimately ended up going to Division I and playing at Alabama A & M in Huntsville. So I went to an HBCU because I graduated from a prep school in a class of 70 with only 4 African-Americans and I thought that it was going to be quite important for me to go to college and continuously pursue my love for soccer, but also to have a diverse experience.
I remember going there for medicine and taking a zoology class. And I was like, “Woah,” I don’t want to be a cardiologist anymore. I cannot be in school for eight years. So I switched over to economics. Ironically, I quit playing soccer after my sophomore year of college and I fell in love with business. So I went home during the summer after my freshman year, I did an internship with Trustmark Bank which is the largest bank in Mississippi, and after that every summer I went looking for Wall Street internships. And I think that was when my passion for entrepreneurship began because Facebook had just kind of become popular. And you saw the story of a 21 year-old kid that created a company worth millions of dollars.
I remember thinking about how hard it was for me to get my internship as a minority coming from an HBCU with a prominent financial institution on the East Coast. So once I finally obtained one I came up with an idea to create this website called Intern Wall. The idea was to give students a free resource where they could literally go to our website, select a city, choose a job category and always see the logos of various companies displayed like the shape of a wall which were offering internships.
And I remember being in these large financial institutions and half of the day I would work on the banking stuff and the other half I would work on my business idea.
But that was very important because as I was in these corporate business settings, learning how to effectively communicate my ideas to people that were senior to me. I began to learn how to take candid feedback from them, which ultimately gave me the confidence and ability to go around presenting various ideas of mine.
And I would say that over the course of my four years of college I interned with five different companies. One summer I went back to Mississippi, one summer I went to Boston and one summer I went to Denver, Colorado. And I was always the only minority in these institutions because they were large banking institutions. And coming from an HBCU and going back to those institutions in the summer kept me balanced. It afforded me the opportunity to see different perspectives, and really made me appreciate being prepared to for foreign environments when necessarily the environment that you were in everyday isn’t the one that you’re going to ultimately be challenged the most.