Vote Charlie!

Fitness SF reaches out amid online fiasco

Posted at age 24.
Edited .

Barely two days after I posted about my new gym lifestyle, the Fitness SF website got replaced Feb. 14 with a cutting open letter from the company’s former designer, Frank Jonen.

Fitness SF preferred to ignore our invoices instead of paying them. As a result this website is no longer operational,” Jonen wrote.

Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 11.53.24.jpg

Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 11.53.24.jpg

He continued: “Your word on their Facebook accounts will go a long way. We’re a small company in the heart of Europe, which is probably why Fitness SF believes they can sit this out till we perish. Can you support a company that acts like this?”

Jonen’s letter served as a call to arms for slighted designers and developers across the globe, and it encouraged Fitness SF patrons and nonpatrons alike to blast the company through social media, apparently the last hope for the designer to collect his dues.

Immediately struck by this apparent injustice, I scoured the Internet for more information.

Fitness SF maintains Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and Google Plus pages for each of its four locations in Castro, Marin, Oakland and SoMa, all in or around San Francisco. At first, the outcry was mainly on Facebook. Users posted many “recommendations” to their Facebook pages, and commented extensively on the latest post by Fitness SF.

In the early afternoon, Fitness SF posted a comment claiming they would be posting a statement soon. That statement never came, and instead the Facebook pages all disappeared.

As commenter Jonathan Nish wrote on the Adweek blog post by Tim Nudd, “They deleted their Facebook pages. Just about the STUPIDEST move they could have made.” I agree 100 percent.

Nothing further came directly from Fitness SF. The only mentions I found were:

The Adweek post, where Nudd reported Fitness SF disputed the claims and would have a statement shortly.

“Jonen was paid and is now trying to blackmail the company and extort more money from them.”

Advertising Age writer Rupal Parekh‘s piece on the matter quotes from phone calls to Fitness SF:

“It got hacked,” said one worker who answered the phone at the SOMA gym. “We are trying to fix it now.” Said a manager who was handed the phone at that location: “The allegations are not true.”

SocialTimes’s Devon Glenn also phoned Fitness SF to get the quotes:

“Frank Jonen was hired and paid to produce a website that he never made,” said Fitness SF director of operations Don Dickerson via email. “He is not an agency. He lives in his parents’ attic in Germany. He is attempting to blackmail us and we will not cave to extortion demands.”

I continued to follow comments on the matter, hoping Fitness SF would soon have a satisfying explanation for all this so I could continue to patronize the gym I was quickly coming to enjoy visiting. But nothing came.

My gut told me, if Fitness SF were totally innocent, they would have been shouting it from the rooftops immediately. At the very least, they wouldn’t have deleted the major outlets their users had to communicate with them.

So I decided to e-mail to cancel my renewal last night, explaining I might consider rejoining the gym if they settled the claims with Jonen.

This morning, I received an e-mail from Dickerson:


We have been in business for the last 2 plus decades. We have paid every bill we have ever had. We are victim of a serious crime. Please do not believe everything you read on the internet.

We are working to put out a statement shortly.

I hope you understand that we are a family business that works hard to treat our members, employees and vendors in a world class manor. That does not prevent you from being a victim of a serious crime.

Thank you,

Don Dickerson

I replied I appreciated the message, but cannot understand their response to this matter if they are indeed innocent of all charges. Then I got a call about an hour ago from Fitness SF cofounder and coowner Sebastyen Jackovic.

He explained he wanted to reach out to customers personally to give their side of the story, stating they had been dealing with legal and technical issues all day yesterday, and that’s why they “haven’t been on top of” the social aspect.

Jackovic said they did hire Jonen last summer for a fixed fee project and paid half of the $10,000 upfront. There were benchmarks to deliver prior to their September 2012 conversion from Gold’s Gym to Fitness SF after the parent company donated money to antigay causes, he said.

The cofounder said, “Our mistake was we bought his excuses and extended deadlines.” He said they told Jonen in October it wasn’t working out, and they wanted to pay for the work done and move on. Jackovic said there was a Skype call where they told Jonen they hadn’t used all the hours on the initial payment, and not to worry about any refund. Fitness SF then paid another web vendor twice Jonen’s fee to finish the job, according to Jackovic.

But, as we all know, Fitness SF never changed any of the admin passwords on their Hover hosting or GoDaddy domain name accounts, enabling Jonen to hijack the domain name and display content from instead.

Responding to prods for details, Jonen replied via a comment on the Adweek story:

My standard billing process is (or rather WAS):

- Negotiated part of the estimate up front
- Middle of project
- On delivery

Each billing part has 10 days before work halts. The problem here is that they dragged out the middle part by not delivering content in time. So when they cut me off I only had the advance and they still don’t have the transfer of Intellectual Property. I basically turned my own stuff off.

At this point, I still would like to know more details. Fitness SF is claiming the work was not as promised, and admits to not paying the full project fee. Assuming Jone’s claim about the IP transfer on full payment, it seems to me Fitness SF needs to pay up in order to use any of the work (logo, website), which they clearly have been using.

I can sympathize with Fitness SF about not wanting to pay a full fee on work they supposedly weren’t happy with, but there should be contracts in place to deal with these issues. (Do we need to watch Mike Monteiro‘s excellent and entertaining F*ck You, Pay Me again?)

Jackovic told me Fitness SF would have “postings” by day’s end today. I asked where they plan to release this statement, as their domain name is not in their control, and they have deleted their Facebook accounts.

I honestly don’t know how to release the statement right now.” He said they will probably send an e-mail to members or send a tweet.

Oh, what a strange new world!

As for whether I will maintain my membership, I still don’t know. I told Jackovic, while I understand the temptation to not pay for work with which you’re not happy, there seems to be fault on both sides, and from a business perspective, paying this off immediately is the best thing they can do. He said they worry, if payment were made, Jonen would then demand more money.

And on it goes. I hope Fitness SF just pays up. Then I can at least not feel like I patronize a business that touts an image of working with the community to fight off the big evil antigay corporation, but then fucks over the littler guy.