Diogo Corona

CEO of TotalPass

Diogo Corona is a prominent business leader in Brazil. He is currently the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the fitness club franchise Smart Fit and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the corporate wellness benefit platform TotalPass.

Diogo joined Smart Fit, the largest gym network in Latin America, as an administrative intern when he was a senior at São Paulo’s Insper Institute of Education and Research, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2010. He stayed with the company after graduation in various roles that made use of his extensive experience in finance, including expansion analyst, planning manager, and executive director. Prior to joining Smart Fit, Diogo worked as an analyst at Itaú Unibanco, a financial institution.

Diogo was appointed COO of Smart Fit in 2016, where he oversees operations for the company’s locations in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru. His specific duties during this period have included leading Smart Fit’s expansion, financial planning and pricing activities. Diogo is also an officer for some of Smart Fit’s subsidiaries.

Diogo believes in an integrated approach to fitness that combines traditional physical activity with technological solutions. The use of innovative platforms with personalized coaches creates holistic programs that appeal to many types of customers. They are thus able to track their progress and set goals, while retaining access to personalized advice.

Diogo also focuses on community building to create an environment where customers feel more connected to each other and the coaches. He believes this approach increases the likelihood that participants will maintain a healthy lifestyle over time. Diogo has also implemented group classes and online forums to foster a sense of belonging and motivation that helps users remain committed to their routines.

Where did the idea for TotalPass come from?

TotalPass started as an alternative to what was available in the market. We saw a trend that was happening worldwide, which are aggregators—there was ClassPass in the United States (US) and Gympass in Brazil. And we wanted to launch an alternative for the gym market to not depend on just one aggregator (in Brazil). We believed that there was potential for more than one, so we created our own. Initially, the idea was to bring together some gym networks—not just Smart Fit. It would make a lot of sense for HR—to have the main gym brands. However, this idea was not well received, so we started TotalPass ourselves. I took over the project in August 2019.

What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?

I’m very much into routine, so my day is always quite the same. I wake up around 6:30 AM, go work out in the morning at the Studios we [Smart Fit] have because the workouts are quick and efficient, and I value efficiency a lot—about 45 minutes per workout. I walk back home, take a quick shower and breakfast. I always wear the same clothes to work—I have identical shirts and pants. I’m always in a gray shirt and blue jeans, and that’s how I go—by 9 AM, I’m in the office every day. I have my schedule of meetings—usually, I have meetings almost all day—except for Friday afternoons, which I keep free for any unexpected meetings that may come up. I stay at the office until around 9:30 PM or 10 PM. Most of the time, I have lunch at my desk to save time and be more efficient. So, my weekdays are quite routine.

On the weekend, I have dinner out and try to take the dogs for a walk in the park. Sometimes, when I’m not too tired from the week, I also workout. On Sundays, I try to meet up with my mom and take her out for lunch. So, it’s also quite routine.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think I have lots of ideas because I really enjoy what I do. So, I leave here [the office] and keep thinking—and sometimes, that can even be a problem in terms of having difficulty disconnecting a bit because I don’t stop, I’m always thinking. I do this morning workout, which is a high-intensity training, to try to focus, to be present in the workout, otherwise, my mind won’t be present. But even during that time [of training], I’m always thinking, thinking, and thinking… and I come up with ideas.

I spend the whole day thinking about work—from the moment I wake up in the morning until I arrive home at night. And I think many ideas are a result of that, precisely because I think and enjoy my work so much. I don’t want to disconnect; I don’t have this need to go out and have a drink to disconnect. On the contrary, I enjoy thinking, and that’s when I come up with my ideas, and I bother people, sending messages to everyone here. I share, I like to build ideas, provoke, speak, listen to others, and test the idea. Sometimes—rarely, because it’s very rare—I visit a Smart Fit store on the weekend, but it’s really rare.

I also seek allies when I’m going to develop these ideas. I share, and if it makes sense, we test it—we have a lot of autonomy to do things here at the company. So, that’s how I do things.

What’s one trend that excites you?

In the fitness industry, I see that the trend that is very strong, surprisingly, is weightlifting. It’s about people wanting to get strong—the stereotype of strength and muscle. And I say “surprisingly” because research is conducted and it is said, “No, people are going to the gym for mental health.” But I don’t see that… for me, it’s spoken about due to “politically correct” reasons.

And this trend is a global phenomenon, encompassing both men and women. No one really knows how to explain it, but there are theories that people are understanding that it’s not just about running on a treadmill to lose fat—if you do weightlifting, you burn fat too.

Trends don’t emerge overnight, right!? These are things that people start discovering over time. Today, many people want to lose weight by doing weightlifting, and this stereotype of strength is very prevalent. I don’t see the gym crowded with people focused on mental health—I see, really, aesthetics and strength, even more than before. I can’t exactly say what people are seeking with this, but I know the stimulus they’re having is strength. They want to have those big muscles, either for aesthetics or because it will bring something else… there, I really don’t know. But I know this is a fact happening worldwide.

People are not going for exercises more related to mental health. Because, you know, mental health involves a lot of the endorphin production, and this is much more related to aerobic exercise—like a jog, sweating—and not anaerobic, the “strength” ones. So, what has gained much more strength, what is gaining a larger share, is anaerobic, not aerobic—surprisingly, because you do research and talk about mental health, but that’s not what I see.

What is one habit that helps you be productive?

I think it’s all about routine. For example, the day I workout in the morning and the day I don’t are very different for me. I believe all these habits that I have help me a lot. I don’t drink during weekdays; I avoid going out too much or take it easy because I focus on being fully present when I arrive at the office—I want to be as present as possible the next day.

It may seem trivial, but the routine—things like intense training, wearing the same clothes, eating the same things, having the same breakfast—helps me focus 100% of my energy on work. So when I’m here [in the office], I’m 100% dedicated to work, giving it my full energy and commitment. I’m as present as possible here. And outside of work, since I really enjoy what I do, I also end up thinking about it. And that way, I feel “less burdened” in that sense—often, for example, I look at work-related things, but without pressure… because I want to. So, I think all of this makes me more productive. I enjoy what I do, and I enjoy it a lot!

And another thing, I’m 35 years old, I don’t have children, I don’t have a “family,” and that allows me to focus 100% on work. I don’t know if it would be the same with children at home—coming home at ten o’clock, for example. I think there would be some changes there. So, you know, my life stage allows for this, right!?

What advice would you give your younger self?

I tend not to regret the things I’ve done. I wasn’t that disciplined in school; I wasn’t the best student. In college, I did well, but I never spent the whole day studying. Looking back, I think a person should enjoy the right moments in life. I know people who, in college, gave up a lot—meeting new people, going out—and later regretted it. I believe there are different moments in life. It’s a matter of balance.

In some phases of my life, I went out more, met new people, and I look back and have no regrets—I don’t think I should have been more disciplined and studied more or gone out less. Not at all… “zero” regrets! I met a lot of people, went out, did things at the right time—and now, for a while, I’ve been in this phase of working hard.

For me, the advice is to enjoy each phase of life and understand that there is a right time for everything. It’s important not to mix up those moments, so you don’t end up missing them later on. Also, I believe that in life, to succeed professionally, you need much more than just studying and memorizing things—you need, for example, to know how to deal with different types of people and contexts.

I often think about talent, cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, and what will happen considering the existence of these new technologies—ChatGPT and such. Nowadays, memorization is no longer important. With two clicks, you can find the answers. So, what will be left? I believe emotional intelligence is very important, and perhaps it will become even more important, especially considering technology. Technology is advancing in terms of cognitive intelligence, not emotional intelligence.

That’s why I don’t regret not spending my time memorizing and studying all day during school or college. It’s important to be able to understand the context, adapt to the environment, and be smarter in that sense because I think technical tasks may be the next to be replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is being widely discussed today—it’s already happening to a large extent, and I think it will continue to grow.

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

I recommend physical activity, whatever it may be. And it’s not because I work in this industry. I truly believe it’s important for everyone. I brought up the point about people focusing more on getting stronger through exercise rather than on mental health, but I do believe that engaging in physical activity is incredibly important for mental health—truly! While I see that the majority of our clients aren’t exercising for that reason, I consider it a highly significant motive.

The earlier you start engaging in physical activity, the sooner you develop the habit, and it becomes easier. Personally, I enjoy training, so it’s effortless for me. However, for those who haven’t formed the habit, especially at a younger age, it becomes much more challenging because you’re engaging in an activity you don’t want to do—thus, it feels more strenuous and tiring. For me, it’s not tiring at all because I enjoy it. But for those who haven’t developed the habit, it will become increasingly more “painful” to do. Once again, physical activity is highly beneficial for the mind—in my view, everyone should practice it.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?

What has contributed the most to our growth is the team we have. I believe that the way I assemble a high-performing team is by being an example to them. I truly believe in leading by example. When people work with me and see the dedication I have—I understand the business, I’m available, I’m the first to arrive and the last to leave, fully committed—they look up to me as an example in that sense. This makes it easier to attract individuals who also want to work in the same way. I lead people through my actions.

Another thing I prioritize is sharing things with the team. I believe that people need to feel like they’re a part of it too. You can’t treat people like robots. That’s why I share. I have ideas, and I call one person, then another, asking for their thoughts. I involve everyone so that they feel like they’re part of what’s being built. I co-create, design strategies together, ensuring that everyone feels involved—and I also provide opportunities for people to contribute their ideas. Ultimately, what matters to me the most is that individuals genuinely feel like they’re part of the project, the construction, and that their voices are heard. In my view, that’s the most important thing.

When I create an environment where individuals feel included and, in addition to that, lead by example—meaning I don’t leave any room for someone to say, “Okay, but I’m the only one doing the work, Diogo isn’t doing anything”—people feel more motivated, and I can have a high-performing team.

There’s another characteristic of mine that isn’t necessarily a success factor, but it’s a personal trait: I am very data-oriented. I believe that perception and subjectivity can sometimes seem unfair. However, when you have data and information, you can align clear expectations, and feedback becomes more concrete and precise.

In the teams and companies I manage, we have a “Data-Driven” culture, which, in my opinion, means that when data is available, it should be used. If there’s no data, perception takes responsibility—it’s simply a guess. And that’s the truth—sometimes there’s data that could assist in decision-making, but gathering the required information seems like a hassle, so decisions end up being made based on “guesswork,” and that’s not an acceptable behavior.

What is one failure in your career,  how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

In my personal life, I’ve invested in a company that didn’t succeed, and my biggest mistake was choosing a company without an entrepreneur—someone passionate to drive the project. We had an idea and put an executive in charge of it.

And this is a lesson I’ve learned: if there isn’t a passionate person driving the idea—someone who is truly invested as a partner—it won’t work, even if it’s the best idea in the world. And as a result, I lost money. Again, this is a lesson I carry with me when it comes to my investments in companies or individuals. I already knew this, had heard it before, but I still went ahead. I fell into the trap because I believed the idea was good enough and that the person would make it work. But it didn’t happen, it wasn’t the right person. In fact, it’s even confusing to determine if it was the person or the idea that wasn’t good, but the fact is that the combination didn’t work out.

Regarding the companies—Smart Fit and TotalPass—I’ve made many mistakes, but they were small mistakes in my opinion. However, I have made wrong bets on people, for example, and in such cases, the biggest mistake an executive can make is taking too long to remove those individuals.

However, since I have a significant role within Smart Fit and TotalPass, being one of the most responsible individuals in the business—and I’ve been here since the beginning, since 2010—I like to say that Smart Fit wouldn’t be the same without my presence. It could have been much worse or much better, I don’t know, but what I can say is that it would have been very different. There are many projects that reflect my style and that I created.

What is best $100 you’ve recently spent?

I’m living with someone who helps me a lot on this journey, and I think the best “$100” I spent, that I invested, was on a lunch with her. She’s someone who truly supports me throughout this journey because, even though I’m very happy with my work, it’s a routine that, when you think about it, can leave you feeling quite lonely. I wake up at 6:30 AM, leave early, and only return home around 10 PM, but when I arrive, she’s there… her and my dogs. We have a meal together and sometimes watch a show—not for too long because I have to wake up early the next day.​​

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I use Calendly a lot. The only thing that doesn’t help me is that I don’t have the Google Meet link yet. But I usually send the link, and the person schedules the meeting on their calendar—suddenly, a meeting pops up that I didn’t even know about.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast you’ve gotten a ton of value from and why?

The book I liked the most in my life was “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.

It talks about cognitive biases and explains some of our thoughts—many of which are irrational but often repetitive. It’s really helpful for understanding yourself and being able to reflect when you’re caught in those patterns. One example in this regard is what’s called the “sunk cost fallacy,” which is when you spend money on a concert ticket, for instance, but don’t feel like going to the show. You only go because you already bought the ticket, even though you don’t have to if you’re not willing to go. This decision to attend is an irrational one and doesn’t make sense. This kind of situation also occurs frequently in companies, where people say, “But we’ve already spent so much on the project, let’s keep going.” However, if it no longer makes sense, the project should be cut, the losses should be acknowledged, and that’s it. But humans have difficulty accepting losses.

Key learnings

  • Seek allies to help develop your ideas
  • Having a routine in daily life can help you focus at work
  • Enjoy the right moments in life and have no regrets