Applied 2 FinTech: What can FinTech learn from Fitstar?

In my journey to be a better product manager, I’ve decided to analyze my favorite apps to see what makes them great. Below, I discuss how the FinTech community can model their own products on Fitstar’s to overcome inertia and drive deeper customer engagement.


What is Fitstar?

Fitstar is an app owned and developed by Fitbit which aims to replace live, in-person personal trainers with advice and workouts delivered through their app.

The main features are:

The app starts you off with a simple choice of programs, and then lets you choose from a few different routines depending on how much time you have.
  • Selection of program / goal: choose between “Get Moving” for newbies, “Get Strong” for those looking to build muscle, and “Get Lean” for those looking to burn fat. Each goal will then select a series of workouts tailored for that purpose.
  • Guided workouts: each exercise within a workout comes with a short video showing you how to do the workout, narrated by a trainer. Additionally, the trainer offers form tips while you’re doing the exercises (e.g. “keep your chest up”, “keep a neutral neck”) that are surprisingly accurate and helpful.
  • Variety: the recommended workout for the day rotates based on what you’ve been working on most recently. So a back/core heavy workout will follow a leg workout, which follows an upper body workout. Each workout is ~30 minutes, allowing you to get in and out of the gym quickly.
The app walks you through each exercise during the workout, and asks you to rate its difficulty afterward.
  • Adaptability and Empathy: after each exercise, you enter how many reps you did, and how hard it was (“Easy” → “Just Right” → “Brutal). The app then learns from this, and adjusts the difficulty for the next workout you do.
  • Flexibility: Fitstar workouts can be done in pretty much any location, without any equipment. Additionally, they have a variety of workout lengths in case you are short on time.

What does Fitstar do RIGHT

Based on the way it is advertised, Fitstar seems to be targeted toward business professionals who travel frequently. However, I think their actual target audience is actually at the intersection of two segments: {people motivated to improve their health} and {people who are intimidated by the gym}.

For this segment, the gym can be an overwhelming place plagued by questions and self doubt: what exercises should you do, are you using the right form, are you working hard enough to get results, are you omitting key muscle groups, etc.?

I’ve tried using personal trainers before, and while they provide great supervised workouts, they don’t tend to provide unsupervised routines to follow. Additionally, record keeping to track progress is limited.

Fitstar solves these problems by taking the thinking out of your workout. You simply show up, and follow the app. Thus, Fitstar seems to meet three primary needs beyond simply providing a workout:

  • It completely removes the emotional uncertainty caused by having to think about what to do next.
  • In doing so, it removes all disincentives to working out by telling you exactly what to do, every day.
  • It allows you to track progress, and get feedback on how much strength or endurance you’ve gained by using the app.

What I Would Change — Features

I’ve used Fitstar for 6 months and really enjoy the app. In that time, I’ve noticed four opportunities for their product backlog:

1. Better tracking of progress — while the app does provide “badges” saying that you’ve leveled up your back, etc., it would be more powerful to provide feedback on specific exercises. For example, it would be great to know that after two months, you’re now able to do 10 more pushups. Even better, having a benchmark workout completed every quarter would be a great way to assess progress.

2. Tracking other metrics — similar to the first point, it would be great for Fitstar to log things like arm/hips/waist measurements, weight measurements, and BMI calculations. This would again provide positive feedback on the effectiveness of the approach. Fitstar is already encouraging transformation stories, and this could lead to a potent marketing capability for the service.

3. Improved coordination of total activities — there are days when you exercise by taking a walk, taking a class at the gym, or playing a sport. It would be a great add for Fitstar to offer the ability to log these activities, and incorporate them when making a recommendation for your next workout.

4. Offline data management — Many gyms have poor WiFi and cell connectivity, so allowing you to download 1–2 workouts (and the accompanying video) to your app for offline usage would be helpful. A similar arrangement for music downloads (perhaps in partnership with Pandora or Spotify) would help avoid silent workouts.


What I Would Change — Business Model

While a free option is available, it will not track your progress or customize workouts for you. In order to unlock those features, Fitstar has a two-tiered subscription pricing model: either $8/month or $40/year (less than the cost of half of a single session with a live trainer).

However, there are a number of ways for Fitstar to generate additional income. Here, I’ve identified three areas of opportunity.

1. 1:1 Coaching to review progress — similar to the way Betterment is now offering white glove service to their premium users, Fitstar could offer periodic coaching to help users get the most out of their sessions. The coaching conversations could focus on diet, workout routines, or injuries and could be offered through a partnership with local providers.

2. Additional membership tiers— many customers have additional exercise equipment available (either at the gym, or at home). Fitstar should create additional tiers that allow users to unlock spinning courses for use at the gym (effectively mimicking Peloton), or yoga/Pilates/TRX courses for use at home. The combination of traditional body-weight fitness and guided courses could spur additional memberships, and deepen relationships with current customers.

3. Improved referral programs — currently, Fitstar offers 1 month free when a friend signs up with your referral code. Fitstar should consider adding the option of choosing a sample workout to give to a friend. Today, a friend saw the “Mountain Cross” workout and was interested in trying it. Letting me refer this specific workout to her would increase the likelihood of adoption.


Applying Fitstar to FinTech

There are three main lessons that FinTech providers should take from Fitstar:

  1. Fewer options can be better — The main lesson that we should take from Fitstar is that some people need a simpler option set when it comes to anxiety inducing subjects. Services like Mint and Betterment offer different types of budget and retirement guides, but more directive guides with fewer options may be more effective at influencing behavior.
  2. Simple goals can take you far — Fitstar makes the first choice incredibly simple: choose if you’re getting started, trying to build muscle or trying to burn fat. Similarly, offering customers a set of simple goals may increase adoption of the service. For example, having to choose between building an emergency fund, saving towards a bigger goal, or investing for retirement could force prioritization, and thus motivate behavior.
  3. Having a (virtual) partner can be motivating — as silly as it sounds, having a consistent, virtual coach provide advice every session can help build a sense of trust and familiarity. Developing that persona to provide guidance could help reduce the stress, frustration, and fear that many customers have when initially engaging with their finances.

Overall, Fitstar is a phenomenal app that accomplishes the hardest of goals: getting people to overcome their fear and inertia to start exercising. There’s a lot for us in the FinTech world to learn from their approach!