On Friday June 21st 2019, more than 4300 riders clipped into their Peloton ‘spinning’ bikes at 8 am EST to take instructor Jennifer Jacob’s final live class on the Peloton platform. The ride was streamed live on the first day of summer and was taken more than 22,500 times (a majority On Demand) in just over 5 days.
This shared digital experience, which is still on going as people continue to take the class, highlights core elements of Peloton’s success and our evolving consumer economy.
Jacobs (aka JJ) was an instructor with Peloton for over three years and had quite a ridership for her 80s themed rides each Friday. Jacob’s stunning beauty was matched by the intensity of her workouts and the care she put into planning them. Her super challenging climb rides were a favorite of many — including me.
It’s hard to put a count on how many Peloton members are Jacobs devotees, but her Instagram account has more than 70,000 followers, her Official Peloton Facebook Page north of 40,000 fans and the JJsCrew tribe on Facebook had over 2600 (the group has changed its name to TheCrew and has never had an official affiliation with Jacobs). Of course there are likely tens of thousands of riders that love her classes but are not on Facebook or official fan pages or on IG.
For context — Peloton has reportedly sold 500,000 bikes since 2014 and many bikes have multiple riders (for example my bike as 2 regular riders (my wife and me) and my 12 year old rides a few times a month. A bike at a country club or apartment building may have 25 riders registered.)
A Web of Digital Relationships
When JJ officially announced she was leaving Peloton a few weeks ago, an amazing range of riders across geography, age, fitness levels, sexes, lifestyles, pet preferences and a host of other attributes openly shared their sadness, memories, fears and gratitude for the incredible impact that Jennifer Jacobs has had on their lives. JJ fans discussed favorite rides, challenges overcome with JJ and pictures with JJ at the studio in NYC.
My friend Sam, a litigator in NYC, has lost more than 40 pounds riding (almost) exclusively with JJ and gained endless confidence and friendships through Peloton over the last two years. Because Sam lives in NJ and works in NY, she has ridden in the studio with Jacobs for many of her milestone rides (eg ride #200, #300, up to #1200 — yes Peloton is gamified and milestones are recognized and celebrated).
For Sam and many of us Peloton members, JJ and the other instructors become as influential in our lives as special school teacher might be. Peloton instructors become central players in the fitness and well-being of Peloton members.
As the outpouring of emotion enveloped JJ’s impending departure it became crystal clear that Peloton, through its hardware and talent led content, has helped facilitate hundreds of thousands of relationships between members and instructors and millions of relationships between members and other members.
Yes, a vast majority of these relationships are new and digitally based. Sam, the friend I mentioned earlier, is a friend I met through Peloton and a Facebook based Peloton group. Because I am DC based and can get up to NY easily, Sam I have met in real life 3 times in the past year in NYC. All our meetings included other Pelofriends and classes at Peloton studios.
The End Of My First Digital Relationship
I’ll admit it, when I realized JJ was leaving Peloton I was shocked and experienced a few moments of panic — wondering who I would ride with on Wednesday and Friday mornings and whether JJ’s brand of intensity was lost to me forever. Clearly I had not realized how attached I was to Jacobs (and a few of the other instructors). I realized I was taking them for granted, never considering that they might leave. And while some compare it to an athlete leaving a team, I don’t see it that way. I was connected to JJ more than any athlete as I sweat with JJ and she programmed her classes for me and the other Peloton members. Athletes play for championships, teammates and money and customers are just observers and cheer leaders.
You see, over the previous 2.5 years I had taken nearly 750 rides on the Peloton bike, close to 100 running classes (they now sell a treadmill with streaming classes and offer outdoor audio runs), and more than 1000 floor exercise classes (core, arms, HIIT cardio) classes.
Peloton and its instructors are a major consumer of my time (sorry TV and random browsing) and I am happier and healthier for it.
That said, I was still surprised by the sadness and concern washing over me, fully aware it was caused by a mostly digital, one sided fitness relationship that I paid for. This was a new kind of relationship for me and I was experiencing a new kind of loss. I have no name for the end of a digital consumer fitness relationship, but I do feel it.
Memories of JJ and My First Ride
My first Peloton ride ever was with Jennifer Jacobs. It was a 20 minute beginner ride and to be frank, I chose JJ because she was beautiful and I chose a beginner ride because I had never clipped into a spinning bike before. It was late 2016 and I thought the 20 minute beginner ride with JJ would be better than another indoor run on the old Precor treadmill in our basement.
I cannot remember the playlist or JJ’s instructions from that first ride. What I do remember is that Jennifer Jacobs won me over with a puddle of sweat beneath the sleek black spinning bike my wife Emily had brought into our home. Jacobs had kicked my ass in just 20 minutes and it felt great. JJ sold me on endorphins and sweat.
After that first 20 minute ride, I took a few more 30 minute beginner rides with JJ, then a 30 minute 80s rock ride, then a 45 minute 80s ride and by February 2017 Jacobs and her peers had introduced me to climb rides, HIIT rides, intervals and arms and a variety of floor exercises. By mid 2017, Peloton was becoming a regular part of my life and my irregular solo jogging career of 15 years was fading away.
Since that first beginner ride with Jacobs in late December 2016 and her final ride on June 21, 2019, I’ve trained with all of the Peloton team — including all of the yoga instructors, but I’ve spent lots of time with JJ as she is the favorite coach of the Peloton Monthly Challenge Tribe (PMCT), a challenge based Peloton group on Facebook that I joined in late 2017.
The PMCT tribe of riders scheduled many milestone and group rides with JJ because her approach is challenging and demands accountability — exactly the requirements that hold the PMCT tribe together.
I took my first ever live ride with JJ and PMCT in early December 2017 and as I look back over my 750 rides, my proudest moment on the bike so far was completing a 90 minute climb ride with JJ in October 2018. That ride had me covering more than 33 miles in one session and grinning from ear to ear for at least a week. When I started in late 2016 I never would have imagined completing a 90 minute climb ride.
In addition to all of that time sweating and improving with JJ in my home, I’ve been lucky enough to ride with her live in New York where Peloton films its spinning and fitness classes. I’ve celebrated my own milestones in studio and my friends’ milestones in the studio with JJ. Those moments typically also include shouts out (recognition) for our efforts during the class and short friendly conversations with JJ before and after class. Pics are taken in front of a Peloton logo and then shared on social media (mostly Instagram and Facebook).
Why This Painful Goodbye is Such A Sign of Strength
This departure of an online fitness instructor and my sharing of the experience may seem odd and cultish, but its illustrative of why Peloton is so successful and what consumers are looking for in today’s economy.
For Peloton, its members and other instructors, the outpouring of emotion around JJ’s departure and the massive number of riders taking her final ride is evidence of the impact Peloton has on its members.
This event, likely not noticed outside of the Peloton community, highlights what an amazing outlier of a startup Peloton is. The depth of the emotional connections formed between this large, growing international company (IPO coming this year) and its customers is truly singular in today’s marketplace.
Here are three of the reasons why these members relationships have formed and have created incredible value for Peloton members (and employees and investors):
The Sweat is Real, Over Space and Time
First and foremost the Peloton bike, the instructors and the content they create and deliver is world class and effective for members that show up and put in the work. Showing up is simple because its at home (one of the core Peloton value propositions is convenience). Simply put, the product works really well. BTW, there are more than 12 cycling instructors so if JJ is not your cup of tea, try someone else.
One search on Facebook or Google will reveal thousands of happy, healthy Peloton members. The effectiveness and quality of the hardware, software and talent creates an almost immediate bond between most Peloton members and the instructors and company.
Moreover, the time spent in classes with the instructors is incredibly intimate even though it extends over distance and time (when the class is taken On Demand). The screen is right in your face, the sweat is real and the instructor is in your ear.
The instructors do the ride and pedal along with the home rider while offering cycling cues, motivational statements (or yells), and soundtracks that keep riders engaged and working.
There is a reason the bike has won endless accolades and product of the year awards — not to mention increasing sales.
The sweaty, heavy breathing nature of a good ride creates a shared experience that is different from other screen based activities.
Screen time with Peloton allows the member to escape other screens (and people) that nag, chime, demand and pull our attention in different directions constantly. Peloton offers an escape and the instructor is the guide to a special, sweaty space away from all the stress of regular life.
Additionally and importantly, because the ride is taking place in the privacy of one’s home a sense of relaxation and ease envelopes the rider that is not experienced in a public class. (There are many documented cases of nude runners and riders across the Peloton community.)
Social Media Extends The Community
It’s important to remember the incredible role that social media plays in the Peloton story. In the case of Jacobs and other Peloton instructors, Instagram and Facebook serve as huge points of connection for them to communicate their brands, ideas and class offerings to their users.
And while the instructors engagement on social media is crucial to the community, the ability for members to connect with one another around the instructor and the bike is more even powerful. It is as if old school fan clubs no longer need the actual subject of their devotion to actually organize and participate in the fan club (more on this as it is related to Peloton in my upcoming book — Sweating Together).
Because members feel so connected through classes and their shared experience, much of the social media content is incredibly intimate and revealing. In many cases connections among the Peloton community are grown and deepened on social media.
These platforms create endless opportunities for both instructors and members to share their experiences and deepen bonds with each other and the platform known as Peloton.
It is possible that there are many members that spend more time on social media than on Peloton. For example, a member might be spend 20 minutes cruising Facebook and Instagram to choose a class (based on instructor and other people’s posts and comments), 30 minutes in the class plus a 5 minute stretch afterwards, then another 20 minutes posting about the classes and replying to comments to their post about the classes.
Physical Connections Too
As noted in my stories above, many riders make the pilgrimage to the Peloton studios in New York and actually ride with and meet their instructors. I’ve been multiple times and its truly a fun experience — you are the live studio audience — but its a spin class not a talk show.
Beyond classes, Peloton has smartly sent instructors across the globe to open their expanding network of retail showrooms and to participate in additional events with members and would be customers.
Special events such as Homecoming (when 3,000 members descend on NYC for a weekend) and tribe organized Home Rider Invasions brings tens of thousands to Peloton members to studios each year.
While the members come in to meet instructors and take rides and classes (strength, treadmill and yoga), inevitably, more of their time is spent with other members and these relationships expand and deepen the community and the connections to the instructors and the company. There are also local meetups — usually organized on Facebook — and members even travel to participate in races (non-Peloton) around the country together. Of course much of this is posted to social media.
Peloton’s incredible mix of talent, fitness experience and community (both physical and digital), has created value that continues to grow its customer base and revenue. While there are challenges and competitors everywhere, JJ’s departure highlights the effective mix of sweat, social media, and physical meetups that has helped propelled Peloton forward.
One Last Live Ride With JJ
When I clipped in last Friday a few minutes before 8 am EST, I was nervous and just wanted to enjoy the ride with JJ and many of my Peloton friends.
The ride was an awesome 80s ride — opening with Welcome to the Jungle, and featuring songs like Jenny / 867–5309, Rebel Yell, Eye of the Tiger, and Don’t Stop Believing.
With a leaderboard of over 4300 riders, including 100 that I follow, and a good Peloton buddy of mine pushing me hard, I achieved a PR on the ride. PR is a personal record, meaning the output I generated on JJs final ride was greater than any other 45 minute ride I have taken. BTW, the friend who I was chasing also earned a PR on the ride.
I felt I owed a PR to JJ on her final ride — I really did. I’ve learned so much from her, shared hundreds workouts with her, and connected with a great community of people via her rides and approach to fitness.
Is my relationship with JJ a friendship? No. But it was some kind of relationship that made my life better. It was a relationship deepened by the fact we had met several times and shared some good healthy fun in the studio and via streaming classes. Most importantly, it was a relationship that was also shared with thousands of others. 4,300 hundred of them were there on Friday’s ride live and another 18,000 or so have shared the class with us on demand.
The value that the Peloton platform has created for its members is extraordinary and JJs uber popular final ride highlights some key elements of their business model. As I finish up my book (coming Fall 2019), I look forward to sharing more stories about Peloton’s business model and our evolving consumer and economy.