How Fitness Startups Can Become the Next Fitbit
Fitbit, a leading provider of activity trackers, recently released of its S-1 filing in preparation for an IPO. If you haven’t heard about Fitbits yet, you might be behind the curve — President Obama was recently seen sporting the latest Fitbit Surge. The company’s growth and profitability is truly impressive; as Malay Gandhi of Rock Health points out:
In less than six years from the launch of its first device, […] the company has built a billion dollar plus revenue (run rate) business (at 50% gross margin), legitimately pioneering the category of “connected health and fitness” trackers.
Fitness is clearly a rising category in tech; in addition to FitBit’s 20M+ fitness trackers in the wild, many other startups are trying to cater to the active lifestyle. Across the board, the host of new fitness products today are focused on delivering a few key value propositions to their users. For the most part, we can break them down into three categories:
- Tracking and measuring: Apps like MyFitnessPal and Strava take advantage of the mobile phone’s built-in sensors to help users track their movements. The methodology isn’t new — archeologists have uncovered athletic records dating as far back as Ancient Greece — but as sensors and software get smarter, it becomes incrementally easier to start measuring activity levels.
- Personalization and custom workouts: From Fitstar to ClassPass to FitMo, startups are trying to deliver a personalized workout regime. By offering a larger variety options for criteria like type of workout, timing, and location, these type startups are placing control back in the hands of the consumer.
- Gamification: In hopes of retaining users and creating a more social experience, emerging fitness products such as Fitocracy and MapMyFitness are using badges and leaderboards to prompt users to exercise.
The list above demonstrates that fitness startups are now taking full advantage of tech and software innovations to hook their customers. However, in doing so, many are ignoring the consumer value proposition of historically successful fitness businesses.
Weight Watchers, founded in 1963, is one of the earliest successes in the category of fitness companies. Jean Nidetch founded the company with a concept based on popular gatherings of friends who wanted to lose weight in her Queens, N.Y. living room. While other diet methodologies emphasized on- and off-list foods (“dos and dont’s”), Weight Watchers advocated a way of life whereby no foods are off-limits, exercise is encouraged, and support is offered by a group of peers. What differentiated Weight Watchers from other fad diets of its day is a lesson for today’s fitness startups:
Consumers do not want to follow a list of rules, they want to find a new way of life.
There are numerous examples of “Fitness-as-a-Lifestyle” companies who have been very successful in the last 5 years:
- CrossFit seems like a very simple value proposition — it’s a combination of high intensity, high rep movements that one could mostly do with one’s own body weight. When people talk about CrossFit, however, they rarely point to the equipment or gym amenties, but rave instead about the people, either close friends at the gym or professional CrossFit athletes with a cult following.
- SoulCycle is using some of the same spinning techniques we’ve always known and translating the workout to a fun and supportive environment. SoulCycle creates its environment with just a few suggested “rules” for their members, which is often re-inforced by the positive messages from their riding instructors.
A core feature of the SoulCycle bike is that there aren’t any numbers in on the knob — the ride isn’t quantified, it’s qualified. SoulCycle’s YouTube page is filled with videos of folks who can’t stop talking about the positive impact SoulCycle on themselves and their community.
- lululemon sells infamous yoga pants and has apparently sold enough to become a $9B publicly traded company. Their Company motto, however, makes no mention of $98 pants, yoga, or even wellness — it states simply: “At lululemon, we’ve made it our vision to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness.”
Borrowing liberally from these historical successes, today’s new crop of fitness startups should follow suit with these tactics:
- Find your beach head. For lululemon, it was female yogis. For GoPro, it was amateur surfers. Instead of marketing to the masses from the start, know who your core audience is and make sure they are happy with your product. (For example, Athos is targeting personal trainers who want to get the most of their and their clients’ workout.)
- Pitch the lifestyle. The biggest successes in this category have been able to keep prices above the competitors by creating a lifestyle brand. Focus on the look, feel, and design of your fitness brand — remember that fitness is both a premium and aspirational purchase. (Withings does a great job of this in their latest Pop Activite commercial.)
- Create a community. Fitness is no longer just about health and wellness — it has become part of someone’s identity. As communities move from the physical to the virtual world, the challenge for fitness tech startups is to keep the same kind of engagement with your users. (Peloton Cycle is trying to build a similar community vibe from your own living room.)
This article is also published on Business Insider.