The Origin of Studio and Our Mission to Make Fitness Accessible by Turning it Into Entertainment
We’re Studio and we believe that running on a treadmill doesn’t have to suck. Studio’s platform delivers audio group running classes that pair a motivating instructor with a killer playlist at anytime that’s convenient to you. Compete in real-time on our leaderboard against runners from across the world. Earn Fitcoin with every class to level up and unlock prizes. We’re bringing the world’s best instructors together to deliver you the best workout of your life at anytime that’s convenient to you at an affordable price.
The story of Studio starts with a personal one. I have been into fitness since I was a young teenager and it has always been a part of my life. In 2008 fitness took a backseat as I started a consulting firm while simultaneously finishing college. I gained over 50 pounds and was disappointed with my health.
In June of 2009 I was trying on clothes, looking at myself in the mirror and realized I needed to make a change. On June 7, 2009 I decided to run. Everyday since then — nearly 3000 days in a row — whether it was sunny or rainy, whether I was on top of the world or feeling sick, even after a long night out or traveling cross country, I have never missed my daily 5K. Not only has running helped me be healthier, it’s helped my mind and spirit become stronger. Running has become an outlet for me to be a better person.
At the same time, the story of Studio is also a professional one. While CEO of Onswipe, we built the world’s largest mobile publishing platform that worked with hundreds of publishers across the world. I was given a front row seat to the media world. Working with hundreds of publishers gave me insight into the world of content and frankly what not to do — do not start a media company that is dependent upon advertising to support its content. The future of media is in exclusive, premium content that people are willing to pay for. i.e. — be like Netflix.
This led me to ask one very important question — “What form of content is in significant demand, severely undervalued, and hasn’t been transformed by technology?” After a lot of thinking, the answer I arrived at was group fitness — a sector that’s grown 400% in the past four years and 18X faster than traditional gyms in the past year.
It’s not an obvious answer. Most don’t think of group fitness as a form of content, but that’s exactly what it is. Group fitness is an hour long performance that people are paying to consume. People pay up to $45 per class and charismatic instructors attract cult followings. Just like Netflix casting Kevin Spacey in their latest series, group fitness studios seek out top instructors. Group fitness studios produce a daily and predictable stream of content just like a media company. That content is heavily influenced by music and different themed classes. From a cost structure, group fitness classes are not expensive to produce either, especially in comparison to the content costs of Spotify or Netflix. The big problem of group fitness is how do you scale it?
Right now, group fitness is constrained by real estate. To reach more people, you have to build out more physical spaces and staff up accordingly. Each physical space can only hold 30–60 people at a time. Off-peak hours have low utilization and peak times sell out well in advance of a class. Customers attend classes that might not be at a convenient time for them just to get in a workout. God forbid you try to register for a popular Soul Cycle class on the weekends and wait more than a few minutes…you won’t get a spot.
Technology has finally made it possible to remove these constraints to build the world’s largest group fitness brand as a digital media company. That’s what we are building at Studio. We can record a piece of content for a low price, yet distribute it to millions of people in under an instant. This allows us to release new classes every single day and provide something for everyone. A core tenant of group fitness is providing fresh content on a daily basis — your members will churn otherwise. We also provide a level of convenience that cannot be found with physical studios — users can take classes on-demand after they air live, whenever they want.
Audio based classes are the way to remove the constraints of physical space and distribute our classes worldwide from day one. Audio based classes make our content easier to produce and it can be done from anywhere in the world. Unlike video, our instructors can record from their MacBook with a studio quality microphone from their home or our office. As a technology platform, our instructors no longer limit their earnings to 30 spots in a physical space.
Instructors are at the core of what we do and this proposition has allowed us to recruit some of the best in the world. We’ve been able to bring on top instructors with teaching and leadership experience from FlyWheel, Soulcycle, Orange Theory, City Row, and New York Road Runners.
In addition, members no longer limit their schedule to popular class slots and can take classes at anytime, even from their home. Half of all treadmills are purchased for home use and 60% of exercise happens at home. Millennials in the city can often make live classes, but those with busy schedules, children, or living in non urban areas don’t have that luxury. This has given rise to the popular on-demand fitness model, which allows anyone to enjoy group fitness on their own schedule. Peloton has proven the model in cycling with $170 million a year in revenue and Headspace has done the same for meditation with $50 million a year in revenue. We’re confident the same can be done for running, which is an even bigger vertical — 2.3x more treadmills are sold every year than exercise bikes.
While we remove the need for physical spaces, we don’t want to remove the social interaction, a key component of group fitness. We believe that wearable technology and the ability to get biometric data can help us connect individuals exercising on a common platform. Just in the past year, the Apple allowed developers to pull in real time data of heart rate, speed, and distance from the Apple Watch. The data from the Apple Watch allows us to build a real time and asynchronous leaderboard to let everyone compete with each other on a second by second basis. You may take the class at 10 PM on a Tuesday, but someone else may take that class the following Saturday at 9 AM. They’ll be able to see you on the leaderboard in real-time as if you were right there next to them. If you find yourself in 20th place out of 50 people on a leaderboard, you might work a little harder to catch up to be #19 or do your best to keep the competition behind you from catching up. We can turn Studio into a social competition just like a video game — something that wasn’t possible up until now.
As avid gamers, we’re not only inspired to make the leaderboard competitive, but the entire experience. Exercise is all about getting better through progression and accountability. To recognize progression, we’ve built in our own currency that’s similar to what you might find on Xbox Live. It’s called Fitcoin. The more time and distance you accumulate throughout your workouts, the more Fitcoin you earn. Right now, Fitcoin allows you to rank up and progress. Eventually you’ll be able to redeem your Fitcoin for physical goods, virtual customizations, and real world experiences.
The same way a gamer playing Overwatch or Halo might be inspired to play with someone many levels above them — the same happens with Studio. This also allows us to also appeal to those with a competitive nature, the same way eSports appeals to a subset of competitive video gamers. We can see a day when there are “seasons” through Studio and individuals are competing to be the very best. When there are millions of Studio runners in a few years, it’s worth asking what being #1 means.
Another important part of group fitness is accountability — being in a room makes it tough for you to just give up and quit. Though we won’t be bringing folks together physically, we think we’re able to attack accountability from a different angle. By being distributed and having millions of members, we can start to group people together and connect them with others that have like minded goals. Some may be training for weight loss and some may be training just for the fun of it — we have a unique ability to connect those people together and help them make each other accountable.
Lastly, we see community as the backbone of what we’re building. The best way to sum up how powerful and lasting companies are created around community is to read Chris Dixon’s post on communities and investing in Soylent. Here’s a powerful excerpt in the meantime:
Soylent is a community of people who are enthusiastic about using science to improve food and nutrition. The company makes money selling one version of that improved food (some users buy “official Soylent,” others buy ingredients to make their own DIY Soylent recipe). If you look at Soylent as just a food company, you misjudge the core of the company, the same way you would if you looked at GoPro as just a camera company.
We see the same with happening with Studio. What we’re really creating is a distributed community across the world of individuals who want to be better versions of themselves. On-demand running is how we’re doing it and happen to make money. Over time, Studio members will forge new bonds and connections with individuals they didn’t know before using us. Ultimately, that’s why people stick around.
All of these characteristics connect back to our simple belief that everyone is a runner. We don’t think an individual needs to run 6 minute miles or complete ultra marathons to become a runner. What they do need is a motivating way to run regularly and truly enjoy it. We believe group running can do that, but on a much larger scale than ever before through Studio as a technology platform. We see long term success across two metrics — increasing the amount that existing runners run and increasing the number of new runners due to us providing a more enjoyable experience. Over time, we believe that there will be tens of millions of Studio members worldwide (Studio en espanol anyone?) and running will become an enjoyable/more enjoyable habit for those individuals. Lastly, we see Studio as a way to have a meaningful impact on your health. Those that run have a 41% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular related diseases. With tens of millions of members, we will have a meaningful impact on the health of the entire human race.