Obé Fitness’ co-founders/co-CEOs Mark Mullett and Ashley Mills toss around the word “entertrainment” a lot. For the record, it’s not a reference to the Butler County, Ohio-based amusement park that serves as the home of the “world’s largest train display,” but rather one of those industry portmanteaus like infotainment or webinar.
Here it’s meant to be a reference to what the New York-based company sees as its principle differentiator from an increasingly crowded market. Mills describes it as “where entertainment and fitness meet. Talent is key to that. Not also being able to cast talent that can deliver a great workout, but they also have that X Factor. They have the ability to reach across the screen and make you feel something at home.”
The company has been building up an audience of influencers as well, including Kelly Ripa, Kate Hudson and Tiffany Haddish, the latter of whom participated in the $15 million Series A the company is announcing today.
“The capital is really about team growth and awareness in a couple of key business development initiatives,” says Mullett. “In the current climate, where everyone is talking about their various home workouts, you definitely need resources to grow. So this round is about getting Obé in front of as many people as possible.”
The round was led by CAVU Venture Partners and features Athleta, Samsung Next, Wheelhouse Entertainment and WW International, Inc., along with previous investors Cassius Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Harris Blitzer Sports Entertainment and BDMI.
Image Credits: Obé
It’s a pretty diverse list of parties with a diverse list of interests in the platform — take Samsung, which currently offers the Obé platform on its smart TVs. Users can also access it on iOS and Android devices and cast it accordingly to their TV sets.
Obé (pronounced “Obey”) bills itself as a “premium” service. At $27, it’s certainly at the higher end, verses offerings like the $10/month Apple Fitness+ or Peleton’s $13 monthly fee. Unlike Peloton, which has proprietary equipment attached, Obé actually skipped the equipment altogether at launch, though it has slowly expanded its offerings to include things like free weights and trampolines for its bounce classes — equipment that’s a bit more forgiving in smaller spaces.
Founded in 2018, the company saw a large increase in users during the pandemic. While Obé doesn’t disclose subscriber counts, its founders told me the platform’s userbase increased 4x last year.
“We started this company three and a half years ago,” says Mullett. “When COVID hit in March of 2020, our team, our talent, our interface — everyone was ready to receive the rush of new users who needed to be sated by movement and by someone who could keep them inspired, sane and confident during a difficult time.”
Founded in 2014 as an in-person rowing studio, CityRow was relatively early to adopt the at-home connected model. The New York-based company launched a digital platform in 2018, two years before the pandemic completely transformed the way many of us work out. Of course, things have been trending that way a while, but 2020 accelerated home fitness in ways few thought possible.
CityRow says it experienced a 375% revenue growth last year, largely on the strength of rowing machine sales and platform subscriptions. Today, it’s announcing that it has raised a $12 million Series A, led by JW Asset Management, with help from Sol Global and K2. The company says it has a number of plans for the money, but first and foremost is the addition of livestreaming classes to its current on-demand content selection.
“All of this capital is really about us hyper growing the company in the ways we know our consumers want us to grow,” founder and CEO Helaine Knapp tells TechCrunch. “First up is launching live classes, and we just signed a lease. We’re moving into a space in Midtown (Manhattan), to be able to launch these live classes, as soon as this fall. That’s a massive undertaking that we’ve been excited about launching for some time.”
Image Credits: CityRow
The studio is an upgrade for CityRow, which has thus far recorded its content at one of its corporate locations. Knapp says the company doubled its headcount in the past year (currently at 14 full-time corporate employees) and is on track to double that in the next year.
CityRow offers a pair of connected Rowers, the Go Classic and the recently launched Go Max, which retail for $1,295 and $2195, respectively. They work with the company’s mobile app, which also offers off-rower exercise courses. It currently operates 11 locations — two corporate-owned and nine franchises. The company says it has sold 64 franchises in all, with plans to launch 12 in the next year.
Obviously some of those plans were paused during the pandemic.
Image Credits: CityRow
“It’s still early days, in terms of comeback,” says Knapp. “But I’m very proud of how our franchisees weathered the storm, with a lot of them being very new studios. And I think that’s a testament to the power of the brand and the community with the franchises.”
Knapp points out that everyone who belongs to one of the locations also gets free access to CityRow’s app, which may have incentivized customers to maintain their membership during closures.
“Digital fitness was already growing like crazy before the pandemic,” explains Knapp. “And it just accelerated us, if I had to guess, a couple of years faster. Digital fitness is still only a fraction of the market, but in-person is still the majority by a landslide”
People shopping around for a fitness app already have a plethora of choices from which to pick: MyFitnessPal, Noom and Lifesum, to name a few. Founded in India, HealthifyMe is betting that users around the world will prefer its range of customizable health programs. The Bangalore-based company announced today it has closed a $75 million Series C from LeapFrog and Khosla Ventures, with plans to grow its user base in India, Southeast Asia and North America.
HealthifyMe is the first Indian health tech startup LeapFrog has invested in, and Khosla Ventures’ largest investment in India to date. The company did not disclose its post-money valuation, but co-founder and chief executive officer Tushar Vashisht told TechCrunch it is now at “soonicorn” status.
Unilever Ventures, Elm and Healthquad also participated in the round, along with returning investors Chiratae Ventures, Inventus Capital and Sistema Asia Capital. HealthifyMe has now raised more than $100 million in total.
Vashisht said HealthifyMe is India’s top health and fitness app, but its long-term goal is to become the global leader. In North America, it is popular among Indian expat and Indian American communities, and now it will target other customer segments, too.
HealthifyMe’s products include HealthifySmart, which uses AI-based tech to customize diet plans for users, and HealtifyCoach, which includes live conversations with coaches. During the pandemic, it launched two products: HealthifyPlus, for people who are managing chronic conditions like diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, high cholesterol or hypertension and HealthifyStudio, with live workout classes.
The app also has an AI-based nutritionist called Ria that is trained for cuisines in different markets through a combination of user-tracked data, guidance from local nutritionists and databases from sources like the United States Department of Agriculture.
HealthifyMe will work with LeapFrog’s research and development hub, ImpactLabs, to develop more programs for people with chronic health conditions.
HealthifySmart and HealthifyStudio, its newest products, already contribute 25% to the company’s line. HealthifyMe also says it doubled its user base and revenue over the last year, recently surpassing 25 million downloads, and is currently on target to reach $50 million in annualized recurring revenue within the next six months. It has about 1,500 trainers and coaches on the platform, with plans to add 1,000 more to support its expansion.
Since HealthifyMe began operating first in cost-sensitive markets, it started using AI early on to scale efficiently, Vashisht said. As a result, it is able to offer products at lower prices than its competition.
“Today in the U.S., you have free DIY calorie counting solutions like MyFitnessPal and expensive human-assisted coaching and diet solutions like Noom and WeightWatchers,” said Vashisht. “But nothing in the middle exists that allows one to track nutrition and calories while getting advice at an affordable price point.”
About 25% of HealthifyMe’s revenue comes from outside of India, including Singapore and Malaysia. When it enters a new market, the company localizes its services using a playbook.
“We begin by building a food database with local foods. We also tailor our search algorithms and app language to ensure accurate food searches take place in the app,” Vashisht said. “Next, we hire 50 diet and fitness coaches locally to cater to the region’s population via the platform and launch HealthifyCoach locally. Once we have sufficient data, we were able to retrain and refactor our AI to suit local preferences.” That is how the company launched HealthifySmart in Singapore and Malaysia, and it plans to do the same thing in North America.
The company measures the efficacy of its program through user-reported statistics and working with researchers like Sridhar Narayan, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, to verify and analyze its data. Vashisht said average paying subscribers lose about eight pounds in 180 days, while the top 10% lose more than 20 pounds.
For its HealthifyPlus customers, the company has seen a statistically significant impact on their Hemoglobin A1C (Hb1AC), LDL cholesterol and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. Vashisht added that HealthifyMe plans to publish its results in the coming months, and also hopes to integrate with diagnostics providers in the future to track clinical indicators.
Part of the new funding will be used to double HealthifyMe’s current engineering and design teams, including through acqui-hires, with the company looking for digital health and wellness companies to buy. It will also fill senior leadership roles in operations, marketing, human relations and technology.
The global pandemic made some industries and utterly decimated others. The world of connected fitness falls firmly into the former. Along with top names like Peloton, Mirror had a banner year, including, most notably, sportwear company Lululemon’s acquisition of the brand for $500 million in June.
It’s an impressive number for the five-year-old company, which came out of stealth at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2018. Three years later, CEO Brynn Putnam will return to the Disrupt stage on September 21-23 to chart how the company grew from a small-scale startup to one of the leading names in a home fitness industry that saw a massive surge over the past year and a half.
A former ballerina and founder of New York fitness chain Refine Method, Putnam’s career has been a fascinating one — up to and including her time at Mirror. We’ll discuss how the company embraced a boom in connected fitness, why the time was right for acquisition and what the landscape for the industry will look like going forward.
Stay at home orders have had a profound impact on the way we get fit, leading many frequent gym goers to embrace high-tech, at-home methods. Is this the beginning of a sea change for the way the world works out? Or will a return to normal lead buyers to dust off their gym memberships? Find out at TC Disrupt his September and grab your tickets for under $99 for a limited time!