October 8, 2019

#1: Bruce Smith, CEO of Hydrow

In this week’s episode of the Fitt Insider podcast, Joe Vennare spoke with Bruce Smith, CEO and founder of Hydrow. A major player in the connected fitness space, Hydrow is a Live Outdoor Reality rower.

More from this episode:

  • Bruce’s passion for the mental, physical, and community-building benefits of rowing
  • Why Hydrow’s target audience is people who’ve never rowed before
  • How Hydrow plans to innovate beyond the rowing machine
  • The shortcomings of the fitness industry and how Hydrow can fill the void

Check out an overview of the conversation below or listen to the entire episode for more.

How did Hydrow get started?

BS: I couldn’t shake the idea that everybody should have access to the rowing experience. As an entrepreneur, I love building and creating things, and along the way got very involved in rowing. I fell in love with the sport when I went to school and ended up spending a lot of my creative energy figuring out how to make it more accessible. 

When the connected fitness category started showing up in the marketplace, a light bulb went off. We could offer this activity that cuts your workout time in half, makes you feel like you’re part of a special community, allows you to experience rhythm in your daily life, and saves you time and money, all on this amazing rowing machine. 

So we pulled together an all-star team and built what we think is the most beautiful piece of fitness equipment you could ever buy.

What sets Hydrow apart?

BS:  We aimed Hydrow at really bringing to life the most teamly sport in the whole world. Rowing is the most powerful expression of people working together, and you get a compelling experience of community when you’re out on the water. Being able to digitize it is the key component for us making people feel better. 

With Hydrow, you can be a part of something that isn’t a studio experience, but is actually broadcast live in real time on the water in places you probably will never have an opportunity to get to, like the Charles River or on the River Thames in London.

And, rowing is the most efficient and fun way to get exercise. You use 86% of your muscles. It’s 70% cardio, 30% strength, and has no joint impact. Once you understand you can get your workout done faster and have an amazing experience, there’s no reason to ever buy a treadmill or even a bike. We do love those things, but this is a much better form of exercise and a more compelling community experience.

What does the product roadmap look like?

BS: There are some exciting things around personalizing your experience on the rower using both Live Outdoor Reality and augmented reality. As we move into 5G territory, the option to put on glasses, look around, and be immersed in an environment on a live basis is just extraordinary.

We’re starting with the rower, and we see a strong roadmap to deepen that experience for people. If we move into other products, they will be other whole body experiences. We wouldn’t introduce another product that didn’t offer the same benefit. 

Rock climbing and cross-country skiing are great examples. Continuing with the insight that consumers love to travel to beautiful places to have a special experience when working out, both of those sports meet the criteria, which you wouldn’t necessarily have access to without a Live Outdoor Reality experience.

How do you see the fitness industry evolving? 

BS: Fitness has evolved into a combination of entertainment and results. Peloton has completely nailed the entertainment aspect of it in terms of their instructors, but stars are expensive, take a long time to build, and there aren’t very many.

The connected piece is really critical, and I don’t know when we’ll reach maximum blast radius for boutique fitness studios, but the overall ability of people to find compelling instructors is not limitless. 

On the other side is the quantified self. We’re starting to see valuable tools where both personalized fitness prescriptions and accurate measurements are coming into the marketplace. Within a year or two, I think people are going to start seeing actual measurable tracking that makes a difference in your life. 

That’s where it’s headed, where people stop accepting a good workout and start demanding more in terms of an improved lifestyle overall. The data points are going to be very measurable and transparent for people. It’s a huge step forward and I think integrating everything is going to be the next big wave.

Are you integrating an element of quantified self into Hydrow? 

BS: There’s so much bad data in the world, but one of the really cool things about the Hydrow is it’s calibrated based on your height, weight, age, and gender, so you get the truth about calories and watts. With this, we can actually start to make really useful predictions for users.

Most people in the fitness world just don’t have access to the kind of performance information that should be guiding all of the fitness decisions people make. The only way to really tell if it’s true, is to test it at the elite level.

And that’s the way we set up Hydrow. We have elite athletes training for the National Team in the Olympics and we’re testing our stuff continuously with them. We then use that conduit of the elite performance to feed directly to our customers and make sure the information they get for their 20 minutes a day is the biggest thing for their buck.

How do you make Hydrow more accessible?

BS: We’ve worked really hard to set up payment programs and we’re initially aiming for those people who pay for a gym membership but don’t get value because they don’t go. 

Roughly 60 million people in the US belong to a gym, and of those, between 30-40 million never actually make it to the gym, or they might make it once or twice a year. For less than a hundred bucks a month, we can actually get you and your family on one account in your home. You can all be part of a team and actually get value for your money.

It’s not like gyms are going to disappear, in fact, we built the Hydrow to be commercial grade specifically so it could go into gyms, but there’s going to be a massive amount of disruption as connected fitness becomes genuinely viable and mass marketed.

Looking ahead, what are you most excited about?

BS: I’m most excited about having hundreds of thousands of people participate in a tribe. What I know will happen, because it’s rowing, is you’re going to feel like you’re a part of something. When you go out in the world and you start making decisions, you’re going to feel more connected to other people, and it’s going to make your life better.

That sense of connection we can build using sweat equity and the human experience of rhythm on a daily basis, is incredibly compelling. It’s super accessible and real. As people continue to participate in it, I hope it has the same transformational effect on their life that it had on mine, and I can’t wait. 

**Note: Bruce’s answers have been edited for brevity and cohesion.

About Bruce Smith:

A lifelong entrepreneur, rower and coach, Bruce Smith is the CEO & Founder of Hydrow, the Live Outdoor Reality rower. As a U.S. National Team Rowing Coach and Head of the Charles Regatta winner himself, he coached the U.S. Lightweight Eight to a Bronze medal at the 2015 World Rowing Championships, and is the former Executive Director of Community Rowing Inc. in Boston where he sought to increase access to the sport.

With a continued passion for the mental and physical benefits of rowing, plus the empathy and community it creates, Bruce’s goal for Hydrow is to make a positive impact through the sport of rowing, allowing people to feel more connected to one another, and live healthier lives on a daily basis. Hailing from Canada, Bruce makes his home in Cambridge, MA just blocks away from the famous Charles River.

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