January 7, 2020

#12: Ed Buckley, Chairman and CEO of Peerfit

Joe Vennare spoke with Peerfit CEO Ed Buckley, PhD — a conversation that is super valuable for understanding flexible fitness, corporate wellness, and healthcare reimbursements.

The two discuss:

  • Pioneering the concept of “fully-funded fitness”
  • Building the billion-dollar bridge between fitness and healthcare
  • What the name Peerfit means and why it’s significant

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

How did Peerfit get started?

EB: We saw the individual person struggling to get over all the barriers to become fit. We asked: how can we clear the path and redefine wellness?

We figured out what people were already doing — hopping between fitness experiences — and made it ridiculously simple for employers and health plans to be able to fund these experiences. 

We started in Florida with some employers, then went regionally, then nationally. Now we’re actually baked in the plan benefit for health plans.

How did you approach building the Peerfit team?

EB: We knew we had to build a team that understood both healthcare and fitness – the two sides of this bridge we were building. Each has their own needs, except they didn’t understand the other side’s, so we built a team that could talk across this bridge. 

We brought in amazing people who have worked at health plans and have sold technology companies to health plans. We also brought in people who are experts in the fitness industry and made both sides learn the other side.

You can’t jump into employers and health plans with success. It takes years and years, and there’s no getting around it. This is what we do, and the reason why we’re able to be as efficient and effective as possible.

Is there a key insight that shaped the company?

EB: The name of our company is Peerfit. It’s ingrained in our ethos, and at our core, it’s about you and your peers engaging.

We don’t want to just send you to a gym or studio. We want to send you, and your friends, family, and co-workers, to do it together. We know that that’s the winning formula, is that peer to peer engagement.

And when there’s more usage, the number of classes attended per person significantly increases. 

How do you grow the user base?

EB: The onus on us is taking the early adopters and making it so simple, and almost rewarding, to get others to join them.

We really focus on engagement and the user experience. For one, we want to empower members to use their credits on whatever type of class, studio, gym membership, etc. that fits their spend each month.

The Peerfit app makes it easy to find classes, and after you reserve a spot, it always asks, “Who do you want to bring with you?”. As we know, if their friends, family, and co-workers can go with them, they’re more apt to go more often.

Then, we’re monitoring the type of people we’re engaging, which is something we’re most proud of at Peerfit. We’re helping people be active that wouldn’t normally be active.

Where do you see the industry heading?

EB: There are so many players in our industry. They can be equally effective and have downstream implications.

I think one of the first is the Mindbodys of the world and what they’re shifting towards. How do they consolidate to become the center place of wellness and go after the consumer more? It’ll be interesting to see what them being more consumer-centric means for the rest of the marketplace.

Then there’s Xponential, which has openly talked about doing a multi-studio pass. They went from the holder of the brands to, now they could be a direct to consumer, flexible fitness pass competitor for some of those in the direct to consumer space. 

Many are dependent on those two brands, in terms of supply, and people are going to have to move off of what they choose to do.

Streaming is going to be really interesting. I’m watching people who didn’t engage in fitness regularly do it from their home now and I think this is going to become a mainstay. But, I don’t think it’s going to displace the need for people to still see each other.

Last, I think you’re going to see some interesting acquisitions, mergers, and integrations. The people that do the smartest job of stabilizing a path towards profitability, growth, and sustainability during those acquisitions will be the winners.

How does Peerfit operate as a fully remote team?

EB: We want to be as efficient as possible in this competitive world. I want people to work for Peerfit because they’re the best candidate and want to be here, not because they were the best talent in a city I was hiring for.

You don’t have to be in person all the time to be productive. There are great systems, like Slack, Trello, etc., with instant notifications so I know every project being worked on and can give real time input. 

We also give people the freedom to communicate. We have Slack channels dedicated to things that aren’t work related — what shows people are watching, and the favorite, Peerfit Pets where they share pictures of their dogs and cats. You’re taking the in person experience of being in an office, and replicating and scaling it.

Our team is obsessed with helping people. I don’t believe in bringing up problems unless you’re ready to talk about solutions. We have a very action oriented, problem solving community.

How does the initial vision for Peerfit differ from today?

EB: We ultimately knew we wanted to be in a place where we were helping people try new classes and use employer or healthcare dollars to do so, but we thought that would just be a piece of it.

We used to talk about getting healthcare and employers’ dollars as something that would be nice to have, not a must to have. We always knew there’d be this central piggy bank, that people and entities would be putting money into, [but didn’t think it’d be the core of our model].

What are you most excited about at Peerfit right now?

EB: Move, our newly launched division in the Medicare space, has been such a labor of love for us in the last year. I am so happy to have Move and Core, our first product, both operating now for 2020. 

We previously had to keep Move siloed to protect it to build it, but are now blending the cultures of both the product, the staff, our strategies, and the communities we’re building.

Hopefully this will feel really good and satisfying to the whole company — to be able to see everyone we’re helping.

What are some upcoming goals?

EB: We’re really focused on engagement. From networks and brand partnerships to platform features, we’re looking at what levers of engagement we can drive.

Additionally, all of our contracts are almost done a year in advance. By mid year, we’ll pretty much know what we have for 2021. Our goal is to get to approximately 1 million users for Peerfit Move for 2021 and grow Core equally as fast during that time.

It all comes down to the success of the platform, our engagement, and our ability to get in front of people, but we’d be really happy if that’s how 2020 goes.

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

About Ed Buckley:

Edward J. Buckley, III, PhD, is the CEO of Peerfit, the market leader in connecting employers and carriers with innovative fitness experiences. Ed leads Peerfit’s expansion strategy by driving national partnerships, business development, and fundraising. With nearly 10 years in the fitness industry, and a background in digital health behavior research, Ed continues to push the envelope on innovation in the fitness-technology space. He is passionate about designing new ways to drive engagement and help deliver flexibility and personalization to the health and wellness marketplace.

Ed holds a PhD in Digital Health Behavior, and a Master’s of Public Health, from the University of Florida. He is also the co-founder and Vice-President of the Board of Governors for Balance180, a non-profit that encourages children with disabilities to be physically active.

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