#133: Stephen Owusu, Co-founder & CEO of JAXJOX

Today, I’m joined by Stephen Owusu, co-founder and CEO of JAXJOX, makers of connected strength training equipment.

JAXJOX turned heads in 2019 when it released KettlebellConnect, a smart kettlebell with adjustable weight. Since then, it has worked toward an all-in-one home fitness solution. Its InteractiveStudio™ connected home gym effectively replaces a rack of 22 weights with an innovative, space-saving design, while its embedded software leverages AI to deliver a personalized strength training experience.

In this episode, we discuss where the company’s connected kettlebell, dumbbells, and interactive studio fit into the rising smart strength category. Stephen also explains why not chasing growth during the pandemic was the right decision.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How JAXJOX is transforming the in-home free weight experience
  • Why delaying your product launch can pay off big later on
  • Tips for partnering with outside distributors
  • Stephen’s philosophy on raising capital and company growth

Links & Resources

Stephen Owusu’s Links

Episode Transcript

This is a machine-generated transcript. Please excuse any errors.

[00:00:00] Stephen:
You have to incorporate strength training in whatever you do. The best way to do it is using free weights.

If You can use free weights without having to worry about space, or having to worry about loading up disks on the handle I that’s the best experience out there.

[00:00:29] Joe:
Welcome back to the Fitt Insider podcast. I’m your host, Joe Vennare.

Today I’m joined by Stephen Owusu, Co-Founder and CEO of JAXJOX, makers of connected strength training equipment.

In this episode we discuss the rise of the smart strength category. The company’s connected kettlebell, dumbbells, and interactive studio. Stephen explains why his decision to not chase growth during the pandemic is paying off.

Let’s get into it.

Hi Stephen, welcome to Fitt Insider. Thanks for joining us.

[00:00:53] Stephen:
Thank you. So good to be here.

[00:00:55] Joe:
I’m looking forward to the conversation today.

To kick things off, could you introduce yourself and tell us what you’re working on at JAXJOX?

[00:01:02] Stephen:
I’m Stephen Owusu, Co-Founder and CEO of JAXJOX. I’m originally from the UK. I came to the United States five or six years ago with one briefcase, and booked a couple of weeks in a hotel in New York. I had a dream, and felt the United States was the best place to see it through.

The journey of JAXJOX began, and it took me a few months to understand the culture and get situated in the United States. We got the idea off the ground. It was a very simple idea of creating a platform that we could collect data around the activities that users are doing, and to be able to build this engine to help people make better decisions about their health.

When you think about JAXJOX, you think about some of the most innovative products that we’ve launched. It actually didn’t start with a hardware idea. We had to do that as we became obsessed with delivering an optimum customer experience.

That’s a little bit about myself and how we got started.

[00:02:13] Joe:
Yeah, it’s super interesting. You know, if you think about the probably last two years, of course, right. With the connected fitness and at-home hardware. But like so many of the companies in your yourself. This is what, like, I think 2016, maybe get it started down this path of how do we, as you mentioned the activity in better health and fitness, and what does that technology look like? can you maybe talk about how the product offering has evolved? I think for maybe, you know, first launching the connected kettlebell and dumbbells, and now the immersive studio experience, can you talk about like that evolution and how it’s maybe shifted over to.

[00:02:53] Stephen:
Yeah, no great question. when we started, a lot of what we were doing was very new. so there was a little bit about. You know, even proving to ourselves that, it can be done. And I remember having conversations about, you know, this motorized, adjustable dumbbell, and, you know, people will often tell me it’s just not even possible to be able to do that.

So I think there was those sort of initial stages of proving out the concept of what we want to do. and then we had a launch in 2019 at CES. That was the moment that for me, I felt we were onto something. we had a little booth and it was just meant to be a very quiet showcase and we got swamped. we came out winning most of the award out of CS, met with, some of our partners, apple, and we know.

Cell phones and you know, computer. but they invited me to their head office in cappuccino, loved the product and decided to. Worldwide, through some installs and also online. but all the while we were building onto the studio, because the idea of JAXJOX was always an end-to-end full integrated system.

And if you think about our products, no, on an off button, everything you need in one place at a touch of a button. so I come from a philosophy of. We don’t want the user to have to figure stuff out, like it just do it for them and it’s just going to work. so when we launched the kettlebell and we saw, the success of that to give us confidence, and then we started rolling out, some of the other products.

Now, what we found was that even before the products were ready, I had retailers that were willing to write, you know, millions of dollars of, orders. so that. You know, it was in front of our own launch plans. So rather than waiting to finish the full studios, you know, we had partners telling us we want this product.

We want you to ship it. so we had to go down that path. So that explains why you saw the kettlebell and a dumbbell and the formula connects in the market before you saw the interactive studio. But all in one, this was the one thing that we’ve been with.

[00:05:02] Joe:
That’s really interesting to hear, you know, the be hard or impossible as an early stage company to, to say no, right when the demand is there and people are asking for the product and now you get to. the kind of connected studio where you have the dumbbells and the kettlebell and the foam roller with the screen. so that, that product out there, how long has that been on the market? How long have you been even fulfilling orders for that?

[00:05:30] Stephen:
Yeah, we launched that, in the middle of December, COVID had a different impact with, with docs docs. Don’t some of our friends. we launched it in a market, middle of December started shipping units in homes. so just on the three months since it’s been out there and, and has been a very incredible ride, the last two to three months, just seeing the product in people’s home and the reaction and some of their metrics, coming through.

[00:05:58] Joe:
Yeah. So just thinking through. How you talked about the product evolution and then getting the studio out there into the market. Will the focus now, will you exclusively be selling the, the studio offering and then basically trying not to sell the one-off products or will it still be kind of offering that, that suite of products as well?

[00:06:19] Stephen:
And there is, I think juxta dogs have a very unique opportunity, to be able to bring people onto the platform from different price points, was. very similar, immersive experience. the full interactive studio is always going to be, you know, the most immersive of all experiences in my opinion. but somebody who buys the kettlebell connect or the dumbbell strength product, will be able to have, a very unique experience. And I will describe it in two ways. You know, up until now. we’ve seen people potentially buying just a dumbbell or kettlebell to add to what they’re already doing. all you’re going to find is, A product where people are buying into an experience.

And so what JAXJOX will be offering is three different experiences, which we’ll leave from one will be a kettlebell experience at dumbbell, a spirit and the full interactive studio experience. And a lot of the focus is actually going to be on the platform, sort of the content, live, which are docs docs.

You know, when we say live is going to be very, very. it will be actual live and the datasets, that you’ll be able to get from the recommendation in and what have you. So we’re going to really focus on selling these experiences versus selling pieces of hardware. If that makes sense.

[00:07:39] Joe:
Oh, absolutely. I think it makes a ton of sense in terms of, I think even going beyond that idea is so much of what has happened and evolved in the at-home fitness space, right. Is not. The equipment necessarily is new. It’s all, you know, a different version of equipment that has existed for some time now, or whether it’s in the strength training category, dumbbells, or, or the cardio category.

It’s like now it’s becoming, what does the experience look like? What does the content platform look like? What type of data are we able to get from that? How do we build community around that? So just digging in there a little bit, when you think about. The platform and the experience you said live will be a little bit different for you and that experience ultimately, you’re trying to create what, what can somebody expect from the Jack jocks platform?

[00:08:30] Stephen:
I think you can expect an end-to-end solution. So whether it’s that you want to have a personal. Tryna experience where there is a much more, one-to-one, virtual experience, but with data that you can hang your hat on. Not that I’m going to write you some programs and Hey, go do it and maybe enter it. we are able to. Create a very unique experience with the kind of products that we have free weights with, trackability. you are also going to find that a lot of what recommendations sits and I’ve, I’ve read some of your articles and you will know that it’s sort of very early stage algorithms that we put together.

So you’re going to find much more advance, recommendations sets really personalized. and I know it’s a cliche now, but we’ve been working on this for a number of years and we’re really excited, to be able to push it out. so you are going to find very unique experiences around whether you. want that one-to-one experience, where you can go to a marketplace and and find somebody that you know is well suited for you.

Versus just wanting to do a 20 minutes workout. Being a strength or cardio, or maybe it’s just recovery. because the studio have a former old connects that sits there and some programming towards recovery, which is quite important to us. It ducks jobs. So you are going to find that no matter what it is you want to do, you will find our own deductions platform and, mobile app experience is going to be changed. So even if you feel, Hey, I’m not sure about this. I just want to jump in and test it out. You’ll be able to do that. If you bought the kettlebell experience or the Danville experience, and then you decided, Hey, I want the full thing. We have a program that allows you to, you know, upgrade all the way through.

So you don’t have to ditch your product wise. You go for the new one. so that’s sort of the kind of end-to-end experience that I’m describing.

[00:10:30] Joe:
Yeah, it’s very exciting, especially for the strength training space, right? When you, when you think about. You know, well, someone like myself, I guess kind of fortunate enough that I have the space that I do have a bunch of free weights and rack and the dumbbells and kettlebells. but certainly even then it takes up, it does take up a ton of space and it’s not always very accessible to do.

But when you think about now packing this into one more accessible, experience, and certainly now integrating with the content with the tracking, with all those things that you know, you don’t have to figure it out on your own. When you think about the, what we’ve kind of, I don’t know how you think about it, but we’ve kind of dumped it, the smart strength space, right.

Bringing technology to what was the most analog experience like picking up a heavy weight and putting it down. why did you arrive at the strengths training space in the first place and how are you thinking about the evolution of that space?

[00:11:28] Stephen:
Yeah, great question. I think the data is pretty clear about what strength training does to somebody’s overall health, right. and as you get older, it becomes really, really important to be able to maintain muscle mass. so, we felt that, there was a bunch of solutions when it comes to cardio.

Sort of body weight, workout, content, great products out there. But when you look at a strength space, like you said, it was still stuck in the dark ages. And even today, even though there are some solutions, out there within our category, some of our competitors, when it comes to. You know, JAXJOX is really the only product.

And we’ve spent many years on the technology, patron 10, the technology as well. But JAXJOX is the really only free weights to you can pick up that that’s all the tracking for you. And we’ve seen some solution with camera where you have to be in a certain range. Well, you can move this into another room.

You can put it. Car and take it to the holiday destination and still use it because the technology is embedded inside of the products. And one of the things that we get from a user feedback standpoint is until you’ve experience touching the screen and in a second moving weight from eight to 50 pounds, or, you know, 12 to 24, you know, versus.

Wait. So to your point about, Hey, I have this space, but sort of with loading up weights and then having to sort of take them down and load them up. And it’s kind of very tedious in this day and age. So I think ducks docs is the best place to really just give you all the weight that you need, at a touch of.

Get real time tracking and we measure, power metric at a rep level. so really in real time, you know, you can really, get the fullest sprints when it comes to strength. And one stats that I’m very happy to to share is around since long. You know, on an average of six weeks, we see people lifting a certain number of weights of a workout.

And then within six weeks, literally, it’s, you know, you can see climate and we have people going from 4,000 pounds when they first started in a 45 minutes class lifting 23,000 pounds. So you can already see that when you give people the range of products. Easy to adjust and the data, we can really use that to really get better.to that degree.

[00:13:56] Joe:
Yeah, absolutely. I think also it’s, you know, strength training is one of the. Kind of most rewarding, at least in my experience, modalities, because this idea of progressive overload is so apparent when you do it, that it’s when you do add, you know, my garage, I have two and a half pound plates.

It’s like when you put the two and a half pounds on there, and then the next week it’s five and the next week it’s 10 and the next or month, however long it is. It’s like, it’s very obvious when you’re doing that. Just how quickly you can progress. so it’s, it’s super exciting to see that translate. As you were saying in those

[00:14:31] Stephen:
Yeah.

And also sometimes there is this school of thoughts that strength training is just if you want to bulk up and it couldn’t be far from the truth. you know, you can get very lean, you can get super fit. If you want to run a marathon or do any endurance type of training, you cannot do without really, doing some resistance, free weights training, in my opinion. so I think. Like I said, there is a myth that, oh, I don’t want to bulk up, so I don’t want to do strength. it does know what it does if you want to bulk up, there is a program for that, but actually strength training in something that overall is great to incorporate, whatever training you’re doing, within your week, to be able to build up muscle mass,

[00:15:16] Joe:
I could chat about it all day. I don’t want to derail the conversation too much, but it’s, it’s something that I’ve talked about a ton with people over the years, coming from, you know, being a personal trainer and owning a gym and working in, you know, strength, training and things like that.

We’re just like so many people saying, you know, I don’t want to bulk up. It’s like, if you wanted to bulk up. You without adjusting and totally transforming your nutrition and the amount of calories that you’re taking in the amount of protein you’re taking in, like no amount of weightlifting is going to make you, you know, quote unquote, bulk up.

So it’s like, there’s so many more factors to it. which I always think is important to stress, but just in general, right. As you said, and I think. I think if we fast forward like five or 10 years, so much more of the conversation around health and fitness is going to be, you know, we know it now, but it’s not talked about like the deterioration of muscle as you age and how that, you know, you can track the data to see like, you know, the, the trajectory of like your now your become bedridden become because you don’t have the strength in your legs or your lower body or posterior chain.

And then if you become bedridden, it’s basically. That’s very treacherous, right. In terms of all other indicators of health. So it’s super important just as a basic metric of health.

[00:16:32] Stephen:
And I will add to that. That is why I am very, very excited about the products and the experiences that we have in the market. You know, if you are a runner, you can still buy a juxtapose dumbbell strength experience and still add that to what you’re doing. And if you want to have. JAXJOX as your, your home gym, if you like, you can buy the studio and have, you know, the cardio and the strength that, that the different variety of workouts we have.

So really, you know, you have to, in my opinion, incorporate strength training in, in whatever you do. But the best way to do it, is in my opinion, using free weights. And if you can use free weights without having to worry about space or having to worry about loading up disks on the handle, I think is, is the best experience. out there

[00:17:22] Joe:
Yeah, I think we’re in agreement there it’s it’s the strength training aspect is, is huge. And you know, one thing I wanted to circle back to, earlier in the conversation, you mentioned that maybe COVID had a different impact for your business. Then I think you said some of the competitors are. could you just elaborate on that?

What was the experience like during that time and how did that impact the business?

[00:17:45] Stephen:
Yeah. So I think during COVID we were still, working through, the studio products. We wanted to launch and we were not happy with where their spirits sat. So, you know, the decision was to go ahead and ship and right away. And I was very confident that what we were building had nothing to do with COVID.

And even if we wrote it, it would have been amazing. And it was just going to come down as we’ve seen already in the marketplace. So we made a conscious decision to take our time. And get their products to a place that we want to use that we will feel proud about. so we didn’t ride the rave in terms of all the different revenue.

The little products we had in our house was so that we didn’t weeks, we didn’t replenish. And we really took our time to get a product. Right. and I always feel that COVID is one of these ones with the generation event. And I feel very happy that we’ve made that decision because now from what we are seeing from our users, I wouldn’t disclose how many we’ve shipped so far, but we’ve had one return.

One customer has said. Hey, you know, I want to retain my product from the number of units we’ve shipped to have only one customer return it. You know, what is that? I don’t know, 99.9, 9% satisfaction rate. You know, that, that is, that is something you can replicate. So COVID had a very, it was tough, really, really tough for us to make that decision.

But I think in the end, we made the right decision to be able to bring a product that, we are, we are most proud of.

[00:19:22] Joe:
It’s really interesting to hear the thought process behind that, because I think for a lot of the companies that we’re seeing now, of course, Peloton is probably the, you know, main example that we’re is getting discussed, but quite a few others as well, that, you know, The best of times, but it was the worst of times in terms of how that all played out and trying to chase demand, as opposed to saying, Hey, we’re going to position ourselves to still be completely sustainable and in a good place on the other side of this, because to your point, this, this isn’t going away, this trend, it’s not something that, you know, if we ride the wave as you put it, we, maybe we don’t sustain ourselves through the other side.

So now that you kind of think about. You know, you wanted to perfect the experience. You want it to be ready when maybe things turned the corner. Have you seen, or are you able to tell in terms of there was this demand that maybe peak COVID and now it’s slowed down, or now you’re starting to really push in terms of marketing.

How are you positioning the product and getting it out there now that you, you think that you’re more confident in it?

[00:20:28] Stephen:
Super interesting correction, right? Because to your point, there also re a wave out there, which we, we decided not to, to ride and get our product. Right. We had some pre-orders and majority, very, very high percentage of all our product customers, the way to the year they, you know, and they all came back, to buy the products and.

Everybody’s happy with our pages using it, having returned it. What we started to see when we launched was demand was very sort of on an upward curve. And we’ve continued to see that, we’ve not seen any dip on demand. We’ve started to see it steady. Obviously January is always a little bit of a higher curve.

But. We are now coming into it to versus I guess others that maybe have been out there maybe picked up all the low-hanging fruits and probably spending quite a bit on character. Keep, keep the wheels turning. We are now on the opposite side and you know, we’ve really been very sort of, I was listening to, some of my colleagues on your show talking about a similar idea.

We are very prudent with cash. we don’t have a huge team and throughout we’ve maintained that. So we are best place to really. rocket out, cause we have all different station. We’ve got a product that people love metrics. That is absolutely world-class. I was not even expecting that. And now all the days it’s about just continue to go at pace.

And I think for the next 12 months, JAXJOX has to go at pace. before we probably start pulling more gasoline, to the fire. So we’re very happy with what we are seeing. We’re not doing. Stuff. And your point about marketing, juxtapose for the last couple of years, we don’t tend to do any marketing.

All our products are the tens of thousands of units we sold. We are word of mouth and through our partners, we don’t spend any money on marketing, so to speak. It’s only, now that we start to introduce some active. but again, we’re not coming at it as, Hey, just go and spend whatever it takes. we’ve been very sensible about our approach and have a very managed way, to go forward and we plan to maintain that.

[00:22:45] Joe:
Yeah, on the distribution side. And to the extent that you have been able to get the product out there and through partners in different channels, can you talk about what has been successful, where you are able to leverage that and where you’re seeing kind of growth in the channels, given that I think quite the opposite of what we’re seeing across the industry, which is everybody’s having to spend a ton to get any type of traction whatsoever.

So what is working for.

[00:23:11] Stephen:
Yeah, a great question. I think that, the product is just so unique. when people, see the adjustability of the product. You know, let’s say you were in the market to buy a piece of dumbbell set. if price is the issue, then maybe you don’t buy Jack shocks. but their product is so unique. So usually what we find is that when we’ve partnered with the likes of apple, which normally people are not going to apple to look for.

Or a former role. but it’s, it’s quite instant and we see it pick up, we’ve had the same with, best buy, who we still partner with. And, but we’ve also had a very controlled, partnership. So for many years we only worked with apple and best buy. even now we are making that tighter. And if you look at what hasn’t gone, so well, It’s probably on returns, where sometimes if somebody buy a product from say a particular partner, and maybe they’re not happy, they might just drive up there and say, Hey, I’m just giving you another one.

We have very, very low. Retention rate from when we sell from our own, on our own site. And I’m talking anywhere from zero to 2%, people who buy ducks stocks, usually very happy with it and go and use their products. So one of the things that we are thinking about is how do we protect that experience from.

When they get out of the box. So internally we are having these discussions about, okay, for the studio, for example, where we may want to put our arms around the user from when they come to our website all the way to, when they get at home, we are starting to have very different conversations. and we’re going to balance that obviously, some of the cock conversations and what we are finding is that new partners are coming online, which is not retail partners.

But think about if you own a gym or a studio right now, and you’ve seen all this wave of connected fitness, you probably thinking about, okay, what could I do? so. There are a number of different conversations where I think there’s probably going to be different type of partnerships that you will see ducks dog’s been involved in, that is still going to help us drive that awareness.

At the same time,

[00:25:24] Joe:
Yeah. A lot of opportunities down that path in terms of what do the partnerships look like? What does distribution look like? How are you able to then leverage that? I think we’ve even seen some companies doing that on the content front, like integrating different, either studios or instructors.

So I think, yeah, that will continue to have. Maybe changing gears as we get towards the end of the conversation, you mentioned being kind of more thoughtful in terms of how you’re deploying capital. I think to this point, the company’s raised like $17 million, at least that’s what is public? How are you thinking about continuing to both finance and maybe, encourage and increase growth as you get to like this next phase of the company?

[00:26:08] Stephen:
Yeah, no great correction. you’re absolutely right. we. From a goal forest standpoint, we are going to start discussions, and it’s already started with some partners that we’ve been in discussions with in the past, with the idea to raise capital. but again, the, the philosophy doesn’t change.

I don’t think that, the next 12 months is about, going to mass, I think the next 12 months for us, it’s about solidifying. The experience that the people who are on our platform, having, pushing that a little bit more for it, and yes, please, you know, quite a few units in the market. so we will raise capital, in the next few months. but you know, the philosophy of the business is not going to change. I think from a growth standpoint, as we get to Q3 or Q4 is where I expect JAXJOX to come. you know, on its own. I think that we already seen some amazing signs from what we are doing from an activity standpoint, but we just, we just managing the growth right now.

And I think by the time we get to sort of Q3 of Q4 this year, I will expect that we are being more active, and sort of going up the, the growth, curve. so yeah, we’ll be in the market, you know, raising money, in the next, I would say imminently in the next few months,

[00:27:28] Joe:
Sure. I think hearing you talk about it, both from how you approach. During, COVID how you’re thinking about continuing to grow the company, that type of relationship you want to have with users. very thoughtful, very deliberate in terms of starting that, that course forward. But if we were to maybe if you want to think about a zooming out or just kind of fast forward a few years, like what ultimately do you want the impact?

Or goal to be. how do you think about that yourself? How do you communicate that with the team and investors in like, ultimately, like, what is that north star goal?

[00:28:07] Stephen:
Yeah. So anybody who’s thinking about having an at home fitness products, we want them to choose Jack’s jocks. we would have. Three different touch points from a pricing standpoint and experienced on point for people to be able to enter you are going to see us zooming in our digital offering, to be able to bring more people onto the platform. And I alluded earlier about, some of the more personalized live experiences. if you like. so if I was to zoom out, say three, four years from now, a few more, innovative digital experiences that that trucks will launch with. Unfortunately, I can’t share, but we have it in the pipeline and then there’s probably, some, hardware products, that will be in the offering as well.

But a lot more on the software side in terms of the digital experiences that you are going to see. And I think we are trying to. Bridge the gap between at home and sort of in-studio because in my opinion, it should be the same. And I think you should have your data wherever you go, wherever, wherever you decide to work out.

So, look forward to us trying to bridge that gap. If it’s fitness that you are thinking about, you’ll want to experience JAXJOX. We want JAXJOX to be the one thing where you no longer have to choose between, “Oh, do I buy this piece of equipment which can only do this? Or do I buy that piece of equipment that can only do that?”

You’ll be able to come to the platform and get pretty much all the type of experiences that we know people are looking for onto that platform.

[00:29:52] Joe:
Yeah, certainly a lot to look forward to, and we’ll be following along.

For folks who are listening, and also want to learn more and follow along, where would you point them?

[00:30:05] Stephen:
I’ll point them to our website, JAXJOX.com. For anybody who wants to get in touch we we have a form there, but JAXJOX.com is probably the best place to check us out. Or, follow one of our social handles on Instagram and what have you. I think you’ll get a good sense of what the brand is about and how we connect with our members.

[00:30:26] Joe:
Yeah, fantastic. I definitely encourage folks to check you out.

I’m very excited we got a chance to connect here today. Thanks for taking some time.

[00:30:34] Stephen:
Thank you, Joe.