March 31, 2020

#24: Aly Orady, CEO of Tonal

Tonal CEO Aly Orady joined Joe Vennare to discuss Tonal’s strength training platform, COVID-19’s impact, personalization, and the future of gyms. This conversation is loaded w/incredible insights on the evolution of fitness.

First, from Aly’s perspective, connected fitness has been largely based on bringing group fitness or cardio equipment into the home. Tonal, on the other hand, is focused on strength training and personalization.

The product packs an entire gym into a wall-mounted unit, using electricity to generate force. The technology includes a built-in spotter and AI that tells users how they should be lifting.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, the company has seen sales volume triple. But the sales lift is even across all geographies, not just cities impacted by the stay-at-home order.

Looking ahead, Aly said gyms/studios need to rethink their value proposition… creating strategic touchpoints where customers need to physically be there. Adding “we shouldn’t underestimate the elements of human touch and empathy.”

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

What is Tonal? 

AO: Tonal is a connected strength training system.

Unlike traditional weight lifting, Tonal doesn’t rely on metal plates and gravity to generate force. Instead, the wall-mounted unit uses electricity to generate force.

We also provide multi-week training programs and onscreen coaches to guide our members through every single exercise.

What makes Tonal different? 

AO: The big difference is that most connected fitness products are based on group fitness or studio experiences. They’re trying to bring those experiences into the home.

Unlike those products, Tonal has a unique perspective in that it’s really the only one focused on strength training. With a background in electrical engineering and a passion for strength training, I set out to create a product that could replace every machine in the gym.

Then, realizing the average person really has no idea how to strength train properly, we wanted to combine compact equipment and guidance into a product that could literally fit in a one-bedroom apartment.

The result is a versatile product and technology, including a built-in spotter that can tell if you’re struggling with the load and can reduce the weight to help you finish the reps. And our A.l. can assess your performance, recommending how much weight you should be lifting and when that weight should go up or down.

Who is the core customer? 

AO: Right now, customers break out into two groups. The first group was already exercising two or more times a week before they purchased a Tonal. They bought a Tonal to get more serious about strength training.

Our average user is working out three times a week for 40 minutes a session.

The other group tends to be people who were fit and then life happened. I call it the trifecta; kids, career, commute. And for them, Tonal is all about convenience. And that convenience isn’t just about having the equipment in the home, it’s about knowing what to do.

Most people have been following the same strength training routine for years. Tonal is able to deliver programming and technology that produces better results.

What’s the impact of COVID-19? 

AO: In a matter of weeks, we’ve seen our sales volume triple. And last week was the best sales week in the history of the company.

Typically, the holiday season—Black Friday, Cyber Monday, New Year’s week—are your best weeks of the year. We’ve eclipsed all three of those weeks. We’re seeing a compression of the sales cycle, where people are spending less time in the consideration period of buying a product like this.

Overall, it’s signaling a sea change towards people wanting to work out at home. But the most interesting thing of all is that, from a geographic perspective, our sales lift is even across all geographies, not just those geographies that are hardest hit by COVID-19.

This indicates a broader mindset and attitude shift, it’s not just people stuck at home and wanting to workout.

It’s a catalyst or tipping point. To some extent, everyone always believed this was going to happen at some point… that people would begin taking the shifting towards at-home fitness more seriously.

And this isn’t the only industry that’s seen this. We’ve experienced the rise of eCommerce, the rise of streaming services and Netflix at the expense of movie theaters. At some point, fitness was going to tip as well. And [coronavirus] could be the catalyst.

What happens to gyms and studios? 

AO: It’s hard to predict, but gyms, studios, and personal trainers are all going to have to shift their mindset — about what they are and what they offer.

It really comes down to the unique things they can offer and where they can add value, creating special experiences for consumers.

Gyms are a third space. They’re a community service. They’re a place where customers can get a functional movement screen and have a conversation with a personal trainer or nutritionist.

But the idea that you have to go to the gym every single day of the week creates too much friction. A better approach would be to create strategic touchpoints with the customer where they need to physically be there. And then offer other pieces in the home on their own.

There are still value-added services a personal trainer, nutritionist, or gym can add on top of that. But first, it’s important to understand and accept that the world is going to change.

The best example is eCommerce. Initially, traditional retailers panicked that people wouldn’t shop in person. But a lot of eCommerce companies are now opening up retail locations. They’re just completely reimagined. That could happen in the fitness industry.

How will connected fitness evolve? 

AO: Personalization is going to be a huge trend.

Most of the connected fitness industry is based on studio fitness experiences. It’s a group experience that’s one-size-fits-all.

We’ve taken the position that we’re going to be personalized. And that has impacted a lot of little decisions throughout the entire product. Going forward, I hope we can lead the industry in creating a more intelligent and more personalized fitness experience.

What happens to personal trainers? 

AO: Tonal does some things better than a human personal trainer. But, from a human touch perspective, there are some things a personal trainer is better equipped to do.

We shouldn’t underestimate the elements of human touch, empathy, and compassion. We can combine machines and human interaction in a way that leverages their strengths.

How does Tonal build community? 

AO: We have a passionate, vibrant, viral community. The difference is, during a group fitness class, the community or competition is in the session with you. It’s in the moment and it’s a micro-community where you know the people in the class and you cheer each other on. But it’s kind of ephemeral. It’s for the duration of the class.

With Tonal, we run programs over multiple weeks. In many ways, your community is everyone on the Tonal platform. And with strength training, there’s more to talk about. And that translates into the community.

People are talking about movement quality, nutrition, and sleep. And those conversations are fueling our community. This is a little bit different than what you see in studio fitness, but in many ways, it’s a lot more powerful because there’s more depth.

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

About Aly Orady:

Aly Orady is the CEO and Founder of Tonal, the world’s most intelligent fitness system and the first truly personalized approach to strength training.

A 20-year silicon valley veteran, engineer and serial entrepreneur, Orady started his career at Hewlett-Packard’s Computer Systems Laboratory designing super-computers, followed by technical leadership roles at a series of startups, including Kealia, Inc. Armed with an M.S.E.E. from Stanford, and a B.Eng. from McMaster University, Orady founded Pano Logic, where he served as the company’s Chief Technology Officer and oversaw core technology development, architecture, and patents, as well as functional roles including product management, go-to-market planning, business development and manufacturing operations.

Orady has leveraged his extensive product and technology background paired with his own fitness journey and 70 lb weight loss to invent Tonal. His goal is to help enable people to lead healthier lives by providing them with the technology, guidance and support to effectively reach their fitness goal.

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