Issue No. 168: web3 x Fitness

Illustration: Courtney Powell

Over the past several months, the web3 movement of a new, decentralized internet arrived in full force.

From DeFi to DeSo, web3 is already reshaping a wide range of industries. Now, the disruption has reached fitness.

Building Blocks

Web2, the internet as we know it, is ruled by centralized platforms like Facebook and Google, which monopolize value and profit off user data and content.

Enter web3. It promises the next evolution of the internet through a user-owned, blockchain-based digital world.

Protocols like Ethereum and Bitcoin store data in blocks (hence the name blockchain). Here, transactions are reviewed and approved by multiple validators, enabling users—who may otherwise be strangers—to align incentives and generate trust.

Empowering creators and communities, the space has taken off over the past year — the NFT market crossed $40B last year (and shows no signs of slowing) while decentralized organizations claimed $16B AUM in December 2021.

Exploring these developments as they relate to fitness and wellness, today, we’ll look at how web3 could revolutionize the industry.

NFT Your Movement

Perhaps most prominently, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have invaded the popular discourse. Unique and non-interchangeable, these assets introduce scarcity and proof of ownership to the digital economy.

Seeing the potential, popular brands have begun using NFTs as powerful way to engage customers across physical and digital spaces. Last December, adidas sold over $23M of NFTs, while Nike acquired NFT studio RTFKT.

As it stands, most users are adopting NFTs as social currency, popularized by profile picture-based projects. But beyond social signaling, utility NFTs open up a world of possibilities for health and fitness.

Gamified NFTs. Combining the power of proof-of-workout and pay-for-fitness, move-to-earn startups are using NFTs to gamify and reward physical activity.

  • Running app STEPN uses digital sneakers to pay users for walking, jogging, or running outdoors. It just secured $5M this January.
  • Genopets, a mobile game which integrates users’ IRL physical activity into digital in-game upgrades, raised $8.3M last October.

Elsewhere, goal-staking startup CommitPool leverages gear like Peloton and Apple Watch. As early entrants, wellness rewards ecosystems Sweatcoin and Clinicoin have attracted dedicated, active user bases for years.

Membership NFTs. Building communities, membership NFTs can be thought of as tickets, granting holders access into a collective of like-minded individuals along with exclusive perks.

  • Apex Optimizers provides NFT owners with access to deals with brands like Eight Sleep and Bioloop, signed merch from athletes, and professional, in-person training experiences.
  • IRONDOGS, a play-to-earn powerlifting collection, hosts exclusive competitions with NFT prizes and connects powerlifters with strength coaches and personal trainers.
  • GYMBROs NFT marries gym membership with apparel — NFT holders are granted access into the full GYMBROs ecosystem, complete with seasonal merch drops and 50% off orders.

Elsewhere, Bike Club NFT and National Parks NFT aim to promote physical activity and the outdoors. The former brings together cyclists around new gear and group rides, while the latter supports hiking and the National Park Foundation.

Beyond a digital club, Apex Optimizers founder Rachel Sanders detailed follow-on effects in both the physical and virtual realms during a Fitt Insider Q&A:

“The communities that emerge from health-focused projects will also play a role in which products and solutions are funded and built — an exciting trend to watch.”

DAOs eat VCs

Another form of community creation, DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) are member-run collectives powered by tokens.

Distinct from existing orgs, DAOs grant stake and equity to all members (which appreciate in value along with the DAO), enabling trust and incentivizing meaningful participation. Blockchain contracts offload a significant chunk of governance that most communities require, easing the coordination of stakeholders.

This reduces the time and friction required to create large, engaged communities and, at the same time, augments their capabilities. Put simply, shared interests, or shared experiences, can evolve into the realization of shared goals.

For example, this is already manifesting in the form of health-focused, VC-like collaboratives. VitaDAO boasts 3,000+ members and has wielded its $9M+ community treasury to fund over $1.5M in longevity research.

Instructor IPO 

Besides enhancing fitness communities, social tokens have the potential to supercharge the creator economy, specifically in the fitness world — athletes, instructors, and/or coaches.

Last September, UCLA basketball player Jaylen Clark launched $JROCK. Holders of the token receive special perks, are rewarded if $JROCK appreciates over time, and can directly support Clark — sidestepping middlemen.

For fitness creators, social tokens present a novel way to interact with their followings. Early, devoted fans benefit from investment while creators benefit from capital.

Perhaps most importantly, token economies reduce the power of third-party gatekeepers, “arming the rebels” instead of rewarding the brand or platform. In theory, a $RIGSBY coin could give Peloton fan favorite Cody Rigsby direct ownership of his followers, allowing him to port his offerings across platforms.

The Metaverse

An inherently social activity, fitness has long been trending towards the metaverse in the form of virtual, gamified workouts.

While it’s not fundamentally a part of web3, the metaverse is a powerful tool for facilitating web3 experiences.

For example, fitness metaverse startup Calo Metaverse uses VR and AR overlays to gamify outdoor activity. OliveX, a digital lifestyle company and metaverse developer, just partnered with UK-based boutique fitness studio TRIB3, launching a gym and virtual store on OliveX-owned LAND within The Sandbox’s virtual world.

Elsewhere… fitness itself seems to be a popular on-ramp onto the metaverse, as reflected by Meta’s Supernatural acquisition. But VR games like FitXR and Liteboxer merely scratch the surface of the potential that a fitness metaverse wields.

Looking Ahead

A fully-developed web3 fitness world still has quite a ways to go.

A common critique, many projects aren’t necessarily innovating with blockchain technology — they’re merely flying the web3 flag as a marketing tool. Others question whether web3 is truly decentralized or point to the negative impact that crypto mining has on the climate.

But, believer or skeptic, it’s important to acknowledge the underlying potential of these technologies. Blockchains enable interoperability between different apps, a characteristic that could transform the fitness space.

Most existing digital health and fitness tools operate in silos, spitting out data that consumers must manage on their own. Moving toward a more integrated future where personalized recommendations are unified across fitness and wellness offerings, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg hints at web3’s potential:

“I think a lot of the magic of NFTs and a lot of the web3 work is that it’s designed in a way to be fundamentally interoperable… it’ll help break down these silos between different apps… which I think increasingly is what people are going to expect.”

Punchline: The web3 movement is full of hype, but while some projects seek to make a quick buck, others are tackling the world’s biggest health problems. As the category evolves, its biggest contribution might be coalition-building, encouraging more people to get moving.

⚡️ Innovate or Die

When software eats fitness, connected equipment brands must innovate at scale to compete. But that doesn’t mean doing it alone.

On the Fitt Insider Podcast: SweatWorks founder and CEO Mohammed Iqbal joined us to discuss his digital agency’s work, from app development to hardware design, for top fitness and wellness brands.

We also cover: untapped opportunities in hybrid fitness, democratizing well-being, and more.

Listen to today’s episode here

🙂 Anxiety Tech

Stressed out and anxious, the new generation is pondering a better way to meditate.

How we got here: Over the last decade, meditation has become a go-to salve for mental wellness.

Modern meditators. An ancient practice, meditation can take decades to master — but many want to overcome their stress and anxiety now. As a result, a new generation of digital natives are using tech to optimize their zen.

Gadgets as guide rails. Using electrical sensors to detect biofeedback (such as brain waves, muscle tension, or heart rate variability), startups are crafting tools to fine-tune your inner peace.

  • Reflect Orb, a ball with six electrodes that measure heart rate variability and electrodermal activity, raised $3M last year.
  • Last year, recovery tech company Hyperice acquired Core, which offers a handheld, biometric meditation ball that tracks heart rate and stress levels.
  • The Indian Olympic team used Dhyana, a smart ring that uses infrared to monitor and map out breathing patterns and heart rate, during the Tokyo Games.
  • Zendo Meditation, an MP3-shaped device, attaches two electrical pads attached to users’ foreheads to monitor the brain and stimulate deeper meditation.

On top of meditation training, Muse and Earable offer headbands with capabilities beyond biometrics, using neural signals to improve sleep and, a step further, cognitive function and focus. Earable just raised $6.6M, led by Peter Thiel-backed Founders Fund, this January.

Elsewhere, as the metaverse gains momentum, Toronto-based Hoame recently launched virtual boutique meditation studios on Meta Quest (formerly Oculus Quest), while Guided Meditation VR allows users to escape to 100+ lush locations by simply putting on their headset.

Sweat it out. A potential new frontier, scientists have figured out how to detect and measure the stress hormone, cortisol, in sweat. If, say, Apple were to integrate cortisol management into its wearables, connected mindfulness would be an easy jump for the growing cohort that is obsessed with recovery.

Peddling peace. But as the $4B mindfulness market continues to expand, there’s growing concern over the lack of regulation. A study done in 2017 found that, at the time, less than 4% of “anxiety apps” had been thoroughly tested. Further, many are skeptical of profit-minded tech companies appropriating tranquility.

However, as a tool for novices, it’s hard to discount the value of this category. After all, it’s hard to improve what you can’t measure.

Punchline: As we’ve covered previously, there’s an underlying irony to connected mindfulness — some argue that it isn’t meditation at all. But, as Indian athlete and Dhyana ring endorser Pullela Gopichand puts it, “meditation is such an abstract concept… the new generation wants quantitative results.”

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📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • OLIPOP, makers of a prebiotic soda, landed $30M in a Series B round led by Monogram Capital Partners, with participation from a host of celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow.
    More from Fitt Insider: Gut Check
  • Fertility care company Kindbody, provider of both digital and clinical services, merged with Vios Fertility Institute, a network of fertility clinics, valuing the new company at $1.15B.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Future of Fertility Tech
  • Talkiatry, a mental health platform that matches patients to in-network psychiatrists, added $20M to its Series A.
  • Alt-meat company Black Sheep Foods, makers of plant-based lamb products, landed $5.25M in a seed round led by Bessemer Venture Partners.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Next Frontier of Plant-based Meat
  • Akili Interactive, creators of video game-based treatment for ADHD, merged with Social Capital Suvretta Holdings Corp. I, a Chamath Palihapitiya-led SPAC, to go public at a $1B valuation.
  • Kencko, maker of organic powdered smoothie drinks, secured $10M in a Series A round led by Siddhi Capital.
  • Singapore-based digital mental health platform Intellect closed $10M in an oversubscribed Series A round led by HOF Capital.
  • Purely Elizabeth, makers of organic superfood granola, closed a $50M Series B led by SEMCAP Food & Nutrition.
  • La Vie, a French vegan bacon startup, secured €25M ($28.4M) in a Series A round led by Seventures, with participation from actress Natalie Portman and Oatly chairman Eric Melloul.
  • Active lifestyle media company Outside acquired running-focused digital magazine PodiumRunner.
    More from Fitt Insider: Our interview with Outside CEO Robin Thurston
  • Culdesac, developer of car-free communities, raised $30M in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures ahead of its first launch in Tempe, Arizona.
    More from Fitt Insider: Creating Healthier Cities
  • Israeli 3D-printed alt-meat company Redefine Meat grabbed $135M in new funding.
    More from Fitt Insider: 
    Meat vs “Meat”
  • Finnish startup Naava, a company installing tech-enabled plant walls for improved well-being, secured €7M ($7.8M) in a funding round to expand globally.
  • Cowboy, a Belgian e-bike manufacturer, pulled in $80M in a Series C round.
    More from Fitt Insider: E-Bikes and the End of Cars
  • Australian telehealth company Eucalyptus, developer of a range of services from men’s health to skincare, secured A$60M ($41.9M) in a funding round led by BOND and will enter the UK.
  • Quan, a digital platform addressing employee burnout and self-care, raised $1.15M in pre-seed funding from Y Combinator.
    More from Fitt Insider: Peak Burnout
  • Mosh, an Australian men’s health startup, secured $25M in a funding round, with participation from hims co-founder Joe Spector.
    More from Fitt Insider: DTC Men’s Health

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