Issue No. 181: Fitness Creators, Revisited

Illustration: Courtney Powell

Early in the pandemic, we detailed the fitness creator’s rise.

Two years on, arming the industry’s rebels remains a work in progress.

The Creator Class

Long before COVID restrictions shuttered gyms, the balance of powers was shifting.

Place to personality. IRL or online, fitness instructors are the main attraction. With loyal followings, instructors can command top dollar, start a rival studio, or launch a digital business.

Raw deal. Typically employed as contractors, fitness professionals earning hourly or per-class wages struggled to get by while the global industry topped $100B.

Creator economy. Beyond fitness, there are 50M+ creators on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Patreon, and Substack. Benefiting from new tools, creators are now entrepreneurs and founders.

Virtual studios. When lockdowns persisted, gyms and instructors pivoted to digital. In a pinch, Zoom became the de facto fitness platform, hosting both solo trainers and big-name studios like Barry’s.

Watching a billion-dollar industry hack together makeshift solutions, the fitness creator opportunity crystallized. As we explained in Issue No. 81:

“Like filmmakers on YouTube and writers on Substack, fitness professionals are realizing that they hold a disproportionate share of the value.”

Call to Arms

Building one-off features, two-sided marketplaces, and studio-in-a-box software, a wave of companies hoping to arm the fitness rebels emerged.

But, as the pandemic wanes and gyms rebound, creator platforms are consolidating.

After raising $17.5M last fall, Talent Hack shut down in February. More recently, hybrid creator concept Moxie closed, having previously secured $9M in funding.

Other promising upstarts, including indiFIT, Strydal, and Salut dissolved, while Interval pivoted away from creators.

On the flip side, building all-in-one software, arketa has welcomed trainers from defunct companies. Similarly, scooped up onPodio while enhancing its offering.

Meanwhile, Playbook’s influencer/athlete focus appears to be paying off. And Superset* is taking a Shopify-like approach to help creators launch standalone web apps.

For now, though, where instructors and coaches fit in the future of fitness has yet to be determined. Pairing our research with founder insights, here’s a look at where we stand…

Missteps. Navigating COVID-era uncertainty, companies scaled up prior to achieving product-market fit. Racing to onboard instructors while building the product in real time, short-term feature development took precedence over long-term strategy.

Ultimately, a multitude of factors, including excessive burn rates, return to gyms, and instructor churn (leaving for competitors, to teach in-person, or as a result of limited earnings) led many creator platforms to fold.

Market. Interestingly, a number of founders who exited the space said they no longer see fitness creators as a venture-scale category. This belief led Moxie CEO Jason Goldberg to close the company instead of raising additional capital. As he told Fitt Insider, in his view, a billion-dollar outcome was unlikely.

Conversely, arketa CEO Rachel Lea Fishman, Recess CEO Nathaniel Jewell, and Superset CEO Taylor Pemberton all spoke about a massive, untapped market.

Bringing creators from the trillion-dollar wellness industry online, Jewell likened the opportunity to Airbnb, where platforms like Recess are establishing a new market. Echoing that sentiment, Pemberton said its early days for creators and consumers.

Along those lines, Fishman said arketa is seeing an uptick across meditation, reiki, nutrition, life coaching, and other verticals that represent the consumer’s evolving definition of wellness.

Know-how. A key piece of the market puzzle, earning potential among individual creators was a point of contention.

The bear case, some operators said fit pros excel at training but struggle to acquire, service, and retain users. As a result, these creators were unable to build sizeable or sustainable revenue streams.

The bull case, founders said, is where creator platforms simplify or automate business operations so fit pros can better serve their clients.

Additionally, building flexible solutions that meet creators where they are, while scaling with them, is critical. A step further, from educational resources to personal assistance, coaching creators on best practices is nonnegotiable.

Plus, there’s plenty of room to innovate. Helping fitness creators diversify revenue, Supliful and FitMarkets offer white label supplements and curated products, respectively. Meanwhile, reimagining fitness education for digital creators remains wide open.

Looking Ahead

Like the rest of the industry, the fitness creator category is in flux.

In the near term, the creator space will see further consolidation as instructors and exercisers reassess their pandemic routines. The marketplace versus business software battle could also come to a head as the industry recalibrates.

Punchline: COVID aside, empowering the next generation of fitness/wellness professionals to build digital businesses will unlock value for instructors and exercisers, all while posing new challenges for gyms and studios.

🧠 Smart Strength

While much of connected fitness is experiencing a market correction, smart strength is bulking up.

On the Fitt Insider Podcast: JAXJOX co-founder and CEO Stephen Owusu discusses his company’s connected strength equipment.

We also cover: how his AI-enabled interactive studio stacks up in the smart strength category, and why his company didn’t chase growth during the pandemic.

Listen to today’s episode here

⚖️ Balancing Act

Weight loss app Noom is tightening its belt, laying off up to 25% of its wellness coaches.

Mo’ money. Valued north of $4.2B, the diet and health coaching app has raised nearly $670M in total funding. Eyeing growth, Noom projected more than $600M in 2021 revenue. Going big, the company was reportedly planning a $10B public offering.

Mo’ problems. No stranger to controversy, Noom has drawn criticism for its diet program and business practices. In February, it settled a $62M lawsuit over auto-renewing subscriptions.

Now, Noom is laying off nearly 500 of its 2,000 coaches, moving from a text message model to video-based calls.

Refuting the critics. Appearing on the Fitt Insider Podcast, Noom CEO Saeju Jeong said the company’s weight management protocol is “proven by science and scaled by technology.” Jeong added:

“I think the CDC should give us an award… we are spending our company’s money to promote behavior change in order to prevent chronic conditions.”

Zooming out: As we detailed in Issue No. 151, from telehealth and personal coaching to prescription injections, curbing the obesity epidemic has become big business.

A departure from Noom’s approach, Calibrate and Found have scaled rapidly, raising hundreds of millions for personalized weight care. Meanwhile, Virta Health notched a $3.3B valuation by focusing on diabetes reversal.

Punchline: With no foolproof solution in sight, digital health startups and drug makers are pursuing outcomes and profit. Overhauling its strategy, Noom hopes to strike the right balance.

🔊 Sound On

Massage gun maker Therabody acquired So Sound, an acoustic therapy startup, expanding its wellness ecosystem.

Tune in. Creator of an acoustic resonance massage chair, So Sound touts a range of benefits including relaxation, better sleep, and increased circulation.

Rebranding to TheraSound, its technology will be integrated into Therabody products. First up, a zero-gravity recovery chair called Therabody Lounger.

Of note, this technology is also adaptable to mattresses, should Therabody want to challenge Eight Sleep.

Thera-wellness. Originally sharing a name with its signature product, Theragun, the company rebranded in May 2020, expanding beyond recovery while adding TheraOne CBD products.

From massage guns to compression boots, at-home or in-person, Therabody is pushing further into wellness.

  • After adding new funding in February 2021, it acquired EStim company PowerDot for $34M.
  • Earlier this year, it entered beauty with TheraFace, a facial massager with light therapy.
  • Therabody is opening more Reset locations, reaching six hybrid recovery studio/retail stores in 2022.
  • The company will offer TheraSound to hotels, spas, and gyms, as well as an integration with Sunlighten infrared saunas.

Punchline: Performance, recovery, beauty, spa, sleep, you name it… wellness is in the eye of the consumer. Seeing green, Therabody joins recovery tech company Hyperice in casting a wider well-being net.

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👀 Trend Watch

Each week, we interview health and fitness founders for our Startup Q&A series.

Looking back. Reviewing the transcripts from nearly 50 conversations, we identified eight power trends redefining well-being.

Forging ahead. From personalization and women’s health to the fallacy of fitness tech, here’s a glimpse into the future, as told by the founders tackling health’s biggest issues: Read the full report.


📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • Recovery company Therabody acquired So Sound, rebranding the division as TheraSound.
  • Speede Fitness, creators of a connected strength training machine, secured $2.5M in an oversubscribed seed round.
    More from Fitt Insider: Our conversation with Speede co-founder Dan Mooney
  • Lemon Perfect, makers of an organic lemon water, raised $31M in a Series A round from BeyoncéTrousdale Ventures, and others.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Functional Beverage Boom
  • Reproductive care startup Frame Fertility secured $2.8M in a seed round.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Future of Fertility Tech
  • Ruth Health, a women’s telehealth platform for post-partum care, landed $2.4M in a seed round led by Giant Ventures.
  • UK-born plant-based restaurant chain Neat Food Co. raised $30M in a Series B round and will enter the US.
  • Private equity firm Olympus Partners acquired Excel Fitness Holdings, operator of 90+ Planet Fitness locations across five states.
  • EGYM, a global fitness technology company, acquired French corporate wellness platform Gymlib.
  • Dutch fitness tech firm Virtuagym, maker of club management and coaching software, added €3M ($3.16M) in a funding round.
  • Hello Heart, creators of a digital therapeutic for heart health, landed $70M in a Series D round led by Stripes.
  • Hormonal wellness brand Wile raised $3M in a seed round from Serena Williams’ Serena VenturesSpringdale Ventures, and others.
  • HUNGRY, a food delivery service backed by Jay-Z, acquired healthy snacks subscription company NatureBox.
  • Canadian performance sock maker Endur Apparel secured $3.2M and rebranded as Outway.

*Fitt Insider is an investor in Superset. We invest in early-stage health, fitness, and wellness companies. Learn more and get in touch here.

Today’s newsletter was brought to you by Anthony Vennare, Joe Vennare, and Ryan Deer.

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