Issue No. 187: Sound On

Illustration: Courtney Powell

From high-energy beats to soothing soundtracks, the right playlist can enhance a workout, fuel focus, or promote sleep.

Now, going beyond background music, functional audio wants to transform well-being.

Listen Up

Humans have been making music for thousands of years. Hardwired, we have an instinctual attraction to sound. Exploring its impact, multiple studies reveal the powerful link between music and health.

  • Nearly 90% of people believe music is essential to their well-being.
  • During the pandemic, music was the second-most popular coping mechanism behind getting adequate sleep.
  • Mitigating stress, regulating mood, and improving immune function, music therapy supports physical and mental health.

Mindful. In the wellness world, apps like Calm and Headspace rely on meditative music. A step further, artist partnerships like Harry Styles x Calm deliver exclusive content and built-in marketing. Another approach, Othership’s breathwork sessions are set to custom DJ mixes.

Pumped. Perfecting the playlist, SoulCycle has its own SiriusXM channel. Orangetheory Fitness made DJ Steve Aoki its chief music officer. And connected fitness brands enlist musicians as performers and investors. Cashing in, labels like Universal and Warner say digital fitness is a gold mine.

Locked in. Spotify says audio is the number-one productivity booster. Helping listeners get in the zone, the streamer’s Deep Focus playlist touts over 3M likes. Similarly, binaural beats on Apple Music, YouTube, and are soaring in popularity.

Tripping. Anchoring therapy sessions, music and psychedelics go hand in hand. While Grammy-nominated producer Jon Hopkins pioneers the electronic psychedelia genre, startups like Wavepaths curate music to match a patient’s fluctuating emotional state.

Functional Frequencies

More than a playlist, functional music companies are engineering personalized audio to match our every move.

Bionic beats. Sound wellness company Endel has raised more than $22M in funding, including a $15M Series B this May.

Leveraging AI, the company’s patented tech creates activity-specific soundscapes based on real-time inputs. Sensing movement, heart rate, and even the weather, Endel tailors tunes to help listeners stay aligned with their biological rhythms.

Moving “generative music” into the mainstream, Endel has teamed with artists like Grimes and James Blake to create sleep- and chill-inducing tracks. Making headway, the app claims to increase focus and decrease stress among listeners, attracting more than 1M monthly active users.

In the future, Endel co-founder and CEO Oleg Stavitsky envisions a world complete with an “always-on” AI orchestrator that optimizes the soundtrack to your life — work, workouts, and even sleep.

Turn it up. At the intersection of a $26B music industry and a $4.4T wellness market, functional music could top the charts. As Neal Sarin, CEO of music therapy app Sona, noted:

“…we’ve been conditioned to see music as a means of entertainment when music is healing. We have this massive music industry, but where is the restorative music industry?

Sensing the opportunity, startups are composing sounds to enhance cognition, ease our nerves, or lull us to sleep.

  • Crafted for Gen Z ears, Spoke brings together artists, clinical psychologists, and therapists to produce mindful tunes. The startup launched this February after raising $1.5M.
  • This March, SoundMind secured $800K in pre-seed funding for its audio-visual mental health app, complete with individualized compositions to “relax, reset, and refocus.”
  • Last year, Sona debuted its neuroscientist-curated melodies to relieve anxiety, boost memory, and facilitate restful sleep.

Queued up. Serving up music to match your stride, apps like Weav Run and RockMyRun use adaptive tech to boost physical performance. Unlocking access to health data, TERRA CEO Kyriakos Eleftheriou expects deeper integration between fitness wearables and personalized music.

Creating sensory experiences, OPUS combines spatial vibrations and music with a “soundhealing” bed. Tuning in, massage gun maker Therabody acquired acoustic therapy company So Sound.

Developing a music-based digital therapeutic, MedRhythms raised $25M last year to tackle neurologic injury and disease.

Hearables. Earbuds are getting fit as hardware gets in harmony. Amazon’s Echo Buds now track workouts. A hearing aid or in-ear thermometer, Apple thinks AirPods could be a medical device.

Pressing play, Apple acquired adaptive beat maker AI Music in February; the startup customizes soundtracks based on mood or workout intensity. Meanwhile, Sony teamed up with Endel on sensor-packed headphones that trigger personalized soundscapes.

Looking Ahead

For focus, fitness, or falling asleep, music as wellness has arrived. But, music as medicine is still a work in progress. While many companies tout neuroscience-backed research or scientific advisors, most notably lack clinical validation.

Takeaway: More than background noise, mood- or biometric-based music is moving to the main stage in an effort to tune up our health and well-being.

🤳 The Future of Fitness Creators

During the pandemic, fitness professionals unbundled from the gym, taking their services online. But digital platforms “arming the rebels” are still a work in progress.

On the Fitt Insider Podcast: founder & CEO Nathaniel Jewell joins us to discuss the role of the fitness creator in a hybrid future.

We also cover: creator economy consolidation and the wellness opportunity beyond fitness.

Listen to today’s episode here

🏷 For Sale

Equipment maker TRX filed for bankruptcy and is seeking a buyer.

Best known for its suspension training straps, the company also offers educational programming, digital content, and fitness accessories.

Reset. Voluntarily entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy, TRX will remain operational as it pursues a sale. Despite recording growth during the pandemic, the company said it’s restructuring as the fitness landscape shifts:

“​​Today’s action addresses the headwinds facing the business such as increased competition and macroeconomic challenges being faced by many other companies. This process will allow TRX to substantially reduce its debt and more rapidly adjust to post-pandemic consumer demands.”

Between the lines: Enhancing its omnichannel efforts on all fronts—from equipment to digital workouts and in-club offerings—TRX hopes to optimize its business beyond the workout-from-home gold rush.

Zooming out: A trend we detailed in Issue No. 177, with the fitness industry in flux, M&A is heating up.

  • Core Health & Fitness recently acquired Wexer and equipment maker Jacobs Ladder.
  • HighPost Capital bought and merged Chris Hemsworth’s digital fitness app Centr and equipment maker Inspire Fitness.
  • Wahoo, a cycling technology company, scooped up virtual training platform RGT Cycling.

TBD. With TRX set to change hands, private equity aside, the brand could be attractive to a more robust digital content provider or an equipment maker with a complementary portfolio.

⏳ Still Loading…

Falling from pandemic highs, digital mental health platforms are seeing a slowdown.

  • First-time downloads for mental health apps dropped over 30% as MAUs also declined.
  • After topping $5.5B globally in 2021, mental health tech funding fell 60% YoY in Q1 2022.
  • Across the category, churn remains high, with 30-day retention rates of just 3.3%.

Send help. As the mental health crisis intensified during the pandemic, digital platforms scaled up. While some companies sought clinical validation, others waded further into wellness.

Red flags. In Issue No. 182, we warned of mental health startups like Cerebral playing fast and loose with digital prescriptions. Taking notice, Congress and the DOJ are probing industry practices.

Changing their mind, mindfulness apps want medical sign-off. Hoping to improve retention while enticing insurers, Calm and Headspace used M&A to enter healthcare. Doubling down, mental health apps are cashing in on corporate wellness.

Takeaway: Despite a wave of online options, we’re more anxious and depressed than ever. As digital health cools, tech’s mental health solution is still loading.

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🥾 Happy Trails

Eyeing opportunities in high-growth trail sports, Strava dropped a host of new features.

  • The app now tracks Trail Run, Gravel Ride, Mountain Bike, and e-Mountain Bike as primary experiences.
  • Paid subscribers gain access to Trail Routes, displaying trail networks, complete with community-sourced insights like difficulty, completion time, and data visualizations.

Off-road. Building for years, trail sports exploded during the pandemic alongside the lucrative endurance economy.

  • Trail running counts 20M global participants, growing 12% YoY.
  • In 2021, cyclocross/gravel bike sales were up 109% compared to 2019.
  • The number of hikes uploaded to Strava grew by over 100% each of the last two years.

Teasing the announcement during his recent appearance on the Fitt Insider Podcast, Strava CEO Michael Horvath said the company is prioritizing community, trail sports, and storytelling.

Speaking to the larger opportunity, in a press release, Horvath added:

“We have been seeing off-the-charts growth of trail sports over the past several years, outpacing even growth of road running and riding.” 

Punchline: Meeting athletes where they sweat while attracting new audiences—and hopefully converting existing users to paid members—Strava is blazing a new trail.

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📰 News & Notes

  • Nike Run Club shuts down service in China.
  • Fitt Jobs: see who’s hiring in health & fitness.
  • Oura sues rival Circular over patents, moves to block US sales.
  • Know Labs seeks FDA approval for palm-reading glucose monitor.
  • Global wearables market sees first-ever decline as sales stall in Q1’22.
  • Startup Q&A: Fitnescity CEO Laila Zemrani on democratizing diagnostics.
  • PowerPlant teams with SYSTM to acquire plant-based food & bev brands.
  • Meta Quest debuts fitness stats tracking via Oculus Mobile or Apple Health.

💰 Money Moves

  • Magic Spoon, creators of keto-friendly, high-protein breakfast cereals, secured $85M in a Series B round led by HighPost Capital.
  • Ever/Body, an NYC-based chain of wellness-focused cosmetic dermatology studios, raised $55.5M in a Series C round led by Addition.
  • Move-to-earn startup Walken landed $4.7M in funding.
    More from Fitt Insider: web3 x fitness
  • Core Health & Fitness, owner of NautilusSchwinnStairMaster, and other brands, acquired Jacobs Ladder, makers of namesake cardio equipment.
    More from Fitt Insider: Core Acquires Wexer
  • Hydration startup Cirkul, makers of a water bottle with refillable flavor cartridges, raised $70M at a $1B valuation.
  • Danone Manifesto Ventures acquired a minority stake in UK-based oat milk maker Minor Figures.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Quest for Cow-Free Milk
  • Kindbody, a fertility and family-building benefits provider, acquired Phosphorus Labs, a genetic testing company.
    More from Fitt Insider: Fertility Tech Takes Off
  • Connected strength company JAXJOX added an undisclosed investment from NFL veteran Vernon Davis.
    On the Pod: JAXJOX CEO Stephen Owusu
  • Fermented foods maker Cleveland Kitchen raised $19M in a Series A round and acquired rival Sonoma Brinery.
  • South Korea-based Cardio Health, creators of a play-to-earn connected fitness bike called Metabike, added $1M in a funding round led by Smilegate Investment.
  • Smartphone-based fitness creator platform crowdfunded $109K.
    More from Fitt Insider: Fitness Creators, Revisited

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

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