Issue No. 90: The Metaverse of Fitness

Courtney Powell

Last week, we looked at emerging trends reshaping the industry. Today, we’re narrowing our focus to explore virtual workouts. As it turns out, the future of exercise looks more like Fortnite than fitness as we know it.

A Brief History

In its current form, fitness is a relatively new phenomenon. Hippolyte Triat, a retired circus strongman, opened the first truly commercial gyms in Brussels and Paris during the late 1840s. In 1881, the term “body building” was coined in a Boston YMCA. And 1939 saw fitness legend Jack LaLanne open what’s thought to be the first US health club.

Starting with Gold’s Gym in Venice, California, the ’60s gave rise to big-box clubs. In the ’70s, Life Fitness introduced the stationary bike and treadmill. Later, in the ’80s, gyms chains like LA Fitness took hold. This era also gave us Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons, and at-home exercise videos.

By the ’90s, Equinox was popularizing the premium club. In the 2000s, the boutique fitness boom began. CrossFit changed the game. And solutions like MINDBODY and ClassPass shook up the industry.

  • In 2019, the US fitness industry earned $32.3B.
  • More than 60M Americans, or a quarter of adults, belong to a gym.
  • In three decades, the number of gyms increased by 200% to 40K locations.
  • From 2013 to 2017, boutique studios grew by 121%; traditional gyms grew by 15%.

A New Era

Fitness apps have come and gone in the last decade. Online workouts are nothing new. Now, thanks to Peloton, the battle for your spare bedroom is underway.

With the advent of connected fitness, home workouts are cool again. And during lockdown, they’ve become mandatory. Beyond the souped-up equipment, the category isn’t all that innovative… yet.

Peloton bundled its bike with a content subscription. This lock-in, combined with high-quality classes and high-caliber instructors, raised the bar. But copycats were quick to follow. Now, every piece of equipment is getting the Peloton treatment.

  • In 2019, home fitness was a $6.76B market. In 2020, it will surge to $9.5B.
  • In 2014, on-demand workouts accounted for 4.8% of fitness spending. In 2016, that number jumped to 7.7%.
  • 59% of Americans won’t renew their gym membership after COVID.

Liftoff

With gyms closed, Peloton pedaled to the front of the pack. But the pandemic complicates matters.

Remember, as recent as August of last year, Peloton was painted as a fad. In December, there were calls to cancel the company. By March of this year, its success was inevitable.

The takeaway here? Coronavirus is altering consumer habits. But it’s also increasing competition, the pace of innovation, and the rate of change across the industry.

Since we’ve been pulled into the future, product roadmaps will need to be expedited or abandoned. Previously, Peloton may have had a few years to coast, drafting off its brand equity, talent, and content. Not anymore.

As interest in the sector intensifies and more competitors give chase, upstarts have the benefit of starting with the “new normal” in mind.

To Infinity

Surveying the landscape, sensors and cameras are catching on as personalized feedback and real-time instruction elevate the experience.

Take Tonal for instance. The wall-mounted strength training unit uses 17 sensors to track range of motion, position, and pace, guiding users through every rep.

Tempo, on the other hand, taps 3D motion capture and advanced AI to track users. Coaches are notified of mistakes, and easy-to-follow cues help exercisers correct their form.

Motion capture technology is quickly becoming ubiquitous. Companies like Onyx and Oga use a device’s built-in camera to monitor form. Soon, any camera/screen combination could become an interactive fitness display.

And Beyond

While a growing list of competitors hopes to follow in Mirror’s footsteps, augmented and mixed reality are gaining popularity.

Peloton may be better known, but Zwift might be more innovative. The opposite of instructor-led, studio-style classes, Zwift creates virtual worlds akin to video games. A new development, the company is rumored to be working on hardware to complement its platform.

Last month, the company hosted a virtual Tour de France that saw pro cyclists compete in a digital version of the annual event (postponed due to COVID). Onlookers could ride the same routes as the pros or watch the event on television. Looking ahead, Zwift is well-positioned to build a truly immersive experience.

Elsewhere, in China, TikTok leverages augmented reality (AR) to create virtual workouts. AR filters display exercises and track movement, gamifying the fitness experience.

Meanwhile, Pokémon GO parent company Niantic is collaborating with Qualcomm to accelerate AR hardware and software development, including AR glasses. Likewise, FacebookGoogle, and Apple are also working on their own pair.

Augmented reality is poised to break through because virtual reality hasn’t lived up to the hype. Technically, VR works, but it’s not ready for primetime.

Still, progress has been made. During the pandemic, VR headsets sold out. And Supernatural, a subscription-based VR fitness experience, is generating a lot of buzz. Well-timed for this moment, Supernatural transports users to another world for guided workouts and meditations.

Enter: the Metaverse

While we wait on VR, the future is taking shape.

In tech circles, the Metaverse is the holy grail. As physical reality collides with digital worlds, the Metaverse is a kind of virtual shared space — think Ready Player One. This always-on, plugged-in existence is far off, but it’s not hard to see how we get there.

Fortnite is foreshadowing of what’s to come. A social network of sorts, Fortnite has become a virtual gathering space. Combining social media and streaming content with cross-platform capabilities and a limitless cap on users, Fortnite transcends gaming — it’s shaping culture.

All told, Fortnite counts 350M registered players. In April, 12M concurrent players participated in Travis Scott’s virtual concert. Last year, 10.7M attendees watched Marshmello’s concert.

Takeaway

With Fortnite as the blueprint, streaming and connected fitness doesn’t seem all that revolutionary. But the Metaverse of Fitness will be.

As our quest to achieve the next great innovation persists, the implications for building community, providing coaching, and improving adherence are seemingly limitless. But short of improving health and curbing obesity, all this tech is simply exertainment for the already fit or individuals who can afford it.

Let’s not forget, for the vast majority of people, walking moreeating well, and spending more time outdoors will do the trick. Which begs the question: maybe we’re solving the wrong problem?


😎 Old School

Alan Patricof, the 85-year-old founder of Greycroft, and Abby Miller Levy, the former Thrive Global and SoulCycle executive, have teamed up to launch Primetime Partners, a $32M venture capital fund backing products and services for aging populations.

The firm will write $250K to $1M checks into seed and early-stage companies focused on older adults, with caregiving, nutrition, financial security, entertainment, technology, and longevity being top of mind. Of note, Primetime plans to fund entrepreneurs in their 40s and 50s or older.

The big picture: In Issue No. 68, we covered the emerging crisis in caring for aging adults.

  • Americans older than 50 have 70% of the buying power in the US.
  • The fastest-growing segment of the US population is between the ages of 85 and 94.
  • By 2034, for the first time ever, people 65+ will outnumber those under 18.

Key insight: For most of human history, life expectancy was about 27 years. By 1900, that number jumped to 47 years. Today, we’re living 79 years and longer. Meanwhile, our societal norms and institutions have not adapted to this shift.

With the launch of Primetime, Patricof and Levy believe they’ve identified a fertile and untapped market. Before starting the firm, the pair had already begun investing their own money in the space, backing Retirable, Carewell, and Bloom.

Punchline: As Levy puts it, “Everyone is focused on solving the unmet user needs of the new mom, the college kid and the dog.” Meanwhile, older adults have been overlooked. Now, the demand and necessity are becoming clear.

💦 WOFH Gold Rush

At-home fitness company Tempo raised $60M in new funding led by Norwest Venture Partners and General Catalyst. The investment values the company at $250M.

  • The product began shipping in February and is already on pace to end 2020 with a $100M run rate.
  • Commercial real estate developer Tishman Speyer invested in the round and plans to include Tempo as an amenity in its apartments.
  • In August, Tempo will be available at Best Buy, online and in stores.

What it is: Like Mirror, Tempo features a display screen and workout content. The key difference? Tempo’s setup comes with weights and emphasizes strength training. In that way, it sits somewhere between Mirror and Tonal.

Why it matters: This news adds to the growing number of connected and digital fitness companies that have raised money in recent months. Benefiting from a COVID surge, the shift to at-home has investors circling.

  • Connected fitness: Hydrow ($25M) and Ergatta ($5M) raised new funding while lululemon acquired Mirror for $500M.
  • Streaming & on-demand: Aaptiv, NEOU ($5M), Every Mother ($1.5M), and Playbook ($3M) are among other digital fitness providers who have secured capital.

Looking ahead: The WOFH gold rush shows now signs of slowing down. Expect a few more digital fitness funding rounds to be announced in the coming weeks.

📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • Tempo, a connected fitness startup, raised $60M in new funding led by Norwest Venture Partners and General Catalyst. More from Fitt Insider: The Connected Fitness Wars
  • Heal, a healthtech startup offering in-home primary care, received a $100M investment from health insurer Humana. More from Fitt Insider: The DTC Healthcare Report   
  • UK apparel brand Gymshark is seeking a £1 billion ($1.3 billion) valuation in a sale with interest from TSG PartnersL Catterton, and General Atlantic. More from Fitt Insider: The New Athleisure Playbook
  • At-home blood test startup Tasso added an additional $17M in Series A financing, totaling $38.6M in investment to date.
  • Seltzer maker Something & Nothing secured $450K in funding to expand DTC service to the US. 
  • Loom, a reproductive health startup, raised $3M in a seed round to develop a digital platform. More from Fitt Insider: Women’s Health Revolution
  • StreamLayer, an interactive streaming platform for sports, secured $4M in a round led by KB Ventures.
  • DTC hearing aid startup Eargo raised $71M in a Series E round.
  • Mountain Health Technologies, a healthcare company targeting millennials, secured $1.5M in seed funding in a round led by Matchstick Ventures.
  • Hungry Bark, makers of personalized dog food, closed $2.1M in non-institutional funding to scale its DTC operation. More from Fitt Insider: The Pet Wellness Boom
  • Cultivated meat startup New Age Meats raised an additional $2M in funding to scale its lab-grown pork sausage.
  • The Better Meat Co., a plant-based protein producer, closed an $8M seed round with participation from investors, including Johnsonville Holdings.
  • SavorEat, an Israel-based startup 3D printing meat alternatives, secured $3M in a funding round.

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