5 min read

Startup Spotlight: Onyx

Onyx is a smartphone-based digital training app that uses a camera and AI-powered movement tracking to count your reps, correct your form, and provide on-demand workouts streamed directly to your phone.

How it works: Set your phone up against the wall and Onyx will guide you through a workout of your choice, from full-body strength circuits to at-home cardio, complete with real-time form correction and competitive leaderboards, for a fraction of the price of a real personal trainer.

Founded: 2018 by Asaf Avidan Antonir and James Sha

Funding: Pre-seed

Model: Monthly or annual subscription

In this conversation, we chat with Asaf about:

  • A tech-enabled vision of personalized fitness (in your pocket)
  • Aspirations to create an accountable and competitive community of users
  • Onyx’s place within the ever-evolving connected fitness landscape
James (left), and Asaf (right)

Where did the idea for Onyx come from and how has it evolved?

James and I had worked on a few different ideas. One thing that remained consistent was our fitness routine. We were going to the gym and fitness classes as much as we could. When we couldn’t make it, we were using fitness apps like Nike Training Club and Aaptiv.

The main problem was that we couldn’t tell if we were actually making progress. Were we able to do more reps over time? Were we getting faster? Was our form getting any better?

We used a Fitbit or Apple Watch to track our fitness, but it only really works for running and cycling. We wanted something that could track our workouts automatically and give us feedback for all the other exercises we were doing. Essentially what we wanted a trainer, but we didn’t want to spend the money. Soon, we started to think that we could just build it.

James’s background is in computer vision — he was a researcher at Berkeley AI Lab for several years working on 3D object reconstruction. We knew it was possible to track a person’s body movements with a camera, and we thought we could use use it for fitness tracking

Thanks to recent advances in hardware, we realized that it might be possible on a mobile device, though it hadn’t been previously achieved. After months of research and development, we got the technology to work, and have now brought 3D pose tracking to a mobile device for the first time, allowing us to build Onyx in a much more accessible and distributable way.

What do you hope to achieve in the short-term?

We want to build the most personalized fitness experience that can be taken anywhere. We want to give users everything that a fitness instructor can (or close to it), without the cost of a training session or class — and on their own schedule.

We’ve been hearing a lot of feedback that one of the biggest values of Onyx is not just the real-time feedback, but also the accountability. The digital trainer improves form and prevents injury, but it also pushes you to finish your reps. As a result, you get much more out of your workout.

We want to see people who use Onyx three to four times a week continuously pushing themselves further and progress toward their goals. We’re already seeing that with our early users which is great.

What are the long-term ambitions for Onyx?

Our goal is to merge the value of personalized digital fitness with the accountability of real people. Building a habit is more likely when someone else holds you accountable. In the context of fitness, that’s either your instructor, friends, or classmates.

Right now, Onyx lets you compete with other users who have previously completed the same workout. We plan to take it a step further by letting you create private leaderboard groups with your friends, and eventually, real-time competition through game-like matchmaking. By working out with people they know, especially in real-time, users will be able to challenge each other and push each other to improve. Not to mention, this makes the whole experience way more fun, and enjoying fitness is half the battle.

We’re also considering bringing real instructors in the mix, whether it’s through live classes, or direct communication, for a more human experience.

Long-term success will be seeing an active community where people are nudging each other to work out together and more often, following each other’s metrics and achievements, and motivating each other to improve. We want to build a future where every single person has their own fitness instructor. We really want to make personalized, immersive, and social fitness classes accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Where does Onyx fit within the broader space of fitness and technology?

On-demand fitness is estimated at a $3B market when you take into account fitness apps, videos, streaming, etc. These things have been largely the same for the past several decades. You click start, you watch a video, you hear an audio workout — it doesn’t matter what you do, the trainer says good job. If we execute our vision,  choosing Onyx will be a no brainer compared to those kinds of experiences.

If you look at the market for personal training and studio classes, that’s more like $15B, and if we build an experience that’s better than those offerings, the market for on-demand fitness will continue to grow rapidly.

Of course, there have been some big players doing an amazing job with that. Companies like Peloton, Tonal, and Mirror, are breaking out of that static experience and building smart, interactive experiences that are far better than the old workout video. And as we’re seeing right now with the Peloton IPO, doing this right can lead to amazing results.

How does Onyx compare to other companies in the space?

Hardware products are very expensive. And they’re limited by the number of exercises that are available. Plus, most workouts are streamed on-demand, so you’re still watching a video.  Even if it’s live, with so many other participants, instructors can’t really give personalized attention.

Part of what motivated us to build Onyx is the desire to have an interactive experience, without spending so much money, without being limited to a handful of exercises, and with the level of personalized attention and feedback we think everyone should have.

Onyx makes all this possible—making exercise more accessible, versatile, and affordable—through hardware people already have (their phone). In doing so, we think the opportunity is bigger than the market other products are targeting — and it’s likely bigger than the entire fitness market is today.

The crazy thing is, all it takes is the camera in your pocket.


Check out Onyx on their website. 

Do you know others fitness and wellness startups we should feature? Email quinn@fitt.co with “Startup Spotlight” in the subject line.

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