Startup Q&A is an interview series showcasing early-stage health, fitness, and wellness companies.
In this Q&A, we went one on one with Katie Reed, co-founder of Balanced, a digital fitness platform designed for those aged 65 and older. We discuss how one-size-fits-all fitness platforms like Peloton shut out a population of 54 million and learn how seniors don’t want to be defined by the Medicare-sponsored programs of old.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on at Balanced?
Katie Reed: Balanced is a digital fitness platform for older adults. Fitness has evolved digitally into the home for the majority behind leading options like Peloton or obé — yet older adults have been left behind due to the one-size-fits-all approach.
It’s not age that stops us from craving a brand with which we can align our identity and find community; it’s the heterogeneity of our body profiles as we accumulate injuries or chronic conditions throughout the years. Older adults don’t want to be dressed in silver adages or spoken to about “exercise as medicine” — like the rest of us, they want to be inspired, energized, and feel a connection to their bodies with movement.
Balanced meets older adults where they are by utilizing an onboarding flow to personalize the experience and serve on-demand workout series unique to the member’s needs, all while sparking connection with real-time “hellos” and modifications in live, daily classes.
How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to pursue this opportunity?
KR: My grandfather was my hero. He embodied the power of positivity and a will to live — both to create and to experience life. Never letting fear stand in his way, he broke many bones during many adventures. By the end of his life, he affectionately gained the nickname “Superman” due to all of the steel in his body from accumulated surgeries.
However, despite the years of wear on his body, he maintained a commitment to exercise until his very last days, no matter how small, because he knew it was the key to maintaining agency in his life.
When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, I flew to Palm Springs to be with my grandmother. Rebuilding her own identity without my grandfather, we would read the same books together, cook together, but when it came to exercise, I’d hop into a variety of digital exercise programs and was distraught to find that nothing of that caliber existed for her.
Exercise for folks under 40 is almost a competitive advantage, but exercise for older adults can mean the difference of having the ability or not to perform everyday tasks. And beyond that, many of us are already familiar that the benefits of exercise expand past the physical, as it improves confidence and mental well-being, too. This is the time I realized my grandmother needed something to inspire her while delivering healthier outcomes more than ever.
My co-founder Kelly Froelich had a similar realization with her grandparents while virtually training them over FaceTime with cardio boxing during the quarantine. Exercise is increasingly difficult as we age. Knowing where to start is a huge barrier. It was this first conversation between Kelly and I where it clicked for us, and we immediately set out to work on what Balanced has become today.
How did you turn your idea into a company?
KR: Kelly and I had a strong intuition that this was the right move, but we knew that we had to set up an experiment to test our hypothesis. We coordinated a pilot program with five independent living communities across the United States. Out of 118 residents surveyed, 88% wanted to take a virtual class and participate in our pilot. We selected 20 individuals for our cohort, looking to see if they would participate in a virtual setting, if they enjoyed it, and if it helped their physical and mental well-being. The result was an enthusiastic yes across the board.
With validation, we pursued. Kelly and I are first-time founders, so we wanted to bring seasoned operators to the table as soon as possible. We raised $1.5M from Primary Venture Partners in January of 2021 and were heads down spinning up the infrastructure and the early team to assemble the product.
From the get-go, one of our primary goals was offering our members best-in-class production value, but coming from backgrounds in engineering, product, business analytics, and fitness, we didn’t know anything about video production! So, we found a loft in DUMBO and hired two video content producers who consistently set the bar for high quality — and we’ve already received feedback that our class quality is comparable to the major players such as Peloton.
From video production experts to production scale hires in product and engineering to bringing on Balanced medical advisor Dr. Rob Landel to educate our instructors and audit our content for safety, we’ve learned a valuable lesson in seeking out others with the expertise to help us deliver on our promise to our members.
How big can this get? What’s the addressable market and how do you go about capturing it?
KR: Balanced started out of love for Kelly’s and my grandparents, but we quickly learned how massive this market is. 11K people turn 65 every single day (that was 10,000 a day until last month!). Older adults control 60% of the US net worth, and then there’s the trillions that health plans and our governments spend on this segment.
We first thought the model would primarily be direct to consumer first. From our work at Ro, Kelly and I saw first-hand how consumer health products can radically improve with different incentives instead of selling directly into insurance. Consumers tell you how it is by paying out of pocket, and you get a much clearer signal on product-market fit.
After learning more about our segment, we realized that there is a fine line between fitness and healthcare for older adults. Medicare Advantage currently has 27M beneficiaries, and there are currently 54M people aged 65 and older in the United States — and both of these markets are rapidly growing. Medicare Advantage plans have 40% penetration and are expected to grow 9.1% year over year.
Of note, 95% of Medicare Advantage plans offer a form of a fitness benefit, but the leader in this space is a brick-and-mortar gym networks and is ripe for innovation.
Who is the core customer? How are you acquiring customers? And how will you grow the customer base?
KR: The core customer is starting with folks around 55–70 years old. They crave an inspiring brand and community but, more often than not, their body is outside of the bounds of the one-size-fits-all solutions.
Age is tricky to segment with this population due to the fact that it’s not very representative of user personas due to heterogeneity. We’re starting with three primary buckets: for chronic conditions like osteoporosis; for pain like lower-back problems and from knee replacements; and for inspiration of outcomes and activities, like exercises to keep up your golf swing and improve walking endurance.
We’re first starting to acquire customers through direct-to-consumer efforts to create the flywheel. Our hearts will always be aligned with DTC because we want a pulse on how we can continuously drive new value and engagement.
But, we philosophically believe that Balanced should also be scaled through insurance — the channel makes sense considering prevention is key to health plans with supplemental benefits and we believe that older adults shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to maintain independence and feel their best to engage in the moments that matter most in their life..
Looking at your road map, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?
KR: We’ve just launched, and while it’s been an incredible sprint, now is when the absolute fun begins.
We’re working on onboarding new Balanced members so we can have the insights to know what’s working and what’s not working. The most important thing for us is to create an exercise experience that delights and keeps members coming back for more.
We plan to keep expanding our content library so that we can account for all different body types of older adults — knee replacements, hip replacements, torn rotator cuff, osteoporosis, arthritis, chronic lower-back pain, etc. And on top of that, we’re adding workout varieties for all conditions, such as solutions via yoga, stretching, strength training, or dance cardio.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
KR: We’re always scouting for talent that is inspired by our mission. If you’re interested, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!
And if you have a loved one who would benefit from joyous and personalized exercise, please share our free two-week trial with them.