In this Q&A, you’ll hear from Tom Aulet, co-founder & CEO of Ergatta, makers of a gamified connected rowing machine. Tom shares how boredom with traditional rowing led to an engaging, incentivized suite of fitness games. He also details how the company’s partnership with WaterRower allows it to pursue advances in content and technology.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on at Ergatta?
Tom Aulet: Ergatta exists to help people build fitness habits through competitive games. Our flagship product, the Ergatta Rower, combines elegant, cherrywood hardware and addictive, game-based digital content to offer full-body home workouts that are designed around long-term habit formation.
We place an emphasis on beautiful design, calibration of the entire experience to the user’s skill current level, and continuous improvement and expansion of our solo and multiplayer game suite and workout experience (both live and on-demand). Ultimately, we inspire our members to build lasting fitness habits by providing a sense of continuous achievement.
The most important way that we’re different is our content approach and offering. We think working out is more engaging when you’re competing in a game rather than following along to a class.
While there are now other, emerging companies that combine gaming software with cardio too, our entire experience—from workouts to user experience—is game-based.
Meaning, rather than having a handful of unrelated games with a few different workout options within them, our game suite is both organized into coherent, long-term programs.
For instance, our Push Programs are sequentially unlocked, organized around a specific goal, and feature a final challenge, similar to a video game with levels and a final boss. Our calibration system, meanwhile, ensures that each workout, target, and competitor is well-matched for your current fitness level — not only making the workout games more engaging but also nudging you towards continuous progress over time.
How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to pursue this opportunity?
TA: The idea came from my personal experience with fitness in adulthood. I used to play sports growing up, and when I got my first office job, I struggled to stay in shape and suffered as a result.
The gym and fitness classes just didn’t do it for me motivationally or logistically. I ended up running outside every morning before work, which made me feel so much better. But my knees eventually started to give out, and I needed something new. This is when I discovered rowing.
Rowing, as compared to other cardio modalities, provides a more efficient, full-body, and low-impact workout. Short of swimming, it provides the most efficient and effective workout which you can do regularly without injury into old age.
So, I got a rower for my home. But, the main problem was that rowing at home alone each morning was boring. This was in the early days of Peloton, and it was clear that digital content could solve the boredom and motivation problem, but my partners and I sensed that class videos weren’t the only viable solution.
Our major insight, after months of surveys and interviews, was that half the fitness market didn’t want classes or instructors — they wanted to be in control, they wanted to compete, and they wanted a workout experience that felt more like playing a sport or a game.
Behind it all, we believe in the transformational power of daily fitness. We’ve experienced it ourselves, and we’ve seen it in others — whether it’s kicking a bad habit, building personal confidence, improving one’s physical or mental health, or just sleeping better.
People generally know a regular fitness habit can change lives, but many haven’t had a product designed for them that keeps them motivated and engaged. That’s why we built Ergatta.
How did you turn your idea into a company?
TA: Turning our idea into a company was incredibly difficult but has ultimately been a thrill. A few key milestones stand out…
Striking our partnership with WaterRower on the manufacturing side was key. Articulating to them our vision for game-based fitness content, figuring out how we could work together in a way that was mutually beneficial, and co-designing a product that was functional, beautiful, and handmade in the USA was an incredibly fun and rewarding process.
The next one was building out the team. It’s truly an astounding and humbling experience when incredibly talented and experienced professionals—who have their pick of jobs—choose to leave their bigger, more established company for your fledgling startup.
The last one I’ll mention is when we did our first major full-membership survey and found that, among our tens of thousands of members (over 75K), the majority of our power users had not been able to build a fitness habit prior to Ergatta.
This was immensely satisfying to me and the team; by putting something completely new and different out in the world, we were the unique and driving force that helped them build a healthy habit and improve their lives.
These numbers, and the stories behind them that we receive every week at Ergatta, keep us going and remind us that we’re doing something that really matters.
How big can this get? What’s the addressable market and how do you go about capturing it?
TA: I don’t think anyone can definitively say how big the connected fitness (or game-based fitness) market is, to be honest; I think it’s still too new.
What I can confidently say is that it’s not limited by the number of people who currently use rowing machines, or who are currently gamers, or who currently belong to a gym. The majority of our customers don’t fit those descriptions.
It’s clear to me that our product is new and different enough that existing fitness product traction is not a great indicator of how big the market can be. That said, I realize that our product costs money and that can be a limiting factor for many people.
We will continue to do everything we can to make our product more accessible financially, whether through monthly financing (like a gym membership) or producing lower-cost versions of our product (like our Ergatta Upgrade Package, which gamifies any WaterRower).
Our main focus for customer acquisition right now is product education. We are doing something different from the rest of the market, and it’s hard to give people a clear sense of what our product consists of, how it works, and what it feels like.
The better we can do this, the more folks will be able to get a good sense if Ergatta is for them, and the bigger we’ll become.
Who is the core customer? How are you acquiring customers? And how will you grow the customer base?
TA: Our core customer is defined by one primary characteristic: They are not fitness class enthusiasts. They would rather compete in a game than follow along with a class.
It’s hard to distill this down to objective criteria, but they tend to skew more competitive, more introverted, and/or more male. Ultimately, it’s about what they find motivating and engaging. As game-based fitness grows and class-based fitness becomes stale, we believe this group will grow.
Beyond that, our customer base tends to be new to rowing and tends to be fitness-minded but are not elite athletes. An interesting demographic, this user typically grew up playing sports and was introduced to exercise through an achievement-focused, game-driven environment, but they don’t play sports or physically compete in a real way in their adult life.
They also, for what it’s worth, tend to not have dedicated home gyms; they tend to put their Ergatta in the living room, home office, playroom, or some other mixed-use space.
Expanding beyond this base is about better educating the market on our product experience, and more importantly, by actually improving our product experience.
The biggest team at Ergatta is our tech team, which is responsible for continuously improving and expanding our game-based content experience. We’re doing something fundamentally new and different, so we’ll always focus a large portion of our energy and resources on R&D to drive real innovation.
We’ll launch new games, social features, integrations, and entirely new offerings — all oriented around delivering fun and addicting workouts which lead to healthy behavioral change.
Looking at your road map, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?
TA: A few exciting roadmap items I can share now:
- Apple Watch integration. We’ll release the ability to pair an Apple Watch to the Ergatta machine so that members can easily display their heart rate data on screen, while they seamlessly pull Ergatta workout data back into the Apple Health ecosystem.
- Social features expansion. You can already add rivals, compete against them directly in races, private challenges, and other competitive workouts like Vortex. But soon, you’ll be able to see their profiles and what they look like, with features to more easily discover and form new rivalries.
- Goal-setting. Even if the “how” is unknown, everyone starts their fitness journey with some notion of what they want to accomplish. We’ll soon release the ability to input personal goals into our system, track them over time, and connect with programs and workouts that are oriented around those goals.
As always, we’re constantly designing, prototyping, and testing out new game concepts. Be on the lookout for innovative new games in 2023 that use new mechanics, visuals, and core loops to motivate and entertain you through your workout while driving real progress and habit formation over time.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
TA: We’re now available in the UK, Germany, Canada, Austria, Switzerland, and Ireland. Spread the word!
Also check out our new game Vortex, a multiplayer competitive game that introduces the patent-pending concept of Calibrated Competition, akin to a golf handicap, that levels the playing field between you and competitors at different skill levels.
I recently went head-to-head and won against the notorious houseofpayne, one of our earliest members who’s rowed more than 9M meters on our platform, and who I would never, ever be able to beat in a typical, non-calibrated race.
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