While Peloton pedals toward an IPO, a growing number of digital fitness and connected equipment companies are trying to keep pace. Meanwhile, Zwift is charting its own path as the pioneer of fitness-gaming.
What it is: With elements of fitness, esports, and social networking, Zwift is creating a virtual world where people exercise, connect, and compete. To date, the five-year-old startup has raised $170M funding and built a loyal following among cyclists. Now, Zwift aims to create the Fortnite of Fitness, setting its sights on new modalities (like running), as well as aspirations of becoming an Olympic sport.
- More than 1.1M have registered for a $15/month Zwift account
- Since the launch of its paid service three years ago, Zwift has been growing 2.5x YOY
- Zwift cyclists have logged more than 200M miles
- The company has worldwide users in 150+ countries
How it works: Unlike companies like Peloton or Hydrow, Zwift does not manufacture connected equipment. Instead, riders hook their own bicycle up to a trainer that’s used to measure performance metrics like power and exertion. Then, those metrics are input into Zwift’s virtual world as users participate in races or group rides.
The whole thing looks (and feels) a lot like a cycling video game, except you’re really riding. And you’re really competing against other cyclists. This social gaming experience led The Guardian to described Zwift as “sweaty E-sports”.
A race to the top. While onlookers tend to view Zwift and Peloton as competitors jostling for an edge, Zwift doesn’t see it that way.
According to Zwift’s PR manager Chris Snook, the Peloton comparison gets raised a lot. But, in an email exchange, Snook went on to tell us that Zwift’s gamified, virtual experience is fundamentally different than Peloton’s streaming classes. He also pointed out that the two companies are geared towards different users. While Peloton is focused on the general fitness market, Snook described Zwift’s target market as “enthusiast cyclists, runners, and triathletes.”
This description fits with how Zwift’s CEO Eric Min distinguishes his company from other on-demand or connected equipment companies. In an interview with TechCrunch, Min said Zwift is focused on cyclists while Peloton is focused on “spinners”. Min went on to say that anyone focused on video content “can have that.”
Zwift, on the other hand, aspires to be the leader in fitness gaming, “creating 3D worlds using a gaming environment to create unique social and competitive experiences.” Achieving that goal includes esports, the Olympics, and going beyond cycling.
- Zwift already has a running experience. Next, Min has said the company could get into rowing, strength training, and even establish brick-and-mortar studios.
- As Snook told us via email, Zwift is the only company getting “real professional athletes to compete on a digital esports platform…”
- The company launched the KISS Super League and will use a portion of its $120M funding round to grow esports.
- By 2028, Zwift plans to become an Olympic sport.
Zooming out: Ultimately, Zwift wants to become the world’s most affordable and accessible sporting platform. While viewing each of their various ambitions as isolated initiatives confuse that goal, analyzing each move as part of a strategic roadmap helps bring Zwift’s vision into focus.
By initially targeting cyclists, triathletes, and runners, the company has created a cult-like following among athletes who use Zwift to race and train. Doubling-down on this user-base, Zwift established a competitive league that goes further in attracting world-class talent while also spawning a full-fledged spectator sport.
Next, leveraging the fact that the world’s best cyclists use the platform, Zwift hopes to justify its merit as an Olympic sport. And if it becomes an Olympic sport, the company believes it will have the momentum and distribution to make its platform more widely available while also catapulting fitness gaming into the mainstream.
With this context, Zwift’s plan looks more precise and somewhat familiar. Much like a high-end brand that launches a premium price point before introducing more reasonably priced products down the road, Zwift is courting premium users (professional athletes) in hopes of building an elite product (competitive leagues/Olympic sports) before eventually backing into the general fitness market.
This goal feels audacious, but it’s not entirely unheard of. CrossFit, for one, has already executed a similar strategy. By catering to elite exercisers, CrossFit’s empire is now built around professional athletes, sanctioned competitions, and endorsement deals. Its gyms are a feeder for its competitive ranks, while its pro athletes and televised competitions are a flywheel for its gyms.
Full-circle: In Zwift’s case, though, with a similar feeder and flywheel in place, no gyms or trainers required, and more accessible forms of exercise—like cycling or running—to choose from, the world’s most accessible and affordable sporting platform begins to take shape. It’s a future where, if Zwift’s CEO Eric Min has his way, the next generation of gamers will actually be competitive cyclists who choose Zwift over Fortnite.