Gym buddies generally help you stay motivated while you look to get or stay fit. Now, in this new digital age, and age of social isolation, can mobile apps serve as one's fitness buddy?
The popular adage, 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away,' is known to have originated from Wales in 1866. But a recent report from The JAMA Network, titled Association between apple consumption and physician visits, concluded that evidence did not support that an apple a day really kept the doctor away. A small portion of 8,399 participants of the survey did have fewer prescription medications though.
The secret to a healthy life and keeping the doctor away requires us to ensure we get the right nutrition based on our body structure, and also if we exercise regularly. Luckily, a new-age Apple (the technology company headquartered in Cupertino, California) and Google seem to have the answer to this problem with a multitude of health and fitness-related mobile apps on their respective app stores.
This week, let us explore one such app in the this space- FITSO.
FITSO, short for ‘Fitness Social’, was founded in 2015 by IIT Delhi graduate, Saurabh Aggarwal, Naman Sharma and Rahool Sureka. Naman earlier worked at Zomato for four years before taking up the role of Technology and Product Head at FITSO. Rahool worked at Yepme and UrbanClap, and is now the startup’s Marketing and Strategy Head. Saurabh worked at Flipkart in Business Development before quitting to pursue his passion for adventure sports. He successfully completed the Ironman Triathlon in Sweden in 2014 and ‘La Ultra’, an 111-km run in 2015.
FITSO currently consists of a 10-member team that looks after all aspects, from technology to marketing, and also has 20 trainers and nutritionists on its payroll. Back in 2015, FITSO started out as a platform to help users discover and connect with potential running and cycling partners, activities, trainers, and service professionals in their area. The aim was to promote a healthier lifestyle through group activities.
Related read from November 2015: IIT Delhi alumni, including Ironman athlete, look to make fitness more social for runners and cyclists
Now fast forward to 2017, the app seems to have gone through multiple iterations and tweaks to become a more all-round platform. Saurabh believes that India is still a nascent market with a lot of room for growth when it comes to health and fitness. While there are many offline players in this space, he says that a digital platform likes theirs can make a lot of inroads in this sector.
FITSO aims to take care of the entire lifecycle involved in achieving weight loss and also increasing fitness levels. The app allows users to choose their fitness goal, and provides customised workout programme to meet the target goal in minimum duration. Saurabh notes,
The idea is to make fitness accessible and affordable for everyone. Users can do their work out anytime, anywhere, eliminating the need for a gym membership or expensive equipment. But, one needs motivation to go through an exhaustive change.
The app aims to keep users motivated and provides features all-round features to track their run or cycle ride, log daily food, monitor water intake, watch exercise videos, practise and follow a routine, participate in challenges, and hire a personal coach.
Let us take a close look at these features and how they stand-
FITSO lets users track their daily activity in terms of walking, running or cycling through the app. The app relies on the phone’s GPS to then share distance travelled, pace and duration. The app also includes gamification in the form of unlocks on achieving certain metrics. Users who use fitness trackers can sync their daily step data by connecting to Google Fit.
Based on a user’s BMI, FITSO recommends a daily calorie intake and nudges users to track all their meals and snacks from the day, to ensure they are on the right track. The app also lets users keep track of their water intake and keep themselves hydrated.
FITSO has some interesting exercise routines under ‘freestyle workouts’. But this feature is not prominent in the app and visible only on hitting the ‘+’ button on the bottom right corner. This section though probably deserves more premium digital real estate space on the app because it is stitched together nicely and well-executed.
Users can scroll through the options and pick a workout they are interested in. Some of these include cardio and muscle group-specific workouts. Each workout is self-explanatory and also includes metrics on calories burned and duration required to complete the workout. Users can then download the video tutorial of the workout they want and follow the steps.
Another, almost hidden, feature is ‘Challenges’. This lets users participate in running or cycling activities and benchmark their progress against people in similar fitness league as themselves. The section also includes a leader board, and users can actually keep track of other people's’ activities by following them.
This section lets users sign up and get guidance from virtual coaches based on their needs. One can opt for fitness, nutrition or running coaches, and also mix and match combinations with fitness and nutrition coaches, if they need more guidance.
Saurabh says the response from customers so far has been great, with the app being downloaded over 2,00,000 times in the last year. It has about 5,000 paying users.
Currently, the premium coach services are only available to Indian users, but FITSO aims to open up the service to countries like the US, the UK and Malaysia soon. FITSO also works with its instructors to conduct offline workshops and meetups, which also contribute to its overall revenue.
What about other revenue streams, like product recommendations through e-commerce channels? Saurabh states that their goal for the next few years is to focus on their current model with coaches, as it is still an untapped market in India. Going forward, FITSO aims to add more coaches on its platform.
FITSO has so far raised $400,000 across two rounds of funding from multiple investors. Some of the investors who participated in the recent funding round include Sujeet Kumar (ex-president, Flipkart), Bhupinder Singh (CEO, Intelenet), and Yashish Dhaiya (CEO, Policy Bazaar). In July 2016, FITSO had announced that retired Indian track and field athlete PT Usha had joined the startup as an advisory head coach overseeing the training activities on their platform.
On the whole, FITSO lives up to its promise as a virtual fitness coach, with the entire gamut of features on offer. But the custom exercise routines and challenges are the features that appealed to me the most. Video guidance for exercise routines is good motivator for when one's gym buddies aren't around.
While FITSO has done a good job with calorie tracking and coaches, HealthifyMe and global player MyFitnessPal are also in the same space and currently have more diverse offerings for these two categories.
Jo Go, founded by Pooja Kumar, who has an inspirational story of losing 25kg in 25 weeks, is also in this space and has a special focus on e-commerce with an in-app currency called 'sweet sweats'. Goa-based Mobiefit, which focusses on running and training people for marathons, is also a niche player in this space.
Each platform has its own pros and cons and would appeal to different users based on their personal needs and preferences. Hence unlike the seventeenth century philosophers, it is best we stay away from stating which app would keep the doctor away and is the best choice for fitness enthusiasts.
Do check out our other App Friday stories here.