Feedback Loops and Fit-Tech Framework

With so many product launches and so much investment activity in the digital health & fitness arena it helps to have a framework for understanding the meaning of it all.  This post is the first in a series in which I’ll share the frameworks I use, with a few notes on some of the companies I see doing really interesting work across the entire ecosystem.

I always start by considering any new product or technology with a behavioral emphasis.  At the end of the day, it’s consumer/patient/athlete behavior that really matters when we talk about improving health, reducing costs, or improving performance.  I have another framework to look at things from a technology stack perspective which I’ll share in the next installment.

I’ve run this simple diagram by countless people, inside and outside the fitness-tech arena, and everyone seems to get it right away, so it’s been useful for me.  It’s simple, and maybe obvious, but I always find it worth stating.

Feedback_Loop

This picture is informed more by my background as a coach, athlete, and lifestyle design enthusiast than by any market study or tech trends.    The Action step is where the rubber meets the road, but it’s hard, complicated, and can take a long time to move the needle.  It’s also influenced by many factors beyond the fitness or health care arena.

A lot has been written about wearables, so I won’t say much about the data collection step.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s really not the things that are interesting but the data they provide and the services they enable.

When I consider Expertise + Analytics box I’m including machines & people.   Some users are curious and enthusiastic enough to dig into physiology and learn how to interpret their own data, but that’s a fraction of the fraction of people who actually keep using their wearables (the percentage may be high, or maybe not), so the emphasis here needs to be on professional service providers of one sort or another.   IBM’s Watson and health focused providers like Vivametrica, and even more niche companies analyzing specific data sets like power data from bicycles are all contributors to the more algorithmic, machine based contribution the to this arena.

Finally, motivation is critical and many social, financial, mental health and other factors play into this.  It’s surely the hardest nut to crack and it’s also where a lot of the personalization of health care comes into play.   Some of the most interesting apps focus in this area so I’ll devote a whole post to this soon.  The opportunity for fitness clubs and other activity-related social groups to contribute here and leverage the technologies already on the market is substantial, and I believe still vastly underutilized.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback via email or the comments section.  Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn to make sure you get all the updates to the blog and subsequent articles in the series.

 

 

It’s All About Who You Know – Recommended Reading

Many years ago as I was transitioning out of the military into civilian life, I worked with a recruiting firm that placed JMO’s (junior military officers) into corporate America.  At one of their career fairs Roger Cameron asked everyone to share their favorite motivational saying and we all went around the room.  You can guess that in a room full of young, ambitious military guys (it was probably a 90% male group) the contributions ranged from inspirational to blustery, some as short as one emphatic syllable .  I hadn’t given the question any real thought and when it came my turn, I reflexively blurted out the ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself“.  It sort of fell flat in that room, like I was answering the wrong question or something.  Twenty plus years later I see the truth revealed in how I answered that question, as self-knowledge has been one of my strengths and great stumbling blocks.  I’m old enough to see the experiences in my life where it’s been one or the other.

With that in mind, my recommended reading for this month is Peter Drucker’s timeless HBR article, Managing Oneself.   At the foundation of managing oneself is knowing oneself, and this article addresses the topic in some specific areas that are important at any stage of life or career.  It’s worth your time to read the article but more importantly, turn it into a homework assignment and write down answers to the questions posed.   I did it about a year ago and I still refer to the notes occasionally to make sure I got it right and that I am working on the right things.

 

 

Marketing, Fitness Data, Missing Links

I spent a day this week in the city (that’s San Francisco for those of you not in the “Bay area”) and besides the fabulous weather I enjoyed meeting with the head of biz dev at one of the industry’s hottest fit-tech/wearables companies, as well as checking out the Marketo Summit.   In case you don’t know who Marketo are, they are one of the leaders in marketing automation.   When you get an email from a company every month and the content is tailored based on the products you’ve ordered before, or when you click a web page and a few days letter magically get an email offer for the product you looked at, that capability is provided by some marketing automation solution.

Marketing automation tools rely on insight into customer behavior.  This can come from lots of sources – social media, data providers (it’s a bit scary how much data about you is for sale), records of buying behavior, as well as more direct interactions with the customer, such as click behavior on your website, engagement with customer support, etc.   One of my guiding viewpoints is that all that data being generated by fitness wearables presents a huge opportunity to gain customer insight, and although the Marketo show was a very horizontally targeted I did not see anyone talking about this opportunity.   One challenge is getting the customer to agree to give you access to the data – but if you are a trusted advisor (say a gym with personal trainers who can use the data to help the customer) that’s a surmountable challenge.  And if your marketing is smart and value-added, it will be well received.  This is an area of ongoing study for me, so I hope to share more on it as I go.

As long as I’m sharing info on what I learned at the show, here’s a handful of other (somewhat random) companies I checked out that I found interesting for one reason or another:

Bedrock Data – SaaS integration and data push/pull, targeted at the SMB.  Sort of a Snaplogic or Dell Boomi but priced and spec’d for the little guy.

Elixiter – Marketo consultants / implementation experts.  Based in Montana, tech center of the US.  Ha ha.  Seriously, I bet they all have a better quality of life than 99% of the people in Silicon Valley.

Spear Marketing – Just some nice guys in the marketing business.

Inside View – data aggregation to drive better customer insights and lead scoring.  B2B focused.  These guys provide a lot of that user data that I mentioned above to help you mage your sales funnel and do lead scoring.

Sprinklr – Hootsuite for the enterprise.

PFL – they merge your online and offline  with mailers and other customer engagement tools.

LeadMD – Scottsdale based Marketo (and Salesforce) implementation consultants.  If you are considering moving business apps to the cloud but think you need help, there’s a whole ecosystem of companies who can help you.  LeadMD is one such company.

Choosing a SaaS Solution

I’ve spent a lot of time researching SaaS apps that can help you manage your business, and it’s certainly a big and often confusing market.  It helps to have some guides and while I haven’t found a single one that covers it all, there are a few I found that are really useful.  Here they are, with a few of my own comments.

Getapp – one of the best, with lots of customer reviews.  Broad set of product categories.

ISV World – Cool service, covers all software vendors not just SaaS apps.  Useful for those in the analyst & investment arena as it aggregates financial data on the vendors.  Thanks to their machine learning capabilities the database is very large.

Merchant Maverick – More focused on the transaction and financial apps, especially merchant accounts and POS.

Capterra – Decent number of customer reviews and 300+ categories to help you search.

Cloud Showplace – Run by SaaS thought leader Jeff Kaplan, this directory splits up providers into the SaaS/PaaS/IaaS stack so it provides a view on the “cloud services” market that some of the others don’t.

IT Centralstation – A bit more of an enterprise focus with more input from “IT pros” as opposed to SMB owner/operators who lack IT staff.  You can create a free account or sign in with your LinkedIn account.

And there you have it.  A few really helpful resources to help you navigate the SaaS world.

 

IoT Applications in Health & Fitness

“When you look at the Internet of Things, the things themselves are not interesting,” said Dave Sobel, director of Community at MAXfocus and a self-professed IoT enthusiast. “We’re all focused on the ‘things,’ but that’s not where the opportunity is.”

That’s a quote from an article on The VAR Guy, and I could not agree more.  The article is interesting on its own (I’ll share some thoughts later on cloud services, IoT, and the channel) and if you are trying to get your hands around IoT and what it means to business, it’s worth a read.  For today I wanted to share a few thoughts that this quote generated in my head.

1. Running shoes – what happens when they are instrumented?  When the data from the shoes (pressure maps, gait data) get integrated with other info (running mileage, terrain)?  Suddenly your running shoe retailer (or your gym, or your coach, or whoever you allow) has tremendous insight into when you need to replace your shoes, what type of shoe will work best for you, muscular imbalances you might need to work on, etc.

2. Gym equipment – Combine a beacon on the equipment with a wearable and instrumentation on the machine to automatically log the user’s reps and upload them to a service for tracking exercise.  Integrate the coach or trainer in the gym into this loop for a rich and very sticky engagement with the customer.   Imagine all the marketing  value of knowing which members are using which equipment, and overlaying that on their class attendance and demographics.

3. Sleep data – Mash up your sleep data from a wearable from the temperature data on your Nest (lots of data point to the connection between temperature and sleep quality).  It sounds great but what’s important is how the thing (thermometer) enables a better life (better sleep = better life, no two ways about it).   Let the athletic coach or health care expert see these data so they can understand how they might impact response to medication or training load.

Selling things is getting less and less interesting as a business.  If you are in retail, and you really view your role as just having a thing on the shelf for someone to walk in and buy, you are competing directly with Amazon, Walmart, and every other e-commerce site that exchanges things for money.   Being close to the customer and building a comprehensive relationship with them means being able to leverage the data from the things more effectively than a far-away website and truly move from selling a product to providing a service.

I’d love to hear your favorite ideas for how to merge user data and device data to deliver better solutions to customers.

 

 

 

Inventory data and customer expectations

A few news bits in the last couple of weeks have caught my eye.  Springboard announced a solution which takes inventory management to the cloud and integrates online & brick and mortar sales.  This has always been a pain point and in reality there have been solutions for it for years – I had the two sales channels integrated when I was a store owner 6 years ago using MINDBODY Online.  But the solutions have not been as clean or as advanced as you might like, so it’s good to see this getting addressed by more and more vendors.

Increasingly, inventory management matters not just for the traditional reasons (cash management, keeping hot sellers in stock, etc.) but also because accurate inventory data is a prerequisite for meeting customer expectations in the omni-channel world.   This is brought home in this summary from Mozu which highlights steps retailers can take to meet customer expectations (you need to submit your email to download the free report).  In some way they all depend on accurate, real-time inventory data.

Same day delivery is one area that I am really focused on, and you can’t do it successfully without accurate inventory data.  It’s where customer engagement meets operational business data.  I’m really interested in rideshare/crowd-sourced delivery  options and I’m working with one client on this now.  I’ll write more on this later, as there’s a lot going on the space as Uber/Lyft/Sidecar et al try to differentiate themselves and carve out their niches.

 

Fitness Industry Tech Usage Survey

I came across this presentation from the Fitness Industry Technology Council on LinkedIn and found it pretty interesting.  I could talk about a lot of the results at length but one that jumped out at me was the fact that only 30% of fitness facilities are using technology to track member workouts.  The data are a little bit old but I bet it hasn’t budged a whole lot in the last year.   There’s enormous opportunity here to improve member results, reduce customer churn, and get your members to do your marketing for you.  We all know people like to brag on social media, and when they brag you should make it easy for them to let everyone know they are bragging about a workout they did at your gym.   That’s just one small example.  We use FitLinxx at the Y where I teach a few classes and even though we are fairly advanced I think we still leave a lot on the table.

Calling all fitmob instructors / gym managers

Fitmob has gotten a lot of buzz lately and rightly so – they are seeking to really disrupt and change the model of gym membership and fitness class participation.  If you haven’t heard of them, you can think of them as an “Uber of fitness classes”.  You can find a lot of consumer reviews of the service on Yelp but I’m really interested in fitmob from the trainer or gym manager’s perspective. If you’ve used fitmob in your business and are willing to spend 5-10 minutes sharing your thoughts on it, please shoot me an email – karl@fitbusinesstech.com.   Thanks!

March’s Recommended Reading

I like to share ideas and content that have been powerful or useful in my career and life in general.  Today I’ll share one of my favorites – it’s a blog by a former private equity guy turned elite triathlete turned coach and blogger, Gordo Byrn.   Check out his blog here.

To get you started, here are two of my favorite recent posts.

Behavior not Protocol – I’ve always told athletes “the workout you’ll do is always better than the one you won’t do”.  Too many folks obsess on the details of this plan or that plan, but they won’t execute either plan consistently, so it really doesn’t matter.  Byrn elaborates on this more eloquently than I can.

The Freedom of Not Knowing – Selective ignorance is a valuable thing.  There are a lot of things I choose not to be informed on, because they just don’t impact my top priorities in life.   At best they are time sinks, at worst they are a cause for anxiety and unnecessary emotional arousal (this was a big factor in my decision to delete my Facebook account earlier this year).

Byrn also writes a lot about financial planning for families, and his own experiences as a father.  If you are looking for a blog to add to your regular reading list, you should consider his.

 

 

Nike+, TomTom, Customer Ownership

One theme you’ll hear me harp on if you hang around long enough is the somewhat grating concept of “owning the customer”.  This phrase comes up all the time in marketing and biz dev discussions, and while it’s not necessarily intended in a disrespectful way, I think the underlying premise can be dangerous and create real blindspots in guiding companies and product lines.

Once upon a time, humans struggled with scarcity.  Scarcity of food, shelter, day to day stuff.  Any cursory look around will tell you we have the opposite problem today – as the means of producing and marketing things became more and more efficient, cheap, and accessible, the availability of stuff has exploded.  Combine this with Marc Andreesen’s famous observation that software is eating the world, it’s no wonder that for so many problems, the number of viable software solutions (especially cloud based solutions) is large.

Obviously this does not apply to every industry or go-to-market approach.  Enterprise sales take a long time, car factories are still expensive and hard to build.  But in the world of fitness devices and cloud-based solutions, I’d argue the barriers to entry are low and getting lower.  So the market is likely to be fractured.  In the consumer space, your odds of owning the customer are slim.  You don’t own them, you serve them.  So you must focus maniacally on doing this the best you can, and not worry about locking in the customer.

I was inspired to write on this topic by the news of Nike re-energizing their partnership with TomTom, and announcing Nike+ compatibility with Garmin devices.   Of all the companies that might want to take a “walled garden” approach in fitness tracking, Nike and Garmin are two that you might guess have a decent shot at locking customers in to their complete solution.   But even Nike got chased out of the wearables market in favor of partnering with other hardware companies.  All these vendors are smart enough to see that while they can each offer end-to-end solutions, they can do better by making their products and services cross compatible.

I still see a lot of companies in the fitness space who are under-promoting, or altogether avoiding, cross compatibility.  I think every company in this space ought to have the technical resources, like APIs, that open the right level of services and data access to third party developers, and  I’m working on a database of apps and their third party ecosystem support.  Shoot me an email (karl@fitbusinesstech.com) if you want to learn more.

Look here for official press announcements from: Nike, TomTom.

 

 

 

Focused on the intersection of my three favorite topics.