Americans do not lack for good intentions when it comes to working out and getting into shape. As of 2017, there were 36,000 gyms in the U.S. and over 60 million paid gym memberships. The problem, in terms of American fitness, is that our collective ambitions to get in shape are not always, or even often, in sync with our actual behavior.
While data shows that Americans will spend an awful lot of time and money signing up for memberships over the next few weeks – and will even spend a bit more time at the gym once the new year gets underway – our collective commitment to eating better and working out more consistently collapses sometime before the end of February. This pattern is so predictable year on year that gyms actually build their business models around it.
Planet Fitness, one of the nation’s larger gym chains, offers structures that can support about 300 people at once. In a 2014 podcast episode, Planet Money visited one Planet Fitness location that had signed up 6,000 total members – 20 times the number of people their building can serve –secure in the knowledge that less than half of the members don’t ever set foot in a gym again after that initial visit.
And while that love-ignore relationship won’t do much to make anyone’s waistline any smaller, unused gym memberships do have a very successful track record of making wallets slimmer. According to some estimates, Americans on the whole waste $1.8 billion a year on gym memberships that go totally or mostly unused.
Which is why Munich-based Freeletics is trying to disrupt the fitness market with a customizable training app that requires no equipment. Users can choose from 900 programs across four categories: bodyweight, gym, nutrition and running. As the user works through more programs, Freeletics’ artificial intelligence algorithm collects feedback and builds new workouts that better fit their goals and strengths.
Founded in 2013, the firm has recently raised its first ever capital round of $45 million after almost five years of bootstrapping. The recent Series A round was co-led by FitLab, Causeway Media Partners and JAZZ Venture Partners, with participation from Courtside Ventures, Elysian Park Ventures and ward.ventures. Sports teams, including the San Francisco 49ers and the Boston Celtics, also invested.
“We want to be there for people who want a long-term athletic lifestyle,” CEO Daniel Sobhani told a tech outlet. “There are hundreds of millions of people who would love to make a change to their health and fitness, but only a fraction of those actually make it. Helping people at scale to solve such a common problem is a tremendous benefit for the person, but also for society.”
Freeletics offers a tiered pricing structure that starts at $11.99 for a monthly subscription or $74.99 for a year of access to the platform’s content. And that content, Sobhani believes, can have a more powerful impact on changing consumers’ habits than the choices that have been around for decades, like going to the gym, hitting the streets jogging or participating in wildly complicated and restrictive diets. The problem with the traditional offerings, in essence, is that much of what is asked of the consumer looking to improve their health and fitness is both extremely time-consuming and a bit unpleasant. Most people have busy lives, and having to build their schedules around going to the gym, attending specific classes or preparing specialized meals is a recipe for abandonment.
“Tech solutions are so much better, because they can adjust to you; they can make sure what you’re doing is effective,” Sobhani noted.
As of today, Freeletics claims it has over 31 million users in 160 nations around the world, and that it is Europe’s most used fitness and personal coaching app. It also reports that growth has been strong – up 120 percent in core markets, including the United States, over the back half of 2018.
The company’s agenda for 2019, now that it has a war chest of investor funds to support it, is to keep that growth going, and expanding.
“This new round will enable us to once again intensify our strategy for global growth,” said Sobhani. “This round of funding will also support our ongoing commitment to continue delivering a best-in-class digital fitness proposition that’s both effective and easy to use in any place and at any time.”
The startup’s next immediately planned addition will be what Sobhani calls a “Netflix-style training platform,” where “unlimited relevant training plans” will be available to paying users, as well as nutritional guidance to help people stay fit.