Fiit CEO Dan Sheldon on the future of connected training
Fiit is now one of the premium training platforms, offering guided workouts from trainers like MH Elite expert Gus Vaz Tostes. With the launch of two new performance-based indoor cycling concepts on Monday, November 14, which integrate with Keizer and the Concept2 BikeErg and provide a comprehensive set of metrics for even the most nerdy pedal riders, we spoke to the CEO and Fiit co-founder Dan Sheldon.
Read on to find out how he went from dreaming of playing professional football to starting Fiit through a small company called Google, how the pandemic actually helped their business grow, and why open source connected fitness is the near future of your training.
Men’s Health: What is your personal background in technology and fitness?
Dan Sheldon: I studied at the University of Bath and my dream was to become a professional footballer. Most kids have this dream in their early teens, but I would say I was deceived for much longer. When I left college, I had a tryout for a team in the United States and that was going to be my path. I was going to play in America and then come back. While I was waiting for this trial, my mother – being a sane person and realizing that I was never going to succeed as a professional footballer – sent my CV to Google without my knowledge. Google got in touch and the more conversations I had the more I realized this was an amazing opportunity and I needed a reality check: I had never played for a professional football club. my life and what made me think I was going to start now!
I took the job and worked at Google for just over four years. I spent time in different teams like sales and strategy and then the last part of my career there I was working on a project called Google Analytics which most websites around the world have and tell you how many people come to your site and what they do there.
On the back of that, myself and a few other employees there saw an opportunity in this world. We created a company called Qbit that collected data on how people used the website, but also was able to target those users with specific content to personalize the web experience. We’ve built this to a decent size, with a company of around 300 people, and raised around £76m in the process.
With such obvious success, why didn’t you persevere?
But I got to the point after seven years where I liked the technical side and the entrepreneurial side, but personalizing the web wasn’t the sexiest thing to talk about every day. I saw the wave of digital disruption happening in fitness with Zwift and Peloton. I thought that was really cool and wanted to apply my technical knowledge to my true passion for fitness. This is where Fiit started. I left Qbit with one of the other co-founders, Ian, who is an amazing athlete, and joined one of his college friends, Sammi. We settled in and started in early 2017.
How has Fitt evolved over these five strange years?
In 2017, what was really new and important was influencers. Joe Wicks was starting to gain some really good traction. Our initial thesis was that we were going to find these most followed trainers, bring them to the platform and use their audience to acquire clients. What we learned pretty quickly was that while some of them were excellent and were fantastic coaches with the public, many of them showed up for auditions and, despite being tracked, just didn’t go. not good.
We focused on finding the best trainers and being an authority. We were trying to create a fitness habit for people and if we gave bad advice or promoted short-termism, it was not the right miss for the company. So we evolved pretty quickly, focusing on coaches like Gus who could do it all. There’s a whole process that Gede Foster and his team have trainers go through to get them on screen. You might be able to take a brilliant class in a boutique studio with all that energy to fuel you. But it’s completely different from doing that in a production studio where it’s quiet and you’re surrounded by cameras and a production crew staring at you. They have music in their ears but the room is quiet so this dynamic is uncomfortable and it takes a lot of practice to be able to deliver a performance. We now have a fairly precise process to get the most out of their charisma and put them in a position to deliver.
For someone who doesn’t know what Fiit is, what is your explanation in 60 seconds?
I describe us as a connected fitness app. This means that users can connect equipment or chest straps to our platform, then follow a guided workout of many modalities – bodyweight, rowing, cycling – and they can see their metrics in real time to track their performance. . They can get involved in challenges and leaderboards with friends, which connects people to a community. It’s this bonding with that drives much of the long-term retention.
When it comes to our exercise flavor, we specialize on the functional side of things. We’ve evolved into this over time because we’re constantly looking at data on how people use different workouts. Rowing fits quite well.
Do you connect with third-party trackers?
We connect to virtually any wearable device, such as Apple Watch and MyZone. These give us heart rate which is great and you can see what zone you are working in. Our own chest strap also tracks movements, so you can see how many reps you’ve done. If you think of the average functional fitness workout, you’re on a rowing machine for five minutes and then on the floor for five minutes. I want to know how hard I work on both. Other portable devices give you 50% of the data. Then we also sell the air bike, the rower and the treadmill thanks to a partnership with the best manufacturers.
How many classes did you start with? Was it body weight to begin with?
Exactly that. We grew over time, but started with pure bodyweight HIIT, yoga and Pilates. What we’ve found is that when you start adding pieces of gear, the retention of those users increases quite dramatically and that’s for a number of reasons. First, you have made a financial commitment to the service and want to continue using it. But also, people see results much faster with progressive muscle overload and finally, we can design much more interesting workouts for the platform. Someone who buys and Assault Bike, for example, over the course of a year, we won’t lose any of those customers. If people who just take the bodyweight classes, that’s about half in terms of retention. Dumbbells and kettlebells fall somewhere in between.
Has COVID and lockdowns really boosted your business?
It really helped. We started in April 2017 and launched in April 2018, so we had a two-year track before the pandemic, where we managed to refine everything. So by the time the pandemic hit, even though it was a tough time for us, the hard work had been done. We had honed in on the trainers who were right, we had introduced dumbbell and kettlebell workouts, and we certainly felt we were mature enough as a company to take advantage of the situation.
With your experience in analytics, have you seen a huge increase in the number of users?
Yes, all metrics have improved significantly and there have been some interesting insights. Before the pandemic, we were 90% female, now we have a 60-40 female-male split. Which is a huge change. In terms of level, we were more beginner oriented, but we brought in an intermediate audience who obviously couldn’t go to the gym. Most of them hit it off and the hybrid piece we added means they can now take us into the gym and hook up to the Concept2 rower, as well as being able to train with a pair of dumbbells when working from home. We recently launched a partnership with The Gym Group, to integrate their gym experience. So you can go on any bike, tread or rowing machine and seamlessly get all the metrics and connectivity you’d get at home. It was a partnership that was obviously put on hold due to the pandemic, but if anything, our hybrid theory makes even more sense to them now. For us, it is by supporting this hybrid approach to training that we are going.
Do you use the app yourself or is it a bit of a busman’s vacation?
I do. Of the three founders, I’m definitely at the top and training probably five times a week. My stepfather shames me, though. It is over 1000 classes. A client contacted us last week to tell us about his 1000 day streak. They haven’t missed a single day in 1000 days. It’s better than me. My work week is usually three days at the office and two at home. So when I’m WFH I can just go to the garage and do a 25 minute workout. Obviously, we have a gym in our office, so it’s more convenient than most people.
But being able to train on the app in both places means you miss far fewer days. Also, for me, not thinking too much about it is a real plus. Fiit will tell me what I’m doing, I normally need cardio equipment and a few dumbbells at most. It’s outsourced fitness and it’s refreshing for me. Your programming is in the hands of those super credible trainers we talked about who can see your measurements and how hard you work. You just don’t have to worry about whether you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing while you’re working out. When you’re busy with work and family, you can just log out and continue.
Finally, what do you see as the next step in the fitness space?
I feel like all wearable devices and apps are becoming open source nicely to make your health and fitness fully connected. There is a long way to go, of course. But if you go back five years, we would have seen each other only as competitors. Some of us were “at home”, others were gyms. Ultimately, you have to put the consumer first. If you do one thing at home and another at the gym and nothing is connected, it’s not a good experience. The industry is starting to realize that a connected ecosystem will only be beneficial.
Take for example the story of Peloton’s new CEO. It’s always been very closed off, but now they’re thinking and maybe talking about being a platform that can put their content somewhere else. It may not just be their own bike, but any bike. It’s a smart game and we’ve always wanted to play with this ecosystem idea. We need more compatibility on more platforms, locations and devices.