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Mike Bracco

Product at JibJab. Technology. Startups. UX. Design. Minimalist. NH Native. Boston Sports.

Los Angeles, CA
My Advice to a Friend Who is Thinking about Starting a Fitness/Workout Related Site

My Advice to a Friend Who is Thinking about Starting a Fitness/Workout Related Site

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Recently a friend of mine contacted me and asked for advice regarding a fitness and workout website he was thinking about starting. Instead of privately responding to him I thought I would publish my thoughts here. I'm sure there would be more info and advice I could provide if I was intimately familiar with the market and the players in it, but here were my thoughts and what I would do If I was going to build a fitness workout site online: 

1. Tie into Facebook and Twitter
Leverage the social graph users have already established.

  • Allowing users to create an account via their Facebook credentials would allow all (or some - not familiar with Facebook API) of their profile info to be "sucked into" the fitness site without having them to enter it. Account fatigue is a major cause of people not joining sites online and this would serve to avoid that.
  • Having users' Facebook accounts tied to their account on the fitness site would allow easy publishing of user activity on your site back to Facebook - this would increase the chances of the site going viral as friends of users would see their activity/workouts from the fitness site. This is KEY because it allows for passive sharing. A user simply selects their activity from the fitness site to be published on Facebook and then never has to do anything ever again.
  • A great example of a 3rd party site tying into Facebook to provide their service is Thread - it's basically a dating site that uses your social graph on Facebook to hook you up with friends of friends.

2. Mobile Application
You have to have an iPhone and Android app. Mobile is huge and you want users to be able to interact with your site on the go or while at the gym.

  • I would build an app that allows a user to view and document their workout routine within the app. A user could then easily publish or share their results right after they finish working out.
  • A great example of a health and fitness site that utilizes mobile apps is the DailyBurn - they have both a bar-code scanning app that allows a user to scan what they eat and then sync the data and caloric totals to their DailyBurn account as well as a DailyBurn app which is a mobile version of the website.

3. Gym/Location Check in
Location based social networking is starting to be a really big deal. The two major players in this space are Foursquare and Gowalla and you want to leverage them in your mobile app.

  • The mobile app for the fitness site should tie into these services (using their API) and allow users to check in at the gym. This would provide accountability for users regarding their workout schedules. I might even require a check in before a user could view their workout on the mobile application.

4. Social Gaming
Social gaming is a huge trend right now. The location based social networks above as well as many Facebook games are creating very addicting social games that get users into their service and then keep them active.

  • Having rewards and some sort of gaming related to weight accomplishments or workout completions will ensure users keep on using the site.
  • I highly recommend checking out this great interview by Andrew Warner of Amy Jo Kim where they talk about social game mechanics.

5. Leverage Data Collection Capabilities of Other Devices
The most difficult part of many fitness and health sites is the discipline it takes of the user to consistently document and input their food consumption or workout data into the website.

  • We are on the verge of a massive explosion of hardware devices that monitor our biometrics. I wrote a piece on this trend a while back. If I was creating a fitness site, I would want to utilize these devices and allow users to "connect" them to the fitness site. The ability to connect them will depend on their API. However, if device makers are smart they will offer APIs that allow third party apps to pull in their data. Great examples of possibilities include the FitBit (pedometer) and the Withings body scale.

6. Freemium Model Monetization (plus some other ideas)
Many websites today use the freemium model to make money - offering a free baseline of services and then offering advanced features for a fee. As a side note, make sure to check out the book Free by Chris Anderson - it has a bunch of great info relating to the economics of free on the web.

  • The fitness site's business model will likely evolve with trial and error. I would definitely offer the basic site for free. Here are some initial thoughts and ideas for how to make money:
    • Charge for things such as workout consultation or advance workout analysis. 
    • The site could create a network of personal trainers who could create profiles on the site and use it as a marketing tool. Personal trainers would have to pay to join.
    • Charge for the mobile app - however, that might limit adoption of the site.
    • Offer special deals on workout gear or supplements for users who obtain certain levels of activity or achievement on the site. You could then make affiliate revenue off of these special deals. Eventually when the site got massive scale, you could negotiate special deals with gear and supplement providers.
    • Create partnerships with national gym chains and receive affiliate revenue for users who sign up for gyms through the fitness site.
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