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SweatWorking aims to be the Hulu of wellness, bringing top-quality content to users and partnering with wellness providers such as gyms, fitness studios and more to take their brick-and-mortar offerings into the digital realm. I spoke with Nikki Desai, co-founder and product lead to learn about their journey and what the future holds for the Chicago-based startup.

A Collage of Colleges

The Midwest has a reputation for being collaborative, and what better example could there be than a startup with four founders, each hailing from a different Midwest school. With degrees from University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Northwestern University (from which one founder has both a BA and an MBA), SweatWorking’s founding team represents some of the best universities in the region, and the early success of their fitness platform indicates they’ve hit on something big.

A screenshot from SweatWorking’s app

SweatWorking is an app that offers a robust array of fitness and wellness-related content, ranging from virtual workout classes to guided meditation and meal prep guides. Much like consumer entertainment platforms like Hulu or Netflix, SweatWorking has a variety of “channels” for different content creators that drive the user experience.

The app boasts an “Original” channel with content created by SweatWorking, but Desai expects that as the app evolves, more and more of their customers will find the app through their wellness partners like The Barre Code, CrossTown Fitness, and SWEAT Fitness Studios. Working alongside these partners, SweatWorking serves up content from studios and individual trainers, lets customers enjoy classes remotely, and gives partners a platform to engage their followers outside of their brick and mortar locations by sharing tips on a wide range of fitness and wellness topics. SweatWorking earns revenue by hosting and servicing content for their partners, who will either include the app (and their specific channel) as part of their membership, or offer it as an add-on service for members.

Given the wide scope of content available on different channels, it’s hard to pin down SweatWorking as just a “fitness app”. But with Statista reporting 60 million gym memberships raking in $30 billion in 2017 in the US alone, it’s safe to say they have room to grow. The team has identified an immediate addressable market of $3 billion and an even larger market for general wellness content.

From Passion to Profession

The story of SweatWorking begins with the first of founder Jeana Anderson Cohen’s companies, a media platform called aSweatLife. aSweatLife began as a passion project, with Anderson Cohen blogging about her experience attending fitness classes around Chicago. She quickly found traction with readers who were eager to not only hear about her experiences, but share their own. She embraced that enthusiasm, recruiting her most passionate community members as contributors.

While building aSweatLife, Anderson Cohen worked at Avant alongside Desai, a fellow fitness aficionado and a dance instructor. The two continued to meet regularly to share their passion for fitness and with Anderson Cohen, her husband Justin Cohen, and their friend Kathy Lai they landed on a concept for an app that could bring the energy and charm of high-quality personal trainers to consumers outside of studios.

The team has since been very busy building out the app and creating content. In addition to her role as CFO, Lai became de-facto content leader by teaching herself photography, videography, and editing over the course of a few weeks. While they may not have had top-of-the-line production, the team’s commitment to satisfying both partners and customers has paid off. SweatWorking has partnerships with over 50 studio locations, providing content to the 24,000 members that attend classes at these studios.

“We literally started by going in and recording classes with our iPhones”

– Nikki Desai, Co-Founder and Head of Product

One of the reasons for this traction is a key strategic decision the team made to include studio partners alongside their individual trainers. Doing so has allowed them to add content producers and consumers simultaneously through a B2B2C model, building upon studios’ existing relationships with users while making those connections even stronger.

Outworking the Competition

While first impulse may be to think of SweatWorking as a competitor to work-out-from-home fitness platforms like Peloton, Desai is quick to dismiss the comparison. “Our partners don’t necessarily consider Peloton a competitor,” she says, “at the end of the day, what matters to us is that our gym partners grow their revenue.” While Peloton is going directly to consumers to circumvent fitness studios, SweatWorking is helping gyms and boutiques provide more value for their members. And while gyms compete with each other, Desai doesn’t see that as a challenge to their growth: “Hulu has HBO and Showtime, and those channels compete”. In fact, studios might even be more incentivized to join the platform as they see competitors doing so.

App stores are mired in fitness, meditation, and nutrition apps, but SweatWorking strives to provide all types of wellness content in one package. Virtual training apps like Sweat and Aaptiv often require pricey monthly subscriptions, while SweatWorking’s channels are generally included in memberships at their studio partners. They also differ on philosophy – while competitors seek to replace the brick-and-mortar industry, SweatWorking enhances the experience of a studio membership by making content more accessible.

When asked about her approach to more direct competitors that provide a similar offering to gyms, Desai isn’t shy about how they plan on setting the pace.

“[Some of our competitors] have been around for a long time, and have a white-label approach. We provide a much more feature-rich experience, with ratings, reviews, scheduling, and music stations. We even allow you to play your own music through Spotify.”

– Nikki Desai, Co-Founder and Head of Product

She alludes to additional features she has in the works, including badges, streaks, and workouts that integrate with heartrate monitors to help consumers push themselves even harder.

Aside from workouts, SweatWorking provides guided meditations and nutrition guides.

To hear Desai tell it, they’ve only just scratched the surface of building the feature-rich experience she envisions. This past year the team focused on building the technical requirements of the app: a video player, audio playback, and a PDF reader. In this next phase, she plans to incorporate gym partners, further conceptualizing channels, organize content, and more. How does she prioritize all the possibilities? A monthly product review during which they consider potential improvements across categories like ‘engagement’ or ‘user retention’. Ultimately these decisions come down to how much value they can create for users with the resources they have.

Looking Ahead

SweatWorking’s goal is to help people live their lives to the fittest, and it’s appropriate for a company that’s all about wellness to have such a lean team. SweatWorking has made just two hires (a CTO and an engineer), while Anderson Cohen employs three others for aSweatLife. The two companies will officially merge in early 2019, adapting the content from aSweatLife to the newer platform.

Initially financed by the founders, friends, and family, SweatWorking is now preparing to raise a larger round of venture financing, which they will use to add technical talent, create more content, and expand their sales team so they can more aggressively add partners and grow their geographic footprint.

“In [our] current state, we estimate our content creation costs are less than a tenth of our competitors’, enabling us to rapidly build deep workout libraries for our gym partners.”

– Nikki Desai, Co-Founder and Head of Product

In the long-term, the team’s success will depend on scaling the low-cost content creation that has made them successful thus far. Key to that strategy will be building features for gym partners that empower them to rapidly create their own high-quality content. Doing so will expand the scope of partners SweatWorking can profitably serve, and grow the library of content users can experience.

All this to say, you can now take your favorite barre class with you when you fly home for the holidays. Check out SweatWorking now in the iOS App Store and for Android in the Google Play Store.

#fitness #gym #nutrition #wellness

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