The W8X platform brings cutting edge strength training enabled by robotics to the comfort of your own home. I sat down with co-founders Felix Huettenbach and Zachary Rubin to learn more.
Fitting into a Fitness-Focused Society
Have you hit all your steps today? Did you make it to your Soul Cycle class? Whether you’re checking your Apple Watch, using a standing desk, or trying a new workout class, we’ve all been exposed to the latest in fitness trends.
People today recognize the value of health and exercise. It seems like new specialty fitness classes are popping up every day – Orangetheory, Barry’s Bootcamp, and Rumble are a few that come to mind. Peloton revolutionized the industry even further by bringing live cycling classes to the comfort of your own home, on your own Peloton bike.
W8X does all that and more, by introducing velocity-based training, or “smartweight”, that enables consumers to maximize the effectiveness of their workout through resistance programming.
“Today it’s not enough to make a great fitness machine; hardware needs to be accompanied by a software experience that strengthens the user’s relationship to the product with every use. This will be a first for people serious about strength exercise ” – Co-Founder Zachary Rubin
Plunkett Research estimates the global Clubs, Resorts, Gym, Fitness Centers and Recreation industry at approximately $80 billion with an annual growth rate of about 4%. Major players in the Gyms, Exercise, and Fitness Programs industry sub-sector include Equinox, Peloton, and Soul Cycle, capturing 2017 sales of $1 billion, $200 million, and $125 million, respectively. Additionally, Allied Market Research predicts the global fitness equipment market to reach $14 billion by 2025. Peloton is commonly referred to as a unicorn in the space, gaining traction from VC investors based on high valuations derived from the class subscription fees. W8X follows a similar equipment-plus-subscription based model.
How the Journey to Revolutionizing Fitness Began
The concept for W8X originated in MIT’s Course 15.390, New Enterprises, which notably served as the start of another MIT affiliated company, HubSpot. The then-classmates Andres Calvo, Jody Fu, and Felix Huettenbach began by building a variable resistance device that they knew could be valuable for a variety of different purposes and industries. After evaluating potential consumers, the team decided to focus the device build for physical therapists, hoping to address the frequent pain points therapists faced around the requirement of multiple weights and the inability to adjust resistance quickly for their patients.
This approach was short lived following further analysis uncovering that the ultimate decision makers for physical therapists are insurance companies. Unwilling to go down the path of fighting with insurance agencies for coverage, the team decided to pivot the purpose of the device towards strength training. Utilizing this new concept, the W8X team was accepted into MIT’s Delta V incubator during the summer of 2017, providing them access to a number of advisers and resources, including strength training coaches, that allowed them to further refine their device. By the end of the Delta V program, the W8X team was able to update the device’s algorithm to reflect weight training methodologies. They ended up with a product that was super easy for the user and utilized lifting concepts that have previously only been accessed by professional athletes. The team also competed in Mass Challenge, winning the gold prize of $50k to continue to build on their idea.
Shortly after the completion of the Delta V program, an MIT Media Lab Adviser introduced Felix to Zachary Rubin, founder of LiftLab. Zachary came from a background in electric vehicles and robotics, with previous work experience at Apple. Similarly, his goal in creating LiftLab was to leverage recent advances in consumer robotics hardware and AI to build a better weightlifting machine.
Zachary and Felix decided to meet for coffee to understand what the two different teams were doing. While initially concerned about a potential competitor, through their meeting the founders saw an opportunity to work together and accelerate the growth of both companies with the learnings that they had individually experienced. It didn’t take long for them to decide to work together, execute an early merger, and move forward under the W8X brand.
Shortly after the merger of the W8X and LiftLab families, the team took a closer look at their target market. Originally focusing on strength training professionals, the team recognized the limited market opportunity and decided to shift the product design to fit the market they had always intended to reach: the at-home consumer.
The W8X Platform
The W8X platform is a sleek design created to fit seamlessly in consumers’ homes. It was designed by MIT engineers and robotics industry enthusiasts with guidance from professional athletic coaches to allow for effective full body resistance workouts using just one piece of equipment. Differing from traditional weight machines that rely on gravitational forces, W8X is built using “smartweight” technology, a robotic force module developed at MIT to create resistance. The platform simulates up to 250lbs of force that can dynamically adapt to a user’s strength level. The system measures strength and performance in real time, allowing it to adapt the resistance to a user’s strength level throughout the course of a workout. For more seasoned athletes, W8X provides advanced settings such as automatic drop-sets, eccentric overloading, and velocity-based training to enhance a workout.
The platform itself measures 3′ x 18″ x 8″ and weighs 45 pounds. Consumers access the W8X equipment through the use of a touch screen portal, which is included with the platform purchase. By logging in, users view a portal that allows them to filter through workout classes which vary in style and length to let the consumer customize their workout. Users can also view statistics on prior workouts, allowing them to build on their past routines. Currently all class options are pre-recorded, although live classes are planned to be added with the introduction of the Santa Monica studio opening in early 2019. Selected classes take users through routines incorporating over 150 types of exercises including moves such as deadlifts, squats, rows, and many more. The platform recommends resistance levels based on prior history and performance, but users also have the ability to adjust resistance on the screen with a simple tap throughout the duration of the workout. Eventually, W8X plans to incorporate artificial intelligence so workouts will be customized for the individual user.
When I spoke to Felix and Zachary, they were in China meeting with their supply chain partners to ensure the high-quality equipment standards are maintained for continued production. The first beta round of the W8X platform was recently shipped and is currently in use by early adopters in California and New York. The next round of production, the PVT build, is on track for completion in early 2019. Platforms will go to additional early adopters, key influencers, and the Santa Monica filming studio.
W8X is in the midst of a seed fundraising round, which will be used to continue R&D, testing, and production of the beta product. Fundraising money will also go towards the build out of the Santa Monica studio. The studio will house live classes for customers to access in real time and will also be the location for class recordings.
Interested users can reserve their W8X platform today! Check out the details here to sign up. All reservations will be fulfilled on a first come, first serve basis.