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Future launches $150/mo exercise app where real coaches nag you – TechCrunch

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The only way to beat laziness is with guilt, so that’s what Future sells. It assigns you an actual human trainer who builds personalized workout plans and messages you throughout the day to make sure you’re doing them. It even gives you an Apple Watch to track your activity and ensure you’re not lying. Future actually got me to the gym where my coach kicked my ass remotely with a 30-minute lifting routine I’d never have stuck to by myself.

The catch? It’s probably the most expensive app you’ve ever seen, charging $150 per month.

Future officially launches today. Luckily it comes with a one-month money-back guarantee that CEO Rishi Mandal says has only been redeemed once. It’s produced some stunning stats from its beta tests: 95% of users stuck with it for three months, and 85% kept training for six months. That’s unheard of in fitness tech.

Future’s welcome kit includes a water bottle and Apple Watch

The remarkable retention and Future’s potential to become a gateway for your exercise and nutrition spending have roped in some big-name investors. Today it’s announcing an $8.5 million Series A led by Kleiner Perkins with partner Mamoon Hamid joining the board, building on its $3 million seed. Other backers include Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund and Caffeinated Capital. Athletes are betting on Future’s promise of democratizing the personal training they get, including Golden State Warrior Sean Livingston, and NFL stars Ndamukong Suh and Kelvin Beachum.

“Future manages to be both deeply personalized (and personable!) while being super convenient,” says Krieger of one of his first investments since leaving Instagram. Future’s Mandal built his old startup Sosh while sitting next to Krieger at incubator Dogpatch Labs, where Instagram was getting its start. “The always-available nature of it means travel or a shifting schedule is no longer an excuse to not work out.”

How Future works (out)

Throughout the onboarding, Future flexes the money you spend to offer what feels like a luxury app experience.

Upon signup, you’ll answer some questions about your goals like slimming down or beefing up, and pick from a few expert trainers matched to your needs. You’ll do a 15-minute video chat with your trainer to get friendly, describe your schedule and hammer out details of your workout plan. After you get your welcome kit with some swag and an Apple Watch, your trainer delivers your week’s worth of personalized daily routines that come with video instructions for each exercise. The Future app provides audio cues (and optional music) to guide you through the workouts while your trainer chimes in with personalized pointers and motivation via pre-recorded voice clips.

Future’s app guides you through workouts with instructional video clips and audio cues

But what’s unique about Future is that your trainer proactively checks in with you throughout your day to make sure you’re actually going to the gym or doing those pushups. Because you don’t switch between trainers with each workout like some apps, and because they have your activity and heart-rate data from the Apple Watch, they can spot patterns of procrastination or flaking out. You’re prompted to give feedback after each sweat session that the trainer uses to tweak your plan. That personalization and prodding go a long way to making sure Future always fits your day and actually stays part of it.

For example, I wanted to burn a few pounds without burning too much time by adding a gym day or two plus some warmup strength training before my home Peloton rides. My trainer Renee Zernicke, a former University of Wisconsin director of Sports Performance for basketball, designed a 30-minute weight-lifting circuit and some 10-minute bodyweight exercise plans for me. When I messaged her that I was doing a more intense spin class today, she remixed my warmup exercises to avoid legs so I wouldn’t be tired during my ride. So far she’s always responded within a few minutes, and been cheerful yet forceful. “I know your days are slammed, just wanted to check in and see if you were able to get to that spin class?” she messaged me at 6:30pm. That’s something even most in-person trainers don’t do.

Future matches you with several trainer options

I found most of the workout instructions easy to understand, and the audio cues make it easy to do routines without constantly staring at your phone. But the one thing you really lose with a text message trainer instead of an in-person coach is warnings when you’re doing something wrong. Bad posture or jerky motions could get you injured. It’s all a lot smoother if you know your way around a gym. Future could do more to gauge your familiarity with proper form for riskier exercises, and then either teach you or steer you away from them. I hope I’m so sore today because I’m getting built, not getting hurt.

Your pocket motivational speaker

My trainer Renee encouraging me to get to the gym

Future was inspired by some scary facts. “Seventy percent of Americans are obese and overweight,” Mandal tells me. “We spend $3.5 trillion per year on healthcare, yet we have pretty mediocre outcomes.” Mandal had gone through Stanford, worked at NASA and been at Slide when it was acquired by Google. After selling his local experience app Sosh to Postmates, he became an entrepreneur-in-residence at Khosla Ventures, which does many medtech investments. There, Mandal realized health is largely determined by how you eat, sleep, deal with stress, take your medicine and exercise.

Thanks to smart watches, that last one had become the easiest to measure while remaining the toughest to do right on your own. Mandal set out to learn what the fittest people, professional athletes, do for exercise. They all said they relied on personal trainers to make all the workout plans and force them to do them. Home gyms or apps full of pre-made exercises weren’t enough. They needed someone to keep them accountable.

The trouble is that’s pretty expensive one-on-one. So Mandal teamed up with Justin Santamaria, a 10-year Apple veteran from the first iOS team who’d been working on iMessage and FaceTime. Together they designed Future in 2017 to make personal trainers cheap enough to be more accessible while retaining the personal connection that keeps trainees on track.

If you won’t shell out $150 per month to be nagged, there are plenty of apps like Sweat that let you choose between guided workouts. Hell, if you’ve got that much will power you could get any gym membership or just go running. But the closest thing to Future, called Fit.net, folded. AI trainers like Freeletics can’t make you feel guilty or inspired the same way. Lose It and MyFitnessPal can get fellow trainees to badger you, but Mandal found people don’t obey peers like a respected trainer.

The constant communication and sense of trust users develop with their coaches could give Future potential beyond subscription fitness. The app becomes a hub for your healthy behavior. Future already offers an in-app Shop where it recommends workout clothes, headphones and water bottles. It’s easy to imagine it partnering with fitness equipment makers, health food lines or other brands to score a cut of referred sales. “We become your most important relationship regarding your health. You only talk to your doctor two times to three times per year,” says Mandal. But you might tell your trainer you’re looking for ways to eat healthier or sleep better. “Over time, that’s the opportunity.”

Still, the biggest hurdle is convincing people to pay more than 10X their Netflix fee for a personal trainer they don’t see in person. Compared to the $1 apps we’re used to, Future can induce sticker shock. But compared to unused gym memberships, pricey private coaching and potential health problems, Future could look affordable if well-to-do professionals squint right. Humans are sluggish. Most healthy habits lapse. But Future is building the closest thing to “press button, pay money, get fitter” — which in the end looks like getting someone to enthusiastically shame/support us from afar.

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Friendly Apps raises $3 million, pre-product, for apps that improve people’s well-being – TechCrunch

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Longtime engineer and product designer Michael Sayman has been building apps since he was a kid, landing him roles at Facebook, Google, Roblox, and most recently Twitter, where he’s often been tasked with developing products aimed at a teenage audience. Sayman was only 17 when he joined Facebook, but had already built several apps — an experience documented in his book “App Kid.” Over the years, Sayman contributed to high-profile products like Instagram Stories, WhatsApp Status, YouTube Shorts, and the Roblox Graph, among others. Now, Sayman is looking to leverage his understanding of what users want from their apps with the launch of his new startup, Friendly Apps.

The startup’s thesis is that his generation, Gen Z, understands that many of the social apps that have been built to date can be toxic to users’ health and can prevent people from accomplishing their true goals. Friendly Apps’ mission is to create a suite of apps with a different set of values that are targeted toward helping people with both their physical and mental health in new ways.

Prior to starting Friendly Apps, Sayman was working at Twitter. In fact, the founder had just joined Twitter in March, where he intended to aid the social network by building out new product experiences for teens via its 0–>1 team.

But after the Elon Musk acquisition deal was announced, internal product development efforts slowed down, he says. That situation gave him a push to finally break out of Big Tech to work on his own thing.

“It takes a billionaire trying to acquire a company that I worked at for me to finally go and do this,” Sayman says, with a laugh.

The idea for Friendly Apps is something he’s had in the back of his mind for years as he’s seen how tech companies developed their products.

“A lot of social media products use retention tactics that slowly deteriorate the well-being and mental health of their users because of the way they’re designed,” explains Sayman. The companies encouraged the wrong behaviors from their users, and have become popular because they’re addictive, he says.

“They have tactics to keep people coming in.”

He suggests the problem lies not only with the product design, but also with the internal goals and metrics companies pursue.

“The structures and the incentives within a lot of these social media companies are not set up in a way to encourage longer-term thinking around the well-being of the person that’s using the product,” Sayman notes. “If somebody is not doing well on the platform…if they’re feeling anxious, depressed, or insecure, over time, they’ll stop using the product. They’ll try to find other avenues or other ways of communicating or connecting with the people they care about through some other means,” he says.

Image Credits: Michael Sayman (opens in a new window)

Sayman wants Friendly Apps to be different. Although the startup will take the learnings from social apps and products he’s helped create for teens, its apps won’t be solely aimed at Gen Z users.

As for the apps themselves, they haven’t yet been created. Despite that fact, the startup raised a seed round of $3 million in about a week’s time. It seems a lot of people were willing to bet on Sayman, starting with Weekend Fund’s Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt.

“I’ve known Michael for eight years. It was clear that he would eventually start his own company. He has a very rare ability to deeply intuit human behavior, translate his ideas into clean design, and build quickly,” says Hoover. “We committed to invest pre-product, pre-deck.”

Sayman does have a few different product ideas, however. He envisions one app could be focused on helping people achieve their physical fitness goals — even if they’re not a regular gym-goer or runner, or some other kind of hardcore fitness advocate.

Another app could help people remember to prioritize their real-world relationships and encourage them to spend time with people they care about in the physical world.

“Everyone’s doing so many things that we don’t actually end up catching up in person for a while,” Sayman says.

As time goes by, friendships can deteriorate as people know less and less about each other, which can impact mental health. Today’s social apps don’t help — they only further isolate us, he explains. Instead, we end up experiencing relationships through “a little tiny window of filtered photos,” he notes.

“We didn’t evolve to live that way — like we all do right now,” says Sayman. “So I think a lot of the mental health issues that we start seeing, in particular with younger generations, come as a result of a lot of that isolation and that ‘tiny window’ view of the world.”

The founder also plans to bring his worldview as a second-generation Latino immigrant into Friendly Apps’ product experiences, seeing the potential to help address specific hurdles that new immigrants to the U.S. may need to overcome.

But these sorts of concepts may or may not be among the first apps to launch. Instead, the startup plans to test a suite of products, experiences, features, and even various design elements before bringing anything to the public.

Sayman can build apps quickly. But as a sole founder, he will still need some time to get the products off the ground and tested. He hopes to have something released to the public in around 6 months, he says.

Seed investors in Friendly Apps include BoxGroup, Weekend Fund, Shrug Capital, Day One Ventures, Betaworks Ventures, SRB Ventures, 305 Ventures, CoreVentures, plus founders and operators from Snap, TikTok, Instagram, Meta, Google, Tesla, Things, and others.

The company also wants to include the perspectives of those outside Silicon Valley, Sayman says.

One angel investor, Hayley Leibson, told TechCrunch she was “extremely happy that Michael prioritized bringing onboard womxn angel investors like myself, and others including teachers, mothers, students, and immigrants from diverse backgrounds.”

“The tech industry doesn’t really gather a lot of investors from places that aren’t the tech industry,” Sayman points out. “If we’re thinking about how to make products that help people’s mental health and help people’s like physical well-being…I think we can have opinions, feedback, and input directly from people who aren’t in the tech world.”

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Gen Z social app Yubo rolls out age ‘estimating’ technology to better identify minors using its service – TechCrunch

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Yubo, a social livestreaming app popular with a Gen Z audience, announced today it’s becoming one of the first major social platforms to adopt a new age verification technique that uses live image capture technology to identify minors using its app, in order to keep them separated from adult users. While other companies serving a younger crowd typically rely on traditional age gating techniques, these are easily bypassed as all that’s generally required is for a user to enter a birthdate in an online form.

Many kids know they can lie about their age to gain access to platforms designed for older users, which is how they end up in online spaces that aren’t kid-friendly or that have greater risks associated with their use.

Yubo, on the other hand, has been thinking about what the future of social networking should look like for the next generation of users — and not just from a product standpoint, but also from a product safety perspective.

Founded in 2015, Yubo users hang out in live-streaming rooms where they can socialize, play games, and make new friends. There aren’t creators on the platform broadcasting to fans, and Yubo has no plans to move in that direction — the way that nearly all other major social platforms have today. Instead, its app’s focus is on helping users socialize naturally, the way they’re already comfortable with, after having grown up using services FaceTime and hanging out with friends in other live video apps.

According to Yubo co-founder and CEO, Sacha Lazimi, Generation Z sees “no difference between online and offline life,” he says.

“They have exactly the same needs of socializing offline as online, but there were no solutions [for this],” Lazimi explains. This led Yubo to launch a live video feature that launched to the app’s userbase in February 2018.

“We are taking the best of offline interaction and adding to that the power of technology to make sure that you will connect to the right group of people anywhere in the world, at any time, in a safe environment,” he adds.

The company today has seen 60 million sign-ups, which is up from the 40 million it reported in 2020 when it closed on its $47.5 million Series C funding round. 99% of them are Gen Z users, ages 13 to 25.

While Yubo doesn’t share its monthly active users, it notes that it’s seeing increasing revenue via its a la carte premium features and subscriptions, which grew from 7 million euros in 2019 to now 25 million euros as of last year. The app doesn’t run ads.

But with this younger audience and growth, comes the need for increased safety. Previously, Yubo had partnered with the digital identity provider Yoti to help it vet potentially suspicious users. If people were using different phone numbers or devices, for example, or if they had been reported by others, Yubo would ask them to verify themselves by submitting their IDs. The process of managing the ID verification was handled by Yoti.

On average, Yubo processed 6,500 verifications per day in 2021. Following this verification, 67,000 accounts per month were suspended due to discrepancies in age, the company says.

But there was one challenge with this system — minors often don’t have an ID.

“A lot of teenagers — especially under 18 years old — do not have any identity documents,” notes Lazimi. “So we could not ask everyone to verify their identity.”

Image Credits: Yubo

That led the company to now adopt another Yoti product for age estimations. This system will direct new and existing users to an age verification and agreement screen either during sign-up or as a pop-up for existing users upon launching the app. When they accept, their camera will activate and they’ll be prompted to place their face within an oval that appears on the screen. The “liveness algorithm” also takes a short video that analyses movement to confirm the image used is not fake or being pulled from a search engine.

When the face has been detected, the user will receive confirmation that they’ve been verified or they’ll be told if their age doesn’t match the age they entered upon sign-up, or that they’re not using a legitimate picture.

If the user’s age is confirmed, they’ll be directed to the homepage and can use Yubo as before. If verification fails, they’ll need to go through a full ID check instead.

Image Credits: Yubo

The new technology, as you may imagine, is not perfect.

Lazimi admits that it works better with younger people’s faces than with adults. Currently, the Yoti age estimation system can effectively identify the ages of 6 to 12-year-old users within 1.3 years, and those between 13 and 19 within 1.5 years, Yoti claims. After that, accuracy decreases. For 20 to 25-year-olds, it’s accurate within a range of 2.5 years. For 26 to 30-year-olds, it’s within an average of 3 years. But this accuracy could improve over time, as more analysis is performed.

“It’s actually very accurate for young users, and especially users under 15…I believe for 13 to 14-year-old users, it’s around 99%,” he says. (It’s 98.9% accurate across all ages, genders, and skin tones, says Yoti.). To date, Yoti has run the technology across some 500 million faces, and is certified by software testing service iBeta.

“It’s less accurate for older users — that’s why we’ve launched with the youngest users, because those are the ones we want to protect more and also because it’s more accurate and more precise,” Lazimi says.

The company will initially roll out the technology initially to 13 and 14-year-old users with the goal of age-verifying 100% of users by the end of 2022.

The age estimation tech is not the first tool that Yubo has adopted to keep younger users safe on live streams, the company points out.

It’s also using A.I. technology and human moderation to monitor livestreams by taking second-by-second screenshots, then flagging inappropriate content to human moderators in real-time, including nudity, partial nudity (including underwear), suggestive content, drug use, weapons, blood, and violence. (You can see some complaints about this in Yubo’s App Store reviews, where teens are complaining it flagged boys for streaming with their shirts off.)

Yubo also includes educational safety features. For example, the app pop-ups reminders about personalized modification options (like Muted Words), and sends alerts sent to users if they are participating in harmful and inappropriate behaviors or sharing sensitive personal information. The company has a Safety Advisory Board with international online safety experts, as well.

“We are also working closely with government and NGOs because we believe that social networks need to have stronger regulation from the top,” says Lazimi. But, he adds, “we are not waiting for regulation to do safety features. We are doing it proactively,” he says.

 

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Bumble is planning to expand further into social networking with a new communities feature – TechCrunch

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Dating platform Bumble is looking to enhance its non-dating social features with a further investment into its Bumble BFF feature, first launched in 2016. This friend-finding feature currently uses the same swiped-based mechanics to connect people looking for platonic relationships but will soon expand to include social networking groups where users can connect with one another based on topics and interests, not just via “matches.”

TechCrunch heard Bumble was venturing more into the social networking space, and Bumble recently hinted at this development during its first-quarter earnings, announced this month.

On the earnings call, the company referenced a Bumble BFF “alpha test” that had been performing well.

It described the test as offering new ways for “people to discover and get to know each other around shared joys and common struggles.” Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd added that, so far, over 40% of “active BFF users” were engaging with the new experiences being tested and the feature’s one-month retention was upward of 75%.

Bumble didn’t, however, describe the product in much detail, beyond noting it offered a “new group format” for networking.

Reached for further insights, product intelligence company Watchful had additional information. It had uncovered screenshots showing a women-focused “social groups” feature.

There were around 30 different topics available, including things like “Women in Business,” “Networking + mentoring,” “Finding fulfillment,” “Mental health,” “Working moms,” “Body positivity,” “Self care,” “Eating well,” “Grad students,” “Money management,” “Building a better world,” “Recent grads,” “Women’s empowerment,” “Mom life,” “Breakups suck,” “Single not alone,” “Workouts,” “Study hacks + motivation,” “Path to parenthood,” “Pet Parents,” “Wanderlust” and others.

Users could join the groups and create multimedia posts or reply to existing posts, similar to a threaded group chat or lightweight networking product. The topics, so far, seem to cater to a slightly broader crowd than just “young adults,” given there were groups for students as well as working moms.

Bumble confirmed to us this is the same feature that was being discussed during its earnings.

“We are currently testing new product features in our Bumble BFF community for a small number of people. We are assessing feedback from this test to help inform our final product decisions,” a Bumble spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Image Credits: Bumble screenshot via Watchful

On the call, Wolfe Herd had also suggested the new BFF feature could potentially help Bumble generate revenue further down the road.

“We are very focused on the product, building the ecosystem, the communities and really going into this new group format and testing the functionalities that we’ve been hard at work building,” Wolfe Herd said. “As we look to revenue in the future from BFF, there are really multiple pillars of opportunity — and one of them would be advertising,” she continued.

“We will be looking at baking in functionalities to be greater economy efficient or advertising ready for the future but not to expect any near-term revenue from that,” the exec had noted.

Image Credits: Bumble screenshot via Watchful

Originally, the Bumble BFF feature had been designed to help Bumble serve its growing audience of younger singles, who were often looking for new friends to hang out with, not just date. The company had explained at the time of its 2016 launch that it got the idea not only based on user feedback but also because it observed people using its dating app to make friends — particularly when they had just moved to a new city or were visiting a place for a limited time, like on vacation.

Bumble BFF also allowed the company to leverage some of the same technology it was using to create romantic matches — algorithms based on interests, for example — and put them to use for helping users forge platonic connections.

But in the years following its launch, friend-finding has spun out to become its own app category of sorts, particularly among the younger Gen Z demographic who’s more inclined to socially “hang out” online, including through live video, audio and chat-based groups. Snapchat’s platform apps are a good example of this trend in action, as is Gen Z livestreaming app Yubo. Then there was dating giant Match Group’s biggest-ever acquisition with last year’s $1.73 billion deal for Hyperconnect, a company that had been more focused on social networking than dating.

In addition, dedicated social experiences have sprung up to serve Bumble’s core demographic of young, professional women including the motherhood-focused Peanut app; leadership network for professional women, Chief; creator platform for women, Sunroom; female college influencer network 28 Row; community-focused Hey! Vina; and others.

Combined, these factors could create trouble for Bumble, particularly if younger Gen Z users are less inclined to adopt traditional swipe-based dating apps — or, when they do, it’s more to just meet new people, not partners.

Of these, Peanut seems to have more overlap with what Bumble is building — which is interesting, too, since Peanut was founded by former Badoo deputy CEO Michelle Kennedy who brought her understanding of dating app concepts to online socializing. (Today, Bumble, Inc. operates Bumble, Badoo and its latest acquisition Fruitz.) Now, Peanut’s concepts are making their way back to Bumble.

Asked for thoughts on this latest development, Kennedy said it “completely validates the market” that Peanut has been working in for many years — particularly as the current groups spotted had been women focused.

“It’s something that we’ve always believed in. We’ve always known that it’s a huge opportunity. We’ve always seen that. And for Bumble to say, ‘yeah, we agree.’ Huge! Couldn’t be happier,” she said.

Bumble has not said when it expects to launch the social features to the general public.

The company just posted a strong Q1 where it reported $211.2 million in revenue, higher than the consensus estimate of $208.3 million and a 7.2% increase in paying users in the quarter. Bumble’s forecast for its fiscal year 2022 revenue is expected to be in the range of $934-$944 million, higher than previously estimated.

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