The ever-growing consumer fixation on wellness in the U.S. has already spawned the launch of countless health-related startups. Worldwide, health and wellness startups have been a major benefactor of consumers’ digital spend — and interest from outside investors.
In many other countries including India, however, health and wellness is an untapped opportunity ripe for innovation. Riding this wave of demand for digital wellness, Cure.fit, India’s leading fitness and health startup, is poised expand its offering into the U.S. and Canadian markets.
The four-year-old company, founded in Bangalore by entrepreneurs Mukesh Bansal (co-founder of fashion retailer Myntra, which sold to Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce company, in 2014) and Ankit NagoriI (himself the former chief business officer at Flipkart), has led a developing local wellness industry by bringing services including fitness, mental health and nutrition under a single umbrella.
Cure.fit’s app offers subscribers a broad scope of virtual health and wellness services, from high intensity fitness workouts to online therapy sessions.
“Its mission was never to just be a fitness company,” says Shamik Sharma, head of international business and digital initiatives for the startup and a longtime associate of Bansal who has been with Cure.fit from the start. “From day one, the mission was to make health easy.”
“We’ve raised quite a bit of capital right from day one,” Sharma added, citing the $400 million in funding Cure.fit has raised alongside what he describes as its healthy revenue in India. Pre-pandemic, the company was considered a veritable “soonicorn,” that is, one that is nearing a $1 billion valuation.
Given this success, and despite challenges to Cure.fit’s business posed by COVID-19, the pandemic has actually accelerated the company’s expansion. “We feel it’s the right time to expand and provide this kind of one stop shop in other parts of the world as well,” Sharma said.
Its mission was never to just be a fitness company. From day one, the mission was to make health easy.
Shamik Sharma, head of international business and digital initiatives, Cure.fit
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Cracking the U.S. market amid a pandemic-fueled fitness boom
The digital wellness landscape was competitive even before a global pandemic shut down nearly every gym, yoga studio and health spa. Now, legacy players and startups alike are racing to innovate on the home fitness experience, hoping to cash in on consumer behaviors that are forecast to extend even beyond the health crisis.
“COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the at-home fitness space,” Jake Matthews, senior analyst with CB Insights, told CO—. “Gym closures and stay-at-home orders [are] helping introduce products like connected fitness equipment to customers who might not have otherwise tried them.”
Matthews notes that though competitors like Peloton or Mirror, which Lululemon acquired in June, have been the biggest benefactors of the trend towards housebound fitness, “the pandemic has ignited the industry, with new startups emerging to tackle specific needs and exercises, like at-home rowing machines.”
But this trend towards increased specialization also presents a challenge for foreign companies like Cure.fit entering the U.S. market. Despite success in its home market, expansion into the U.S. means traversing a landscape of well-established consumer habits and entering into competition with a broad field of specialized studios and gym clubs.
Sharma believes that Cure.fit’s holistic approach to health and wellness is one that will resonate with U.S. consumers, and that its product fills a niche unmet by existing options. The company is currently developing unique programming in order to reach the U.S. consumer.
“Cure.fit was always designed to be a kind of super app that allows you to use all of these products and services inside one,” Sharma said. “In the longer term, we want to offer all the other services that we have in India…all of these have to be customized on a per country basis.”
Redesigning the digital health experience
Upon launch, founders Bansal and Nagoril were focused on building out physical locations for the products under the Cure.fit umbrella: Cult.fit, for personal training; Mind.fit, for mental health and meditation; Care.fit, for general health consultations; and health food delivery service Eat.fit.
With physical locations closed due to the pandemic, the business has quickly diverted funding towards its digital platform. Live workouts are broadcast nearly 24/7, with a range of options from strength conditioning and to yoga and dance. It’s this digital offering that is gaining buzz as the company extends into the U.S. market.
What distinguishes Cure.fit’s digital fitness classes, however, is the technology designed to create a more engaging experience. Tapping the viewer’s streaming video on their computer or mobile device, a proprietary “energy meter” reads and measures the user’s ability to correctly mimic the trainer on screen. It’s connected to a leader board where users can track their own performance against others (sometimes up to 300,000 fellow viewers, Sharma said), or their own friends.
In a crowded market, differentiating with data is key
Though Cure.fit does not collect or monetize sensitive health-related data or video from the user’s device, the platform does provide fascinating insight into consumer behavior that would be much harder to capture in a real-life fitness studio.
For example, with so many users now on the online platform exclusively, not only has viewership risen, but many subscribers are doing multiple classes per day – something that would have likely been time- or cost-prohibitive if it required visiting one of Cure.fit’s physical locations, Sharma said.
“With connected fitness devices and wearables generating more data than ever before on consumers’ health and wellness,” Matthews said, “the platform that can create the most value from that data, whether it’s a more personalized fitness offering or a cross-industry application, will be able to differentiate itself from others in the market.”
Working out Cure.fit’s international future
Though Cure.fit has scaled back some elements of the business as a result of COVID-19, including a reported 1,400 layoffs, Sharma believes the future looks bright for his company, as well as the industry as a whole.
“Despite the current COVID-related challenges, I think [the fitness and wellness] industry will come back even stronger,” he said. “But, at the same time, I don’t think it will be the same that it was before. It will take a new shape that will be a mix of online and offline, and online will play a much bigger part in the daily life of users.”
Matthews seconds this belief that post-pandemic consumers will expect a more omnichannel experience, and a wider suite of digital services from the health and fitness brands to which they subscribe.
“While many consumers will return to gyms as they eventually reopen, the benefits of connected-fitness equipment startups — such as constant home access, one-on-one professional training content and data-informed progress reports — have been solidified,” Matthews said.
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Published September 09, 2020