5 Things that worked for fitness startup GOQii

A lot has been written about GOQii in the recent past. But, what has not been captured as yet is the GOQii Journey over the last two years and how we did everything contrary to establishing the business.


By Vishal Gondal

A lot has been written about GOQii in the recent past. But, what has not been captured as yet is the GOQii Journey over the last two years and how we did everything contrary to establishing the business. You must be wondering what I mean by saying contrary? Well, today, through my first column in First Post, I would like to take my readers through our journey and how we did, what we did.

Typically, all startups especially the ones who got funding during the boom, in a bid to acquire customers deployed the strategy of deep discounts, freebies and mostly all of them succeeded at that. But, their success came at the cost of burning huge cash to fund discounts to win consumers. This resulted in most companies reporting huge losses over the last two years.  It was some kind of greed to grab large market shares or Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) which seemed to be the quest.

Their strategy was simple- show higher users and GMV and someone will keep funding the losses and eventually we will figure the business model out. Ha! that's how Amazon did it. They were loss making for the longest time, WhatsApp still doesn't have monetisation these were some of the common phrases one could hear.

Having seen all this, we at GOQii used a counter-intuitive strategy. We adopted a disruptive business model entering the market with a paid subscription based coaching model with hardware being an enabler. We focused on customer service and retention thereby proving how it can be done differently.

GOQii’s idea was to offer a human coach along with the wearable which was unheard off in the market. It was for the first time a start-up in the health space was using virtual human coaches to get people to be fit and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Here are 5 things which worked for us:

Create your own Playbook

Most start-up business that started in India were a copy of Amazon or some other online business that was already established in the US. Secondly I realised, in India the ‘Do it yourself’ (DIY) model does not work. Indian consumers want someone to help us with everything. In the wearable space too i realised simply launching a band will not work, consumer will find it difficult to decipher the data and act accordingly, after all it was a matter of health and fitness and i could not have taken the risk and therefore came up with the idea of selling the band with a human coach.

Invest in Product NOT Marketing

Right from the beginning i was clear  that i needed to focus on the product and not marketing. A Product Focused organization is one that has a roadmap and even vision for the product based on delivering something that the team believes will meet market demand – whatever the market may be. The best advice came from our board member Amit Singhal who said that 50% of our workforce has to be on the technology and product side we are now at 45%.

We hence launched a Paid Beta version before hitting the market and got people to use it. After getting their initial feedback we improvised and launched version 1 and now after 2 years we have launched version 2.  We have constantly delivered much more than just a wearable.

CEO is Chief Customer Service officer

I dived deep to understand my customers. I realised that if you just go out and try to sell maybe you’ll find some buyers, but you won’t be learning about what you should be doing. You get front-row seat insights into the way your customers think, feel and behave; the kinds of insights that can transform your product and your business. But, setting aside time to talk to your customers also has big customer happiness benefits. Responding to their queries personally kept them happy. From the customer’s perspective, reaching out proactively and being interested in their experience sets you apart from the dozens of other companies they do business with.

Validate the Business model & then Scale & become Number #1

I have always loved to venture into things differently. Many times there was no evidence but we actually ended up creating something unique. One should create a business model that your team can go after and grab the opportunity, because according to me if you wait for the evidence, by the time the idea fructifies you will lose the first mover advantage. By providing access to a personal trainer along with every band made us unique. Secondly, we created a monetisation model by going pay from day 1 of our launch and then worked towards retaining our consumers. Thus, we had a proper business model in place. All of this helped us achieve the numero uno position this quarter leaving the competition behind who focussed on the hardware only model. As per the latest IDC report for the second quarter of 2016, GOQii has clocked a 16.1 per cent market share leaving behind other competitors such as Xiaomi, Fitbit, Garmin and others. Users of GOQii cited the access to personal trainer as an important reason for its success.

Focussed on Communities

As i was building my business,  we were simultaneously also building communities to get closer to the consumers and understand them better. (i) We built strong influencers in the form of GOQii Titans, who give us continuous feedback. (ii) We have also been instrumental in starting the ‘Active Sunday’ movement to ensure that we convert the laziest day of the week into the most active one. Most of our users are active on Sundays. (iii) In Dec 2014, as part of our Karma Initiative, we started “From Couch to 100 km” program and tied up with Oxfam India, the international NGO. This program integrates GOQii’s mission to improve lives through social causes with Oxfam India’s drive to overcome and raise awareness of global poverty. For 2 consecutive years, we have taken dozens of GOQii players to walk 100 kms & even complete it within 48 hrs. In May this year, some of the Titans including me, trekked to the Everest Base Camp (EBC). And we also organised a Pokemon Go event in July thereby leveraging the popular game.

The author is CEO, GOQii.


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