COVID-19 Health, Wellness & Biotech Layoffs Public Markets

Connected Fitness Could Rise Again. I’ll Be Watching From The Couch 

Illustration of TopHat Man on stationary bike.

I remember fondly the day the neighbors came to pick up the free elliptical machine gathering dust in the bedroom. Within an hour of posting, a couple showed up, fit and energized, and proceeded to haul that bulky piece of equipment out and down a large flight of stairs.

During the early months of the pandemic, I imagine Peloton buyers as a lot like that couple: Disciplined fitness buffs ready to get that cardio workout going. With gyms closed, they were also now willing to pay handsomely for that privilege.

Fast-forward a couple years, and many one-time buyers might more resemble me: Out of shape and fantasizing about reclaiming floor space. Others have since returned to the gym.

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Public markets reflect this. Connected fitness isn’t the buzzy space it was a year or two ago. Shares of Peloton and Nautilus are down more than 90% from their peaks. And one of the largest players in the exercise equipment space, iFit, withdrew its IPO plans this spring as the public offering window shuttered.

Layoffs are also on the rise, with Peloton last week disclosing that it is cutting nearly 800 jobs. It’s one of several fitness equipment-makers to do so in recent months.

Yet, even against this bleak backdrop, some enthusiasm for the connected fitness space remains in startup circles. Though round sizes have shrunk from the peak of the cycle a year ago, deals are still getting done at a pretty brisk pace. We decided to take a look at where the activity is happening.

Yes, investment in connected fitness startups is still a thing

Using Crunchbase data, we identified at least 30 funding rounds this year in the connected fitness space, 1 covering everything from digital coaching to connected rowing to AI strength training. Collectively, this sample set of companies brought in over $290 million in 2022.

We list them below:

We saw particular interest in fitness offerings for those who might alternate between gym visits and at-home workouts. San Francisco-based Future was the largest funding recipient along these lines. The company raised $75 million in a February round for its service, which connects people with fitness coaches to digitally set up workout plans, track progress and provide a periodic motivational push.

Strength training also looks hot. Companies that raised funding this year include Australia-based Vitruvian, which landed $15 million in April for a machine and app to optimize weight training, and Texas-based OxeFit, the maker of an AI-enabled home strength-training setup that raised around $12 million.

Signs of cooling

Rowing was another popular area earlier this year, though tides have turned some in recent months.

The most heavily funded startup in this space, Boston-based connected rowing machine-maker Hydrow, pulled in $55 million in a March Series D, bringing total funding to nearly $270 million. Rival Aviron Interactive, which offers short, high-intensity rowing workouts, nabbed $18.6 million in February.

Now the outlook appears choppier. Hydrow, which sells its machines for $2,500 and up and counts celebrities like Lizzo and Justin Timberlake among its backers, has been scaling back of late. The startup reportedly laid off 35% of its staff recently as demand for new home fitness equipment cools.

More broadly, investor expectations of falling or moderating demand for connected fitness products can be seen in smaller check sizes.

It’s a sharp contrast to last year, when financings of $100 million and up were pretty plentiful. Examples include:

  • Tonal, maker of AI-enabled home training equipment and coaching tools, secured $250 million in Series E financing in March 2021.
  • Tempo, another home fitness platform featuring personalized coaching, landed $220 million a few weeks later.
  • Whoop, a unicorn maker of wearables for fitness and health tracking, landed $200 million in a SoftBank-backed Series F in August 2021. It hasn’t been immune to slowdowns either. In July, the company reportedly laid off 15% of its workforce.

Record funding levels look like a thing of the past. In the wider fitness category, which also includes diet and health apps, VC-backed companies raised nearly $5.9 billion in funding in 2021, according to Crunchbase data. So far this year, the category has attracted around $2.1 billion in global investment.

Now, about those lightly used Pelotons

While funding and valuations for connected fitness companies are down, and layoffs are on the rise, no one is predicting the sector’s demise. Each year, it seems, we only get more dependent on our connected devices and more open to getting things done at home that used to require going out. Fitness is no exception.

It’s noteworthy that a robust pipeline of deals is getting done this year, even against the backdrop of a steep market downturn. While consumers aren’t buying as much new fitness equipment, they have increasingly acclimated to at-home workouts, tele-coaching and connected apps for tracking performance.

For now, the trouble is probably the people (such as your author) who did not acclimate. They are filling up Craigslist with used Pelotons at varying price points, depressing demand for new models.

Fortunately for connected fitness fans, history tells us this is all part of the cycle. Eventually, most out-of-shape people decide they should get back in shape. This invariably leads to more spending on gym memberships, fitness classes and coaching.

Over time, even reclaimed floor space can start to look a bit empty. Perhaps that means it’s time for a new piece of equipment to fill it.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

  1. The parameters we’re using for the connected fitness category are somewhat loosely defined. Basically, it involves an app or digital technology-enabled piece of equipment that is largely devoted to physical fitness.

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