New RunKeeper Features Aim To Bring the Fitness Class Experience To Your Phone

10/7/10Follow @xconomy

Since 2008, RunKeeper, the fitness-tracking, GPS-based mobile app from Boston-based startup FitnessKeeper, has helped runners log and track the distance, speed, and routes they’ve run and engage with a broader community of like-minded athletes. The “pro” $9.99 version of the tool even offers coaching via headphones to help runners hit their desired pace, understand how far they’ve gone, and mix up their speeds for interval workouts, all as their feet hit the pavement.

But now, the company is moving even further into an area that has traditionally been occupied by real, live fitness professionals, by offering mobile training plans and fitness classes

“We’re grouping them together almost like an SAT class or a spinning class at the gym and are trying to tap into that same psychology—but virtually, where you all collectively go after the same goal,” says FitnessKeeper founder and CEO Jason Jacobs. “What we envision is that these classes will become such a powerful motivator that they recreate the benefits of an in-person class, where you’re motivated by the energy in the room.”

The startup put out the first set of such classes on its store late last week, with 5K and half-marathon training plans designed by Olympian runner Jeff Galloway. Jacobs says already several hundred users have signed up. Those who purchase the classes—which range from $9.99 to $19.99—will have the set of runs designed by Galloway populate their RunKeeper calendars. They also will be sent an alert that notifies them which distance they are supposed to run each day. When they physically go out for a jog, they can flag that they are completing a particular run as called for in the training guide. They’ll also be connected to others in the RunKeeper community who are training under the same program.

“The plan is to roll them out in such a way so that if you have a race at a certain time it can follow your schedule,” Jacobs says. And speaking of races, FitnessKeeper has also made that a more prominent part of the user experience. Weeks before it rolled out the classes, it introduced a race page section of the site, where users can search for races based on distance and location, and connect with other runners in the RunKeeper community looking to do the same race. And the company hasn’t spent a marketing dime to attract this information, but has crowdsourced the content, relying on the RunKeeper community to submit races on their radar.

With the features introduced in the past month, the big focus is streamlining the entire process of running, racing, and training, Jacobs says. “Runners don’t just track their activities, but they participate in races and follow a lot of training programs,” he says.

And typically, this entire process is fragmented, he says. Runners research and sign up for races in one place, scout out and follow training programs in another, fund-raise for the race through a different organization, publicize it all to their friends on a different social networking site, and so on.

Jacobs started FitnessKeeper two years ago with the intention of extracting the running analytics offered by Nike’s Plus system to a wider community and broader array of devices. The RunKeeper app was one of the first 200 apps available in Apple’s iTunes App Store, which now boasts more than 250,000 apps. And Jacobs has done some pretty interesting things to get some buzz out about the tool in the meantime: running the 2009 Boston Marathon decked in a lycra iPhone costume, and reprising the trip in 2010, alongside a co-worker, who donned an Android phone outfit to promote the newest platform for the app.

For those who don’t have phones cool enough for the RunKeeper app (myself, ahem), you can engage with the RunKeeper community for free online, and can manually enter your distances run and look for new routes. There’s also a paid, premium Web version called RunKeeper Elite, which enables users to broadcast their run progress in real-time, and also offers rich analytics and fitness reports on how users are progressing and compare to others in the RunKeeper community. It charges $19.99 a year or $4.99 a month for that service, but Elite members will get 50 percent off the classes RunKeeper offers.

Speaking of money, FitnessKeeper—which has grown to seven full-time employees and now boasts more than 2.5 million downloads total—is taking a cut of each fitness class it sells, much in the way that Apple and Google profit off of each sale on their app stores. The startup raised $400,000 in seed money last November, but Jacobs says the company isn’t eyeing any outside financing at this point. They’ve been profitable every month since inception, he says.

The classes and race pages are just another way of developing the RunKeeper product into what Jacobs sees as a broader fitness platform for the community of runners. (The app also integrated with the WiFi-connected BodyScale bathroom scale from Withings, enabling runners to track their weight and body mass index alongside their runs on RunKeeper.)

“It’s about building the right mix of things to create a compelling experience for our users,” he says. “I feel sometimes like we’re social chemists, trying to get that right mix.”

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