LoseIt, With 10M+ Users, Looks to Turn Weight Loss App Into Big Business
Want to lose weight fast? Try eating a little less, and exercising a little more.
But if that fails, go mobile. As in, try LoseIt, a mobile app that helps you keep track of your diet and exercise so you can shed those extra pounds. You won’t be alone: the free app has more than 10 million users across iPhones, Android devices, and the Web, according to its parent company, Boston-based FitNow. That makes LoseIt one of the most popular apps created in New England. What’s more, the startup says 86 percent of the app’s active users have lost weight, and the average user loses 12.3 pounds.
Not bad for four guys and some seed funding (from General Catalyst Partners). Yet LoseIt is at a crossroads. The three-year-old company is about to find out if it has what it takes to build a really big business. “This is the first year where we’ll focus on monetization and building a business model,” says Charles Teague, the startup’s co-founder and CEO. (Teague is one of the speakers at Xconomy’s Mobile Madness conference tomorrow.)
The original LoseIt app was written by JJ Allaire back in 2008. He’s the software whiz behind the companies Allaire (bought by Macromedia), Onfolio (bought by Microsoft), and Stax Networks (bought by CloudBees). LoseIt quickly became one of the most popular health and fitness apps on the iPhone, thanks in part to being featured in an Apple television ad in 2009. The app helps people set specific goals for losing weight and then tracks their calorie intake (by logging meals and snacks) and exercise habits to give them feedback on a daily basis.
Teague had worked with Allaire at a couple of his previous companies. For LoseIt, they focused on “building the best product for users,” Teague says. They didn’t worry about PR or marketing. With a weight-loss app, he says, “a lot of it comes down to, does it work?” In other words, if people lose weight, they tell their friends about the app, or their friends notice the change in their appearance and ask how they did it. “A natural marketing channel develops,” Teague says.
But people wonder how LoseIt found its audience in such huge numbers. The company did a user survey last year and found that 50 percent find the app by word of mouth. About 30 percent find it in an app store while browsing (top apps in health and fitness, say). And about 10 percent are referred by a doctor.
LoseIt’s rise has boiled down to three factors, Teague says. One is that “there was a material problem people were really concerned about.” Namely, losing weight. Apps that are just cool are hard to sustain, he says. On the other hand, a successful app “starts with blood on the floor, a problem they really need solved.”
Two, the company focused on building a really exceptional product. “This cannot be overstated,” Teague says. “The product breeds more success. If you have a bad product, every marketing dollar you spend just brings dissatisfied customers to you. What will differentiate this product is to make the user have a great experience.”
And three, the app had to work—bottom line. “You have to evaluate the actual outcome,” he says. “People need to lose weight.”
Not that there haven’t been surprises along the way. Teague says he thought the app’s social sharing features would be more popular. But it turns out users generally don’t want to share their weight-loss progress with their Twitter and Facebook followers (there are others they do want to share with though). On the flip side, he says he didn’t expect much from adding a feature for scanning food bar codes in 2011. But it turned out to be immensely popular, he says.
Teague declined to give specifics about how his company plans to ramp up revenues. He did say, “We continue to focus on being a consumer weight-loss company,” and that FitNow would stick with apps, rather than moving into mobile platforms for health, as Boston-based FitnessKeeper (maker of another popular fitness app, RunKeeper) has been doing.
Broadly speaking, he says the keys to the next stage of growth are to “iterate, be responsive, learn, become more efficient, and then roll out the scale.” Interestingly, he says all that can be done without raising another financing round.
And while some are forecasting the decline of mobile apps, Teague remains bullish. “As long as there’s a zero-cost marketing infrastructure, and app stores where you can get to customers directly, that creates a lot of opportunity for independence,” he says. “There will be way more apps than websites.”