Clutch spoke with Stephanie Peterson, Vice President of Strategic Communications and Marketing at Runtastic, as part of a series of interviews about wearable technology.
Learn more about Runtastic at Runtastic.com.
Could you describe your company and your role there?
Runtastic primarily is a mobile health and fitness company, but we do a little bit of everything in our area. At Runtastic, we work to expand our fitness ecosystem, so that it constantly becomes more useful and comprehensive for our users. We also aim not only to sell great products and services but also to provide our customers with educational and engagement opportunities, by creating a community and distributing relevant content.
My role here is Vice President of Strategic Communications and Marketing.
Could you describe Runtastic’s wearables platform?
We offer a huge range of mobile and web-based products and services, as well as a full product portfolio when it comes to hardware, tracking devices, and fitness accessories.
Runtastic offers upwards of 15 apps across three different platforms – iOS, Android, and Windows phones. This array of mobile apps is tailored to specific activities, including running, walking, cardio, abs and core, biking, and sleeping. These apps aim to educate the user, like teaching them about nutrition.
Runtastic Me App - The Runtastic Me app is a relatively new app in our ecosystem. It’s one of our core apps, which means that it has standalone functionality and allows a person to track their activity 24 hours of the day. This may include daily movement, the number of steps taken, total calories burned, and the amount of hours slept. It was released a year ago and acts as the dashboard for all these different apps in Runtastic’s ecosystem. It’s the space where all your data is aggregated.
If an individual doesn’t have the Me app, we also have our webite, where every user can create a free online profile. This web-based profile also stores the aggregated data, so a user can review it, share it with friends, and monitor progress.
The great thing about the Runtastic Me app is that while it can function as a standalone app, its functionality and meaningfulness becomes more robust when the user pairs it with another app, such as the Runtastic Cardio app or the GPS app that people use to track runs and walks. Data from our flagship app – the run and walk tracker – is brought into the Me app and then aggregated.
Runtastic’s wearable device, the Orbit, has been on the market for about a year now. If a person chooses to purchase the Orbit, any data tracked through the wearable is also pulled into the Me app.
Aggregated Data - We plan to continue developing and updating our hardware and software to ensure its functionality improves over time. We not only want to help people track their day but also relay data to them. In the future, we foresee using this data even more as a method of educating and coaching users. Right now, we have a lot of data from our users in the ecosystem, and we plan to create predictability functions that allow us to anticipate what a specific user may need or lack on a particular day or during the next week.
Focusing more on the wearable side, as I mentioned, we have the Runtastic Orbit, which we launched about a year ago, at the same time as the Runtastic Me app. The Runtastic Orbit is a wearable device that users put on their wrist. When a person purchases it, they also receive a tracking device and two colored wrist bands.
We wanted to make the Orbit an activity and fitness tracker that was more flexible than some of the other products on the market. We wanted to make sure that people could customize it and integrate it into their daily life and style easily.
The Orbit tracks a person’s daily movements: everything from the number of steps taken, to the distance covered, to the total calories burned, and to the amount of hours slept. For example, by putting the Orbit in Sleep Mode, you can track how many hours you slept, as well as how many of those hours were spent being restless or awake, in a deep sleep, or in a light sleep.
What business challenge or opportunity were you trying to address with the development of a wearable application?
We decided to create a wearable after looking at trends in our industry area. We knew wearables presented an ideal opportunity for us to create the perfect combination of hardware and software.
We already had numerous apps that allow people to track various activities, so we wanted to bring these capabilities to a wearable device instead of just the smartphone. A wearable allows a person to wear something passively throughout the day that tracks their activities and fitness without carrying around a phone.
I would say that expanding Runtastic’s apps’ functions to wearables was both an opportunity and a challenge. It was a challenge because fitness tracking in general, and increasingly wearable fitness tracking as well, is a competitive market. A lot of our competitors already had similar products on the market.
It was an opportunity because Runtastic’s approach to health and fitness is very holistic. We want to provide our users with an entire ecosystem that will serve all the users’ wants and needs when it comes to living a healthier lifestyle. For that reason, introducing a wearable that integrates with our apps and our whole ecosystem was a natural step for us.
At Runtastic, we never want users to feel bound to our ecosystem because they’ve been tracking their data with us for so many weeks, months, or years. If they notice something lacking in us, we want to anticipate that gap in our ecosystem and fill it quickly, to ensure that people’s needs are being met.
Could you describe the process of developing the wearable device?
The Orbit was released on either the last day of July or the first day of August last year, in 2014, so about 13 months ago.
Many people were involved in the development process. We had a roadmap and a tentative deadline, but as with most projects, and especially with wearable hardware, there were many iterations of the prototype.
What the process essentially looks like is, the software and hardware developers will work on their products. As we develop prototypes, we test the software and hardware not only to make sure that the products are stable on their own but also to make sure the software and hardware integrate and work flawlessly.
One anecdote I can share regarding the Runtastic Orbit is our debate over whether to include over-the-air update capabilities in the firmware. This was a last minute stressor that forced us to question what’s more important – a deadline, cost, or the end user experience.
For many of the wearables on the market today, when a person purchases the wearable, it will stay the same for the product’s entire life, from a hardware and technology standpoint. Even if updates are released down the road that could make the wearable better, many of the existing products are put on the market in a way that doesn’t allow for these ongoing hardware updates. It is less expensive to release products in this way.
With Runtastic, we were faced with this decision about two months before the hardware product’s launch date. We realized that for a certain price and a little extra time on the development side, we could integrate over-the-air update capabilities into our firmware, in the hardware product. We opted to do this because we wanted our end user to have the best experience possible.
The decision means that in two weeks, months, or years after the launch date, as we improve our product, a user can update the device by clicking a button on the compatible app.
In-house v. External Development
We develop software exclusively in-house. We have unique development teams for the different platforms, and they are always working to create new apps and products, as well as maintain and optimize the existing products.
Most of our hardware conceptualization and development is done in-house as well. We partnered with a local hardware company in Linz, Austria that has been in the watch and timekeeping business for many decades. We bring knowledge of the software side to the table, and they bring their expertise and knowledge of the hardware side.
Duration and Timeline
Our timeline spanned roughly 12 to 18 months.
What are the benefits of having an in-house, as opposed to an external, development team?
Because we develop our products in-house – from hardware devices, like our wearable, to t-shirts for running – we can control the development process. Any time we do something hardware-related, or really any tangible product, where we have to work with third parties and outside partners, it can become more complicated to maintain deadlines. We find that by ourselves, developing everything in-house, we are faster and more agile.
What was your marketing strategy surrounding the release of the Orbit?
In marketing our project, our goal was to do two things.
Address Current User Base - One was to address our current Runtastic user base, by encouraging them to purchase the Orbit and use it as a way not only to track their sport and fitness activities but also to track ever minute of their day, so as to increase their knowledge and awareness of how they live. Once you become aware of what you do on a daily basis, you can identify habits to change and improve.
Brand The Orbit For New Audience - The second arm of our marketing and PR efforts aimed to portray the Orbit as a lifestyle product to be used as a companion during every moment of the day.
We didn’t want to limit the Orbit’s use to sports and fitness activities only. We wanted to attract a whole new segment of the population that wasn’t drawn to us as a company at first because it thought, ‘I’m not fit enough to download these fitness-focused apps,’ or ‘I’m not the person who goes to the gym or makes time to run.’
We believe the Orbit was our first chance to get in front of everyday people, who want to live a little bit healthier but don’t know how to measure how the health of their current lifestyle.
Appeal To Lifestyle In Retail Market - On the retail side of things, the Orbit was a new opportunity for us. In the past, we often only were listed by retailers and electronic stores with dedicated sports and fitness sections. Before the Orbit’s release, they looked at Runtastic’s products and thought, ‘Hmm, you’re a little too targeted. You’re not general enough to be placed in the lifestyle section of our store.’
The Orbit got us in front of new audiences. It physically got us in new locations.
What challenges did you face during the project’s rollout, and what steps did you take to overcome these challenges?
Speaking in generalities, I think one of the biggest challenges occurs any time we launch a product that involves both a hardware and software component. It’s much more complicated.
At Runtastic, a project that includes both hardware and software components is a single project because we do our development work in-house. But, in reality, you’re simultaneously working on two projects that are dependent on one another. There can be a lot of complexities involved when it comes to timing and troubleshooting.
Hardware is a great complement to software products. I think it’s a necessity for people who are trying to become influential and meaningful players in our market space, but it definitely can be more complex and challenging than if you just stick to the software side of things.
In what ways did your initial conceptualization of the product change throughout the development process?
The more we worked on developing a hardware product, the more we realized it was really important for us to try and make it as personalized and customizable as possible. This meant adding in little features, either physical, tangible ones on the wearable device, or more software focused ones on the app, throughout the development process.
We recognized that our market space is very competitive, and we felt that our competitor’s products lacked customizability. This is why we tried to focus on enabling our users to personalize their experience. For example, the tracking device is completely separate from the wristband, and the users can choose and change the wristband color to match their style, outfit, and activity.
We tried to think of what was lacking in the market space and how we could serve our users and potential users as best as possible.
Could you share any statistics, metrics, or feedback that might demonstrate the application’s performance?
We have been satisfied with how these products have performed, especially here in Europe.
What we really want to do and what is our top priority for the end of this year and into 2016, is to continue to improve the Runtastic Me app. This is the app that we want to become synonymous with Runtastic. We want it to become the dashboard for people’s data, no matter what product or app they use to collect the data.
Simply by improving the software and that app, I am confident that it will boost the number of app downloads and wearable product purchases.
Right now, the Me app is still in its infancy, but we have high hopes for its future in 2016.
What lessons did you learn, and where are you going next?
Be Realistic About Planning – When you’re a company rooted in software and trying to become a bigger player on the hardware side, always be realistic about planning. When you create your internal roadmap, don’t underestimate what it means to work with outside partners and rely on other people. You want to set yourself up for success when it comes to timelines.
It was an important lesson for us – not to be overly aggressive or optimistic with the timing – because otherwise you can put yourself in a situation that’s stressful and unrealistic for your employees. We think it’s important for our employees to challenge themselves but in a realistic manner, so that no one feels unhappy or dissatisfied.
Access To Product In Multiple Languages – At Runtastic, translating our product into as many as 18 languages has always been a top priority for us. This is something we did with the Runtastic Me app, and we plan to continue the practice for all our software and hardware products.
Because we already have a large user base, they came to expect this level of localization from us. I believe that, had we not continued this practice with our new products, not only would we be connected with fewer new consumers but also would be letting down some of our existing users.
Future of Wearables
What role do you see wearable technology playing in the next 6-12 months?
Better Lifestyle Integration - In the next six to 12 months, I think we’ll see companies around the world trying to make modifications to what we currently know as wearables, in order to ingrain them in people’s lifestyles better.
At the moment, our sense is that wearables can offer great value to people, but they’re still a novelty item; they’re a bit trendy. People use them for a few weeks or a few months, but then they get sick of charging it, forget to put it on for a few days, and finally just stop putting it on at all. The habit-forming nature of the product is not necessarily there quite yet.
In the next six to 12 months, I don’t know if we’ll see a huge dynamic or disruptive shift. I think it will just continue to be an evolution.
Vast Potential - At Runtastic, when we think more long-term, over the next three to five years, we talk very openly with the media and the public about how we will probably look back and laugh at the wearables we have on today. We look at cell phones or mobile phones that people had five or ten years ago and laugh at how humongous, inefficient, and ineffective they were. I think the same will be true for wearables.
Habit Formation - I believe companies, like Runtastic, will continue to experiment and find new ways to bring wearable technology into everyday items, apparel, habits, and activities. We’ll find ways to hide the technology so that people are compelled to track their activities on a 24-hour basis, day-by-day. It will become a habit rather than something people do for a week and then forget about or do for six weeks and then get bored.
In the short term, wearable technology will continue to be iterations and evolutions of current products that we’re already familiar with. But, a little farther down the road, the landscape will look completely different because the technology will allow us to do new things.
Increased Consumer Demand - I also believe that consumers will become more demanding. They won’t want awkward products.