Excellent post today by Malay Gandhi over at RockHealth on deconstructing the FitBit S1.  Obviously the company has “rocked it” in terms of revenue growth and brand recognition, but what is the overall impact on health and does it create lasting positive lifestyle modifications.  Gandhi makes a compelling case that the Company’s own data indicates a rapid erosion of paid customers using the device to monitor their activity levels and raises the question of whether a strong competitor, such as the Apple Watch, can bring more lasting engagement and functionality to the space.

Having looked at the space (and frankly having missed on the opportunity to invest in FitBit), I am of two minds.  Firstly, there is much room for continued innovation in the space and a very large market of fitness enthusiasts and aspirationalists that would like to be fitter and healthier providing opportunity for many new companies to enter the space and build significant revenue.  The second mind is that the gadget itself is insufficient to create lasting changes in lifestyle without addressing some of the other issues (lack of time, support, training, knowledge, etc) that enable individuals to consistently follow a new practice.  Without this, these gadgets become fitness jewelry for those who are already fit or drawer junk for those who are not.

Dion Madsen

Those that know me well, know that my favorite words are “Super”, “Great” and “Awesome”. The geek part of me is energized solving the complexity of biology and improving the delivery of care.  I learned patience, hard work and entrepreneurship growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan and teamwork in the rinks and ballfields of my hometown.  After working in Europe and then dealing with bare-knuckle politics in Saskatchewan, I migrated west to Alberta where I began to hang out with some crazy guys doing something called “the Internet” which led to me being the CFO of a publicly-traded company.  After selling the company, I crossed over to the VC side and during a meeting with a vaccine company I had the epiphany of “I can make money and help people at the same time? Awesome!” and I have been working for or financing healthcare companies ever since.

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6 Comments

  • Preet Dhaliwal

    July 23, 2015 at 2:02 am

    Good post. And good points brought up via Malay Gandhi’s analysis. Problem is that many of these ‘wearables’ aren’t very ‘wearable’. Not only are most of them unaesthetic, but they lack meaningful impact. For lasting lifestyle modifications, there needs to be some level of engagement and motivation that plays on behavioral psychology. A good piece via Medical Economics touches on the behavioral aspect of wearables: http://bit.ly/1OyDw13. There’s certainly a marketplace for products like Fitbit and others and, while it may currently seem like wishful thinking, wearables for wellness isn’t too far off. As long as breakthroughs like IBM’s recent 7 nano-meter chip help make these products smaller in scale and data algorithms evolve to better guide the user much like how a fitness trainer would, there will be a lot of opportunity in this space for growth, profits, and positive lifestyle changes … and hopefully far less drawer junk as well.

  • Amine BENMOUSSA

    August 20, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    • Preet Dhaliwal

      August 21, 2015 at 3:07 am

      Nice share. Engagement is no doubt an important long term piece.

      A recent report via Accenture suggests that nearly half of today’s digital health startups fail within 2 year of launch: http://bit.ly/1LaOTy4. A constructive tension scenario is a lot more favourable than an outright ‘bubble burst’.

  • dmadsen98

    September 17, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    I think that part of the challenge here is that the wearables are typically designed to treat one thing (fitness, sleep, meditation, etc). Once new habits are established, there is no need to continue wearing the device. On the other hand, if the user finds that the device is insufficient to create habit change, they also stop wearing the device, so either way, the device ends up in the drawer and adding features to a next generation isn’t necessarily going to cause the consumer to upgrade.

    • Preet Dhaliwal

      September 24, 2015 at 10:48 am

      Agree on single-function design focus being part of the challenge. But even with multiple function devices (ie. smartphones), next gen features and subsequent upgrades, however impractical, is how the consumer is typically conditioned. When it comes to wearables, I think a focus on aesthetics in the design is key because, after all, ‘wearables’, from a consumer perspective, are competing with every other item being worn.

      I think the tech that focuses on scaling the devices down to almost ‘invisible’ territory and utilizes the smartphones/processors to make the data useful, will be the winner here in terms of longevity. A piece via Fast Co (http://bit.ly/1xKzpcw) offers some good points on this. Then again, as David Katz puts it, how much of all this inventing is actually inventing necessity: http://bit.ly/1Vao2Y2.