🎂 Helping Build a Fitter World: How the Internet Has Transformed Personal Fitness
2020 marks Cloudflare’s 10th birthday. To celebrate this milestone, we are hosting a series of fireside chats with business and industry leaders all week long.
In this Cloudflare TV segment, Alex Dyner will host a fireside chat with Albert Lee, Co-Founder of MyFitnessPal, and Robin Thurston, Founder & CEO of Pocket Outdoor Media and former EVP, Chief Digital Officer of Under Armour.
Hi, everyone. I'm Alex Dyner. I lead the special projects team at Cloudflare. Welcome to our first fireside chat of the week.
This is Cloudflare's 10th anniversary birthday week, which we'll be celebrating all week with product announcements and fireside chats with people we admire in our industry.
I'm incredibly excited today to have with me two great entrepreneurs who have used the Internet to truly transform personal fitness over the past 10 years.
Albert Lee is the co-founder of MyFitnessPal, which is an app and website that tracks diet and exercise.
Albert and his brother, Mike, co -founded MyFitnessPal in 2005 and sold the company to Under Armour in 2015.
MyFitnessPal today has over 19 million monthly active users, making it the second most popular health and fitness app in the world, behind only Fitbit.
Robin Thurston is the co-founder of MapMyFitness, an app that tracks gym workouts, runs another exercise routine so that athletes know their distance, calorie burns, elevation, and other data.
Robin founded the company in 2007 and also sold the business to Under Armour, where he became the chief digital officer and subsequently led the acquisition of MyFitnessPal, where he and Albert met.
Robin's now the CEO of Pocket Outdoor Media, the world's leading creator of active lifestyle content.
And like I said, I'm super excited to have you guys both here with us today.
And so I thought I'd start at 80,000 feet by asking both of you just two simple questions.
The first, what has surprised you most over the past 10 years about how the Internet has transformed personal fitness?
And second, what are your predictions for how the Internet will again transform personal fitness over the next 10 years?
So Albert, maybe we'll start with you. Well, thanks for having me, Alex.
I'm really excited to be here. It's good to see Robin. And that's an interesting question to start with.
You know, I thought about this a little bit and I realized that, you know, like many things, it's like I have to put myself in the frame of mind of like what was going on in 2010 to think about what would surprise me now.
And frankly, I think at that point, I wouldn't have believed how pervasive digital products and services really are in the realm of health and wellness and health care.
So you know, if I had to think to myself, like how many people would be using them, I imagine, you know, I wouldn't have said the majority of people out here are using these kind of tools in their everyday life.
And that's really the case today. I think if you think about meditation, if you think about diet, if you think about activity, you think about fitness, you know, it's more than likely that the people who are watching this video are using some tool to aspect to impact one of those aspects of their health.
I think one thing that I kind of realized that I was surprised about, and maybe maybe in a negative way was just given how much data has really been accumulating, you know, over the last 15 years in this in this realm, I think we I would frankly say that, you know, I think we're still a little bit light in terms of the real actionable insight that we can provide to people today.
Certainly, we're making a lot of progress there, which is pretty exciting.
But, you know, I think I would have expected at this point, you know, after so much time, and so much data had sort of been logged, that there would be more things that we could really tell people on an everyday basis.
And unfortunately, that's not quite the case yet.
But if I kind of think about, you know, where we go from here, I think that really dovetails in the sense that I think, you know, the kind of tools that we have to obviously examine and understand that data, the amount of research that's happening around that data is inevitably going to lead to, you know, a pretty big transformation in that respect for the next 10 years, you know, I think you're going to get stuff that is much more proactive than what you get today.
Even if you look at something like whoop, or aura, you're starting to see how valuable that can be when you have a product that's saying, hey, listen, you know, based off of what we see, these are the types of actions you should take today in terms of how you want to train or how you want to recover.
And so it's pretty simple stuff. But I think that's, that's going to be much more pervasive in the future.
The other thing that I think is a pretty interesting trend that I've just seen lately, and maybe this is, you know, kind of, you know, goes alongside what's happening with everything else, where, you know, there's so much kind of remote learning, there's remote coordination amongst teams and companies.
And you're obviously seeing a lot more remote training.
That's something that, you know, has certainly been talked about for many years, but now is, you know, I think a reality in many households.
And I think what's interesting about that is not the fact that you can sort of have a fitness experience over Zoom, but really that as these cameras improve, and the technology improves behind them, you're going to be able to do things like really assess people's mobility, their motion, you're going to be able to really, you know, for a trainer, I think that's the one piece that you really lose when you start to try to train someone remotely is just helping them understand like, is my form good?
Am I doing this right? Do I have some aspect of my body that is not working properly, that is what inevitably would impede my ability to be successful with training.
And so now you see these cameras are so good that you can actually detect movement in a really fine grained way, and provide automated feedback, which I think has utility around fitness, but certainly in a lot of areas as well.
So those are just a couple of things that I feel like are definitely going to be much bigger, if you think 10 years out, versus today.
A whole bunch of questions popped into my head that I wanted to ask you about.
But before we do that, I was going to ask Robin the same question, what surprised you most over the past 10 years?
And what are your projections for the next 10?
Well, one of the things that hasn't changed a lot, which, you know, I sort of remind people about is that, you know, the great thing about fitness is that you still have to put in the hard work, like no matter what the tools, utilities, things around is, you still have to go out there and sweat and burn the calories and, you know, put in the elbow grease, so to speak.
So that has not changed. You know, when we started Matt, My Fitness, we would do these surveys that would ask people, like, how are you tracking your fitness?
Like, what are the things that you're doing?
And at that time, I mean, and I've been I've been riding my bike for more than 40 years.
And we used to document everything in like journals, like written down like daily, what's my weight?
What's my, you know, and so to many, you know, sort of respect that these technologies essentially have provided and reduced a lot of friction to getting the data in the system.
So to Albert's point, my view of the sort of first and second inning of this, which frankly, has been about 15 years now, is that we've been sort of moving through that path.
How do you reduce all the friction to get to allow this data to be in the system?
Super easy, right?
Whether that's devices, whether that's the way you track it with GPS, whether that's food logging, and putting the right food at the top of the food log, so the person can pick it easily or storing that on an ongoing basis, or, you know, photo recognition, things, things like that that are working.
So I think in some ways, I'm, I'm pleasantly surprised that we are at a point now where, you know, the percentage of people that are logging things in a journal is down, I would say less than probably 10% of the population that is out there doing these things.
So that that to me is a relatively rat, it doesn't feel like it probably from Albert and I's perspective, because of how long we've been in it, but it's actually a pretty rapid acceleration of getting the data in the cloud easily.
So that that part, I think, is probably the biggest leap that we've made.
And the product experiences or have, frankly, I'm really encouraged by how seamless the product experience have gotten.
I mean, I think, I mean, I joke, if you saw the pictures of my fitness pal and Matt, my fitness in the early days, you'd be like, well, that's not winning any Apple Awards.
I mean, they were horrible. The interfaces were terrible.
To be clear, we didn't win any Apple Awards. Fair enough. You know, so I'm encouraged with how design aesthetics, UX, all of these things are really making it a lot easier for people to use these things.
And the devices like even set up out of the box, like, you know, the quote, unboxing of these hardware products is just so easy now, compared to like, my old Garmin 305 that I had, you know, pre Matt, my fitness starting, you know, like, oh, my gosh, the setup was like, you felt like you were going to launch the shuttle, you know, to get the thing going.
So I do think we're it's I would say that it is very early to in the cycle, in my view of what's happening here.
And I do I do think to Albert's point, the things that are going to happen in the next 10 years, probably because now we actually have the data in one place are going to probably blow everyone's mind in terms of whether it's prediction of what you should do next, or which route you should take, or what at home workout might be the best for that day based on your fatigue levels, or what's your aura data says from your sleep cycle, or your Fitbit says from your sleep cycle.
And so I do think there's going to be some really interesting things around, you know, certainly personal training, you know, again, rapid recognition of what you should do next, based on everything from measuring your sweat to, you know, measuring, you know, your heart rate to all of these sort of different variables that are coming in.
But I guess for me that I still go back to the fundamentals of that you still have to do the work and, and, and, you know, sort of get the reward from that.
And what I mean by that is that you, there is such like, everybody knows that that moment when you finish, whether it doesn't matter if it's a three mile run or a marathon, that moment that you have right after that is somewhat life changing.
You know, we say here at pocket that a like a ride, a run, a hike, a skiing day can change your life, the day in the world, right?
Because that it does have a very big influence on our moods and our attitude.
So I think when I think about the future, I do think this link between physical fitness and mental fitness is going to be something that is going to be transformational.
I think that those things combined and the physical is what you're eating, how you're sleeping, you know, the workout that you do, and the ultimate is the residual mental benefit of that.
And I do think that is going to be the biggest thing for people as we move through this next tenure phase.
Yeah, you had a really interesting anecdote, I thought when we're doing our prep call, and you were you were 10 or 15 minutes late to our to our prep call.
And you you came in and you said, Oh, I'm really sorry about that.
I just got off the phone with Lance Armstrong where I don't know if you're working together with him on this, this, this product or business where it's a ring, you mentioned, or that the track the track, you know, all sorts of different.
Yeah, to tell talk a bit about about that. And also your personal experience with it, how it kind of linked sleep data and fitness data and whatnot.
It really brought it to life, at least for me.
Yeah, there was a lot. So so aura is a ring based tracker goes on your hand, pick any finger, the data is, in my view, very, very accurate because of where it is on the body.
The other thing is it recharges and less than 30 minutes and lasts for seven or eight days.
So you can get all that data with a very, very short, you know, sort of update in terms of like the battery life.
And for me, the way that I'm using it specifically is yes, like a Fitbit or like other products in the market on the sleep data.
It's looking at your sleep data, like how long were you in deep sleep?
How long were you in REM, etc. In addition to that, it's looking at things like heart rate variability to really understand like how recovered are you, as well as a number of other metrics like your core body temperature is another one like most people like a good reason that that aura one the relationship with the MBA is because they did a study with UCSF that showed they could predict COVID three days before its onset, before the symptom onset, right?
So core body temperature is a really big part about how you're recovering, how you feel.
So the way that I'm using it is that there is essentially in the app every day, there's a readiness score.
And that readiness score, historically, there were a lot of other ways people were doing this.
They might look at just heart rate variability, or they might look at other data points to suggest, you know, historical training to suggest what training you should do today.
But for me, those things never really worked.
And so this one that combines it all, and you looking at that score every day, I'm essentially using it for my own training, like I'm looking and saying, Okay, if my readiness score is below 60, you know what, maybe I shouldn't work out or maybe I shouldn't work out very hard at all.
If it's between 60 and 70, or 75. I'm like, well, I can, I'll go out and do a ride, but maybe not that super hard.
And if it's above 75, you know, I'm going out there longer, harder, you know, and if it's above 90, like, I'm like, Oh, all gloves are off, like, I'm going as hard as I can.
So I do think these things are, again, to Albert's point are in their early stages, but they're going to change fundamentally how people decide what activities they're going to do and how hard those workouts are.
Yeah. And Albert, with MyFitnessPal, you've linked, you linked the app very closely, not only to exercise, but also to diet.
Talk about that a bit.
And then also how you see Under Armour on the product and business now, but also talk a little bit about how you see it developing.
Sure. Specifically. Yeah.
Yeah. I mean, I think it's funny where this started was actually at a trainer.
You know, my brother had gone to see a trainer in 2005 or maybe even 2004, because he was getting married and he was going to have this beach wedding.
And he was like, you know, like everybody's like, man, you know, I gotta, I gotta trim down a few pounds before this wedding hits.
And so he went to see this trainer and the trainer said, Hey, listen, man, it's really great that you're here.
I think it's important, obviously, that you get enough exercise and you work out.
But if you really want to see some gains in terms of weight loss during this time period, you know, you're going to have to manage your nutrition as well.
And that's kind of the first time I think my brother had even been exposed to the idea of like, thinking about keeping a food journal or anything like that.
And the guy handed him a paper food journal, like a little paper diary with a reference guide, like a physical reference guide that he was like, hey, just carry this everywhere you go, and write down what you eat and try to manage it within these goals.
And you'll be all good.
And you know, of course, my brother was like, dude, I mean, even in 2005, that seemed kind of ludicrous, right?
There has to be software, some kind of solution that you could use to manage this process.
And when he went back home, and he kind of looked around, he realized that there were actually quite a few sort of websites and other pieces of like downloadable software that you could use, but none of them really worked the way that he expected them to do.
And that was kind of, you know, sort of the humble origin of the company is, you know, he just felt like this is something I think I can build, I'm just going to build my own and see what happens.
And that's how our business got started in 2005. And you know, what, what is kind of like the foundation of this process and this product is that it's actually hard to know for many people, right?
Like, you know, to sort of subjectively try to figure out like, well, how much am I eating?
Am I eating too much?
Am I eating too little? Am I eating the right things? And so keeping a food journal can give you a lot of insight into the things that you actually eat and how they impact stuff like how many calories you're consuming, how much fat, much protein, how much carbohydrates, but the process is just, you know, unfortunately, very tedious.
And so the real trick of all this is to think about how can technology, how can tools, how can the Internet, how can data really reduce the friction involved in this process?
And that's the kind of stuff like Robin's talking about with Aura.
It's like, if I don't have to charge this thing every month, then, you know, or every, you know, eight or nine days, and that just reduces the amount of effort required to use it.
So in MyFitnessPal terms, reducing the amount of effort is making sure that when you go to log something that you ate, that we actually have the nutritional information in our database.
Right? If we don't, that means you have to hand enter yourself.
And if you have to do that lots and lots of times, all of a sudden, it becomes this kind of cumbersome and tedious process.
So one of the first things that we did is we built this, you know, somewhat complex system to crowdsource data, meaning that if you, Alex Deiner, put a food in our system, you could basically share that with the rest of the community.
And now, you know, if I or Robin are logging that same food in the future, we're using the information that you input.
You know, and you do that at small scale, you start to see some growth.
When you do that at large scale, you end up with, you know, the world's largest database of nutritional information by a mile.
And so it's that kind of process of like rigorously going through, finding all these little frictions that are impeding your customers from doing this basic activity that you know really works, that we just spent years and years on.
And so, you know, frankly, I think, you know, I'd love to say that the product has changed immensely.
It has in some ways over the last 15 years. But in some ways, I think we're still, you know, to what Robin and I were saying earlier, kind of in these early innings where we're still kind of focused on this process that's very reflective.
You go, you log what you eat, you look at it, you examine that, and hopefully by, based off of that examination, you may make a different, healthier choice in the future.
The reality of what we want to be able to deliver to you is, hey, what is the thing that I should eat for my next meal?
Just tell me what to eat.
And that thing has to meet a whole bunch of different criteria, right?
It has to be healthy. It has to be something that like I'll enjoy eating. It has to be something that I'm literally in the mood for.
It has to be something that is accessible to me at that time, right?
Maybe it has to fit the time frame that I have.
So there's all these different factors that are required to deliver that well.
But I think the aspiration for all of us with regards to that is like we should be making that dead simple.
We should literally be giving you the food if we can.
Like how do we like deliver that to your doorstep? And so when I think about where we are and what the future is in terms of nutrition, it's going to be having this really highly personalized capability to get people the things that they should be eating.
And more importantly, have it be satisfying enough that they want to continue to do that over a long period of time.
Are there barriers right now that prevent that from happening?
I would say, as I hear you talking, sort of the default that comes into my mind is AI machine learning.
You hear those terms so often thrown around.
I mean, what will it take for what you just described to become a reality?
Well, I think what I was alluding to at the end is really like the personalization of this matters so much.
So like if the measurement of success is not, hey, can I deliver you a recommendation that you like?
But more, can I deliver you a recommendation that you actually follow?
So like if I'm going to tell you 30 things to eat this week, if you only eat three of them, that's not really success, even if you think it's helping you, right?
The question is, can I give you 30 that you will eat?
And so what that means is the amount of scenarios and circumstances, the amount that we need to know and understand about you as an individual to be able to deliver something that is that valuable on that consistent of a basis, like that bar is really high.
And so I think the challenge, you know, whether it's machine learning or AI, I mean, there's certainly like, do we have the data?
I think we're getting closer to the point where we have a lot of data on people.
If you've been logging with my fitness pal, like we have a lot of data on like what you want to be eating.
But can we then turn that around into an actionable recommendation that, you know, once again, really understands your context like, yeah, it's going to be pretty challenging to do and to do at scale.
And so I certainly think that's like, you know, not something that's like a trivial thing that can be overcome in the short term.
It's interesting. I mean, Robin, it sounds like one thing that strikes me is you're both speaking a similar game.
You're talking about a similar story about bringing data together, connecting it, providing actionable insights for people.
I mean, Robin, it sounds like at some level, because, you know, on the fitness side, on the exercise side, there's a lot less people maybe have to do proactively.
It may be a little bit easier on that side to make progress here.
Is that fair? I think it will be faster on, you know, to our point.
We used to talk about this all the time when we were together. It's like the most basic thing, like if somebody had five years worth of data in my fitness pal or MapMy, we would send out these surveys and they'd be like, I just want you to tell me what to eat tomorrow or which workout to do.
They were like, I don't want to know what to do a week from now.
Like, I literally just want to wake up in the morning and have a push notification from you that says, you know, Alex, you should go out and do this workout.
And in order to do that workout, well, these are the things you should eat.
Right. And we couldn't deliver on that. I do think it's a little bit easier in fitness because in many respects, there's less variables.
I mean, you know, actually our old CFO at Under Armour, Brad Dickerson, ran Blue Apron for a while.
And, you know, like a lot of people bail out of food delivery because they get bored with it or the meals aren't diverse enough or, you know, it doesn't fit a specific thing that they're doing, whether it's an event or whether it's, you know, the family situation or whatever it is.
And I do think the food problem and preferences is a very, very challenging one.
There are certainly people out there that eat the same things every day and eat the same breakfast over and over.
But a lot of us like diversity. And fitness has, I guess I'd say, a similar problem in that people do get bored.
They get, it is essentially somewhat cyclical in terms of, you know, you might go do yoga for a while and then you're going to go run and that type of thing.
So in some ways, it's a similar challenge and that if you just tell me to do the same thing in the same category every day that maybe I get bored and then I don't follow that instruction anymore.
But I think the variables are a little bit more straightforward than say food preference and the amount of things that go into that.
Whereas like your workout, if you're, if I tell you to go do a three and a half mile run, you can pretty much do that whether you're on the road, not on the road.
Whereas like food, I mean, if I'm an airport and you tell me I got to eat broccoli, I mean, good luck, right?
I mean, that's much harder to do.
Yeah. It's super interesting. And then you were, you were at Under Armour first, Robin, through the acquisition of your company.
What was the logic there?
Because it's an interesting story how Under Armour did a few acquisitions.
There must have been a vision or rationale there to bring these pieces together.
Tell us a bit about that. Yeah. So we, right after, Matt, my fitness was acquired, you know, we really started this sort of deep integration into e-comm and we were starting to do, you know, small things that we thought were really beneficial for users.
Like if you, Alex, were a runner and you ran, you know, 40 miles or 50 miles in a week, we would send you a discount code for something at Under Armour.com.
And so that seemed like a really natural fit, almost these micro transactions or incentives to get you to want more gear.
As you work out more, it's a sort of natural cycle that you're going to need more gear, right?
So how do we get you to work out more?
How do we get you to buy more gear? I thought all that was very authentic in terms of we weren't, you know, there wasn't anything about the data or the usage of data that wasn't clear to the user.
But as we started thinking about like, well, what are the pieces of puzzle that you have to understand?
So like this whole like single view of the athlete or the active lifestyle person, you know, there were some things that we were missing.
We didn't have a sleep tracker. So we got into hardware and build hardware with our own device or connected to other third party devices.
We really needed to understand motion in general. So like even things like steps.
And so we were integrating with a lot of different providers around that.
But one of the biggest missing components was, you know, certainly food and nutrition, because the net calories are really what's important, whether that's for weight loss, or feeling better, or what type of activity like you really need to understand the caloric intake.
And so, you know, we put together this strategy, we're like, okay, well, in the in what we called connected fitness, what were the sort of number one players in each one of those categories?
And are we going to build them?
Are we going to, you know, I can tell a quick funny story about, you know, my fitness pal, I mean, obviously, I knew Mike and Albert from the industry, we saw each other at conferences and things like that.
But we had kind of gotten in this process of talking to them about potentially acquiring my fitness pal.
And, you know, I was telling you guys on the on the call, there's this one, you know, sort of moment where, you know, Kevin Plank calls me on Christmas Eve at, you know, midnight.
For me, I was in Austin.
So it was like 2am in Baltimore. And he's like, are we going to do this? Like, what do we have to do to be number one?
And I just was like, if you want to be number one in the category, like we have to go be partners with Mike and Albert, like there's they are the biggest base of users.
We also were chasing after the women's category in terms of like, trying to build a business to compete with Lululemon.
And so that audience was, you know, really targeted to that. So it was it was really a perfect fit.
And frankly, you know, just the relationship that we quickly built with Mike and Albert, like it was very synergistic.
I thought we really put together a good roadmap of building out and continuing the path forward.
You know, my guess is and I'll let Albert comment on this too. But like, I think in some ways, we we both left because maybe we weren't progressing as fast as we wanted to progress along the things that Albert said, in terms of getting to that future state, but I but it was Under Armour's goal to sort of build out the whole wheel to get the full picture on the athlete or the active lifestyle participants so that we could eventually do exactly what, you know, Albert or myself has been talking about.
Makes sense. Albert, you want to? What was your perspective on it?
I think there were so Robin touched on a lot of things, but there were other aspects of digital for Under Armour that were really important.
Like so for example, when we got to Under Armour, the amount of business that the company was doing direct to consumer versus through distribution channels was very small, right?
So in a way, like if you kind of think about Under Armour, five, six years ago, their relationship with a customer in some ways is very thin, right?
You go to Dick's Sporting Goods, and you buy an Under Armour product, like what does Under Armour know about you?
What is their capability to communicate with you to talk to you?
So to acquire and integrate a community of, you know, hundreds of millions of people, and all of a sudden have access to these channels to be able to at least have some conversation with customers is really powerful.
So that was definitely a big piece, you know, and it's not necessarily even to sell, it's really to learn from them, right?
What it is that they're doing, what are their habits, what are the things that we can do as a company to assist them to make their life and fitness better and easier?
There was a lot of thinking about the future of physical products, right?
Should they have technology in them? We actually built a shoe that has a sensor in it.
It's absolutely amazing. It helps you think about how to run more effectively.
And that kind of stuff is like, it's inevitable.
So having the capability to work on that was really fun, really, and I think really critical for the company for a long period of time.
Great. So we have 45 seconds left.
What is the one thing 10 years from now that is going to come out of this industry that people are just going to not believe could possibly have come out of this industry?
Albert? Oh boy, I don't know what that is. I think the one thing that is underestimated that has a lot of power is the ability for people to work together.
I don't think that has been harnessed nearly enough. Leader boards and all this stuff are pretty cool, news feeds, but that's not the way that people want to do health and wellness together.
So that's going to get better. Okay. Well, we'll leave it at that.
Thank you both so very much for spending the time with us.