RunKeeper’s Marathon Plan for Startup Success: “We’re Not in a Rush”
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In the future, Jacobs also sees an opportunity to connect with advanced sensors on all kinds of physical objects, including gym equipment, sports gear, and network-connected scales. Those sensors aren’t quite hitting the mainstream yet, but Jacobs says they will soon become much more commonplace.
“I think it’s both further away than people think, but it’s also sooner than people think,” Jacobs says. “There’s almost not a week that goes by without another eight-digit venture round for another kind of health sensor that’s smaller and lighter and cheaper and tracking more interesting data.”
However, Jacobs says RunKeeper isn’t in a huge rush to get to where it’s going—something you don’t typically hear from a lot of today’s go-go consumer tech entrepreneurs.
That’s telling, because Jacobs has years of experience working inside high-growth companies—and some recent brushes with the downside of losing focus. This spring, in a remarkable posting on its company blog, RunKeeper apologized to its users for not focusing enough on improving the app itself while working to broaden its horizons with initiatives like the API.
“We spread ourselves too thin. We had too many initiatives going on at once. And most importantly, we stopped listening to our users as much as we should be. As a result, improvement to our core product (i.e. the reason you are all here), began to suffer,” the company said.
“It wasn’t like we wronged our users. We didn’t do some big mistake,” Jacobs recalls. “We just slowly got distracted … and we took a step back, and we doubled down on focusing on making our core experience great of our users.” Those changes are reflected in the latest version of the RunKeeper app, which includes leaderboards to compete against friends and a new way of scheduling workouts ahead of time.
Through it all, RunKeeper’s ambition to expand beyond the fitness fanatics and quantified self enthusiasts—to reach those people who just want to stay off the couch—looks like it may be paying off.
Where the early user base was far more likely to be runners training for a particular distance event, the current RunKeeper crowd is more attuned to running as a piece of their overall fitness routine, Jacobs says.
“You can set a goal in RunKeeper, so it’s like, ‘What are you here to do? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to train for a marathon?’ And 50 percent of the goals that have been created since we launched that feature a few months ago are weight loss goals,” he says.
The demographics have also shifted in a positive way: “Early on, it was like 80 percent to 20 percent, men versus women,” Jacobs says. “And right now, it’s evened out significantly—so it’s more like 55-45.”
So, world domination, right around the corner? Maybe not just yet.
RunKeeper still isn’t focused on developing its business model—the startup has toyed with various free and paid options, currently opting for a free app with a premium subscription service—and has just over 30 people, more than double its size from a year ago.
Like a good distance runner, Jacobs has a couple of things in mind: A clear goal, and patience.
“Right now, luckily, we are well-capitalized. We have investors with long time horizons, who are savvy consumer investors and understand that there’s going to be a breakout consumer health platform in this category,” he says. “And this category is not running—this category is health.”
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