Peloton are a fascinating company. Founded in 2012, they started selling their spinning bikes in 2014. These bikes are not your usual spinning affair though, they have large touchscreen wedged on the front:
The screen is used to stream live classes to the bike. A rider can see a calendar of different classes, opt-in, and join an instructor who guides them through the different aspects of the class, such as increasing speed and resistance, and even arm exercises with the companion weights. Can’t make a class? There are a huge library of classes on-demand, including floor exercises, and even yoga.
There is little doubt that Peloton are killing it. They are valued at $ 4billion, with an IPO likely happening early next year. At $ 2000+ for a bike, they don’t come cheap, and you also need to throw in the $ 39/month subscription to access the classes and content. The price hasn’t put people off though, and they have sold over 300,000 bikes.
Interestingly, when they raised the price of the bike, they sold more. Why? I believe it is because they have married convenience with carefully crafted community and gamification.
Psychologically, competition is an important component of how we behave. It is often extrinsically motived: we become competitive because we want the reward…the prize, the new job, the recognition, or something else. There have been a number of examples where this competitive spirit has been used to harness positive outcomes such as the Orteig Prize, the Ansari X Prize, and many others.
Fitness is tough because it typically rests on intrinsic rewards: you want to feel better, lose weight, or get faster. There is no gift basket for feeling better, losing weight, or getting faster, unless you are an athlete. For the layperson, they need to be willing to invest significant effort in exercising to generate these intrinsic rewards. For many, this is a bridge too far.
To think of Peloton as an exercise equipment manufacturer is a mistake. They are a content company, and it is their library of content at is the driver of their success.
Exercise content and bikes have been around forever though. It is the integration between the bike, content, and importantly, unlocking personal and social competition that is where their secret sauce is brewed. There are five key areas in which they are doing this.
1. The ‘Tone’ and Atmosphere of a Class
This may seem an unusual one to start with, but there is a distinctive tone and cadence in a Peloton class. This tone and broader atmosphere is critical to putting elements below on the right footing.
I had never been to a spin class before. They always seemed a bit ‘silly’ to me, with a bunch of people peddling like crazy in a room with lights flashing and thundering dance music. I didn’t feel I could get on board with a gym rat yelling at me to go faster and go harder.
Peloton surprised me. There is a consistent message around “showing up” and “getting a sweat on”. The instructors don’t yell at you, they encourage you to confront your personal boundaries. They are not super-human athletic aliens, they are approachable coaches.
This results in a notable boost from when you get on the bike. You might climb on tired from your day at work, but when you get off you feel energized and proud of your work. They very successfully boost your confidence and endurance which is then reflected in the social integration. It all sets a consistent message of “I can do this”, which is a critical foundation for capitalizing on our competitive psychology.
2. Social Integration
At the core of successful competition is accomplishing goals within your peer group. Peloton simplifies this by connecting to Facebook and allowing you to connect to your friends. They also provide integration with services such as Fitbit.
Interestingly, this social fabric is weaved into the experience. You can see other riders in live classes, you can see friends in competitions, and you can browse other people’s profiles. They also have badges for shared rides.
This social integration seems still very early in Peloton’s overall journey. They started rolling out Peloton Challenges (which I will cover later), but there is so much more they can do such as forming riding groups, using the built-in camera more for in-group competitions and rides, and more. They clearly started with the base support first (connecting people) and I suspect they will build on it. As with other social networks, the key here will be segmented friends simply, a careful focus on privacy, and finding new ways to stay engaged.
3. The Leaderboard
The first notable impact of this social integration is a live leaderboard when you ride. It provides a place to see who is riding in the current class and where you stand on the leaderboard. The leaderboard is updated in real-time as you ride.
This changes the game. It provides a shared social board of information that weaves together riders from all over the world. It doesn’t just unlock our competitive spirit, but it has a tangible impact in (a) keeping you focused on the ride, (b) pushing yourself further, and (c) becoming more immersed in the class. Traditional online exercise classes suffer when people get distracted: this is significantly reduced because your competitive spirit makes you pedal faster.
The leaderboard is great, but there is still more it could go. It could make it easier to bring friends together for shared rides (so you don’t see the general public on the leaderboard), and even teams of people to compete against each other. Just imaging some cycling “playoffs” where teams can compete against each other nationally or intentionally. Peloton have the infrastructure and technology to make this happen.
In our increasingly digital world, competition and gamification often manifests in digital trophies and badges. While exercise equipment manufacturers have provided these for many years, they were rarely integrated into the core exercise experience itself. As such, the focus is on collecting these digital rewards. This collection instinct only gets us so far: at some point the novelty of the badges and trophies wears off
Similar to these other platforms, Peloton have a range of badges that can be earned. This includes cycling, running, floor workouts, and more.
Unlike other platforms, these badges are weaved more deeply into the experience, and the progression from one challenge to another is gradual. This is always tricky: you want people to feel the next badge isn’t far away, but you also want to avoid people getting badges too often, or it reduces the sense of accomplishment. Peloton gets the balance right.
Again, there is still room for improvement here. The presentation of a new badge is too understated: it just appears on your Accomplishments page. There needs to be more pazazz in how they are received, such as appearing during or at the end of a workout with a classy animation.
Similarly, for these badges to mean anything outside of intrinsic pride, they need to be tied to other opportunities. Peloton are sitting on a mountain of data. There is enormous potential to reward people for their work (e.g. performance development), match-make riders together with similar goals, and coordinate local events, incentives, and initiatives for riders. Badges are one economy for coordinating these other initiatives.
5. Peloton Challenges
A fairly recent addition at the time of writing is Peloton Challenges. The idea is simple. There is a stated challenge each month and you can see how far along you and your friends are to accomplishing it. These challenges offer multiple graduations, which keeps the challenge fresh and focused on hitting each new level.
This is very powerful. As one example, four of my friends and family and I are competing in the December challenges and it has had a notable impact on my exercise regularly and performance. The associated smack-talk between us had only fueled this further.
The tricky bridge Peloton will need to cross is baking fairness into the challenges. You will always have radically different body shapes and sizes, prior levels of athletic experience, potential injuries, and other elements to consider in these challenges. You can never get this 100% perfect, but given the mountain of data Peloton are sitting on, there could be interesting ways to use this data to make challenges as suited to the riders as possible.
Peloton have an enormous opportunity in front of them. If anyone from the company is reading this, I have one piece of advice though: stay focused on quality and let the data guide you.
Don’t make the mistake many tech companies face by adding feature after feature hoping to latch onto the next major win. Understand what your customers want, understand the scope of their desired social engagement and interaction, and design features that focus on these needs. This is not a tech product, it is a lifestyle product. It needs to have that consumer simplicity and sheen. Simplicity is key, and your audience can help to understand how the roadmap should look like. I am excited to see what is next!