You'll love running, even if the longest distance for you is the way to your refrigerator and back 🙂
The idea has matured for a long time and it is connected with my personal experience. I had 6 years of fintech background, during which I was coping with one caustic health problem. After I had solved it, I wondered how to apply my product management experience and, at the same time, help people avoid the same issue and live healthier and better lives.
In August, I opened miro and started swotting up on healthtech. The first insight for me was the general problem of customer retention in almost all domains: from fitness to telemedicine. There are 3 approaches to solve it:
- Person - having an external observer [a coach or a friend] is rather more helpful for keeping motivation than working on one's own.
- Money - once a user spends money on a subscription, they desire to return utility. The reverse process of earning for actions also motivates.
- Content - an endorphin-dopamine compulsion loop used in games, a motivating reward, that waits for you at the end of the process.
After I had analyzed competitors and custdeved their clients, I decided to combine content and person approaches with exchanging the last one with a character, like in the Replika app [the fact that I knew personally the coolest creators of two animated series, Max Konyshev and Zhenya Ognev, also worked in favor of this decision].
Avatar and levels
One of our main ideas is to use the character's level to display the overall stamina of the client relative to his "zero" and "peak". This is a non-trivial task that requires a large amount of objective data. In the future, we will personalize this scale for each client according to the information about the body that we can collect.
Levels are gained by overcoming a certain distance. For now, we keep them achievable for all budding runners. We want to make it easy for beginners to take up a new activity, deliver maximum endorphins at the end of a run, and encourage regularity in training [everyone who goes out for a run no matter what is a hero].
Progress in levels and story also affects the particles of the elements around the character [because they also become stronger!], as well as the background where they are located [the story doesn't stand still, and the Avatar moves with it].
Why do 61% of runners [according to Runner's World research] prefer to listen to music or podcasts while training? Because the process itself is extremely boring. It can certainly be fun, but it usually becomes a trance state and a tool to achieve the following goals:
- Increasing activity and improving wellbeing
- Purification of consciousness
- Weight loss
- Preparation for the competition
We want to reinvent the process and make it fun, for example, through searching for artifacts [which can be put on the Avatar then] in places where you may have never run. However, now we can send you to the middle of the lake, so be careful.
Also, realizing that starting to run could be a tall order for many, we have released a step counter. It makes it easier to immerse new users into the story and helps them take up an active lifestyle. This is an iPhone widget with two modes:
- Passive - automatic counting of steps and calories per day
- Active - starting a full workout for the duration of your run
The step counter integrates with Apple Health and will also change along with the equipment and progress in the story.
Despite the fact that our target audience is not professional runners, but beginners and amateurs who identify themselves as gamers, we pay special attention to analytics.
Like any other running app, we collect training data for further analysis. You can see the progress in terms of distance covered, calories burned, height gained, speed, and pace over a given period of time.
By now, the analytics is available for the past week. Each indicator is visualized through the average and the total per day, but we plan to add:
- More time filters [month, year, all time] for week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year comparisons
- More professional data [changing mean and maximum speed and pace, elevation changes over a distance, pulse, etc.]
- More graphs [for historical data and metrics during training]
Story and gamification
We draw and animate a real series with 20 episodes and 4 characters. There are currently 6 episodes available for 1 Avatar [Atreus]. New episodes are released as they are ready, but 3 new Avatars [Ellie, Delphine and Faust] will appear quite soon [their episodes are already drawn]. Each of Avatars has their own story and their own unique equipment.
According to the plot, a human and Avatar become connected. The training process is a way to help your Avatar, but no more spoilers. Episodes are opened for reaching the next level and, together with the search for artifacts, are the main endorphin-dopamine engine in a run. So now we are the first series that isn't officially friendly with the couch.
Besides the story, we created many gamification activities:
- Quests - a system of fitness and non-fitness tasks. For completing them, a user will receive a special reward and dive deeper into the app.
- Achievements - complicated fitness tasks for runners. The user can get some of the rarest artifacts for accomplishing them. One of my favorites is affiliated with walking or running together with one or more friends.
We consider creating even more, for instance:
- Routes - during the training, it will be possible to save the route in order to analyze your performance directly on this way. The route can be shared with the community if you think that everyone should enjoy the run through your favorite park. Rewards will be given for creating popular routes or opening new ones.
- Rifts - if you are a professional sprinter or stayer, and you want to see yourself in the list of top runners in the area, then this activity is planned especially for you.
- Abyss - this, like many other ideas, we will describe in the following series, but you will definitely like it.
Let me tell you a little about our journey to this point
I'm putting together a small team of 5 very cool ex-colleagues, including the author of popular animated TV series. We decided to quickly test the hypothesis through a telegram bot. In fact, this was a simple stopwatch that assigns levels to the character for the time. During that time the client had to walk or run.
Having scrapped together two hundred clients, we asked them if they felt additional motivation, and if it was interesting to watch the story. Half of them lacked certain functionality and obviously, it didn't work for them, but the other half answered "yes".
Inspired, we prepared to start development on iOS. This platform was chosen due to its simplicity, the unification of screen sizes for drawing, and more retained and paying customers in the long term.
We didn't have resources to hire full-time employees, so started to look for those who share our values and ready to join us part-time.
Simultaneously, we were opening a company, processing the necessary documents and closing a small angel round for $100k.
We faced a lot of problems, but still managed to make it in 1.5 months and had the MVP in production already on November 7th. At the same time, the functionality was extremely raw, and we did not see installations from anyone other than us and our friends.
As it turned out later, we had used ASO keys, with which we simply cannot compete organically in either fitness or gaming.
We rolled up our sleeves and made some small releases. We added artifacts on the map, learned how to work with lottie to animate characters and replace items in the inventory. It was a big pain.
By the end of the month, being still ashamed of the product, but not so much, we tried to attract traffic through Facebook Ads. Once again something went wrong. After spending several hundred dollars, we saw almost no installs.
As smart people suggested later, we used too harsh filters in geo and targeting and few creatives. While you need to do the opposite, use more flexible filters and test as many different creatives as possible.
On the first of January, I decided to post articles on Medium and Product Hunt, which brought us the first small organic installs [about 100 clients]! We also talked to a large number of founders and investors, realized the mistakes of the first marketing activities, optimized ASO and started testing Facebook once again.
At the end of January and beginning of February we posted some more articles about us on more local resources and they suddenly got super popular, thanks to what we acquired 1500 clients in a couple of days! At the same time, App Store decided to take us up to the top 16 position in "Health and Fitness" category where we stayed for 2 days in a row! That was simply unbelievable.
Also, we continued to look for new investors and applied, I assume, in each accelerator in Silicon Valley acceptable through F6S 🙂
We launched in November, but have reached our desired MVP just now. Many features are not ready yet. We are developing, planning to launch on Android, create an app for Apple Watch and make full-fledged integrations with Apple Health, Google Fit and Strava.
We are going to implement our NLP chatbot so clients will be able to talk with the characters about the lore and get personal recommendations for running. We are also thinking how Avatar can help in other healthtech activities.
I confess, if we manage to help people start doing sports, or at least move more and feel better, I will be very happy. Also, of course, we consider a subscription implementation, but it has been temporarily postponed in favor of quality, features and client base.
For cooperation, you can write me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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