Fitness · Sports

Creating a new sports & fitness product category: A help or a hindrance?

David Lynch Firmware and Python Automation Engineer

September 17th, 2013

I tend to think really, really different.  I don't get excited about streaming this, cloud that, or app mania.  I want to invent a radically different future for sports and fitness.  The closest category that currently exists is called "exergaming" but that only touches on what I want to do, and may give people the wrong idea about my much more serious product.  Will this hurt or help my chances when approaching VC's, partners, and customers?

I understand that creating a new market is expensive and that incremental invention is easier for people to understand and accept.  But someone has to raise the bar, right?  A totally new market will have no competition (for a while) and thus a nice moat to protect the investment.   So which is better?

My problem  is that my customers (let's just narrow it to gym owners for now) don't know if it will work because all they know is what their customers (gym users) prefer TODAY.  They have no idea how gym users will react to something that no one has ever tried.  So I need to complete the prototype before I can prove that people will LOVE it.  But to do that, I will need some funding, and thus I must convince VC's who may not like my inability to get the gym owners on board.  Do you see my catch 22?

Chris Seline

September 17th, 2013

I attended an event where Scott Case (cofounder of Priceline) did a q&a, and his tale on it is this: You need to have a huge idea, but you almost never tackle it head on. You usually need to start small and make sure it plays into the larger vision. As long as you can explain how it plays into the longer term goals and it makes sense, it is exactly what a lot of investors are looking for.

Mitchell Portnoy Healthcare Information Executive

September 17th, 2013

I see your Catch-22 because I've lived it myself. In my opinion, VC's now behave as banks and insurance companies did a generation ago - they are risk adverse and seem less receptive to truly new ideas. VC's want to immediately pigeon-hole your idea so they can quickly dismiss it as something they either don't invest in or might, provided you have a positive cash flow or a gazllion eyes in your app that can be rapidly montetized. Tomorrow. Remember: They're not typically investing their money, they're investing someone else's. Angels might be a better option. They are investing their own cash, are typically more accepting of risk and may work hard to understand the nuance in your idea. But be careful when dealing with a group of angels since they often operative as if they were a VC. Mitchell Portnoy

Keenan Wyrobek CEO at Open Reading

September 17th, 2013

Here is some generic advice.

I would think about how to build a prototype on the cheap (out of pocket) that will convey the "i love it" part of your product vision in a hands on way. It will be rough around the edges but the credibility that will come from being able to let people demo that prototype will dramatically improve your ability to attract partners and investors.

How much do you think you need to build that prototype? How much of that will go into hardware vs software? If you can lay out your product vision we can talk in more detail.


Derek Bugley

September 17th, 2013

Shhhhhhhh please. Derek Bugley

Blake Garrett Founder and CEO at Aceable

September 18th, 2013

If you haven't read Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers" I'd start there as he's far more qualified than myself to give you guidance. ... and at the end of the day, as Paul Graham says, you have to build something people want... even if at first it's only early adopters that want (to pay for) it.

David Lynch Firmware and Python Automation Engineer

September 19th, 2013

@Blake:  You are the second person to recommend "Crossing the Chasm" in totally different endeavors.  Just ordered it, along with the "Innovator's Dilemma."  Thanks.

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

September 17th, 2013

I'm guessing a unique, compelling category definition is probably number 100 on your list of things to do. I doubt investors or gym owners care whether it's troglodyte monkey canoe or a distributed bluetooth gamified social exercise entertainment mesh... it's really all about the details.

An existing category is a great filter. It works for you in most cases.  However, It can work against you in a very crowded market or where that category has fallen out of favor with investors. Of course, you can always create a variant of an existing category by inserting a word in the front of the existing category.

For my current project, I feel like I have to create a new category because the more obvious category is littered with failed companies and is a strike against me. I don't see that with "exergaming" though.

Robert Clegg

September 17th, 2013

David, I pioneered the modern version of video game based learning. I have programmers and understand engagement and feedback dynamics that will sell you product.

Second, I'd hold off on pitching vc's; you don't seem to really grasp the concept of "competition". There is NEVER "no competition". Think of competition as substitute products even if inferior. 

Last, if you can't convince gym owners to buy it, even a version of it. forget it. It shows you are not able to demonstrate the value proposition to your core customers. 

David Lynch Firmware and Python Automation Engineer

September 17th, 2013

@Keenan: Most of the work is software.  The hardware is basically off the shelf with a few tweaks.  I have the software already sort of prototyped and some of the hardware cobbled together.  I could use the help of a good game programmer though to make it a little more challenging and appealing.

@Clynton: I have dreamed about the day that I share this with potential end-users to get that vital feedback, but I wasn't thinking about the personal injury liability, yikes!  I may have to search harder for a gym partner that already has the insurance to cover it.

@Chris: That is EXACTLY my strategy.  Thanks!  Now if I could just find those angels...

Clynton Caines SharePoint Developer at Discover Technologies

September 17th, 2013


I think it helps to think of it in terms of how to get there from here (via bootstrapping if possible). VCs and your "customers" won't believe it without users - and so whatever you do, you'll have to think of the marketing that's required. I have that same problem now with wazzow - built a great product, but if no one knows about it, does it really exist? Like Mitchell said, VCs are basically big banks - and I will add that many angels are like community banks... Gyms will only care about the $ - so if they've got an empty spot that you can rent, great. If not, then you'll have to pay more than the other guy (think yoga/etc classes).

If at all possible, you might want to think about bringing paying users to the activity. Think about what you need. Do you need an open studio or one filled with equipment? Regardless of what you'll need in 6-12 months, can you do something now to launch an MVP within 2? Then, I would put together the copy/Ads/word-of-mouth marketing and go find some users - preferably those willing to pay a few bucks to try it. Tell them you need $10 (from each) to rent the space. If there's one thing I know about exercise/game fanatics is that they'll try anything for the thrill/edge/whatever it is that motivates them. So figure out what that is, get some users and rent out the space. They'll come back if they find it useful - and likely spread the word on your behalf.

Don't forget about the cost of insurance btw - which could be high for something that's untried and involves new equipment. Speaking of that, if you need to invent major equipment and mega bucks to do it, then maybe you need some wealthy athlete friends... or kickstarter... or the lotto...

Good luck