Gamifying the Fitness Landscape with Jeffrey Morin
Co-Founder and CEO of Liteboxer
At the convergence of two rising trends, connected fitness, and gamification, Liteboxer is bringing a new approach to the evolving world of at-home workouts.
Recent demand for at-home fitness products has helped accelerate growth of the entire category and provided a glimpse at the power of tech-enabled solutions to democratize athletics.
While we will continue to see the model of replicating boutique workouts in-home, Liteboxer is capturing the opportunity to deliver an unparalleled experience within boxing – a fast-growing segment, with limited options to bring the high-intensity workout in home.
By combining the fundamentals of boxing with motivational cues from the world of gaming, Liteboxer’s one-of-a-kind platform offers an unbeatable sweat in an engaging package designed to shift the mood of at-home workouts from have-to to want-to.
Co-Founder and CEO Jeffrey Morin joined us to talk about the future of connected fitness, insight behind the prototyping process, and more on their mission to change the way people view fitness.
2020 accelerated the need for at-home fitness, can you share insight on the origin story of Liteboxer pre-COVID?
Jeffrey Morin: “So my co-founder, Todd Dagres was working out, doing a lot of boxing training with a trainer. He had a hurt knee, so he found that boxing was one of the best exercises he could do, but it was a pain for him to go to the gym and meet this trainer. It was a lot of traveling, work and not as convenient as doing something at home. So he tried to make a setup at home where he could replicate this. It was nowhere near close as fun as sparring with someone. So he tried adding music and other things and just wasn’t getting there.”
“He did a lot of market research to see if there was something that would meet his need and bring something more engaging, and just wasn’t available. So he reached out to me through some MIT connections and basically said, “Hey, I have this idea for an interactive boxing product. Would you like to try making it with me?” And of course I was like, “Yeah, that sounds awesome.” I’m into sports. I had been working on military robots and a bunch of different robots, 3D printers, and very complex things in the past, so adding fitness to that sounded really fun.”
“We started with really small prototypes, adding LEDs to a punching bag, syncing things up and whatnot. Very organically, it became what it is. We learned what worked and what didn’t work, but we didn’t necessarily have this idea like, “Oh, this is what Liteboxer’s going to be,” and just make it. Because of that, the needs that the hardware accomplishes to meet are all out of necessity.”
“We did it over the course of around two and a half years developing the hardware before we started showing it off and before it looked like what it is today. We actually went to a video game conference called PAX East in Boston, to see if people found it engaging and fun, and if they were willing to use it incognito. We had this booth set up and said, “This is this new boxing game, a rhythm boxing game.” All four days we had hour-long lines, people coming back and just wanted to get in the ring. As soon as we put on the gloves or they saw their score, they were so empowered to come back. And so that was really exciting to see.”
Liteboxer is bringing a new approach to at-home fitness with gamification. Through the development process, what were the learnings that informed the priorities of the final product we see today?
Jeffrey Morin: “The approach we took with Liteboxer is a little different than what typical smart fitness companies have done. Usually it’s a copy and paste from what’s in the gym. They copy something and they paste it in the home, and then they throw a screen on it. Our product focuses less on the screen and more on the actual device, and the user engaging.”
“The whole time, there’s this mind-body sync where you’re not looking at another screen. We look at screens all day. You look at your phone and your computer. And the last thing you need to do is, when you’re trying to get away from all that, look at another screen. So we do use a tablet for queuing, like, “Hey, here’s the next workout. Here’s how your stance should be.” But when you’re actually getting into it and you’re punching and you’re feeling the rhythm and you’re hearing your trainer, you’re looking at the device. So that was a really big thing for us, was creating this engagement platform.”
“And then just the sensor data that we have. We have all these four sensors, so not only are we able to measure the timing and accuracy, but we also can measure how hard you’re punching. And so we figured the more data that we can give back to the user that will inform them for future workouts they want to interact with, we pull from that to inform how we program the actual content that’s on the device, so it goes both ways.”
“There was a lot of learnings, even from the trainers. When we onboarded these superstar trainers that we have, like the Gloveworx guys and stuff, they also had some feedback like, “Hey, it feels better if we change this density of foam we have here,” or, “It would be really great to get an uppercut pad,” for example. So these are things that we listened and we learned, and through our testing, that all came into the final product.”
Let’s talk more about your background and your perspective from MIT graduate, engineer, to leading Liteboxer. How has your background helped you so far in your role as co-founder?
Jeffrey Morin: “For sure. I couldn’t imagine doing a hardware startup as a non-technical co-founder. I think we are a technology company first, and so the product is only as good as the technology, whether it’s the software or the hardware or the content.”
“I think early on I was a mechanical engineer and I worked on a bunch of bomb squad and military robots that got blown up. And so when we were building something that gets punched over and over again every day, we definitely took a lot of learnings from making something ruggedized and that wasn’t going to break.”
“Also when I was working at the 3D printer startup, Formlabs, I ended up in a lead manufacturing role, and what I was doing there was making sure that the contract manufacturers were delivering the product on time but also had quality assurance practices so that we didn’t have any issues when the end product got to the final user. So taking those learnings technically and converting them over to Liteboxer was just… It was a natural step. And even the software guys… we have a great team. But being able to talk the talk and understand what they’re up to and how they’re operating and setting priorities to make the user experience great, that definitely takes technical chops, and I’m happy to have that.”
Are there any lessons that you’ve learned along the way as a founder that you’d like to share with other entrepreneurial engineers?
Jeffrey Morin: “There are countless lessons. I think for us, we are a very quick team, and we’re still able to be nimble. We were lucky that we actually adopted the remote practices early on, so we weren’t as affected by COVID. But I think for us, we’re build fast, break fast, and learn. And this goes across even our video content. We always do a bunch of mock videos before we create the final content. And so this build fast, break fast mantra that we have has really worked well for us from both hardware and software and the content side, the three corners of our triangle. I think that’s been a really great thing, and it’s embedded within our team, and it’s part of our culture, and I think that is super important to us.”
“I always say there’s two types of people in the world, those who ship products and those who don’t. And so things might not necessarily be perfect, but we are all trying to ship. We’re not waiting for the last exact moment.”
As a founder at the forefront of a rapidly growing market in connected fitness, what are your thoughts on the current state of the landscape?
Jeffrey Morin: “I think the pendulum has definitely been accelerated to at-home fitness. And some people may go back to the gym and to classes, but I don’t think it will ever swing all the way back to where it was originally.”
“People are realizing the value of at-home fitness and how convenient it is, but also the quality of the content is something that you might not be able to get at a local gym. So when we talk to trainers, the word we use a lot is exposure. So we can have the best trainers in the world on our app. And as a user, if you were to go to your local gym, you may only be able to get someone who… I don’t know. Let’s say they’re an eight out of 10 ranking. But on our app, everyone’s a 10 out of 10, because they get so much more exposure. They can only train, let’s say, 30 people in a class at a time. When they’re on Liteboxer, they can train 30,000 people at a time. So the quality of the content takes it to another level.”
“But also just the metrics that we’re taking is also something that you might not get in the gym. Taking that and informing their habits and informing how we create the content, this cyclical cycle, where we’re just both improving both our content but also our users.”
What’s in store for the rest of 2020 for Liteboxer? And what’s your vision for this platform long term?
Jeffrey Morin: “So we are ramping up our partnerships. We have some great content that we’ve been working on that continues to come out. We have a couple new modes coming out on the app, which is pretty exciting.”
“It’s so different than anything else that’s out there, so experiencing it is everything. It’s an experiential product where unless you see it or see someone using it, it’s hard to necessarily understand. Like I said, it’s not a copy-paste of something that’s in the gym. So our goal is to really get it out there. We have a few partners where we’ll be showing it off between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Actually at Saks Fifth on Fifth Avenue, people will be able to go there. And then we’re ramping up some other in-store installations where people can see it.”
“Then, prepping for the ‘new year, new you’ rush. We have been managing inventory well so that people can get their product on time. That’s a big thing. A lot of these other companies are sold out. And we’ve had some good practices in terms of managing our inventory and making sure that we can get it to people within a week. So if you ordered a Liteboxer today, you’d get it within a week or so. So we’re pretty proud of that.”
“As far as what’s ahead, we’ve been explaining Liteboxer like it’s an engagement platform. A lot of the products coming down the line that we’re working on, they push this idea. Our goal as a company is to eliminate workout as a chore, and make it something you want to do.”
“There’s a lot of times when you have a connected fitness product, there’s this thought of like, ‘I should go workout. I should go use my bike or my rowing machine,’ or whatever you have in your house. What we’re trying to do at Liteboxer shift that to, ‘I want to go use it. I want to find the time to go use this hardware.’ Our key differentiator is that mind-body sync and creating an experience different than just consuming media on a screen.”