While many fitness studios have incorporated technology in basic ways such as online sign-ups, advertising and communication, Flywheel is one of the first to use technology and the Internet of Things as a key competitive advantage.
Turning up the torque – Flywheel’s business model
According the Harvard Business Review, “smart, connected products have three core elements: physical components, smart components, and connectivity components.” Flywheel is the first spin studio to integrate both the smart and connectivity components with the central physical component required in a spin studio: the bike.
In fact, Flywheel’s incorporation of smart and connectivity is at the heart of its business model – its customer value proposition – and is primarily what sets it apart from its fierce rival, SoulCycle. According to Business Insider, and evident based on personal conversations, “There are two kinds of people in New York City: Those who go to SoulCycle and those who go to Flywheel.”
Since opening in 2010, Flywheel has opened in 18 geographic areas and will operate 40 studios by the end of the year. Comparatively, SoulCycle, founded in 2006, currently operates 62 studios.
Where the rubber (metaphorically) meets the road – Flywheel’s operating model
The “smart” component at Flywheel is the proprietary “tech-pack” which is a device that connects to the bike and allows riders to control resistance (torque) and accurately view their own work effort based on resistance, cadence (RPMs -revolutions per minute), time, and an overall power output. At Soul Cycle, the bike has a manual resistance knob. Flywheel “believed that incorporating performance tracking technology…would provide a more rewarding workout.”
The connectivity, and most unique aspect, is the link from the “tech-pack” to the “Torqboard” as well as the Flywheel website and app. Riders can opt in to have their overall performance displayed during class on a large screen called the “TorqBoard.” The display shows only the highest preforming riders in the class in rank order and encourages competition. Regardless of whether or not a rider opts in to be displayed on the Torqboard, each rider has access to a record of his/her performance via Flywheel’s website and iphone app. The online platform allows users to set individual goals and to view customized reports on his/her progress.
While Flywheel and the Troqboard concept in particular will not appeal to everyone, I think the company has succeeded in looking beyond the technologies themselves and instead, as Michael Porter and James Heppleman suggest, looking to the “competitive transformation taking place.”
Never coast – a look forward
The competition between Flywheel and SoulCycle is real. Not to mention, many other boutique spin and fitness studios like Orange Theory Fitness, PureBarre, and Solidcore are gaining momentum. In order to stay ahead of the curve, I suggest Flywheel continue to innovate with technology.
The website and app provide valuable information, but stop there – I would urge Flywheel to keep going. The platforms have the potential to better engage clients and allow for a more interactive experience. Ideas that come to mind are additional goal-setting, playlist curation and suggestions, communication with other users exchanging tips not only on Flywheel, but lifestyle issues as well.
In addition, as technology advances and becomes more affordable, Flywheel should consider implementing additional smart components to the class experience such as heart rate monitors. Alternatively, or in conjunction, Flywheel should develop a way for the fitness aficionados who already wear a heart rate monitor to class to easily sync that data into their Flywheel profile.
To investors, the match between the Internet of Things and fitness should look a lot like dollar signs. Of course, companies have to have the right business model to make it work, but the potential is there. Let’s not forget that “wearable tech” such as smartwatches and fitbits is set to be a $16 billon market this year, stadiums are continuously investing in wifi capabilities and innovative ideas like POS systems on mobile phones, high-tech tennis rackets provide performance feedback to the player, and popular Topgolf venues provide players with microchipped golf balls that score themselves.