Behold, the latest craze in fitness apps: real life coaching

By Erin Griffith , written on November 7, 2013

From The News Desk

Quantified self? That trend is so first-half-of-2013. The hot new thing for second-half-of-2013 is real life coaches.

That's because once we got ahold of that trendy data about our quantified selves, we thought, "Ok, cool.

… … …

So what?"

The answer to "So what?'" for companies is a lot of things. They could use our data to market to us, or, if they are insurance companies, to avoid us. They could identify their best potential costumers; they could know when we're due to repurchase certain items.

But for regular app-users, the idea of the "quantified self" has mostly been useful in theory. In practice, a bunch of data about the way we eat, sleep walk, and burn calories, even if its packaged in a beautiful charts and graphs, doesn't necessarily add up to a whole lot.

Fitness apps are aware that they need to answer "so what?" Rather uncreatively, they've all come up with the same solution: real-life coaching.

This makes sense as the next logical step. You gather the data about yourself, and then you hand it over to an expert who can read it, synthesize it, and spit out some relevant insights and advice based on it. Here are the apps doing real-life coaching:

Last month Fitocracy launched group coaching in the form of "online coaching groups led by expert trainers." Fitocracy argues that most trainers never interact with their clients outside of training sessions, so it's app allows for more interactivity and access.

Last month Lift, a daily motivation app that grew out of the Obvious Corp. incubator, announced that users can create "coaching plans" like "Six weeks to a half marathon," to share with each other.

In August, a Y Combinator graduate called Weilos launched in beta to connect people with weight loss coaches. "The one unique thing that we’re doing is that our coaches are people who themselves have lost weight," co-founder Ray Wu said.

In August, Retrofit, a weight loss program with $8 million in funding from DFJ, launched a Weight Loss Advisor Program for private lessons. It costs $98 a month to access a weight-loss expert. “The ability to connect with highly-trained experts online is changing the weight loss landscape,” said Retrofit CEO Jeff Hyman at the time.

And then there's Rise, a stealth mode app built by ex-Groupon VP Suneel Gupta. Rise provides "top-notch coaching made affordable" according to its AngelList profile.

Our product makes it possible for everyone to receive personalized, 1:1 coaching from a top nutrition expert. That type of attention typically costs up to $500/month, and our product brings it down to as little as $1/day. Our early results have attracted funding from top investors, including Floodgate, Cowboy Ventures, Greylock and Google Ventures.
Leah Busque, CEO of TaskRabbit, is an advisor. She says Rise is "an easy and awesome way to stay healthy during my pregnancy."

The latest to jump on the trend just launched today. Sessions graduated from the Rock Health accelerator to delivery health coaching for fitness and weight loss. The company has raised under than $1 million from SV Angel, Collaborative Fund, Twilio Fund, Joshua Kushner and Blackbird, an Australian investor.

Sessions connects its users with a pool of coaches consisting of nutritionists, personal trainers and coaches. Many of the coaches hold a "Well Coach" certification created by Weight Watchers, which requires expertise in nutrition, exercise physiology and behavioral psychology.

Sessions costs between $69 and $199 per month to join, depending on how much phone time you want with your coach. The company has accumulated hundreds of users in its eight months of beta-testing. Ninety percent of users have completed 12 week programs. Sessions co-founder Nick Crocker, who founded the music app We Are Hunted (which sold to Twitter), says that the most important things to effective health mentoring is having a coach with empathy, emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate in multiple mediums. The app has the the last one covered: Sessions users can text their coach an image of what they're eating, automatically share workout data, and then discuss it all later in a phone call.

Quantified self, meet your quantified coach.

Image via Thinkstock.