MyFitnessPal likely to offer paid, Sessions-like coaching product

By Jonah Comstock
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sessionsAfter raising its first funding round ever last fall, and making its first acquisition in February, MyFitnessPal, the popular diet and fitness app, is starting to look for new revenue streams.

"Currently we’re ad-supported. The company’s boot-strapped, it’s been around for about nine years and we only raised money last year," said MyFitnessPal VP of Engineering Vijay Raghunathan at HxRefactored in Brooklyn. "Our overall goal is, we think ads are a fantastic way to get bootstrapped, but we think that we provide a lot of value to users. If you talk to somebody and say 'Hey, what would you [pay] to lose weight?', they would pay a lot of money. Our goal right now is to find the right way to charge our users, but at the same time, a lot of the core product will stay free."

MyFitnessPal raised $18 million from Kleiner Perkins last August, and subsequently used some of that funding to buy health coaching startup Sessions, which according to co-founder Nick Crocker 85 percent engagement at the time of the acquisition. Sessions itself is no more, but the Sessions team has joined MyFitnessPal's product team, and it looks like coaching will be a big part of MyFitnessPal's future revenue strategy. Crocker, now a product lead at MyFitnessPal, articulated that vision at his own HxR session.

"I have a view that the best products, the ones that ultimately work like an antibiotic, will combine multiple elements: hardware like scales and trackers, active and passive collection of data, the support of both a circle or group and a coach, an educational program, and a very clear, descriptive path to success," he said. "The products we built will engage people not just through a few weeks, but through years. These products will be smart. They’ll know more than just name, height, weight, username, and email address. They’ll adapt and bend and change as the user and user’s context changes. This will be a relationship."

myfitnesspalCrocker used the example of a texting conversation between a human coach (named Katherine) and a person trying to exercise more, and drew out many of the nuances a human brings to the equation.

"Katherine as the coach is drawing on a wide range of interactions," he said. "She’s being thoughtful about the tone, she’s compassionate, she’s precise, she’s personalized. She knows all about Tom — his family, his dog’s name, his work schedule, his exercise preferences, his tennis buddy. The more we know about the people using our products, the better we can make them. But Katherine’s doing something else — she’s worrying about her timing. When she sends the message she’s being thoughtful about whether it comes before, after, or during the activity. She’s modulating the number of messages she’s sending. She’s not predictable or robotic. If we start with the example of Katherine, and imagine all of our products with Katherine’s voice inside them, we can start to see the possibility of speaking to people in a more effective, human way."

At his session, Raghunathan suggested that same kind of data-based coaching could inform the nutrition side of MapMyFitness too.

"Our long-term goal is to be able to have people walk in a restaurant, look at a menu and take out [their] phone and MyFitnessPal will just say 'Eat this dish.' And I can just ignore the stuff on the menu that's not good for me or that I don’t want to eat," he said. "That’s kind of our holy grail application."

Asked whether MyFitnessPal would incorporate actual human coaches or just keep developing the software to mimic human coaching, Crocker said he believed there was room for both, and on a sliding fee scale. Raghunathan also said human coaching "is easy to pay for, and we think we can do it in a way that’s more cost effective than existing solutions too."

"It’s moving to a model where there will be multiple ways you can use the product," Crocker said. "There’s definitely no timeline, but I think the goal is if you’re someone who’s signed up and you want extra support, it’s in our interest to provide that to you as a company. It won’t be for everyone, but we’re exploring all the different ways we can serve people using the product."