Weight Watchers is in talks to acquire virtual fitness coaching startup Wello, according to a report from TechCrunch. Wello, a Rock Health company, launched in July 2012. The company connects people to professional trainers via two-way video messaging. Users can choose a trainer or discipline that's most interesting to them.
In November 2012 they raised $1 million from Kleiner Perkins, Mohr Davidow, Aberdare Ventures and Mayo Ventures as well as Morado Ventures, S1Cubed Capital, PhilQuo Ventures and angel investors -- their only public funding raise to date.
"We are a fantastic solution for people for whom the gym does not work," Co-CEO and Co-founder Leslie Silverglide told MobiHealthNews in an interview at the time. "People who are constrained by time, don't have ability to get to gym, or don't like working out in public. It's a convenient way to work out, to not waste time, and you can do it anywhere with an Internet connection. ...What we do is the real person, real trainer, designed just for you, correcting form to make sure you are doing everything right."
In late 2012, the company had about 150 trainers on the system, and was showing a high retention rate -- they said two-thirds of people who tried a session came back, and registered users completed 5.5 sessions a month on average. Notable to the rumored Weight Watchers acquisition, the company has also added group sessions, that allow friends around the world to work out together with a Wello trainer. Group meetings are a large part of Weight Watchers' strategy: In fact the company published a study last year suggesting that in-person meetings were still a better predictor for weight loss than the use of apps or online tools.
Weight Watchers, a longtime stalwart of the weight loss industry, admitted in its 2013 second quarter earnings call that the "sudden explosion of interest in free apps and activity monitors" was hurting the company's business. However, Weight Watchers also launched a new app for its members, focused around holiday meal planning, in December 2013. Just last month, it launched a new employer program -- also mobile and web based -- for people with Type 2 diabetes.
Wello is not the first Rock Health company to be acquired, nor is it even the first fitness coaching-related Rock Health startup to be acquired. Last year, online coaching startup Sessions was acquired by MyFitnessPal, one of the "free apps and activity monitors" that apparently have Weight Watchers running scared. Sessions CEO Nick Crocker previously called out Weight Watchers in an interview with MobiHealthNews, suggesting that, though effective, it's methods might be outdated.
“We know Weight Watchers works,” he said in a statement last year. “It’s a good program, but we also know that technology is going to allow us to build something so much better. Weight loss shouldn’t require you to have to drive to a weekly meeting after work to get weighed in front of a bunch of strangers.”