One of the many rumors I heard prior to the HealthKit and Apple Watch reveal was that Apple was working on a new section of its iTunes store, like the AppStore, but instead of apps the company would begin selling health and fitness coaching programs or services. That never came to pass though.
Last week, however, an app launched to do just that.
Boston-based Change Collective offered up an iOS app that offers behavior change courses ranging in price from free to $19.99. The initial launch includes five courses -- each of which runs from one to three weeks -- focused on becoming an early riser; finding work-life balance; managing bodyweight by working out; organizing your email inbox; and breathing exercise to lessen stress.
Instead of creating their own behavior change courses, Change Collective has teamed up with successful experts (who can bring their own audience) to offer courses on a wide range of issues, including health, wellness, productivity, and more. The startup hopes to scale up its five current course offerings to a catalog's worth over time -- into the hundreds or thousands of courses eventually. By leveraging Apple's in-app purchasing feature, Change Collective has created a behavior change store within an app.
"Coaching is a good analogy -- it carries a very high investment and also has very high impact, [and] on the other end of the spectrum is a [self-help] book," Change Collective Co-Founder Ben Rubin (who was also a co-founder of sleep company Zeo) explained to MobiHealthNews in an interview. "Books aren't quite 'no investment' but they also don't have much impact when compared to coaching. Ultimately, what we are trying to do is take the techniques that work for great coaches... and get 80 percent of that [impact] using our technology. We're never going to be as good as hiring the expert to work with you one-on-one, but we can be way more effective than a book and still be the price of one."
Rubin said that his team views the world as having two types of expertise: subject matter expertise and behavior change expertise. Subject matter experts may know how to help someone get to inbox zero, the benefits of a certain diet, or how to help someone with a particular relationship issue, but they may not know how to best coach someone to execute on their expertise. Behavior change experts understand things like motivation, cognitive behavior therapy, and incentives. Change Collective -- and its advisory board of behavior change experts -- brings this kind of expertise to their partnerships with subject matter experts, who often do not have behavior change expertise.
"Some of our experts have both of those," Rubin said, "but most are just great subject matter experts. We see our role as translating and working with the best of both. We have a behavior science advisory board that includes some of the best coaches and computer interface professors who, academically, are both well recognized and have worked with thousands of people as a coach. We take the best of the behavior change techniques and apply them at the right time for the right person."
The initial version of Change Collective includes a native iOS app where users can buy courses. When users register for a course they also sign a commitment contract with themselves to take one step toward their goal everyday, to try not to miss two days in a row, and to be kind to themselves if they make a mistake. Most programs also ask the user to include a sponsor's name and email, and this person gets a weekly update on the user's progress. That accountability feature is not mandatory, Rubin said. Each day the app is refreshed with a short video clip from the subject matter expert who shares some new tips or techniques along with a slightly longer explanation in text. Change Collective's primary channel, however, is text messaging.
"We send texts as the primary check-in everyday," Rubin said, "because it is a high priority alert. People notice texts."
Change Collective is targeting two very specific types of people: "health achievers" and "performance optimizers". The first group is mostly females aged 20 to 55 who think about change in a wholistic and sustainable way. The second group shifts male and may consider themselves "life hackers" who are willing to take shortcuts and prefer incremental tweaks as their route to change.
The company is curating its course list and subject matter expert partners to include some that appeal to both these groups. Over time there will be multiple coaches offering courses on similar topics.
"Over time each course will be different for each person, too," Rubin said. "We will build in more and more personalization and we see it becoming like an intelligent machine that matches the right motivation to the right person at the right time."
Rubin said that Change Collective has not yet integrated data from Apple's HealthKit, but it plans to. It also aims to be an early integrator of the Apple Watch.
"The way that I think about Apple Watch is that computing is something that used to only happen in a big room for scientific purposes. Since then it's been moving closer and closer to the person. Today you have notifications, interactions, and data in your pocket. Moving it to your wrist is actually a huge deal for a couple of reasons," he said. "First, more data. Apple Watch is only pulse rate and activity data for not, but over time that will become a really rich source of biometric data. Second, the display aspect to it -- the nature of having input-output on your wrist is just drastically different. You can notify someone subtly using haptic feedback or using a simple notification, which will be huge for behavior change."
Change Collective has a running list for the next 100 courses it wants to add. They look for subject matter experts who are noted in their space, who have the ability to tell their story in a compelling way, and who have a fairly sizable audience already.