Fitbit may be seeking a big-name buyer

The company has brought on an investment firm to investigate options for a potential sale of its business, Reuters reports.
By Dave Muoio
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Reuters reported on Friday that Fitbit is weighing a sale of its business. While nothing is set in stone, the fitness wearables and health services company is said to have brought on investment firm Qatalyst Partners to explore its options, with the latter pushing for Alphabet or private equity firms as potential buyers.

The report pins Fitbit’s new mindset on middling smartwatch success, which the company noted during its Q2 earnings call last month. While Fitbit noted an overall year-over-year revenue increase of 5%, sales of the Versa Lite were $150 million below expectations.

“We subsequently reduced our Versa Lite sales expectations for the remainder of the year and are lowering our full-year 2019 revenue gross margin guidance," James Park, CEO of Fitbit, said at the time. "We attribute the Versa weakness to our pricing go-to-market strategy."

News that the company was exploring a sale also roused investors’ interests, yielding a minor spike in its share value.

WHY IT MATTERS

Fitbit has long been a pillar in wearable-driven digital health. While its early competitor Jawbone was unable to find long-term success (but seems to be in the midst of a revival as Jawbone Health), Fitbit began to transition away from a tracker-only business model into one driven by smartwatches as well as enterprise-level health and wellness services.

It’d be hard to call Fitbit’s push into these new areas a failure — the first Versa in particular outshone the company’s initial expectations, while its most recent numbers saw steady growth for the company’s new Fitbit Health Solutions business unit. On the other hand, Apple’s more comprehensive and increasingly healthcare focused smartwatches continue to hold the top spot among consumers, and others such as Garmin and Samsung and continuing to vie for their own slice of the market.

Regardless, the sale of one of the digital health’s largest, most prominent public companies to one of the major tech players would certainly signal a milestone within the fledgling industry.

THE LARGER TREND

Fitbit is continuing to diversify its business. Alongside the announcement of new devices, the company recently pulled back the curtain on a new subscription health services called Fitbit Premium. This data-driven health tracking program devises personalized health and wellness plans, offers “thousands” of video and audio workouts, social features and coaching within a single app.

Meanwhile, Apple made its commitment to wearable health programs even more apparent this month with the announcement that it will be launching three new Apple Watch health studies. Conducted in partnership with major healthcare and academic organizations, the upcoming studies will capture data regarding participants’ sound exposure, menstrual cycles, heart rate and physical activity.