For years we’ve been hearing that two thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, that most Americans get far less exercise than is recommended, and that physical fitness is less a question of individual self-improvement than a crisis of public health. Let’s face it: working out is a slog. Even if you’re lucky enough to afford a membership, gyms can be a hassle. And home routines with DVDs get boring—and lack feedback to keep users safe and engaged.
That’s where Wello comes in. Founded in 2011 by Ann Scott Plante and Leslie Silverglide, Wello is a system that allows personal trainers to teach either group or individual for workouts through video chat. The idea is to make fitness fun, interactive, and affordable, using a simple digital interface.
When we spoke, Plante, a former tennis player who studied at Dartmouth and met her co-founder at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, cited studies suggesting that people who work with personal trainers not only stick with workout routines for more time, but also also have more positive attitudes toward fitness. The rub, she notes, is that personal trainers are cost prohibitive.
"So how can we make the trainer more accessible for people," she asked. "How can we take what works and really bring it to people?" As soon as she and her co-founder discovered their answer, the first thing they did was test it, scheduling a workout with a personal trainer via Skype.
"Forty-five minutes later we were sweating profusely," says Plante, who says she knew they were onto something because the trainer was able to offer tips on her form and interact with her. The experience suggested it could be a tool for staying in touch with friends in remote geographies. So they set about building the product—with a video interface designed around fitness.
Here’s how Wello works: You sign up and search for either a one-on-one or group class that looks good to you (Plante is fond of yoga, Pilates, and a particular high-interval kickboxing session). One-on-one classes start at $19 for 30 minutes, and group sessions of up to five people (the maximum number the founders determined would allow the trainer to offer feedback to every participant) start at $7.50 an hour. A group can be made up of five friends around the country—Plante says its a great way to stay in touch with her former tennis pals—or just a random selection of strangers with a shared interest in the same routine.
The interface makes it easy to pay and schedule classes, and fit a workout into your busy day—whether you’re at home or at the office. And because it relieves trainers to the high rents they pay at gyms and studios (and helps them fill some potentially unused time-slots) Wello is able to keep to keep costs low. Every trainer is vetted before getting entrance into the system.
"We truly believe that it’s the future of fitness and the next wave," she says. "For me personally, I’ve always wanted to build a for-profit business that really made a big social impact, and I feel like we’re doing that every day. We’re helping people get healthy. It’s pretty cool and it makes it easy to work hard. It’s inspiring."