There's nothing like a run on a treadmill to precipitate an existential crisis: Why run on this endless track? Why chose to run in a stuffy room instead of the great outdoors?
Alex Gourley couldn't take treadmill runs anymore. "I felt like a gerbil on a wheel," he says. So he founded BitGym, a company that turns ordinary treadmill runs into scenic routes on the iPad or iPhone through the Alps, the California coast, the Grand Canyon, and other breathtaking locations. The startup is now in the final days of a Kickstarter campaign to revamp its platform.
BitGym, a member of health incubator Rock Health's first class back in 2011, has for years had interactive trail and road tour apps available for download. But they weren't ideal, according to Gourley.
"We made a racing game where you pedal faster to make the car go faster, and lean left and right to steer, and we had a partnership with a company that shoots footage [for another app]," he explains. The latter app, a trail-running game called VirtualActive, proved to be especially popular. But it had no multiplayer option, no streaming, and each video had to be purchased a la carte. The economics for both apps just didn't work out; BitGym had a quarter of a million users, but never had an engaged community paying for a subscription to its products.
So BitGym is now raising money for a new, improved trail-running app--one with 24 built-in trail tours (and a new one added every week), guided tours and classes, wireless capability for Apple TV and Chromecast, the ability to tour landscapes with friends, and more accurate movement tracking (the new platform uses the iPad and iPhone front-facing camera instead of vibrational sensing). Instead of pay-per-video downloads, BitGym plans to charge $8 per month ($5 per month for Kickstarter supporters).
Why use Kickstarter? "We're legitimately broke," says Gourley. "The subscription product has a different set of expectations and economics. We can't release a really cruddy version--we need a critical mass of people to fund development. We can go into debt and build it because we know people actually want it."
While there has been an even split in the past between BitGym's home and gym users, Gourley says that the streaming video in the latest app is best suited for home users--not every gym has fast wireless. Plus, it's a pain to bring an iPad to the gym.
BitGym's Kickstarter campaign ends on September 21st. So far, Gourley and his team have raised over $21,000 out of a $30,000 goal.