Koko Fitness

Discovering Baby Boomers’ Health and Fitness Issues

April 13, 2006

Koko Fitness is a new start-up company that was designed from the outside in—starting with customers’ desired outcomes. Customers’ issues drove the design of the product. Customers’ consulted on the user interface before it was built, customers beta tested the product and customers have been the new products’ biggest promoters.

Little did Mary Obana and Mike Lannon know, but when their first baby was born in 2002, so too was the genesis of their next entrepreneurial venture. Like most new parents, they both put on “baby weight.” But at age 43 (Mike) and 39 (Mary), losing it was proving to be more difficult than ever. Both were already healthy eaters and regular runners, but this time, running and diet alone weren’t cutting it. “I trained for a half marathon after the baby. Running was always the way that I’d lose weight, but my body definitely wasn’t responding to exercise like it did in my 20’s.” Mary lamented. “I knew there were a lot of people like us. Everyone our age seemed to be struggling with weight.”

About that same time, “We noticed a lot of grey hair in our health club and it got us thinking about how baby boomers will define, or re-define, the fitness industry as they enter their 50’s and 60’s,” Mary reported. “We had no preconceived notions about what kind of business we wanted to build or the kinds of products we would offer. We figured that this major lifestyle trend--80 million people growing old at once--was a golden opportunity.”

They began their customer research in the spring of 2003. “We interviewed 600 mostly middle-aged people--both men and women from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. We interviewed them individually and in groups,” Mary recalled. “We watched them in health clubs as they used the tread mills and exercise bikes, we watched them in Yoga and Pilates classes, we watched them lifting weights, and interviewed them afterwards. We even talked to personal trainers. We also talked to men and women in the same age bracket who weren’t exercising. We started very broadly, simply asking what being healthy meant to them. Then we dug deeper to see how their views today compared with their perspective when they were younger and then further still to see how they will define “healthy” when they’re in their 70’s and 80’s. We got an earful of hopes, anxieties, likes, dislikes, ideas… it was a treasure trove of information.”

Uncovering an Outcome that People Felt Passionate About

It wasn’t long before Mike and Mary began to find a common pattern. Baby boomers are the most concerned about the fact that they were going to live longer than previous generations and wanted to have a better quality of life than their parents.

What was surprising to Mike and Mary, though, was the huge interest and demand for strength training. Women over 40, in particular, knew that maintaining muscle was a key to weight loss and fighting osteoporosis. They felt guilty about not doing anything about it. And for both men and women, the problem was they felt that strength training was too time consuming and the equipment was not simple to use correctly on their own. That was the “ah ha” that Mike and Mary designed their business around.

Understanding End Customers’ Current Context and Issues

Once Mary and Mike had honed in on strength training as an unmet need, they conducted more interviews as to why, if this is something boomers felt strongly about, weren’t they doing it? Both men and women mentioned “time” as a big inhibitor. Although men felt they didn’t have enough time to work strength training into their weekly routines, they did feel that they had some control over their time. “I can get away at lunchtime if I really want to,” one busy business exec reported. “I can usually get to the gym at the end of the day,” others said. Women, on the other hand felt they actually had very little control over their time. Between work, kids, and errands, it was quite difficult for them to find the time to exercise regularly.

Women’s Issues around Strength Training. Apart from finding the time, women’s biggest issues around strength training had to do with “feeling dumb.” “I look into the weight room and there are all those complicated machines.” “I know the trainer showed me how to use them once, but I can’t remember any more.” “I don’t want to wander around feeling stupid.” These were the common refrains that women repeated over and over again.

Men’s Issues around Strength Training. Mary and Mike’s research uncovered the not surprising reality that most men felt more comfortable than women working out with weights and weight machines. They didn’t have as much trouble self-navigating the weight room, but they were concerned that “I may not be doing it the right way.” “I do the exact same routine each time. I know you’re supposed to vary what you do, but I don’t.”

Defining End Users’ Desired Outcomes and Conditions of Satisfaction

Interestingly, both men and women voiced the same goals: They wanted an easy approach to strength training--something they could do on their own in 30 minutes, three times a week. Their outcome: they wanted to feel great at the end of each 30-minute session and be able to see and feel the results of the strength training program quickly. Their conditions of satisfaction? They wanted a structured approach: “Tell me exactly what to do.” Women called it a “no brainer.” They didn’t want to think about it. Just do it and leave. Oh, and they wanted both variety to keep them engaged and a personalized program--something that would help them meet their personal goals--whether that was to keep osteoporosis at bay, improve their golf game, train for a marathon, or for overall body conditioning.

Researching the Market

While Mary Obana spent most of her time interviewing people, Mike did most of the market research. Health club membership has been on the rise in the past decade, and it’s a big market with more than 44 million members in the United States alone. “That was good,” Mike said, because, “as a start-up, we knew we weren’t going to have the luxury of time to build a retail distribution channel or the marketing budget to fund a consumer advertising campaign. Selling direct to businesses made the most sense. There are roughly 30,000 gyms in the U.S. that currently bought and maintained strength training equipment. If you add in hotel fitness rooms, workout rooms in apartments and condominiums and retirement facilities, police stations, colleges and high schools, you have close to 160,000 venues for which someone purchases fitness equipment, including strength training. It’s relatively easy to reach this market through direct selling, distributors, trade shows and other means.”

Mike Lannon also learned how many blockbuster successes there had been in the fitness equipment market, and how quickly you can tell whether your product will take off...


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