FitTech Insider

Are you crazy when you talk about a billion connected athletes, Scott Dunlap?

Sport apps can be used for much more than just improving individual insight and motivation, says the CEO of Adidas Runtastic. He believes there is an opportunity to blend the world of gaming and the world of sport in a way that will create “a new type of sport”

Founded at an Austrian university back in 2009 “Runtastic” has become one of the world's leading companies in the digital health and fitness space. According to adidas, who bought the company in 2015 for 220 million Euros, it has more than 180 million registered users today and its apps have been downloaded 336 million times. Over the last few years “Runtastic” has been rebranded to “adidas Runtastic” and turned away from its multi-app strategy. Scott Dunlap, 52, who became General Manager at the headquarters in Pasching, Austria, in 2019 explains: “Runtastic has dozens of different apps for a bunch of different uses, but most consumers are coming in the same two areas, which are running and training. So let's consolidate into two main apps “adidas Running” and “adidas Training”, and deepen our understanding of user journeys across both commerce and sport.”

Scott, how has Runtastic changed since Adidas acquired the company in 2015?
I would say the biggest difference came in 2019, when we consolidated our user base into our two main apps for running and training, and rebranded them to more deeply embrace adidas. This really allowed us to think bigger in our scope, and how we engage that global audience around purpose and being a part of something bigger. A “challenge” or virtual race was previous a small thing. Now, with adidas, we can run a challenge like “Run For The Oceans” and make a commitment to say: for every kilometer that you walk or run, we will engage volunteers to get 10 plastic bottles from the ocean or the beach, up to 500,000 pounds. Small steps for individuals, but collectively a huge impact for the environment.

Scott Dunlap at FitTech Summit V: Tech or Die!

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Sustainability seems to be a huge focus point for you.
Yes, it is a big bet, and it is deeply important to adidas. With the commitment and reach of such a global sports brand, we can reshape the industry, and the planet. We now realize that sport apps can not only be useful individually for insight, motivation, and creating ties in a community, but also for the global impact that we can create. “Run For The Oceans” this last May was not only the biggest participatory athletic event of all time, but it became the biggest environmental movement of all time with 5 million participants. And we are now asking ourselves: how do we get to 10 or 20 million? The collective power of health and fitness, that's where adidas has been encouraging us to just go crazy with it. Build awareness, invite people to be a part of the solution, in their actions and order their consumption habits.

Consumption habits seem to be changing rapidly, particularly since the pandemic. I guess you collect a lot of data at “Runtastic”.  What is the most interesting use of data you have right now - and what was the most interesting learning from it?
Right now, what is most interesting for us is: can we get somebody to step into the practice of fitness for the first time? And can we then get him or her to stick with it by making it fun, motivating, and insightful? What I have seen is important there is this: if you can connect with a couple of friends, you actually stick with your fitness programs much more, and the same applies if you can connect to a bigger cause. What is also interesting: if you can get somebody into another sport, not just one sport but a second or third one, then people really start identifying with fitness as part of their lifestyle. And that is a important trend.

What is the next step for Runtastic?
We have set a goal to enable 1 billion connected athletes, and mobilize them individually and collectively. That means continuing to raise the bar with our global challenges. And we are realizing that the more teams we can collaborate with to make that happen, the better. So we don't necessarily need everyone to switch over to our app. If you prefer to do “Run For The Oceans” in the “Joyrun” app in China or inside of “Strava” then we are absolutely for it. What is more important is that more and more people realize they can have a direct effect on sustainability, or help endangered species, or a number of other causes. This means we will probably do more collaborations. And then, of course, you can always count on the tech industry to completely change the platforms and the way people will interact with technology.

Is there anything particular you have in mind?
Seeing the early signs of what is coming in the metaverse, in particular virtual reality and augmented reality hardware, we think there is an opportunity to blend the world of gaming and the world of sport in a way that it is probably best described as a new type of sport. I would say the biggest competition in digital fitness right now is not “iFit” and “Peloton” versus us, or Nike, or Strava. It is actually: us versus the world of gaming, which is still growing like crazy. And I think in between these two worlds, there is a gaming experience that involves some sport, and probably involves some very Pokemon-like running around and getting stuff, or new ways to compete, watch, or participate with other communities. That is the future sport for this next generation.

About Scott Dunlap
Before joining “Adidas Runtastic” in 2019, Scott Dunlap worked in the Silicon Valley for more than 20 years, where he managed the development of digital products and strategies for start-ups and large corporations, such as Brilliant, PAX Labs, PayPal, Opsware, NearbyNow, and E.piphany. Dunlap holds an MBA from California’s Stanford University Graduate School of Business and is an enthusiastic runner himself: he has won several national US-Championships at various distances, including the marathon and 100 miles.

How are you working on this internally?
We innovate, work with new tech platforms and partners, and just try a bunch of things. Is it that you unlock a level inside of the game because you ran around the block in less than two minutes? Or is it that you have to go outside, and as soon as you are there you'll see the power-ups and you have to run and collect them? Or perhaps earn those French fries by burning the calories first? The tech ecosystem is bringing all of these options to bear very quickly. But how do we create that? And where can adidas play a role with our strengths in sport, collaboration, and creativity? It is up to us to innovate to keep people active, and getting outside.

If you had one million Euros right now, what piece of technology would you bet on?
There is so much happening in new digital experience and digital goods right now, I would be placing many bets here. turns out that a really good personalized training plan to achieve your goals in a fun and challenging way is still the best way to get people into fitness. And looking at it, we realized, okay, every couple of years we need to reinvent this concept of a training plan in the context of how tech is motivating people today. And in what I would call digital goods, examples like earning currency from fitness that you can spend, digital product for your avatars that allow you to express yourself in the metaverse, finisher badges that are actually NFT’s - I think, how the world of digital goods unlocks access and allows a brand to show itself off in very new, different environments is ready for some reinvention. You can count on adidas to play in all of those spaces. We'll make some announcements over the 2022 time period.

Feel free to make them right now!
(Laughs) Well, the commitment to try it is definitely there. I would say historically, there might have been a risk of: what are our existing users going to say, if suddenly you're in some game? But I think it’s fine. If you happen to be a gamer, you're going to be thrilled to be using our platform, and if you want to unlock all these things, you can be a part of it.

Does this mean the next big audience for “Adidas Runtastic” will be gamers?
A way I like to look at it is: Where is the attention war in the digital world right now? And it’s definitely on the gaming front. Currently gaming is winning. In fact, it's not so much that we're battling against them. We might be more friends than foes, if we just come up with a new way to interact. And it might even be a brand new sport. It's up to us to figure that out.

Exciting times ahead then.
Yes. You know, I have a 20-year history in the Silicon Valley before coming to adidas. There was a time when there was no internet, and then it came about and changed everything. There was a time when there was no cloud computing, but we saw the need, and we started cloud computing. I saw the first iPhone a year before it came out, and you could see how the world of mobile apps was going to become a huge part of everyones lives. And I like to emphasize all that to make clear: I am not crazy when I talk about a billion connected athletes. I am not crazy to say there could be a whole new sport developing. I have seen it happen over and over, I have seen people become billionaires from what seems like crazy concepts. And that is what gives me the excitement. That pace of tech is not slowing down. And now I can reach 7 billion people on the planet. It's just amazing.