FitTech Insider

Sami Asikainen: “The traditional fitness industry will disappear in three to five years.”

Sami Asikainen is CEO & Co-founder of Carbon Trainer , a connected fitness mirror with live training. “Gyms right now should be asking : How can I give customers the best possible experience?”says the serial tech and health entrepreneur.

Founded in 2019, Carbon Trainer uses Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to act as a fitness coach and track every move through 3D motion-tracking technology. There are daily live and on-demand classes in resistance training, conditioning, mobility, CrossFit, and yoga. Each workout utilizes the data gathered from previous workouts to create a tailor-made fitness regimen, allowing Carbon Trainer to measure user progress and plan future workouts. 

Sami Asikainen about the future

How do you see the future of traditional fitness in the next three to five years?
We're going to see the upper end of the market innovating and doing more immersive activities, making the fitness experience around a place to hang out and offering things you can’t get at home. The lower end of the market will do very well because of the price point. But I predict the middle of the industry is going to struggle the most and we’re going to see a hollowing out: they’re not really differentiated from what you can get at home because the price is a little bit higher. 

With more software brought in, we’re also going to see friction reduced at the upper end of the gyms and further automation at the lower end. By offering purely digital premium services and bundling them, they can compete with the boutiques and capture more market share. 

"Boutiques will do really well — I consider them the high end of the market. People will want more personalized experiences and try different things, just as they would try different ice cream flavors. They might try different activities but only fall in love with one of them. As they are instructor-led experiences, we are going to see more great instructors and innovative ideas. It will be interesting to watch which trends will catch on."

At a previous edition of the FitTech Summit, you said that the traditional fitness industry will disappear in the next three to five years. Do you still believe that?
"Yes, I think the traditional industry will disappear. They’re going to be fighting against what’s happening at home because as a user, you’re getting a better experience."

For example, in the past, people used to go to the movies once a week or less. But now that the cinema-going experience has gotten better – theaters and seats have gotten bigger and so on– it's 25$ a ticket (in the US). So as a movie-goer you end up selecting very few movies and the experience has to be really good. I think you’re going to see the exact same thing happen in the gyms.

To summarize: you’ll have high-end experiences on the top of the market, and you will have accessible gyms where you play 10–15€ per month at the lower end. But the middle will disappear, hollowed out by fitness trends and the likes of digital fitness opportunities. I think it's inevitable. 

Is there a chance you might be looking to open your own gyms?
I think that’s a possibility. If you try to go into something that has an existing way of looking at the world, there’s a tendency to try to push it back into that existing mold instead of saying: “Let’s scrap all of this old infrastructure, which is which is out of date and do it again.” It’s much cheaper oftentimes to do it from a clean slate. There’s less friction. There’s less fear. I think the longer you run things a certain way, fear becomes a big factor.

Sami Asikainen about market trends

What do you think is the most underestimated target audience right now for gyms?
"All the people that are too nervous to go to the gym. There’s a lot of people who want to be in shape, but the gym is not adapted to make it comfortable to come, even though they might have sectioned off certain parts of the gym or offer different programs. There is still an intimidation factor."

With the home players — there is no need to get changed, do your makeup, or any of that. So there’s a lot of people that have never gone to the gym that are now participating in fitness at home, which is awesome. But I think it’s still an underserved market and  way bigger than people think.

What is one thing that the traditional fitness industry does not understand yet?
There’s a great quote from the founder of Shopify: “What ends up being successful is shaped by friction instead of policy.” Once you find something that’s easier to do, it’s hard to go back and do it the other way.

Today as a traditional gym owner, you would ask: “How much friction is it for my customers, and are they getting more for their time coming here – traveling, getting changed, etc.? What is available? How can I give the customer the best possible experience?”. If you’re not thinking about that you’re going to have trouble, especially if you’re in the middle of the market and charging premium for a service that isn’t premium. You would start from the customer experience first —not just beautiful locker rooms. You have to be able to reduce customer decisions before getting to the gym. It’s about being more convenient for the consumer.

"Software is inevitably coming for the gym. It already starts in the home and on your phone. If you look at creating a gym from scratch, it’s going to be mostly software-driven. You are adding value to the customer, maybe by reducing the number of decisions or offering them programming — whether it’s advice, nutrition, or something else . But you’re able to offer a much more premium experience by using software."

How is software already impacting the fitness industry – could you expand on that?
It’s extremely early on the software front. We’re seeing tremendous competition around content, so you’ll see monetization of that asset. There be few extremely successful content productions or celebrities, while most of the other ones will not be able to make a living. So, you’ll see this sort of like content glut— and then from there, the software will come, just like it has for banking and taxis. We think Uber is "just a taxi app" , but how destructive has it been for the taxi industry? If you think that software isn’t dangerous, you really haven’t been paying attention for the last twenty years.

As a vendor in this market, if you’re not offering a tremendously good software experience, you’re fighting against a commodity product at this point. Most of these come from Asia – the price point is low and they're getting better at making those products. In the public markets,  we see that companies that have software attached to them are far and above hardware-only, as they get more ROI life for investment returns. But it all starts with asking: “How do I provide the most convenient experience for the customer?”

About Sami Asikainen

“I’ve built, excited, and helped grow multiple companies in tech and health ranging from startups to post series A”, Sami writes about himself. He is a CrossFit veteran with experience in managing cross-functional teams, building complex products, scaling, and innovation.

As a serial entrepreneur, Sami was previously an investor at Appgyver and Lead Activeark Labs. He also founded Steps Gym. Sami’s expertise is in SaaS platforms and digital marketing has seen him drive over $100 million in revenue through digital channels. 

If you were a gym owner what would you do right now, post Covid-19?
Depends on the gym. As a boutique, I would look at increasing personalization. I’d ask: “How can I reach my customers more through an app, or something that gives value?”. It could be by recommending products or having a Facebook group, as the bare minimum.

If I were running a bigger gym, I’d start looking at solving problems from a software solution. I’d ask questions such as: “How do I give value to my customers, so I can get more of their time? Do I understand my customers well enough? Why are they at my facility – are they trying to lose weight, or are they trying to build muscle? What are they trying to do?”.

As a gym owner, you don’t need to build things from scratch, as there are vendors that can help tie those things together. But first, there needs to be education by looking at what’s out there and what’s new and then, trying it out and see if it works at your facility. It’s not going to be one size fits all, but you need to start looking at how quickly software can change things for a business.

You previously said that it’s hard for you to work with traditional gyms. How so?
I think it’s the procurement, by way of procuring new partnerships and so on. There is the idea of: “Let’s pilot and do something for six months and let’s bring some ambassador or some champion from our side to work with you.”  Instead, what you need to do is get it in the door, try it and help build relationship quickly. Coming from the software side, I think a lot of these things can be deployed immediately.

But I understand that a gym owner who has to worry about the equipment, marketing, Facebook and other things. The way that the gym is structured, it’s going to be very hard for a gym owner to take these new things and say: “I want to add this on" instead of having another “gimmick” to add to the gym. If you’re not really focused on it, so it’s not going to succeed. You’ve got to go pretty deep.

You also stated that gyms might force their own demise – can you expand on that?
Let’s take banking as an industry: you’re not going to find a bank that’s willing to disrupt their own business because they’re making a ton of money from it. No one’s willing to give up their bonuses. Same thing with the automotive industry: no dealer is going to want to give up their business of making money from selling or repairing cars since 20 years. It’s the same for the gyms. They’re not going to want to give up the way that they make money for a new way, which is going to chop a lot of jobs and it’s going to create a better customer experience.

Ultimately there will be sort of an Amazon Go store that will come and it’s going to take most of the market very quickly. Who wants to stand in line? Nobody. So, as soon as you have an option of having no cashiers it is not going to take long. And the same is going to happen to gyms. No one wants to stare at the wall and think: "What am I going to do here?", or arrive ten minutes late and miss a class when there are on-demand classes available all the time, and at a lower price point. The accountability to come at a certain time is important, but the big monolithic class with one hundred people is going away.

When will people stop going to traditional gyms?
I don’t think people will ever going to stop going to the gym, but the gym will keep changing and  adapting to what’s happening. Without naming names, there are a lot of gyms that are pretty bad – either from the lack of equipment or a maintenance perspective. I think that’s going to be a really tough piece to sell people. I think those guys are those guys are going under and already know already know that, as they’re not spending money and not reinvesting.

"I think that if there are positive takeaways: you’ve got to invest if you’re a gym, because the consumer is going to ultimately win out, with a lot more choice than they have today. They’re going to have a ton more options because technology is making it a lot cheaper. You can build something once, and you'll have a million people use the same piece of technology."

Sami Asikainen was one of the speakers at the talk "Verticalization of home fitness: Who dares to attack Peloton?" at FitTech Summit 2021. Subscribe to our mailing list here to stay up-to-date with our future events.