FitTech Insider

Tim Dettmann: "Our goal is to provide a personal training experience in a group fitness setting."

"The coaches at Peloton don’t really know you" says Tim Dettmann, founder of Beat 81, an outdoor high-intensity fitness concept with a community connection that successfully transitioned to online during the pandemic. What's next?

Tim knows a thing or two about sports and business: he was Germany’s badminton champion (also ranked one of the top 20 players in the world) and a McKinsey consultant. He believes everyone — no matter their fitness level — can achieve their physical and mental best with the right team and tools on their side.

He founded Beat81 in 2007, inspired by a simple idea: to deliver happiness and lasting wellbeing to people via fitness, tech, and hospitality. Today,  Beat81 already has a strong presence in Germany's capital, and is set for further expansion both in the country and abroad.  

Tim Dettmann about his company

In one sentence can you describe what Beat81 is and what differentiates it from simple outdoor boot camps and the likes of Orangetheory and F45?
Beat 81 is the only service fitness marketplace that targets and addresses the offline fitness marketplace as a tech company. We are a marketplace defined as a tech platform that enables growth through data and technology.

In the traditional boot camp, they would hire and onboard people manually. They don’t have any data around the quality of the training, so they would check-in their employees like hotels do and build an army of people — whereas we try to balance a lot of the business model similar to an Uber or other gig economies. That’s why it’s called “service marketplace” — we are far more integrated into the value chain with more and more services that start from hiring and educating the coaches, and go deeper into payment processes and automatic schedules. There is a lot of tech involved that you don’t have in traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses. 

How did you come up with the idea of Beat81?
We started on Meetup with a similar idea as Beat81, but very targeted to sports because I really like to do sports myself and I see this as a great way to connect. Then, six months later we already had over twenty thousand customers in Berlin playing different sports including soccer and volleyball. People asked: “Why don’t you do fitness?”, so I just started doing it myself. I wasn’t even a coach, I just did some exercises and people followed me.

"The greatest thing about it is was being very close to people and seeing the impact of fitness. I got obsessed with getting people to push themselves harder to leave their comfort zone and to really get training benefits. Also, by joining over and over again (strongly supported by offline components like the community and the coach) people shift not only their body and lose weight, but they shift their mind too. They create habits that are connected to what we call a “growth mindset”.

Many people think I want to get the most scientific and correct training out there — but I’m far more excited to see how we can bring this method to many people out there that might not even do sports. And how we can leverage their habit to get them into it, and change as a person.

What is the idea behind the concept of “beating the 81” and how does this training model work?
Data is something that I learned very early on. We tried everything to really get people hooked and the heart rate check was something that worked well. We give users a tracker to wear during the workout session to measure their pulse. The standard idea is that you beat 81% of your maximum heart rate to get the most effective training results. It’s not the heart rate itself, rather a percentage of your maximum heart rate. For example, if I have 200 as my maximum heart rate and I want to be at 81%, then I have to beat somewhere like 162 of my pulse to train at an anaerobic level. You have a higher oxygen depth in these training zones — and therefore you burn more calories and you have a more effective training.

What is your process to gather data and information from members about their maximum heart rate?
In the onboarding, users have to give the data of height as that’s the most important, and the year they’re born. It is calculating back to a very simple formula: 220 minus your age is the start maximum heart rate. And then we collect also the weight for tracking calories and so on. We can also run a short individual test during the training with the coaches to determine the exact individual's heart rate. 

How important is the human connection for successful training and business?
It’s everything. It’s the core of what we believe in. It’s all about connecting very deeply with people and caring about them, not just saying: “I’m interested in your goals” because they feel it if you care or not. And that’s also strongly how we select and hire. For example, we had around 200 coaches going to our tryouts earlier in the year. We hired around 10 to 15% of those and they were already preselected. Part of the selection process was around how much they really care about people. We already had around 250 coaches signed up before Covid-19 and that number is fast growing.

Beat81 uses heart rate technology to track your fitness progress. All workouts are designed to train above 81% of your maximum heart rate to unlock the afterburn effect. (Source: Beat81)

What about the tech component, how does that play into your model and growth?
The fun part is that most of the tech is invisible. Customers have an app where they track their progress, but what’s far more important for us is to enable the coach, because we believe that the best coaches are always the biggest differentiator in the industry. And therefore, we focus very much on the coach and the technology.

If you would put it in percentage, our focus would be 80 to 90% on the coaching side and only 20% on the heart-rate checking and what the customer sees. As an example, we are building a tech feature to educate coaches on how they can best communicate with customers. It’s between Beat81 and the coaches, but the customer only sees the chat with the coach.

"Our biggest belief is that in the long term, values like hospitality — how you make people feel — will always be something that people value through human connections, and not through Instagram or automated apps."

It’s similar to restaurants: you have home delivery, but people appreciate more the experience in a restaurant and talking with people to create moments they won’t forget. In the same way, we see fitness as a path to create an experience that is much stronger if it’s delivered by humans, as compared to just a pure tech component like Peloton or others out there.

Is the connection between trainer and user what makes Beat 81 different from something like Peloton?
Whether it’s a few thousand or one hundred people in a class, it’s very difficult for a coach to really understand the needs, the goals, the personal character of the customers. So, why do people like to do one-on-one training? Peloton coaches might call somebody out from a display because they know it’s someone’s hundredth workout, but there is no clear proposition around the personalization, in a way that the coach knows who they are talking to. The coaches in Peloton don’t really know you.

Peloton has another segment or another persona of coach, which is not bad at all, but I think they are far more interested to become famous and becoming superstars and entertainers. They reach so many people that have a huge impact, but I think our Beat81 standard coach would in most cases prefer to be closer to people and really have a conversation after the training, maybe even go for a drink with members and talk about pains and training plans. That’s a very different dynamic, and we definitely are built around this type. Our goal is to provide a personal training experience in a group fitness setting. You could say that we try to scale hiring processes so that we still have a very high outcome on empathy.

Tim Dettmann about the future

You see yourself way more as a competition to traditional fitness clubs. Do you think they have no future?
Not unless they disrupt themselves. It’s a bit like Tesla pushing Volkswagen to go a bit deeper into mobility. I strongly believe that if they don’t catch up fast enough, then the software companies will eat the automotive industry. And the same will happen in the fitness industry with fitness clubs. 

I am a very strong believer that offline will always be around, with real reconnections. The same Peloton models will always be around, it’s two different value propositions: it’s like comparing a delivery service to a top restaurant. But I don’t think that the traditional fitness model will be around for long, because this market will simply be disrupted. In the same way, hotel models will no longer be around as they didn’t understand how to use technology in the hospitality industry, which is key in the long term not just for efficiency, but also for improving the experience of customers.

If you fast forward five years from now, how do you see the fitness landscape and fitness experience –what picture comes to mind?
I don’t think it will be very different in the offline world, because fitness is really slow. There are much faster industries doing more progress, so I don’t see much change there. But with online fitness it’s different, you see much more dynamic changes happening with the Peloton models and in terms of movement tracking and so on.

Also, I think we are still very unique in the way in which we address the market. So I don’t think the dominant players in the bootcamp space will remain the same in ten years. Like Zumba companies, they are big and have a strong brand and big community, but they’re going down because they don’t fully understand the customer journey — and that goes back to data.

You have raised $7.5 million in 2019 in your first seeding round and will enter the next round in July 2021. How much do you intend to raise and how will you use the funding?
It’s an ideal time as we are growing super-fast, but it’s not just about supporting our expansion. It’s also about increasing the speed of our product and tech development, which is always one of the most costly parts. But the exact number is still up to the market discussions with existing investors.

Also, a US expansion is definitely something we looked into. It’s a very interesting market, so I think it’s likely that we will be in the USA this year. We already have our bikes there and we’ll do some tests in L.A.

Fast forward to ten years — where do you see Beat81 evolving as a company?
We will be staying true in our vision to be centered around hospitality and building happiness and an inner growth mindset, which is also connected closely to happiness. All our efforts will always go in that direction – which is also always centered around supporting our coaches in the offline world. That’s something that will never change.

In Berlin, we have a spinning studio and different types of indoor studios and models. But in 2021, we won’t invest in more fancy indoor models due to the pandemic. If you ask me around ten years, there will be a lot more diversification in our offering of training methods— we won’t offer just pure cardio training or HIIT. Mindfulness is important, but we won’t try to build another Calm or Headspace — it’s more about moving into how we can, from a more holistic perspective, engage with customers in a way where they don’t just lose weight, but address happiness and personal growth. I think Urban Sports Club and Classpass are doing diversification really well, and this makes their proposition very strong.

And also, connecting everything with data. Technology will bring tremendous changes when it comes to analyzing yourself in the app. Based on your results, coaches can interact with you much deeper than they can do now. For example, many of our customers go for a run after strength training, so why shouldn’t we track this run and understand how they sleep? But the real hardware where it’s getting interesting is seeing the impact coaches can have, and especially when they have access to all the data.

Tim Dettmann was one of the speakers at FitTech Summit 2021. Subscribe to our mailing list here to stay up-to-date with our future events.