In December, HealthRally, a social healthtech startup building a crowdfunding platform for personal health motivation, raised $400,000 in seed funding from prominent angel investors like Esther Dyson, Isy Goldwasser, Dick Sass, Ty Danco, and Jeff Thiel.
The startup, then in private beta, ventured to bring behavioral economics combined with social networking analysis to bear on the age-old problem of how to best motivate people to get in shape and stay healthy. There are umpteen startups vying for our paltry fitness attention spans, each with a slightly different value proposition, like Skimble, Runkeeper, Fitbit, Gain Fitness, and GymPact — to name a few. GymPact, too, takes a behavioral economic approach to incentivizing health, asking people to put money down up front, and pay if they don’t meet their fitness goals (pay those who do, by the way).
Today, HealthRally is officially launching its service in public beta — one that bets dangling financial rewards in front of us like carrots can hold the key to unlocking that motivation and help us meet our individual health goals. The startup is taking a crowdfunding cue from Kickstarter and adding that increasingly important social networking element, by which users will share their health goals with friends, family, and colleagues, who then pitch in to offer real rewards for meeting fitness checkpoints. (Somewhat like Fitango before it — or HealthyWage.)
HealthRally believes that the social support of a network of friends and loved ones, who by right become invested in your success, is a peerless source of motivation. This support network effect is almost reminiscent of the support net inherent to interventions and Alcoholics Anonymous — of course, in this case Flabbies Anonymous.
Coaching the startup in the latest medical advances is an advisory group that includes scientists Paul Zak, who developed the world’s first doctoral program in neuroeconomics at Claremont Graduate University, and Tom Valente, the Director of the Masters in Public Health Program at the Institute for Preventive Medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, for example. Along with a few others, these advisors have helped HealthRally develop its proprietary platform designed to better motivate people to better reach their health goals.
As to how HealthRally works now that the curtain has been peeled back a bit? According to Zack Lynch, co-founder and CEO of HealthRally, there are two simple ways to use the service. One can either motivate a friend by organizing a rally of supporters and choosing a reward that will inspire their friend to get in shape, or motivate one’s self by building that team of cheerleaders.
Whoever is leading the charge sets a measurable achievement and a deadline, and then sets on their way; for instance, one might choose to lose 20 pounds by May 1st for a new iPad. Friends and family join the cause, pledging incremental financial support towards paying for that reward, so that once the health seeker reaches their goal, they are presented with with that sack of quarters.
As Lynch says (by way of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association), dieters presented with a financial incentive to lose weight are nearly five times more likely to meet their goal than are those motivated by, say, sheer will power. In a way, it sounds almost sad, almost too easy, but, again, it’s hard to argue with cold, hard economics at work. After all, studies who that, on average, those who received financial rewards lost more than 13 pounds in 16 weeks, compared to 3.9 pounds without.
The medical community also seems to be increasingly admitting that social networks can have great incentivizing power, especially for health, as there almost seems to be a bit of a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality at play here. As HealthRally goals and rewards can be shared on Facebook, the social networking effect is in play, as those who pledge their goals to a community, or more than a few people, become more likely to follow through on what they set out to accomplish. Obviously it’s a lot harder to shirk your responsibility when you’re not the only one paying attention — better to go for it than risk public mockery at the hands of your skinny siblings. Goal-sharing can be a huge motivator and a great way to encourage repeat engagement with the service.
It would be nice to see HealthRally offering some exclusive health devices or products with geeky appeal, because exclusivity can be another good way to drive engagement.
As to how it makes money? HealthRally charges 7 percent fee on pledges, plus credit card transaction fees up to 3 percent. If the pledged amounts are big enough, HealthRally could make some money, but it’s hard to see this making a lot of money until it achieves scale. And it probably isn’t out of the question to see HealthRally fordging corporate sponsorships and perhaps becoming part of corporate wellness programs.
It’s an interesting approach and one that could hold a lot of weight. No gamification badges here, just real rewards. Weigh in to let us know what you think. For more, see HealthRally’s FAQ here. (Mobile apps are still in development, and the startup is currently raising its series A.)