The weight loss and health industries have collided head-on with the tech world, with even the most mainstream depictions of startup life pitching products to help people stay trim and out of the doctor’s office. In one of the more interesting developments, Retrofit, a Chicago-based weight loss program designed for busy professionals that incorporates peripheral services like Skype, Fitbit and connected, wireless scales, along with live mentorship from “wellness experts,” is today announcing that it has picked up $8 million in funding led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson to take its product national and to new areas of service. The Series A round brings total funding for Retrofit to $10.7 million, with other investors including Correlation Ventures, Hyde Park Angels, New World Ventures, and I2A Fund.
While there are a number of weight loss services out there — Fitbit being just one of many pieces of hardware, with thousands of apps also on offer — Retrofit is interesting for a couple of reasons.
For one, it is approaching the issue from a practical position: people are too busy to keep up with weight loss programs, but any successful program is about habit and regular practice. Regular contact with live people, your “wellness experts,” help combat that issue, says Jeff Hyman, CEO and founder of Retrofit. The company’s targets for weight loss sound, if anything, too small to matter: one pound per week is a typical maximum target. But Retrofit believes that small measures are the route to success in this game: another dose of realism in an industry full of empty promises.
And secondly, it’s approaching the whole problem of weight loss as one of big data: the company uses live people to help coach customers, but it also processes tons of data, picked up from the Fitbits and the scales that people use as part of the program, to help those coaches fine-tune their work, and for the Retrofit program to be more tailored to each user. “We take that data and make it into actionable information,” Hyman says.
There will be more products added to that list of hardware over time — furthering the idea of Retrofit as a platform for these disparate monitoring services to work together towards one goal: a user’s health.
“The number of wireless miniaturized devices coming to the market is insane,” he says. “We have seen a lot of these in the past six months, and have a lot of people calling us on this to get their products on the platform. We will add them, but we are currently finding that Fitbit and the scale are good but you can safely assume there will be more.”
Retrofit sells its service direct to consumers but also through businesses, by way of annual subscriptions. The company says that company channel is a lucrative one, considering that overweight employees can cost up to $1,500 in healthcare costs. Hyman says that to date, some 94% of those on its program have lost weight. Although the company has yet to reveal user numbers, Hyman says that the program has “hundreds of customers” and it’s growing at a high weekly percentage rate.
One area where the funding will be used is to also bulk up staff, specifically in the area of engineers. “Right now we have a mobile app, but we have a lot of ideas on how to enhance it to drive compliance and monitoring throughout the day,” he says. “We are planning on doubling software developers to do that and more.”
And if $8 million sounds like more than enough for adding a few engineers and some national marketing, that’s because some of it will go elsewhere: building up services that can be added on to the weight loss core product, that can help people monitor their general health but could also be used for the medical industry, for example, for a doctor to monitor a patient’s intake of medicine or daily regiment remotely.
“A key part of why we raised this sizeable round was the use case for the different applications, which certainly go beyond weight loss,” says Hyman.
That’s also one of the areas that attracted DFJ to the investment, says Mohanjit Jolly, DFJ’s MD and now a board member at Retrofit. “I think about what might be the ‘ADT for health care’ in the future,” he says. “There are enough connected devices that there will b ea service that monitors you and your health. This is not someting that retrofit is focusing on but clearly that is one of the pieces that interests them and us.” He also highlights the fact that a user who signs on for a one-year subscription is already buying into the brand and could be open to more services in the future. “The relationship and bond that a customer develops with Retrofit can and should continue beyond the 12 month programe,” he notes.
But at the same time, Hyman emphasises that Retrofit has to stay “maniacally focused” on getting one thing right first. And weight loss is an essential starting point: 55 diseases are linked to being overweight, he points out, and being overweight is a problem that currently impacts two-thirds of Americans. Managing to move the needle in that one area could be success enough for now.