Pivoting to home fitness, Aviron offers gamified rowing machines

Few tech sectors had more to gain from the events of 2020 than home fitness. Interest in the category was swift, as gyms were declared one of the bigger problem areas amid the worldwide spread of COVID-19. Suddenly home workouts were more than just luxury.

For YC-backed Aviron, it was the ideal time to pivot. The Toronto-based startup had been providing gamified rowing machines for the B2B market — specifically for use in high-traffic settings like hotels and apartment buildings. It’s still a small operation with 10 employees and around $750,000 raised to date.

Suddenly the company found itself attempting to compete for market share against tech giants like Peloton.

Of course, thus far Aviron’s own sales are considerably more humble than the cycling giant’s. Until now, the company has largely relied on word of mouth sales, having sold in the neighborhood of 1,000 rowing machines since launching for the consumer market in July. The equipment retails for $2,299 a piece — though you can find it online for less.

Aviron works with an ODM to create the machine. While it touts some nice touches like a quiet nylon belt and 100 pounds of automatic electronic resistance, Aivron’s main differentiator is the software — especially a connected gaming experience via the built-in display. The monthly subscription runs $20-$30 and the company is quick to note that you can cancel at any time.

“Rowing engages 85% of your muscles,” founder and CEO Andy Hoang tells TechCrunch. “It’s low impact. There are a ton of benefits, but it’s super boring and super tough. When you combine it with high-intensity training, you have a death machine that pretty much no one’s gonna want to do. What better way to make it fun and exciting than by putting video games on there?”

The system sports six different workout categories, including real-time competition with other rowers. There are a few introductory workouts, to ensure that first-timers don’t injure themselves by just jumping directly into competitive rowing, but on the whole, the system avoids Peloton-style classes.

“Our workouts are short,” says Hoang. “They’re like 10-15 minutes. You do maybe one or two of them, and by the end of it, you feel like you’re going to die because it’s so tough. Peloton is typically 40-60 minutes, a little bit lower intensity and with less resistance. And obviously it’s a class led by an instructor, rather than getting chased by zombies.”