Mobile health and fitness apps are increasingly popular but they’re often predicated on the notion that you have to feed in a lot of data to make them useful. The problem is that information entry often appeals more to data junkies and really disciplined users. But for the masses, that can be a high bar to overcome, preventing many from getting the most of out of these apps.
That painful truth is one of the main drivers behind Noom, a maker of Android-based fitness and health apps, and one of the reasons it’s created a success with its flagship app Noom Weight Loss Coach. The New York City-based company, which received $2 million last year led by Kleiner Perkins, doesn’t require users to enter in every meal or track every physical activity. The app assumes casual, light usage and tries to still deliver timely coaching lessons and tips that can still motivate and educate users.
“Other apps are focused on data input but the process of analyzing the data is not addressed,” said co-founder and CTO Artem Petakov, a former Googler. “We’re trying to keep you on the bandwagon. It’s not about day 1, it’s about day 3, day 10.”
Weight Loss Coach lets people set their weight goals and allows people to log in their food intake and activity in a simple manner. But it can dispense advice, tasks and tips based on a few entries. Each day it gives people reminders to exercise and log meals and then throws in extra optional challenges, quizzes, suggestions and stories, based on how they’re doing. If, for example, you’re eating too much junk food, Weight Loss Coach can give you a quiz on fast food. If you tell Weight Loss Coach when you plan on going shopping, it will challenge you to take the stairs or ask you afterwards how many bags you carried.
A $10 a month premium version provides a more intense level of coaching as well as the ability to customize your coach to different styles and goals. As it learns about users and notices their progress, Weight Loss Coach tailors its tasks and suggestions to keep people moving toward their weight goals. And it can even remind people to follow through on previously scheduled activities. The app also includes a workout mode that captures activity using an accelerometer and GPS so users can log in their activity as well.
To date, Noom has had 13 million downloads of its apps, mostly split between Noom Weight Loss Coach and Cardio Trainer, a Runkeeper competitor. Version 3.0 of Weight Loss Coach, which Noom is starting to preview, will feature a more integrated list-based dashboard that combines the app’s different features into one view and will offer better on-boarding features for new users. An iPhone app is planned though there is no set date as most of the company’s resources are still focused on its Android apps.
Saeju Jeong, Noom’s CEO and co-founder, said the key is ensuring that people don’t get bored and find reasons to drop the service. He said the goal is to go after the 85 percent of people who don’t regularly exercise and keep them engaged over long periods of time. He said 70 percent of Weight Loss Coach’s users are women.
The story of how Jeong and Petakov got together is interesting in itself. Petakov, who founded the user-created Maps project for Google Maps, met Jeong at a dinner party at Princeton in 2005. Jeong was in New York, working as a producer for the international production of Bye Bye Birdie. He had previously tried running his own online shopping site in his native South Korea. The two got to talking about building a health startup and eventually they founded WorkSmart Labs, which changed its name to Noom in December. The company was initially focused on bringing innovation to the gym business but they found that dealing with hardware manufacturers was slow going. Smartphones, however, provided the perfect blend of mobile sensors and computing, Jeong said.
“We realized the smartphone has all the features you need — why buy something different?” he said.
Noom is part of a new generation of mobile health products that are designed for more casual use. Massive Health has helped to improve people’s diets with its Eatery app, which lets people take pictures of their meals and get ratings on healthiness of their diet from other users. Striiv, a smart pedometer, is going after the Zynga audience with its gamified device, which includes a Farmville like mini-game. What’s cool to see is that these products don’t simply revel in data or demand a lot of input. They work to find creative and fun ways to push people to get healthy. That’s more inviting for casual users, who want some feedback and motivation but can’t always be counted on to record a lot of information. And it’s potentially more effective over the long run, said Petakov.
“Wellness is long-term activity, so cracking the code involves long-term stuff,” he said.