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Christopher Fryer and Morgan Redfield met this July at a startup event, and to hear Fryer tell it, the meeting was Kismet. Fryer has recently converted to the church of Sitting Will Kill You and Redfield was an engineering graduate who wrote his masters thesis on algorithms to adapt fitness trackers for amputees. And both wanted to build a device that would help others try to change their sitting habits.
So the two worked for the last four months on building a prototype device, called Rise, that is the size of a quarter and measures how much time you spend sitting. You wear the device in your pants pocket (it has to stay in the range of your thigh/quadriceps for now) and when you sit, it tracks that, and when you stand, it notes that. The two are using Indiegogo to raise money to fund the build out of the device, and Fryer thinks the end product will run consumers about $40.
My first question was, “Why doesn’t my current activity tracker just provide me with this info?” And Fryer’s response was both that the algorithms aren’t there yet, and that the device needs to be by your leg, which not everyone does with an activity tracker. My second question was, “As a woman, I’m not always wearing pants, so how do I wear this device?”
For now the two are working on a clip for pockets, a magnet with a cord also for pockets and maybe a safety-pin type clasp for skirts. I’m not sold on that, although most of the time if I’m wearing a skirt, I’m also running around at a show or meetings, so it’s not a deal breaker. Plus, this is much cheaper than the recent Stir Kinetic desk that tracks your sitting and standing activities for $4,000.
Yet, aside from the legit problem these guys are trying to help people solve, it’s truly unclear to me what the value is in this hardware. If it’s a function of better algorithms, I want them to test the heck out of this and get their algorithms to a point where they can license or sell them to a company like Jawbone or FitBit (see disclosure) and let me wear one device. If the product needs to stay on my thigh, I am willing to pay $40 for one to track my sitting and standing during the day (I already have a sit-stand desk), but I’m not sure people like me are a huge market.
And then there are the big picture concerns about this product, namely, for many people who are working at cubicles all day and don’t have sit-stand desks what will this product do except depress the heck out of them by letting them know they sit too much? Fryer says that even going for a quick stretch break and walk will help people who sit all day, and that the aptly named Rise will prompt them to do so. And perhaps building a set of suggestions and services that actually get people to change their habits might be the better way for these two to go.
Either way, Seattle-based Mvmnt, the company behind Rise, is one of those startups that showcase the new era of entrepreneurship for me. Within a few months, these guys have built a small, relatively cheap, hardware solution to gather data about a big problem. It’s still unclear if they have anything that will become a defensible business, but the fact that they can make this real and attempt to find a market for relatively little investment is a step forward for innovation — if not for entrepreneurship. And given that data and algorithms are going to be the oil of the current century the Rise guys will get a chance to perfect theirs and maybe create some real value.
Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.