Cult.fit had to go back to the drawing board and rethink its business strategy during the pandemic. It had to fast-track its digital offerings, introduce live workout sessions, and incorporate other interactive features inside its app, to help keep its existing customers engaged and build momentum simultaneously. The pivot to digital during the beginning of lockdowns last year enabled it to stay afloat in an industry that saw deep dents as gyms across the country remained shut for months. Thanks to its ever-evolving online offering, more than 2 million people have tried working out from home using Cult.fit in the past year with over 100,000 people doing classes every day on the app, the company says.
Even in a post-COVID world, Cult-fit believes that the online experience will stay as it brings convenience, cost benefit and time-saving elements. It looks to add features like virtual assistant support that can help with rep counts, body posture correction, body movement tracking, and more. It is also investing into smart fitness hardware products which can be used to complement online workout sessions as well.
Expert opinion: “COVID-19 has substantially reduced our activities and during lockdowns/ restrictions it goes down significantly. Anecdotally, I find many in my social and professional circles talking about putting on weight as WFH has confined them to single room for 10-12 hours. At the same time, gyms and fitness centres though operating now, people find it still risky to go. Hence, the growth of such apps. Now it's also an appealing Indian diaspora globally as they find economical alternatives to stay fit wherever they are in the world. These apps primarily focus on Indians and so goes well with our dietary habits and more, wherever we are,” TechArch chief analyst, Faisal Kawoosa says.
Gadgets 360 spoke to Naresh Krishnaswamy, Growth and Marketing Head, Cult.fit to know a bit more about the company's journey so far and its future plans.
1. When did you start your stint with Cult.fit? What pushed you to make the switch?
I started my stint with Cure.fit in May 2018, from Myntra. I have had history and background in fitness and at the time I was excited by the prospects that cure.fit presented - they were revolutionizing fitness with the offerings at Cult.fit and it was starting to become a household name in fitness.
2. Why did the company decide to change the app name this year?
Over the past few years, Cult.fit has become a well-known name in fitness and is recognised as a leader in this space. Under the cult banner, we have grown to offer a wide range of fitness formats and workout options – both online and offline. We want Cult.fit to become the one destination people think of going to when they have anything related to health and fitness on their minds. Our decision to rename the brand is a step in this direction. We want to amplify our already popular identity as ‘Cult.fit' and devote our efforts to expanding the platform further under a single brand name.
3. How does Cult.fit hire trainers? How many cities does Cult.fit operate in India?
Cult.fit has a network of 200+ centres over 20+ cities. We hire trainers through our network and in association with sports foundations and other training centres.
4. Did the pandemic urge you to put more thoughts into your online products? What features have you introduced since last year?
The pandemic has definitely enabled us to think in a manner that allows us to solve problems for our users. We made the shift to online workouts in 2020 and digital classes were introduced. Since people want and expect variety from us, we have constantly tried to offer newer formats, exciting features, and masterclasses with decorated athletes and trainers to keep them engaged. We also understand the limitations of time and space users may have while working out from home which is why we have options and variety across the board. We have also been mindful of some programs such as those that target mental wellness concerns. Through carefully curated guided mediation programs, yoga classes, and even specific ailment-related workouts, we have been able to address a lot of the concerns our customers have come to us within the last year.
Since last year, we have added online gamification features such as energy meter and live class rankings. We also added options of squad workouts so users could work out with friends and compare stats. At the end of sessions, we also give users the option to download a comprehensive chart of their progress and performance. Moreover, with our acquisition of Onyx, a US-based company specializing in computer-vision technology, we aim to personalise at-home workouts even more using body tracking technology, posture correction, and rep counting features. With our recent acquisition of Tread, we now aim to foray into the smart fitness hardware market as well with a suite of connected fitness products.
5. Building onto your digital services enabled you to expand your offerings in the US. Do you think that your digital portfolio is strong enough to gauge an audience, or would you incorporate a mix of offline and online, as is the case in India
At the moment our digital product is doing very well internationally. Users have been enthusiastic in signing up and working out online. Given the positive growth signs we have seen from our USA launch, we do think our digital portfolio is strong enough for initial launches in various countries. While we also believe in a hybrid approach to fitness, we are yet to make a decision on whether we will take an online or a hybrid approach for international expansion.
6. How did you deal with the challenges of the lockdown? How well were virtual fitness programs and live sessions accepted last year?
The lockdown was quite challenging in that we had to pivot at a very fast pace to keep our business afloat. Our offline centres had to be shut down and we had to focus on our digital offerings to drive growth. Fortunately for us, we were already adding live fitness classes on our app and also been conducting trial sessions since 2019 on the app. So while the infrastructure was there for us to pivot already, the challenge lay in speeding up the process significantly and incorporating a wide variety of options for users. Gradually, through feedback and constant updates, we were able to evolve the product significantly over the next few months and continue to do so even now.
Our virtual fitness programs and live sessions have received an extremely good response from existing and new users. Many people have chosen to sign up for the live fitness classes owing to its convenience and cost-benefit. More than 2 million people have tried working out from home using Cult.fit in the past year with well over 100,000 people doing classes every day on the app.
7. What changes do you anticipate in the fitness and well-being space post-COVID?
We strongly believe that fitness and well-being space is one to watch post-COVID. It is an industry that was also heavily impacted due to lockdowns with gyms and offline centres being shut and had to pivot very rapidly to keep operations running. Even now, with tech advancements and new offerings, space continues to witness disruption by players in India and abroad. As trends continue to evolve based on existing circumstances, we expect a lot more intervention of technology in both online and offline experiences. We also expect there to be a smarter interplay between digital assistants and users via advanced immersive technologies that can make working out more fun and interactive.
8. Pivoting into the digital space during COVID was the need of the hour, do you think online workouts will still be relevant once the pandemic is behind us?
The last year has proved that online workouts are a great format. There is a lot of merit in it owing to its convenience, cost-benefit and time-saving elements. People have access to the best online workouts from wherever they are located and they can get effective training and guidance from the comfort of their homes. We have also seen immense traction for our online offerings over the last year. People have signed up for our live workouts programs in large numbers.
In light of all this, we do believe online workouts will continue to be relevant, alongside the traditional ways of working out. It has great advantages which people have come to notice.
In fact, online workouts have also helped us reach audiences in smaller markets where we do not have a physical presence. These users can, for instance, still get access to the Cult.fit workouts via our digital offerings. We do think this trend will continue even after the pandemic behind us. The future of the fitness space will have a mix of both online and offline workouts.
9. Could you help give a sense of how far Cult.fit has come? From when it began to where it is now.
As a business, Cult.fit has come a long way since its inception. What started as a network of fitness studios with a message to propagate healthy living has expanded and grown into becoming India's leading healthcare brand. Today we have the largest network of fitness centres and gyms in India. We offer numerous workout options to our users across a wide range of formats that you cannot find anywhere else. Our online business has also taken off and helped us expand our access to users beyond the country. More than 2 million people have tried working out from home using Cult.fit in the past year with well over 100,000 people doing classes every day on the app.
We offer fitness services in group and personal training formats both offline and online, live fitness classes, Cult.fit equipment and gear, therapy and other consultation services, primary care facilities, and a vast network of gym access options across the country, all under one roof. Our journey has helped us become the leading player in fitness in India.
With the pandemic too we have seen growth in business despite some setbacks in terms of offline operations. Our number of customers pre-lockdown in 2020 was near 2.5 lakhs. After the first wave of Covid, we had a user base of 15 lakhs, including free users.
10. What is the biggest learning through this COVID-19 crisis?
Over the course of the pandemic, initially and even now, we have realised that in times of crisis active listening is the best way to gauge the pulse of one's audience and various stakeholders. If a business needs to adapt quickly, it must incorporate customer feedback along with a proper awareness of the situation that is on-going. More often than not, customers will be enthusiastic to share what they expect from any business in such scenarios. As a company, one should listen proactively and take feedback to inform further strategies that will help navigate the crisis.
This is one way we have also been able to continually develop our digital product. We pivoted quite quickly in a short span of time. Our customers continued to share what they wanted and expected from us which is how we also kept adding various formats and workout options for them.
11. Do you have any management mantra to share with budding executives out there?
To all budding management enthusiasts out there, I would recommend constantly reading and keeping one's ear to the ground. It is very crucial to stay abreast of everything happening around us – whether in the business world, technology world and so on. Awareness of trends, happenings, crises, new developments, technologies, etc. goes a long way in coming up with novel solutions to contemporary problems. So, for budding management executives, I would say it is always good to try to be in the know-how of things.
12. What online features are you looking to introduce? What are the plans for the future?
Over the past year we have added interesting features to our app such as energy meters, live class rankings, group online workouts, ‘Squad workouts' and so on. We aim to elevate this further. We recently acquired Onyx, a US-based company, which will help us add better features to our app with their superior computer-vision technology. This would include features such as a virtual assistant that can help with rep counts, body posture correction, body movement tracking etc. It will allow us to optimise our online class experiences further and add more personalization to at-home workouts. Now with our Tread acquisition, we are excited to foray into smart fitness hardware products which can be used to complement online workout sessions as well.
13. Is Cult.fit hiring currently?
Yes, Cult.fit is hiring across the board. We are currently looking at scaling our tech, product and business teams.