I’ve been intrigued by the success of the Peloton company, which sells indoor exercise bikes (and now treadmills) with sophisticated displays that allow users to take virtual classes over the internet (either live or on-demand). The bikes are not cheap, and the subscription price is $40 per month which seems high compared to other subscriptions like say Netflix. And I have a very inexpensive exercise bike that works great and is quiet. I usually don’t take classes, but there are plenty of good ones available (admittedly not live) on the internet. So why are they successful?My first hint was when Adam Pick, who founded the heartvalvesurgery.com website, raved about his Peloton bike. He talked about how he and his wife gave up their expensive memberships at a boutique gym when they got the Peloton. So for them, by comparison, $40 a month was a reasonable price. The second hint was when a friend of mine in our Tuesday riding group got his Peloton. He was already a pretty good rider. But after using the Peloton for a few months the classes seem to be doing him good because he is now one of our strongest riders.

I also am intrigued by entrepreneurial stories myself, having once been a co-founder of a start-up. What was the founder’s original brainstorm? What was it like getting the idea off the ground? I remember a cartoon showing the inspiration of the founder of Starbucks: on a napkin, he has written “coffee 25 cents” which he then crosses out and writes “coffee, $4.00”. Yes, but how do you get them to want to spend $4.00?

So I enjoyed reading the book Sweating Together by Dr. David Miller. He is the ideal candidate to write the book because he is a business professor who teaches entrepreneurial courses. He was also a reluctant adopter of Peloton, with some of the doubts I expressed above. But over time he became an enthusiastic convert.

The background of the founder, John Foley, that led to starting the company, is very interesting. He was an engineering graduate who did not enjoy corporate jobs, and got involved in some other start-up experiences. He and his wife were financially successful but quite busy, and although they belonged to a high-end boutique gym they enjoyed, found it inconvenient fitting getting to the gym into their schedule. Soulcycle is a good example of such a gym. They have good quality machines, good instruction, and good camaraderie among members. So Foley got the idea, why couldn’t this same experience be reproduced virtually, using an at-home machine? That would certainly be more convenient for busy people. And there you have the inspiration for Peloton. The fledling company was smart enough from the beginning to hire talented and charismatic instructors for the classes, and create a high-quality studio for them in New York City (there is now another one in London). What was not expected was the pretty much spontaneous arising of a large and growing devoted fan base on social media. This community, providing a great deal of camaraderie, was a crucial factor in the success of the company. I highly recommend the book for many more fascinating details and in-depth analysis of the company’s story.

Virtual Motivation

I had first heard of the idea of online challenges long before Peloton. Outdoors, there are examples like Strava, where you can do local challenges then compare your times against the “king of the mountain” or “queen of the mountain” on the same course. My fitness mentor Clarence Bass described doing intense indoor cycling workouts on the Concept2 ergometer, and comparing his times to others in his age group. There is a definite advantage to this type of challenge as they can be relatively short but still demanding, and they are convenient. And there are communities around them, where friends can compare notes or give each other kudos for their efforts. Peloton has a highly successful version of this type of community. Whether or not you are interested in Peloton (or perhaps still find it pricey), it is worth looking into this type of challenge as motivation.



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