Though many try to simplify it — eat less, move more — nutrition and fitness really is a complicated science with numerous factors like metabolism, muscle mass, and genetics at play. Two Georgia Tech engineers, Keith Osayande and Obi Anachebe, realized this when they got involved with the university’s fitness community. As co-founders of the Tech Barbell Club, they started offering nutrition coaching to their members and realized how many questions people had, with very few answers or actual assistance being offered with the existing resources on the market.
Teaming up with fitness researchers Eric Helms and Daniel Yeh, the powerhouse group (literally, this team can lift some serious iron) conceived an exercise and nutrition app that uses artificial intelligence to not only calorie count, but learn your preferences and body. FitGenie’s algorithm takes 10,000 scenarios into account to tailor recommendations for meal, recipe, and cardio exercise plans to get users the bod they want. And, it has a database of over a million foods, so you won’t go hungry!
The app was recently listed in Men’s Health as a top fitness app alongside established products like MyFitnessPal and Fitbit. Hype talked to FitGenie’s founders about their decision to learn AI and app development in order to build the product themselves, what sets their app apart, and why calorie counting is a “pain in the ass” (we agree!).
Describe the app and how it works.
FitGenie is a smart calorie counter powered by Artificial Intelligence. We leverage AI to answer the question “what do I need to eat to lose/gain weight” the same way a nutritionist would. Our AI learns your tastes, preferences, and body type and tells you exactly what to eat to reach your goal. These recommendations hit your nutrition targets, offer ingredient substitutions, are itemized in a grocery list, and aim to leverage foods you already have. All of this is neatly packaged in a comprehensive nutrition and activity tracker.
How did you come up with this idea?
Keith and I did nutrition coaching for the Georgia Tech Barbell Club. We didn’t charge a dime because we loved to help those in our community, and there was just something so deeply satisfying about using math to optimize someone’s health. Unfortunately, we eventually had more members requesting help than we could get to. It sucked to turn people down, and it sucked even more to leave people on their own when they couldn’t afford guidance elsewhere.
We knew there was heavy demand for a service like this and wanted to build a free platform that could leverage AI to scale what we were doing manually for the club. FitGenie was our solution. Keith and I had zero experience in app development or Artificial Intelligence before starting FitGenie, but we were bullish enough to teach ourselves as we went.
Beyond that, we recognized that no company had delivered a solution that simplified nutrition down to “eat these foods” while preserving accuracy, flexibility, and individual preference. Those last three points are so, so important. Neglecting one of them can make or break a diet.
What separates FitGenie from all the other calorie counters out there?
Calorie counters are almost impossible to use without weeks to months spent learning about nutrition, tracking, etc. There is a giant learning curve that keeps a lot of people from benefiting from calorie counters, and they’ll often end up paying fitness professionals $100+/month for more directed and personalized assistance. On top of that, those that use calorie counters are fed up with how clunky, ad-heavy, and pushy it can be to upgrade on some apps. FitGenie tackles these issues from both sides by telling you exactly what to do, adjusting with your body over time, and delivering all of these tools in a clean, user-friendly interface. If you’ve ever wished for an app that would “just tell you what to eat,” this is it.
How big is this market?
The calorie counting and nutrition industry as a whole is complicated. The biggest calorie counter, MyFitnessPal, boasts over 80 million users and was acquired by Under Armour for close to $500 million. The mobile health solutions market is expected to be worth $60 billion by 2020, and apps in our segment account for 34 percent of this market. Beyond that, the global weight loss management market is expected to reach $206.4 billion by 2019.
People spend an absurd amount of money on magic pills, protocols, and plans year after year, and many companies knowingly sell us snake oil. These magic products sold through casino marketing tactics are easy for consumers to believe and purchase, because they make fitness seem simple and effortless. The reality is that making health and wellness transformations is hard, and sifting through the research to do it right can be overwhelming. Our goal is to package a science-based approach into something consumable that automates many of the tedious aspects of dieting. We believe we can have a broad reach in a crowded space while positively impacting consumers.
What is different about your platform than the competitors?
The key thing that distinguishes FitGenie is that we provide both tools AND instruction, in two ways. We provide weekly analysis and adjustments based on your progress. For us, it’s not enough to just have a big food database and pretty graphs. Those things are the bare minimum and every quality calorie counter should have them in 2017. What we’ve noticed is that most apps might deliver on these minimum requirements, but they fail to provide value past that. They are incredibly static and fail to adjust as your body changes. If you’re not losing weight, if you’re hungry, fatigued, etc. most calorie counters will spit out the same plan no matter what.
FitGenie accounts for over 10,000 diet scenarios and reacts to them within the context of an individual’s diet, rather than making cookie cutter recommendations. We have a hashtag we shoehorn everywhere, #OptimizeEverything. Everything we do and every feature we ship is crafted with that in mind.
Counting calories is a pain in the ass, so we do it for you. Most calorie counters try to sell you on the idea that counting calories isn’t that bad. We built a calorie counter, and we’re here to tell you that it is that bad. There is no debate that counting macronutrients is the most efficient way to reach your fitness goals, but we totally understand that learning to count macros can be daunting and time consuming. Our meal recommendation engine handles all the annoyance of counting calories all while delivering meals and recipes you like to eat. No other calorie counter does this.
How did you build interest in the platform and generate so many initial users?
There really is no singular reason why users are interested. We think it’s a collection of several actions AND having a quality product. We are super on top of our customer support, very open to feedback, incredibly transparent with our development process, engage with our users daily, and provide many features that are paid for in other apps for free. Word gets around rather quickly, when you do the little things and invest in your early adopters.
One big thing we’ve noticed is that a lot of our users were dying to find a reason to switch from their go-to calorie counters. Since these apps were so deeply ingrained in their daily habits, that reason had to be a very compelling one. Our solution has been to overwhelm users with value to the point that switching is a no brainer.
How do you make money?
The primary way is by charging users for a subscription to our premium platform which handles their meals and nutrition entirely, as I mentioned above. A yearly subscription amounts to $3.75/month.
Down the road, our plan is to partner with brands for sponsored meals, recipes, and product inclusions in our AI’s recipe recommendation engine.
Are you funded? Will you be seeking funding?
We’re backed by Georgia Tech’s Create-X program and have been hardcore bootstrapping along the way. We will be looking to raise in the future once we’re more firmly established.
What new features are you planning?
We plan to offer multiple meal library options for users to use in conjunction with our recommendation engine. For example, a user could choose a meal library from their favorite fitness influencer and receive meals from that library tweaked and optimized for their diet by our AI.
We’re looking forward to adding more improvements to both our free and premium platforms. From there we’re hoping to be in a position to begin Android development and make some serious waves in the industry.