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Spire Labs Wants to Turn Step Tracking Into A Team Sport

by Mary Stargel

Step trackers are more ubiquitous than ever, especially with the pick-up of smart watches. But, study after study shows that, though Fitbits, Garmins and the like do sell, consumers abandon them after just a few months.

One Chattanooga app development startup is trying to change that by making step counting less of a numbers game and more of an actual game. Started in 2010, Spire Labs is now 11 strong and has developed solutions for health insurance plans, disease management providers, and companies that care about employee wellness.

One product Spire, is an employee wellness and engagement tool that measures three KPIs: Connectedness, Fitness, and Happiness. In total, Spire has measured over 5 million peer-to-peer employee interactions, almost 2 billion steps, and sees an almost 7:1 positive to negative sentiment ratio.

Following the success of Spire’s step competition feature, where employees can up the ante on using step trackers by creating competitions, the Spire Labs team saw the need for this service in a non-work context. What if whole neighborhoods or groups of friends could gamify their step tracking?

Enter Rove, an app launched this summer that allows any community to enter into a pre-determine step competition. After the group is put together, the app automatically divides them into two teams and sets parameters for the competition.

“We are pioneering an approach to health and fitness that emphasizes the importance of relationships and accountability,” says co-founder Jay Kelley, President and CEO, who started the company along with Michael Brooks Jr. (now Chief Product Officer) and Jonathan Yagel (Vice President).

What’s your elevator pitch?

Getting more physically active is hard… especially if you’re trying to do it alone. Group step competitions are a fun and easy way to address this, but unfortunately, they are difficult to set up: you generally have to work at the same company or buy the same device as someone else in order to compete with them.

We built Rove to open up this powerful experience to everyone. Now, you can track your steps with any group of people and start competitions with the push of a button. We automatically divide your League into two teams, which compete for a week. Users can see real-time leaderboards to see who’s winning. Each new competition has rebalanced teams to keep things interesting and fair.

What problem are you solving?

Apple CEO Tim Cook claimed that “sitting is the new cancer.” That may seem drastic, but a sedentary lifestyle is becoming increasingly lethal. Exercising once per day does not undo all of the negative impacts of sitting for the rest of the day. People need to be walking more and more regularly, but creating habits of consistent activity is difficult. We need a system that provides accountability and engagement to change our behavior.

Some people are already tracking their activity with an app or tracking device (an initial form of accountability), but have a problem of isolation — their fitness data is siloed to other people who use that same app or device. Without some form of external support, people tend to lapse into their standard, unhealthy behaviors.

How do you make money?

Our revenue model with Spire is subscriptions paid by the employer or sponsoring organization. With Rove, the app is free to use, but we generate revenue by offering both Pro Memberships (increased capabilities to individual users) and Pro Leagues (providing admin functionality and oversight).

How did you come up with this idea? 

We’ve actually been beta-testing the idea for Rove for over a year. That idea came out of one of our other products, Spire,
because we saw the impact that step competitions had for employers and their employees. But Spire step competitions were part of a large system, so we wanted to find a way to offer them in a simple, stand-alone format, and to offer this service to individuals who might want this positive experience with friends, family members, or other groups outside of the context of work.

After several months of letting the beta app run, we were delighted to see hundreds of people using the app every day, and tens of thousands of sessions being generated every month. With that validation in hand, we added some core features that our users requested, and officially launched it!

Have you experienced a product pivot?

We believe in rapid iteration, so we are constantly adjusting our strategy to meet the needs of our users and the demands of the market. The biggest adjustments have been shifting our original platform from B2B to B2C, taking our consumer-facing social network and shifting it to serve companies as a means of corporate wellness; fully embracing our “Labs” methodology, and releasing and maintaining multiple products simultaneously, rather than exclusively supporting one.

Who are your competitors and why do you stand out?

The biggest players in the step-tracking space are the device makers like Fitbit or Garmin. Fortunately, we serve as a layer on top of these systems— providing the interconnectedness and cross-platform competitive capabilities that no single device maker would be interested in creating.

What has been your biggest challenge thus far?

The biggest difficulty for us is cutting through the noise. Many people are overwhelmed by technology, all of the apps on their phone and messaging they receive, so we have had to focus on simplifying and searching for people who have the greatest need for our product.

How has Chattanooga been a good place to build your company?

Spire Labs was founded by three recently-graduated college soccer players, with money from Chattanooga-based angel investors, guided by Chattanoogan business people and advisors, hiring a team that all moved to Chattanooga to start working out of our first office.

Despite offers to transition to more well-known tech startup hubs like Silicon Valley and Austin, we decided to keep our roots in the city that launched us, looking for ways to champion this happy mixture of southern charm, outdoor adventure, and cultural renaissance.

What are your next steps?

We’re excited to continue to release products and constantly improve them, to serve the needs of our users. Before the end of the year, we’ll have several updates and at least one major new product to announce!

We are just wrapping up some new funding, but we are always looking for mentors and advisors.

Holly Beilin contributed to article development.

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