Jon Gregory, Vitruvian Founder On: The Future Of Connected Fitness

Perth, Australia — Vitruvian, one of the fastest growing connected fitness brands in the world, has just announced  the launch of its second-generation product, the Vitruvian Trainer + along with an updated fitness app. Soon Vitruvian Play, a gamified connected fitness experience, will follow.

The modified machine, a slimline carbon fibre platform containing motors connected to two retractable cables, retails at £1,990 (with an optional Team Vitruvian monthly membership of £29). It has been beefed up, to generate up to 200kg of resistance and, crucially, it also draws on adaptive algorithms to provide a greater challenge or greater assistance with every rep.

Vitruvian is the creation of Australian Jon Gregory, a former high-flying high frequency trader and applied physicist by education, who first dreamt up the idea of a smart mechanised weights system in 2008. That was when he was 33 years old, yet it wasn’t until the sudden success of Peloton in 2016 that Gregory believed his idea could become a reality.   

Even then he’s had to do things the hard way. Launching in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Gregory has been consigned to Western Australia throughout, having to set up production lines remotely, find investors digitally and contend with supply chains that have been backed up for months.

Nevertheless, from virtually a standing start Vitruvian has seen demand for its electromagnetic resistance trainer soar, with 1,000 machines “out in the wild” in 20 countries around the world. Now, on the verge of completing a US$15 million Series A round that will drastically accelerate production, Gregory has trained his sights on the connected fitness competition. 

Here we caught up with the combative Perth-based 46-year-old to understand how it all started, why he’s succeeded where so many others have fallen short, and how he plans to take down the “American buffalo” that is Peloton. 

The Future Of Connected Fitness
Image: Vitruvian
On revolutionising strength training… 

Back in 2008 I had started my own company with a friend and we were doing high frequency, cutting edge trading. We were using the fastest computers in the world and writing software to trade really quickly. At the same time we had a gym at the back of the trading room where we were just pushing metal around. That just seamed kind of stupid. I thought surely we could use applied physics to make a machine that was full of data and could adjust the weights automatically, log your results and help you progress.

At first it was just a side project. I actually thought it would be a dumb idea. Who wants to make hardware? What a horrible business idea, to make something that would just be copied by someone else and be a big waste of money. But then I saw Peloton in 2016 and thought turning hardware into a software subscription is actually a really great idea. At the same time it was the rise of the fitness influencer and that started me thinking how we could connect the two.

On early investment… 

That was enough to convince me to spend some money on it but it was just me stuffing around in my shed for another two years. I was buying parts, writing software and trying to figure out electronics. Then the prototypes started getting quite good. They were starting to be really effective and useful and engaging. I showed it to one of my buddies in Perth who’s an angel investor and he gave me $100K. I put in another $100K, set up the company and off we went.

That was December 2018. Now we’re three years in. The first year I raised $1 million, of which I put in around $600K myself. That got us through one prototype and another complete redesign, then more products and a few hires to the point that we could launch our pre-sale campaign. We launched the original V-Form Trainer at a $200 pre-sale discount and sold 300. We could have sold as many as we wanted but we didn’t want to because we didn’t know if we could actually make them all. 

On going global…

We made the crazy decision when we launched to sell everywhere. It’s been uncomfortable but it’s been a good journey too. If you want to buy a Vitruvian wherever you are in the world we’ll figure out how to get it to you. It’s horribly inefficient from a cost point of view but we figured it’s worth it. We’re building a global network of hardware machines that let’s us distribute weight at the speed of light to people all around the world. It’s kind of a crazy concept. You can now transmit weight via the internet from one device to another or to another group of devices. It’s a weirdly bizarre concept. But that’s what we think we’re doing. We needed to go global from day one because that’s the vision. 

On the pandemic…

We have about 1,000 machines out in the wild at the moment. We want to be doing thousands a month in the coming year. We would probably be doing five or six thousand a month already if we could find the parts to make these damn things. That’s another one of the challenges Covid has sprung on us. Supply chains and availability of parts have really taxed the business. It’s been so painful but if Vitruvian can survive this and thrive in this environment, when the weather changes and relaxes to normality, we’re just going to be so well trained and lean and efficient that nothing’s going to stop us. 

The Future Of Connected Fitness
Image: Vitruvian
On building belief…

It’s taken a lot of work and energy to build belief in my own abilities to turn an idea into something physical and to get investors to believe, employees to believe and customers to believe. I’ve found the bigger and crazier the vision, the more interested they are. When I first started out I thought we should make a few and give them to an old peoples’ home because I was kind of nervous. Then I thought stuff it, let’s make 100,000 and our investors were like, “Yeah let’s do that! Here’s a bunch of money”. The more reckless and crazy you sound, the more people turn up to enjoy the vision.

On relishing competition… 

We have to be ambitious. We’re here to take down Peloton and I can’t wait to. We’ve spent three years crafting a product architecture which will deliver on that vision. I’m gonna go after Tonal. I’m gonna go after Peloton. I’m gonna go after all these other ridiculous connected fitness products out in the world and Vitruvian is going to win. That’s fun – and investors are going to love that too. 

On gunning for Peloton…

I think bikes are fundamentally a stupid modality to be using as a way to do generalised exercise.. Full body adaptive, smart engaged resistance training is one that should have a much larger addressable market than spin bikes do. And I think we have a fundamental product architecture that is much more cost effective from a company point of view and from the consumer’s point of view. 

We’ve been deliberate about that. There’s a reason our product looks like it does, does what it does and connects to your phone and smart TV like it does. Because we’re designed to win and be the scale provider of resistance training products around the world.

It will be a long time before we’re as big as Peloton. They’re an amazing company. They’re like this big American buffalo and we’re like this yappy little Australian dingo nipping at their heels but it’s great to have something big like that to aim for.

On taking aim at Tonal…

With Tonal, unless they end up with a product like ours, we’ll just thrash them because it’s a stupid idea. You have to bolt that damn thing to the wall. That’s if you’ve got a wall. If your landlord lets you. It staggers me how Tonal have got as far as they have with a product that is fundamentally inconvenient. That’s one reason why I think we’re going to kill those guys. Unless they take a look at our equipment, copy our patents and challenge us. They might. The founder of Tonal had a demo on one of our products. Hopefully he didn’t like it. 

The Future Of Connected Fitness
Image: Vitruvian
On fighting for your vision…  

Trash talking the competition is all part of the fun. I get to do that as the crazy founder. That’s almost the best thing about this job. That’s really what we’re all here to do. We’re all here to compete. I wish I could just go and actually fight them. That’s the real fun of founding a company and bringing your vision to the world. It’s you and your team and your vision against the world and we’re just going to take on everybody. We can’t actually back it up at the moment. Our software could be better, our content could be better, we can’t bloody make the things anyway so it’s all a bit academic, but when we solve those things we’re going to win. 

On the life of a founder…

Vitruvian hasn’t changed my life but it’s let me be myself. This is who I was born to be. It’s what I was born to do. I’m the luckiest dude in the world. I get to workout everyday and get to have a vision and work on that with other people and work at bringing that vision into reality. There’s no greater honour and joy in the world. 

Five years ago when I started Vitruvian I knew I wasn’t going to fail. I was in my late 30s. I had the resources. I’d been married for 15 years so I knew how to do commitment, I knew how to be resilient. I’d spent a lifetime training for this. Why do some people fail? Because entrepreneurship is the toughest gig in commerce. You’ve got to have all that and then you’ve got to be lucky.

On success… 

If Vitruvian had to shut its doors tomorrow I’d still consider it to have been a success. Success is a daily action of being the best you can be and doing what you have to do. If you can string 300 of those days together into a year and you’re better off than when you started then that’s good. It’s hard to fail if you change your definition of success into just being your absolute best every day. Anyone can do that. 

On Vitruvian’s potential… 

With connected fitness there’s a fundamental benefit to be brought to the world. Connected fitness products are just better, more engaging, more effective. There is a true value proposition which customers in the long run will pay for. Companies that understand what their true value proposition is and how to deliver it will do very, very, very well – and Vitruvian intends to be that company.