- Wellness aggregator Kensho Health raises $1.3 million as it draws inspiration from dating apps to revolutionise the care matching experience
- App-based fitness platform and aggregator Playbook brings investment up to $12.3 million to improve technology services for its creators
- With the demand for digital fitness only likely to grow, ClassPass CCO says there is a market need for consumers “to cut through the clutter” and says its goal is to simply be “the biggest possible two-sided marketplace” in the industry
NEW YORK, United States — A new generation of wellness aggregators and business tools are coming to the rescue of personal trainers, beauty technicians and mindfulness coaches whose traditional revenue streams have been hit hard by the pandemic.
Traditional wellness aggregators, such as sector-leading heavyweights ClassPass, focus on providing a two-sided marketplace for bricks-and-mortar operators and end-users to connect.
But the pandemic blew that model apart when studios were forced to shutter in March and wellness demand switched almost entirely online.
Emerging from the COVID-19 rubble are the likes of Beautystack, Wonder Source and Kensho Health – aggregators that are levelling the playing field for independent studios and individual practitioners to compete with market leaders across the new wellness landscape.
Kensho Health: The antithesis of Goop
For Kensho Health’s co-founder Krista Berlincourt, the pandemic accelerated her platform’s transition from an aggregator designed for “curation and discovery” to a “fully-fledged telehealth company in the holistic space”.
“We founded Kensho in January 2018 with a clear mission to make healthcare more human,” Berlincourt told Welltodo. “We saw an opportunity to solve for the care silos that complicate the consumer healthcare experience. We wanted to design healthcare for the way people work, not the way networks want people to work.”
Having raised $1.3 million in pre-seed investment in 2019 along with co-founder Danny Steiner, Kensho Health launched in February. “Then COVID hit and everything changed,” Berlincourt said. “Overnight we launched Kensho Daily after we saw our providers offering free classes and care on their social media and in private forums but realised their reach was limited.
“What started as a spreadsheet to keep track of provider offerings went viral and then evolved into a product to help providers list their classes.” Kensho also introduced “concierge care matching” for frontline workers in need of immediate support that has spun out into a digital studio serving more than one million people with free classes and group-based care.
As Kensho Health expanded, Berlincourt and her team spotted an opportunity to accelerate its path towards becoming what she describes as “the first out-of-network health network”.
Now it’s days away from launching “Kensho Health 2.0”, an updated platform that borrows inspiration from an unlikely place: dating apps.
“Our 2.0 is the first platform to really put deep thought into what goes into the care matching experience,” explained Berlincourt. “We wanted to help people find providers who really fit, so we added videos, question prompts, and even the ability to quickly screen a prospect with a quick video consultation. Ultimately helping both providers and consumers find the care they need.”
Berlincourt added: “Now, we’re full-speed ahead building out a full telehealth platform that simplifies not only discovery and connection, but scheduling, communication and after-care, and expanding our footprint beyond New York and LA, across the United States.”
Playbook: The Patreon of fitness content
Playbook is another new breed of aggregator that is disrupting the sector. The company, which was founded in 2017, recently secured an additional $9.3 million in Series A funding, following the $3 million raised in seed investment back in June.
The app-based platform provides tools for creators to make videos and grow their online audience. But unlike many startups, Playbook focuses on the creator rather than the final end-user.
The company pays creators who bring their own audience to the platform an 80% cut of all revenue from those users, while the end-user is charged a monthly subscription at $15 per month or $99 per year.
The company, aiming to be the Patreon of fitness content, has attracted an impressive roster of trainers to the platform, including Boss Everline, trainer to Kevin Hart; Magnus Lygdback, trainer to Gal Gadot and Alicia Vikander; and Don Saladino, trainer to Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.
Playbook co-founder and CEO Jeff Krahel has stated the company’s primary focus is to improve the technology services offered to creators.
“That’s part of the reason we brought on Michael Ovitz as a strategic investor,” Krahel told TechCrunch, name-checking the co-founder of the Creative Artists Agency, a world-leading talent agency founded in 1974.
“We are a tech-driven talent agency, a great tech platform with tools for creators. The future of the company is around supporting creators, almost like an accelerator, to maximize impact.”
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ClassPass: Cutting through the clutter
The surge of individual fitness and wellness creators since the pandemic – enabled in part by platforms such as Playbook and Kensho Health – has certainly caught the attention of the market-leading wellness aggregator ClassPass.
Zach Apter, ClassPass Chief Commercial Officer, has seen the creation and consumption of online wellness services explode since the pandemic struck, and expects it will only continue.
“The ability to create and distribute content digitally generally lowers the barrier to entry for suppliers, resulting in an increase in individual creators who can offer fitness classes with nothing but a smartphone,” Apter told Welltodo.
With the demand for digital fitness only likely to grow, Apter said there was a market need for suppliers to get distribution and for consumers “to cut through the clutter and discover motivating, high-quality content”.
He explained: “Aggregation has proven to help fitness entrepreneurs access new audiences and it’s likely there is a similar need for aggregation of online experiences.”
For its part, ClassPass has aggregated online wellness services by enabling its partners to market digital classes through its platform and even waived its commission entirely when the pandemic first hit, sending 100% of revenue back to studio partners.
“The response was tremendous, and within the first month, we were offering 50,000 virtual classes a week from 4,000 studio partners,” said Apter.
ClassPass also launched a studio donation campaign, helping members give directly to their favourite local businesses and matching $1 million in donations.
COVID-19 and the state of play
Since March, ClassPass has embraced digital at-home solutions to support its community, with many having relocated since the start of the pandemic, and this has led to one happy side-effect from the virus: it’s broken down borders and united fitness communities around the globe.
Since the beginning of lockdown, more than half of ClassPass members have taken classes streamed from other cities and 20% have tested classes from other countries. So does ClassPass’ future strategy in connecting brands and end-users lie solely in the digital space?
“The biggest long-term impact will be if the recent increase in digital demand represents a permanent change to people’s fitness habits,” said Apter, adding ClassPass is seeing conflicting signals in the data.
“On one hand, many digital workouts are ‘good enough’ relative to their offline counterparts, and quite a bit less expensive. This is a classic “tech disruption” scenario,” Apter said. “On the other hand, we also hear from customers that they are beyond eager to get back into offline classes and this is definitely supported by the usage data we see when markets reopen.”
Regardless of how the pandemic shapes the way wellness is created and consumed – be it online or offline – Apter is confident ClassPass will be ready to deliver the best possible results for both the creators and end-users.
“As an aggregator of experiences – be they fitness or wellness, online or offline – we are in some sense indifferent to the outcome,” he said.
“[We] aspire to simply be the biggest possible two-sided marketplace: a one-stop-shop for customers to discover and experience whatever meets their self-care needs, and the best source of incremental demand and revenue for self-care providers.”
Kensho Health’s Berlincourt, on the other hand, believes the pandemic has redrawn the wellness battlefield. “I think we’re at the new starting line, where digital health is not the exception, but the norm,” she said.
“Now the test isn’t to prove a concept or a market but to deliver an experience that truly delights customers, to meet them where they are and ultimately to make their lives better, healthier, happier, and more at ease. That’s our goal in everything that we do.”