E-Mail First. App Fourth. How Freeletics Launched The Right Way
Yet another sports app, you might say. There are thousands of apps like this out there, promising a better, healthier lifestyle, more discipline, confidence, and more fun in life. It’s a simple, but genius concept: people don’t buy your product, they buy better versions of themselves. Although this understanding of selling your product is often underestimated in other sectors, it is already widely used in the health industry with a lot of companies like Nike crafting inspirational videos and quotes to sell emotions rather than clothes.
Freeletics, a German startup that created an app that provides their users with personalized and challenging bodyweight workouts, somehow managed to stand out and grow from an E-Mail list to more than a million users while bootstrapping for the last two years. I am not in any way affiliated with the startup, but I started using the service more than a year ago and am still impressed by their product development process. In the following, I will provide some of my thoughts on what I think made their launch strategy so successful and why it worked.
E-Mail First: Weekly Workouts
Most people should have heard about Lean Startup by now, that people release prototypes of their products as early as possible to quickly validate if their idea actually solves a real problem. For example, such prototypes can be landing pages, early apps, paper mock-ups, and face-to-face conversations. And E-Mails. Ryan Hoover wrote a great article about this last year: E-Mail First Startups.
With a transformation video that raised awareness and sparked curiosity, Freeletics launched by collecting E-Mail subscribers and sending them weekly workouts with highly challenging bodyweight workouts which are supposed to be completed as fast as possible. In my opinion, the following are some of the reasons why this is a great way for early validation of an idea:
- It simulates app functionality: With suggested weekly workout plans, the creators could find out if people dig the concept of their app idea.
- Immediate feedback: People have problems with a workout or don’t know what they are supposed to to? – They can just respond to the E-Mail. Invaluable feedback for app development and sales wording!
- Time: The creators were able to assemble new workouts and develop the app WHILE people were already using their product. No “Launching Soon” webpage with months of waiting for a release, immediate delivery.
Community Second: Local Groups
Freeletics created kind of a mystical atmosphere: With workouts named after Greek gods and goddesses, along with motivational slogans, and the focus on completing workouts for time (a measure that can be compared to others’ results), there is a level of gamification included that many people need to fake into their exercise routines. Also, the workouts seem so rough at first, that you NEED to tell your friends about how hard that workout is you’ve just done. Also, together it’s easier to stay on track and motivate each other.
The creators of Freeletics realized that pretty early. They created local Facebook groups and published links in their E-Mail newsletter. The Munich Freeletics group now has almost 6,000 people with highly engaged users, sharing photos, experiences, and motivation. They even created Google Maps with hotspots where people can meet to exercise together. This community serves as strong WOM and a great validation for the initial product idea, as well as being a strong competitive advantage.
Monetization Third: PDF Guides
E-Mail worked and attracted tons of users and there was already a very engaged community of early adopters and evangelists emerging. What now? Many people would find that reason enough to throw out a product and hope for paying customers. Freeletics put an additional step into their process (while working on the app) to test if people are actually willing to pay for weekly bodyweight workout plans.
They published PDFs with 15-week workout plans, sold on a Shopify (or similar) page. That’s it. No attempt to sell personalized E-Mails to people who pay (which would have been my first idea, I guess, since it was already on E-Mail), which would eventually had caused a lot of development effort. With the sales of the guides they could not only bootstrap at least some of their app development costs, but also validate that people are really willing to pay, even if it causes inconveniences like printing a 30 page PDF.
App Fourth: Personalized Workouts
Wow, what a long (and insightful) way from idea to product. Freeletics now offers a free basic and a paid pro app with the possibility to purchase a “workout coach”, a service that suggests weekly personalized workout plans, based on your results of the previous weeks. After completing the “Strength” PDF guide, I’m now in week 8 of the “Strength & Cardio” guide and it’s still refreshing and challenging to use. Interesting social features like comparing your results to your friends and people you follow, are also included.
The Freeletics launch case study is a great example of validating a product idea early with multiple prototype formats like E-Mail, community, and hand-made PDF sales. I admire the co-founders for having the discipline not trying to throw out a shitty app-prototype, but rather finding unconventional ways to collect early feedback and shape their product.
What are your thoughts on this launch strategy? Waste of time, nothing new, awesome? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!
Image credit: I took this picture after a workout on my roof in Brooklyn. Another great thing about Freeletics. No gym needed, you can do the workouts anywhere!