Can Aaptiv Digitalize the Boutique Fitness Experience?

Digital is taking the world by storm, transforming everything in its path. While apps like Classpass and Fitmob are already disrupting aspects of the boutique fitness studio operating model, a new app, Aaptiv, is looking to eliminate the studio itself from the industry by completely digitizing the operating model of the boutique fitness experience. Aaptiv is an audio-based fitness application that provides members with a motivating workout routines right from their phone for a fraction of the cost of a boutique fitness studio membership. By synchronizing the podcast-esque voice recording of a personal trainer or class instructor with a curated playlist at the pace of a workout, members are able to access their workout on demand instead of paying $30+ for a class at a packed studio.

Business Model

Former Wharton MBA, Ethan Agarwal, started Aaptiv in a desperate attempt to find an affordable, no-pressure fitness regime to help him lose the weight he gained during his time in graduate school. Conversely, he struggled to find a truly immersive fitness experience that was not compromised by staring at a screen to follow a video. The idea to develop a workout podcast-esque app centered around the customer value proposition of affordability, versatility of content and music selection, and ability to access certified personal trainers.
Aaptiv operates in the highly fragmented, competitive fitness industry and therefore its business model must deliver a differentiated value proposition for customers. Aaptiv’s promise to users is to deliver an on-demand audio experience comparable to studios like Soul Cycle by syncing the upbeat playlists hallmark to the boutique studio experience with the motivational guidance of a certified personal trainer. The app provides users with access to a list of workout categories and classes, which can be customized by filtering for aspects like desired distance, duration, level of intensity, and trainer. For only $10/month (or less if members opt into multi-month bundling packages), members are granted unlimited access to all classes and app features at their fingertips. These business goals are supported throughout every aspect of Aaptiv’s operations.

Operating Model

With the goal of bringing an elevated workout experience to a global community, Aaptiv uses technology to make the boutique fitness studio and personal trainer experience accessible anywhere. The Aaptiv platform leverages audio to merge the experience of working one-on-one with a personal trainer with the act of taking the highest quality fitness class. For that reason, Aaptiv’s operating model includes an extensive music library catered to customer preferences. While workouts or running to music is not new, the act of working out and exercising has evolved with digitization over time— from portable cassette tapes to delicate CD players and later to walkmen and other MP3 players. However, by adding audio fitness programs over music choices carefully selected for their beats per minute, Aaptiv is looking to transform the digital health and fitness experience even further.

Technology also influences how classes posted on the app are structured and performed. By allowing customers to rate their experience after each workout, Aaptiv can quickly iterate and implement incremental design changes to the app and/or class itself via user feedback. The rise of data-driven workouts and ability to continuously iterate allows developers to add 150-200 new classes each month, all of which are vetted by trainers, providing clients with variety that keeps them engaged and willing to continue use.

The app operates on a monthly membership model, and also carries a wide variety of classes including running, cycling, elliptical, yoga, and full 5k and 10k training programs. Such a range is not operationally feasible to offer at boutique fitness studios. Unlike boutique fitness studios, Aaptiv does not own gym infrastructure. Its main asset is the technology behind the platform and the content curated by the 14 professional trainers and 9 full-time staffers it employs.

Is Differentiation Sustainable Given Digitization?
While on demand and virtual programming is becoming big business, my fear is that the market may become oversaturated. While in this example, digitalization allows customers to access a wide variety of classes on demand, this operating model is easily replicable in the digital world. Further, it seems even more plausible for studios with cult followings like SoulCycle to replicate this operating model and eliminate apps like Aaptiv simply by leveraging its brand equity over Aaptiv’s.



Skyfit app puts personal trainer in your pocket

SKYFIT Announces Rebrand to Aaptiv

New Connected Home Health Data in Support of World Health Care Congress

Health And Fitness Apps Are Exploding In Popularity — Here’s Who Is Using Them,

Skyfit Raises Seed Round


A Better(ment) Way to Invest?


Wayfair: Way Far Ahead in Digital Transformation?

Student comments on Can Aaptiv Digitalize the Boutique Fitness Experience?

  1. Thank you for sharing the post! With increased focus on health across different ages, fitness apps and wearable technology are becoming highly relevant. While I recognize the pain point that Aaptiv is able to solve, I worry about the safety issue here. Aaptiv’s reasonable, subscription-based price point opens up a sizeable market, comprising a mix of regular exercisers and inexperienced first-time users. One wrong move while listening to the audio instructions could lead to a serious injury and can have long term impact. While Apativ may not be directly liable, given the proliferation of the use of social media platforms to demonstrate discontent, a few bad reviews could hurt its business. I wonder if there are certain measures Aaptiv could take, such as the use of a short demonstration video the first time the user begins a new type of exercise regime, as part of its digital play.

  2. As someone who frequents boutique fitness studios, I loved this post – thank you for sharing!

    I agree with your concern regarding the sustainability of Aaptiv and other similar apps, as there is little barrier to entry in this space. Have you heard of Peloton? It’s a boutique spinning studio that livestreams classes from its NYC HQ. Customers around the world can purchase the Peloton bike for use in their homes, join classes that are taping live in NYC, and compete against other riders on the leaderboard (both those riding in class and at home). It seems that Peloton is building a more differentiated product by combining hardware (i.e., the bike) with software (i.e., the ability to livestream). However, the main downside to this product remains its price. At $2k (plus a $39 monthly subscription fee), it only makes financial sense for consumers who’ll use it religiously.

  3. As we all assist to the progresses of our friends on Facebook posting their recent running achievements as measured via various apps, I think it is important to consider the fitness sector as one of the most impacted by technology disruption. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this app which I didn’t know and for opening the conversation about this business sector!
    I agree with you that in this model the customer value proposition is extremely solid, and respond to a clear need of customers to exercise according to a flexible schedule, with the support of a personal trainer but in a cheaper way. So the main elements could be summarized as: cheaper, everywhere, shareable, flexible.
    I agree also that from the business and operating model side, this proposition is not solid enough to prevent other apps or other major players to enter the market and replicate exactly the same features.
    If we look at the overall benefits for the customers, I do believe that this model is very valuable and lots of other fitness providers will expand their offer to this type of digital training platform services.
    From the point of view of a small app providing this service, I see as the only way to survive to leverage on the social medial component and expand as much as possible the customer base, maybe offering a free tier service with basic features and pushing customers to upgrade to the paid subscription model as in the Spotify model. Also partnerships with other famous apps – as Spotify itself – could be valuable in driving the brand knowledge of this app and boosting momentum. What do you think? What would you recommend them to do in order to survive in the market and beat the competition?
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  4. As an Aaptiv user, I loved this! I’ve been really impressed by Aaptiv so far – they create workout classes that can be accessed on any schedule. One thing I’ve wondered about is how Aaptiv will incorporate sensors and feedback into their product. Right now, their running coaches tell you to speed up and slow down at various points during the workout, but the feedback is “dumb” (i.e. it isn’t linked to your actual running speed). I’ wondering why Aaptiv hasn’t added this feature or if it has plans to in the future.

    I agree completely with your concern that it will be easy for companies like SoulCycle to copy Aaptiv’s model. Do you think there is anything that Aaptiv can do to differentiate?

  5. Great post! This is a really interesting product offering. You discussed in your post how one of the risks is that the market may become oversaturated. I think competition is definitely a huge issue here and what concerns me most is the pricing pressure that this business model may face. You mention the boutique fitness studies and how this is affordable relative to those. I think that many consumers will see this business as more of a competitor to other fitness apps than boutique studios. As many self-directed fitness apps are free, such as the Nike Training Camp app or Nike Run app, and users have the ability to listen to their own playlists while using the apps, I wonder if this app will face pressure to offer a free service. Additionally, many high end gyms, such as Equinox, have their own apps and nothing is really stopping them from further developing their current offerings to compete with standalone fitness apps. As these other free fitness apps increase in sophistication they will offer compelling competition to Aaptiv and even the $10 price point may be too high for many consumers when free/lower priced apps are available.

  6. Great article! I lost 50 pounds at a stage in my life – so fitness is something that I am deeply passionate about. While there is a proliferation of digital fitness apps, I often wonder if they can ever substitute a real fitness trainer. One wrong move and you have pulled a muscle and sometimes you don’t even realize it! I truly believe that apps such as Apptiv need to be at least initially supplemented by personal trainers who can customize a workout based on your stamina, your body type, and progress.

    I use the Kayla workout app myself and my concern just like yours is that Apptiv doesn’t have a strong brand value yet and is likely to get lost in a sea of similar apps, some started by celebrity trainers, which frankly I would pick over Apptiv.

    I think Apptiv is good for people who are experts, have been working out for long and need to change it up everyday while being aware of how their body responds, but it could be risky for someone just starting out. I do love the music feature and will sign up for Apptiv as a supplement to my workout routine.

  7. As a user (although inconsistent!) of the Peloton app, blogilates, and Kayla Itsines workout plans, I totally agree that boutique fitness is increasingly more digital and that the space is increasingly becoming crowded. While competition is certainly increasing, I think the core asset of each of these apps is the trainer teams themselves. As we experience in real life, trainers are not one-size-fits all, and that’s true in personal training, too. I wonder if demonstrating measured user outcomes and attributing them to one or a set of personal trainers’ programs may help some of these players differentiate themselves from the other options. Further, if that’s possible, figuring out which types of workout-followers are achieving those same results could be a rich data source to try to collect. I wonder if an emerging leader may be able to merge data and workouts, so as to achieve the fan followings that these other existing workout plans enjoy.

  8. Great post! Been a big user past month or two and have really enjoyed it. I have been trying to figure out what brings them past being a glorified “music podcast” as the majority of their usage is when people aren’t looking at the screen. Do you think wearables/sensor data will be key to what they do going forward?

    Also slightly unrelated, but would love to hear your thoughts on why they did the big rebrand away from SkyFit. Felt like it was a great emerging brand than the name change really set them back.

Leave a comment