Quell (YC S20) – Immersive gaming and combat workout

Hey HN,

We're Cam, Doug, Lorenzo and Martin, co-founders of Quell (https://quell.tech).

Quell is an immersive fitness game which guides players through an exciting, effective combat workout at home. Players fight enemies with a low-cost wearable which uses smart resistance bands to simulate real combat training. Our aim is to be Peloton meets gaming meets boxing, at 1/10th of the price. We launched on Kickstarter yesterday, and would love it if you checked us out! Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/quelltech/quell-real-ga...

We started building Quell because for us, exercise wasn’t fun; it was work. We’d tried all the stats tracking apps and the cycling simulators, but they weren’t treating that root problem. Over time, as the novelty wore off, we were left with the feeling that working out was still boring and uncomfortable.

As big gamers, gamification seemed like an obvious solution. We looked at what was happening in this space and felt that exercise games tended to compromise on the exercise or the game. We believed that, if we could get both right, we could make something we’d want to play. Everything in the market was focussed on running, cycling or yoga/pilates, so we went with boxing as a more intense and cathartic alternative.

We realised that Quell could be a real business when we started talking to people about exercise. Everyone was facing the same two problems: obstacles, and a lack of reward. The absence of immediate rewards when you exercise means that you have to propel yourself using long-term benefits, and most of us are bad at this. On top of that, seemingly small barriers like weather, travel, set-up, knowledge and equipment sharing have a massive impact on people's ability to commit.

The team started working together in February, but we all had other things going on. Cam had just left his career in management consulting to do a design master’s. Martin was wrapping up his PhD in sensor tech at Oxford. Doug was building a business providing remote working and development retreats. Lorenzo was doing a design master’s to pursue a career in prosthetic design. None of us had the financial stability to make this our full-time job, so we decided to develop the product over a year or two in our spare time. After a month, we applied to YC with zero expectation of being accepted. Our idea was basically a punching bag with a screen, and we knew it wasn’t where we wanted it to be. We saw the YC application as a forcing mechanism to put some rigour behind the business, and an exciting experience to go through.

Then Covid hit, and the target market went from ‘people who don’t like exercise’ to ‘people who don’t like home exercise or running around the same park every day’. We went into overdrive, using all of our days off and lunch breaks to develop the product. Despite all this effort, the pace was glacial. All the workshops closed during lockdown, so we had no tools. We were separated in different parts of the UK, trying to build hardware via Zoom. Then YC accepted us, and we could finally focus! We left our jobs and degrees. Everyone moved into Cam's apartment. We bought a 3D printer, a sewing machine and a bunch of electronics and textiles. We spent all day every day looping through talking to users, collating insights, designing and prototyping.

We learned that no one wanted the hassle of a punchbag, but everyone loved the idea of feeling the satisfying physical resistance of punching something at home. We built a wearable which applied customisable resistance to punches through swappable elastic bands, and it landed well. We started looking at computer vision to translate player punches into the game, but our potential users hated the idea of setting up a camera. After hundreds of hours spent punching the air in our living room, we found that we could get high-accuracy, low-latency gesture recognition through a neural net applied to inertial measurement units in the gloves.

We made a quick video and website with our first prototype (link here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hrIegPSxko2JPzsztm_1UmV4iRO...), then started advertising on Facebook and Instagram to see how it landed. The response was incredible, with CPA coming in 75% lower than our benchmarks. We opened pre-orders to test whether these people would convert and got fifty orders in the first month. After drafting our bill of materials, we settled on a price of $200 for the wearable and $10/mo in subscription fees, which works out at less than half the average gym membership. With 55m active gamers paying for a gym membership pre-covid, we estimate a market size of $18bn.

With the financials sorted and the early market validation complete, we felt confident in building towards a Kickstarter. For the last month, we’ve been working hard on turning ideas into concept art into game content, making the product look and feel good, shooting the video, writing the copy, pricing, costing, and growing our sign-up list. We launched our Kickstarter yesterday, and have recieved over $60k in pledges in our first 24 hours. You can check out the full video of our new prototype at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/quelltech/quell-real-ga....

We’re continuing to develop the hardware and the game in parallel, and would love to hear what HN loves and hates, as well as any questions you might have. We’ll be on here every waking hour (UK time) to respond as soon as humanly possible. Thank you!

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andrey azimov by Andrey Azimov