I feel like sometimes this pisses the hardcore rowers off but I’m not a rower, I’m a tech guy. I also think fitness is important and have been working out all of my adult life. Before Aviron, I worked full time and long hours so I did a lot of my thinking during late night gym sessions. Like many people I avoided the rower because not only did I not enjoy cardio but damn that machine was hard and boring. There was a moment at some point in 2016 when I realized I could do something with this. The connected fitness market in the US at that time was small but growing rapidly.
Aviron is a rowing machine because it’s the most efficient and effective workout you can have in a short amount of time on one machine. The rowing motion is low impact, engages 85% of muscles, is very difficult and as a result can also be boring. This makes the rowing machine an ideal ‘candidate’ to pair with the gaming-inspired, competitive content I began thinking about in 2016.
The research was telling me there was a definite potential market niche I could fill but what I didn't know was that no manufacturer would speak to me. I probably called and emailed 50 manufacturers. I eventually kickstarted a few conversations and finally a relationship, by flying to Taiwan, connecting with a local who could translate, and knocking on doors in person. It sounds reasonable in hindsight but the process to finalizing a production contract start to finish took me a full year. A year of trying to understand the manufacturing landscape, developing relationships and convincing potential suppliers that I would eventually be worth their time.
Ultimately my key takeaway is that Taiwanese manufacturing relationships are just that - relationships. Manufacturers are looking for long-term trusting partnerships and they are much less motivated by money than my initial assumption. I’m reminded of this constantly - this month alone I have received emails re: product delays twice - and I stupidly tried to throw money at the problem, in the process offending the Taiwan team by implying they would work harder if money was on the table.
Finding and building a solid relationship with a production partner was challenging but I would give it a 7/10 relative to the hurdles that came later. The manufacturer had no experience or interest in getting the machine to work along with our custom android touchscreen. As much as I see myself as a “tech guy”, I don’t have an engineering degree. My dad does and so does my brother but I went the business degree route. Long story short, figuring out the details of making these two pieces work together was a nightmare. Again, in hindsight, it’s kind of cool - I understand my machine inside and out; I’m confident I could take it apart down to the screws and put it back together. I can also work comfortably with an oscilloscope and understand how most of the components work on a typical fitness equipment circuit board - there was a lot of circuit board soldering trial and error at one point.
I knew that I was taking on a lot with a software and hardware venture but what nobody tells you is how many miles you’re going to drive and fly when you’re taking on hardware. During our slow tip-toe pivot from B2B to B2C sales, we discovered home customers would find 10x the problems a gym would. There was a week in 2019 I drove to a customer’s home 6 hours away multiple times a week for nearly a month. Each trip I thought we had found the solution; the ride back was crushing. This was one of many problems we faced.
I’m happy to be able to say the bugs are mostly worked out! Our customers navigate a 22” touchscreen to browse 250ish content options - like my favorite and the first game we ever developed - Last Hope, an end-of-the-world inspired game where you’re being chased by zombies. As your row to escape the Ai will benchmark your fitness output and adjust the zombies’ speed to maintain a challenging pace for your fitness level.
The content for Aviron was developed with strength training and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) in mind. For example, one of our 6 workouts categories is “Pros vs. Joes”, a program that allows you to compete against pre-recorded Olympians and professional athletes in a race.
Our customers are fitness enthusiasts who don’t enjoy long cardio workouts and crave the competitive and challenging pace of activities like CrossFit and F45, at home - especially throughout Covid. HIIT workouts tend to be shorter, have been proven to improve cognitive ability and help slow the aging process via preservation of DNA.
To me, the dual cognitive and physical benefits were really key. I began to work out in my teens, physically I felt better and my self esteem improved. Cognitively, I went from dealing with undiagnosed ADHD and struggling my way through school to slowly noticing an improvement. People told me I was “growing out of” ADHD - which is probably partially true - but something clicked when I was researching fitness programming for Aviron. Learning about HIIT and it’s (data proven) benefits, I started to realize that my commitment to consistent and challenging physical fitness had likely paid a large part in my “growing out it” as well.
Currently, we have bootstrapped Aviron to a good place; we’ve sold nearly a thousand rowers to gyms, hotels, schools and even Nike headquarters as well as homes. Or churn rate is <1% and our customers are telling us they’re happy. And they’re paying their membership every month so we believe them. :)
We are continually working on Aviron to improve the software, content and customer experience so if you have a chance please check us out and let me know what you think. I’m excited to hear from the community. I’ll be hanging out in the comments all day.