Paying for Broken Resolutions – Literally

Screen shot of Gym-Pact home page


Not long after writing up the Esther Dyson (@edyson) talk (part 1 here and part 2 here), I came across an article in Slate about an app maker that wants to charge people for not going to the gym. It’s probably innovative, but will it work?

But first a Dyson recap: In her talk, Dyson spoke of how social media, mobile and miniaturization will merge to make measuring key health metrics easier. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs will be looking for ways to keep customers engaged with their services or products. She specifically mentioned Keas, a company launched in 2011 that relies on gamification to maintain the interest of subscribers.

Dyson noted that companies have been using some form of game dynamics for many years. She cited the example of airlines that have been using air miles to reward frequent fliers. Part of a company’s challenge, she said, is to figure out bonus schemes that are desirable to customers.

Then Slate goes and writes about GymPact (@gympact),  a startup that wants to charge for not using the gym.

Zeroing in on the fact that New Year’s resolutions are not worth the alcohol-infused breath they are uttered on, GymPact is an app that asks the user to make a deal with themselves on how often they will use the gym during the week. You also set the monetary penalty for failing to meet your target. The good boys and girls, meanwhile, get paid a reward out of the losers’ money.

Failsafes include GPS to confirm attendance at a known gym and the prevention of “comically lax exercise goals,” according to Slate. The article echoed Dyson’s comments when she spoke of the problems people have motivating themselves — even when they know they should be doing better. “Consumers can mean well and it is their body, but the donut is here today,” she said.

That issue of personal motivation stands behind poor stats on health and education, Slate said. Like Dyson, it also mentioned the “large and savvy group of marketers skilled at exploiting our weaknesses and tempting us” in to giving in to more fats and salt.

But Slate claims there is a problem with GymPact’s model. Gyms want to sell memberships to people who won’t show up. Arriving in every day and taking up space costs the gym money. Adding to that problem is that GymPact’s most successful users are likely to be the ones who go work out. They will exercise anyway. GymPact will just add a little bonus to their efforts.

In summation, Slate said, “The problem with GymPact is that the more successful it is, the less revenue it generates, and the more revenue it generates, the more customers will despise it.”

I think that may be too harsh and that the model is sound. There will always be enough people who want to improve their health, appearance, self-esteem, love life or whatever else they think a gym promises. That will take care of revenue, in my opinion.

As for the other side, Slate said they are the ones who need the app least: “Members of that iron willed tribe who’ve been managing to get themselves to the gym regularly without an iPhone app.” However, I don’t believe they will be able to pass up the opportunity to feel even better about their efforts by taking money off losers who leave them with a nice, quiet gym.

The real problem is that they are unlikely to get rich off the deal.

Image is a screen shot of GymPact’s homepage.