With gyms being closed or limited in capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic, getting into your workout has never been so difficult. Home fitness equipment and classes provide exercise from the comfort of your home, but they lack intensity or competition. Andy Hoang saw the opportunity to offer high-intensity, in-house training (HIIT) -style workouts and competitive practice games through Aviron. Aviron is an interactive rowing machine that allows you to exercise powerfully and engagingly from the comfort of your own home. The startup is based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Andy Hoang, Founder and CEO of Aviron.
Frederick Daso: One could easily argue that the pandemic was a massive driver for fitness hobbyists who opted for home exercise equipment instead of going to the gym. However, do you think this will still be the case after the pandemic ends?
Andy Hoang: Yes, I think even after the pandemic is over, people will keep improving their home gyms. Pre-Covid Peloton grew 300-400% year over year. The growth in home device purchases, although accelerated by Covid, is not just because of it.
Some studies show that nine in ten Americans plan to continue exercising at home even after the gyms are fully open again. I think we’re going to see a new normal versus a shift back to what used to be, which means our life and our old fitness routines will never be the same.
Daso: For those looking for high-intensity, competitive workouts, is there any workout device offering this through software? If not, why hasn’t the broader market addressed this issue yet?
Hoang: Some options on the market achieve competitive workouts, and sometimes only through software. At high intensity, Aviron is a differentiator when it comes to home fitness equipment. A resistance component must be in place to achieve intense interval training i.e. HIIT at home. Aviron uses hardware programmed to work with software to perform the difficulties and intensities required for HIIT.
An important feature of the Aviron rowing machine is the highest resistance settings that allow users to pull up to 100 lbs. Each stroke is three times as high as the resistance of a comparable rowing machine. The high resistance ensures short and intensive training units, different intervals, strength development and explosive movements, which are of fundamental importance for intensive training. With the content based on these principles, it will continue to increase. Hence, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get this experience using software alone.
Rower with an Aviron machine.
Daso: What underlying trends are driving the growth of the connected fitness equipment industry?
Hoang: As with anything, people are always looking for time and are aware of the price. People get bored of the “same old” routine too. The underlying trend is that people are always looking for more “good”.
Traveling to the gym or to a class takes time – even a relatively short 15-minute drive can take more than 40 minutes if finding a parking space takes a few minutes. There’s more time (and more brain space) to think ahead and book a spot before the class is full. Ultimately, people value their time.
Gyms and studios become expensive over time, especially for families. On the other hand, the cost of an Aviron rowing machine and membership is very affordable.
After all, people get bored and long for a change. Connected fitness like Aviron has an ever-growing catalog of content options that appeal to different workout types and moods. Play a fully animated video game one day, do some vigorous weight training the next, and settle into a cozy row on a lake in Thailand for your “day off.”
Daso: How did you discover a deeper market of people looking for more competitive workouts but couldn’t find them in the gym or other public fitness facilities?
Hoang: I couldn’t find a solution that met my needs, so I took on others like me. Like many people, I work long hours and I need something comfortable for myself – I used to go to the gym late into the night, but after a while you realize that you spend more time on the phone than exercising. I’m competitive by nature, so in an ideal world, CrossFit or MMA is great – super engaged, competitive with the added benefit of having a great community. But the time, money, and mental commitment are pretty important.
Peloton checked many boxes other than long-form aerobics, and teacher-led courses did not resonate with me. I’m more interested in a short, tough race against someone.
As soon as you see something in yourself, you start talking to other people and I’m glad I found some people who agreed, understood, and became supporters of what I wanted to build.
Male rower using an Aviron machine.
Daso: What drove the Aviron’s design to be minimal, compact, yet attractive enough to keep you exercising every day? How did you incorporate the aesthetics of your target group into the product design?
Hoang: The first thing we focused on was functionality. Rowing machines have been around for a long time, but they haven’t changed. They’re loud, difficult to use, and even ugly. We started with these factors because, as a non-rower, I knew myself that these were some of the reasons I avoided the rower in the gym.
We used a nylon belt instead of a chain which made it quieter. A combination of fan and flywheel for drag made the rowing movement feel more realistic and better mimick the feeling on the water. The dual resistance technology also enables strong resistance, which is used in high-intensity training. Like most rowing machines, the Aviron is eight feet long. For reasons of space, it had to be able to be folded in half.
Aesthetic design was next. We didn’t like the way most of the attached fitness equipment dangled wires behind the screen as if the screen and equipment were being designed and “put together” separately. Aviron looks clean, there are no cables, and there is only a power cord protruding from the frame. To ensure a durable yet comfortable product, we designed Aviron with gym durability and home comfort in mind. Steel and aluminum are used throughout the structure, giving Aviron an industrial yet modern look. The screen is again encased in a specially shaped plastic to ensure clean lines and durability.
Ultimately, it’s the experience that gets people to exercise every day. Users navigate a 22-inch touchscreen to browse hundreds of exercise options to suit their fitness level, mood and style, such as: For example, rowing zombies in a fully animated game inspired by the end of the world, or racing against Olympic athletes – while connecting with others in the Aviron community.
Daso: How did you design the sales process and go-to-market strategy to reach the best and ultimate end-users of your target audience?
Hoang: In July we went from selling mainly gyms, hotels, universities and other businesses to selling direct to consumers via e-commerce. It’s been a journey figuring out the right go-to-market strategy, but it seems like things are clicking slowly. There have been lots of tries and errors trying things that didn’t work and a few costly mistakes, but ultimately I’d attribute our success to a few things. First build the team. I wanted to make sure everyone was committed to Aviron and its success, more than the direct skills or know-how. People who share the vision and can quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. We are never married to ideas, only to success and move as quickly as possible. Next, we needed a constant learning mentality. We read, share, and discuss blogs, articles, and courses all the time.
We’ve been lucky with a few good calls, working with some great outside resources – both consultants and experts – to make sure our strategy and execution were on point.
Daso: What were the core tenets that you held to as you built your team to run in a notoriously capital-intensive environment?
Hoang: My parents are refugees from the Vietnam War who came to this country with nothing. Somehow my father managed not to turn it into a successful company with over 150 employees. He taught me a principle that I use almost every day: if you have to spend $ 1 million, quit it, but if you can save even $ 1, save it. Building a hardware business is expensive, so it is important to be smart about how you are spending your money. Mistakes are expensive; You can’t just write new code to fix a bug. You may need to change the hardware design. It can take months and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) to improve.
It is important that my team understands this and is happy to share and implement these principles. Ownership and accountability are qualities I need to look out for as they treat the role (and therefore the company) as their own and ultimately make smart decisions.
Since hardware can be slow (compared to software), it is important that my team move and work quickly. On the other side of that coin, my goal is to keep the same team at Aviron beyond the three-year limit. There is a culture of family and stability in my father’s company, which I believe has contributed to a large part of the workforce staying with the company for more than 10 years. And in many cases 20+. My goal is to achieve something similar.