Fitness tech, human touch converge for a full workout

Written by Geeta Nair | Pune | Updated: Mar 23 2014, 06:35am hrs
FVishal Gondal wants everybody to feel the adrenaline rush and sweat it out outdoors.
After making India take to games online, getting them to slouch on PCs well into the night and hooking a generation permanently to mobile gaming, Indias foremost gaming entrepreneur, Vishal Gondal, now wants everybody to get out into the real world play real games, feel the adrenaline rush and sweat it out outdoors.

The 38-year-olds new entrepreneurial venture, GOQii, wants people to make lifestyle changes and focus on their health and fitness instead of getting addicted to games and waking up at night to score a few extra points. GOQii is ready to ship the first 1,000 fitness bands, each of which has a smart device embedded into it that will track a persons fitness and daily activity. This, in turn, will be remotely monitored online by a personal coach, with health and nutritional experts offering their inputs.

In short, Gondal is building an entire fitness ecosystem rather than just selling tracking devices, apps, wearable gadgets or online solutions that are available by the dozen in the market. Most of these products lack sustained engagement, motivation, customised advice or a human connection, which Gondal is hoping to overcome by integrating all elements on to one platform.

A serial entrepreneur now, Gondal has got a galaxy of backers. Among them are Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit and her husband, Shriram Nene. Other investors include Googles Amit Singhal, Microsofts Taher Khorakiwala and Vijay Vashee, Kanwaljit Bombra from Dell, Mahesh Samat from Epic and Mike McNamara of Flextronics.

Some other names are Prashant Gulati of TiE, Sanjay Parthasarthy of Indix, Sanjay Vaswani of CCI, Steve Luczo of Seagate, Anil Godhwani of Habitera, Bharat Vasan of MyBasis, Esther Dyson, and Goutam Godhwani of Simply Hired.

At Nasscoms IT product conclave held in Pune recently, Gondal had hundreds of fans from IT companies and start-ups eagerly listening to how he is starting up all over again. Gondal founded Indiagames in 1999 and spearheaded Indias entry into the digital gaming industry. In 2011, the much-celebrated gaming entrepreneur sold Indiagames to Disney in what was reported to be a $100-million deal. After two years as MD of Disney UTVs digital arm, Gondal quit in mid-2013 to set up his next entrepreneurial venture, GOQii.

Talking about the shift, Gondal says the progression was natural considering the kind of lifestyle issues we are facing todayhigh blood pressure, diabetes, etc. GOQii integrates wearable technology, expert-led personalised coaching and elements of social philanthropy to encourage users to make a sustainable shift towards a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle. While the device is given for free, the coaching service and expert input services are charged under six-month (R5,999) and one-year (R9,999) plans. The GOQii bands fitness tracker device tracks steps, calories, distance, active time and idling time. It has a full-touch display, a vibrating alarm, and automatic wireless syncing via Bluetooth LE. Key functions include a watch and a motion sensor. Users are seamlessly connected to their personal GOQii coach via an app and pre-scheduled monthly video/audio calls. They can also remotely vibrate the users band to provide the human connection.

Dr Shriram Nene, a cardiothoracic vascular surgeon, will also be giving tips on behavioural habits. Other expert inputs will come from Dr Kendra Markle, affiliated with Stanford Prevention Research Center in the US and who is researching ways to use mobile and social media to change behaviour and improve health; and Luke Coutinho, an author, nutritionist, speaker and health coach.

This is not an India play for us. We have to be global and this is not a localised model. Singapore, UK, UAE, USA and literally the whole world is my market, says Gondal.

He has also brought in some elements of the digital gaming world into the fitness venture by bringing in Karma pointspoints earned when you maintain healthy habits and which can be donated for a cause. GOQii has developed a network of donors and recipient non-profit organisations to convert Karma points donated by its users to actual monetary donations. GOQii is partnering with Oxfam India in this regard.