What Did You Expect the Austrian Founder of a Fitness App Startup to Be Like?
Florian Gschwandtner is the CEO of Runtastic, an Austrian fitness app maker. He has an accent like Ahhnold, impossibly high cheekbones, and when he demos his Runtastic account I should point out that he runs long distances of sub-seven-minute miles and has a single-digit body fat percentage.
To show off a pushup tracking app, for example, which counts reps using the proximity sensor on the iPhone, Gschwandtner drops to the floor in the kitchen area of my office. Then he switches to the squats app, which uses the accelerometer to count. (Perfect form, of course.) Then he switches to the heart rate app, which uses the camera sensor. (Okay, well, everybody has a heart rate.)
There’s no question there are now a lot of fitness apps — Nike+, RunKeeper, Endomondo, Noom — but I haven’t seen a demo quite like this before.
I generally try not to objectify the people I write about, but Gschwandtner invites it. He calls himself a “fitness fanatic” and said he spends three to five days per week in the gym in addition to three to four runs per week — usually while carrying four phones to test new apps. Since he’s in San Francisco for meetings this week, Gschwandtner will run the half-marathon here this weekend. He’ll also be featured in the August edition of “Men’s Health” in Germany.
Runtastic was founded by Gschwandtner and three of his college buddies three years ago in Austria. Its 15 apps have been downloaded 30 million times, and 10 million users have created accounts (they’re not required). Each app is translated into seven languages.
The company also makes its own hardware, including heart rate monitors and GPS watches, and just started selling them on Amazon.
Venture funding is “nearly impossible” to come by at home, Gschwandtner said, so Runtastic bootstrapped itself without outside money. It has been cash-flow positive since 2011, selling $4.99 pro versions of each of the apps, subscriptions and the hardware. The company currently has 65 employees.
The advantage of the Runtastic system, Gschwandtner argued, is that it works end to end. You can essentially live your digitized fitness life within the Runtastic world of smartphone apps and hardware. That seems to me like a strangely alienating perspective in this day when people have so many other fitness tech options available to them. But Gschwandtner said Runtastic does integrate with a few outside devices and services like FitBit, Withings and MyFitnessPal.
Though Gschwandtner is an intense Runtastic user, he noted there are even better examples. For instance, there’s Gerhard Gulewicz, an endurance road biker who has competed in the 3,000-mile Race Across America seven years in a row, finishing in second or third place four times.
This year, Gulewicz — who happens to also be Austrian — is broadcasting his eighth attempt to win the race via Runtastic. Race Across America just started yesterday, so you can actually track him live here, and click on a little icon to send him cheers, which are amplified live through a megaphone in the Gulewicz team car so he can hear them on his bike.
So far, Gulewicz has made it all the way to Arizona, with an average pace of 17.5 miles per hour over 23 hours. According to the app, he has burned nearly 19,000 calories. And he has received 1,300 virtual cheers.