Health Tech: Eric Posner On How Swerve Fitness’ Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness
Stay true to your values. In a world that constantly changes, the most important part to building a business based around technology that positively impacts society, is defining your values and sticking to them no matter what. Let your core values guide your decisions. As clearly represented by our evolution as a business, we are staying true to our focus of bringing humans together and delivering on a team-based fitness experience, but now delivering it in a completely different, more efficient manner.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Posner of Swerve Fitness.
Eric Posner is a graduate of Harvard Business School, a former Investment Banker and co-Founder and CEO of Swerve Fitness, currently residing in Los Angeles, CA.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in Huntington, Long Island in a home where my parents operated their family business, a Wholistic Wellness Center. My father is a chiropractor, my mother runs the massage business, and my sister is an acupuncturist. If you’ve seen the movie Meet the Fockers, well they are the Fockers — hippies at heart, ahead of the curve when it comes to health & nutrition trends and carrying out their mission to help others live healthier lives. Early on, I was introduced to what it’s like running your own business, but also living a life centered around positively impacting others.
An early passion for team sports paved my way to being recruited to play lacrosse at Harvard. After graduation, I landed a job at an investment bank. In my role, it was the norm to entertain clients via fancy steak dinners and drinks, but I went the opposite direction and found success by taking clients to boutique fitness classes instead. Through the act of working out with others, harnessing that camaraderie and community in a healthy way, what I loved so much about playing team sports came alive again.
Four years later, I teamed up with my high school friend and teammate who was in a very similar place in his career, to leave banking and co-founded Swerve, an indoor cycling studio in New York City. We had both uncovered an insight that team building through fitness was an untapped opportunity in the fitness category, resonating with so many people who grew up in team sports.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The pandemic turned many businesses upside down, but it presented us with a game-changing opportunity to pivot our business to reach more people than ever.
It didn’t come without challenges. We were forced to close our studios and make difficult decisions. But as the industry underwent a seismic shift, we uncovered the whitespace and formulated our vision for the future of fitness.
We rented out our bikes to our loyal members to keep generating revenue and got to work on innovating for the future, by pivoting from a brick-and-mortar indoor cycling studio to a B2B content and SaaS provider for big box gyms. We knew the industry would change dramatically, and we figured out a way to come out in front.
We took our vision to investors to not only save our business from going under but raised over $4M in seed capital in less than 3 months to pursue it. Our investors understood the problem we were solving and saw a clear path to how Swerve can easily become a billion-dollar company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Alongside our pivot to a tech company, my co-founder John Henry McNierney and I knew that to maximize our success, we were going to need to bring on an expert in content, tech, and programming.
To fill this role, we hired Marion Roaman, a pioneer in the fitness industry and co-founder of Peloton. Marion is a builder, creator, and innovator. She has brought to life some of the most engaging experiences in fitness today and developed some of the biggest household names in fitness talent. Now, as Chief Content Officer, Marion has taken on Swerve as her latest brainchild.
Marion’s deep expertise within software, tech and streaming expedited our ability to build our live broadcasting center, which is the hub that brings Swerve to life. Building great teams comes from the energy and tone set from the top, so we couldn’t be more grateful to have Marion’s help in leading the charge.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The only way out is through” by Robert Frost. Life always gets messy and there are no shortcuts to getting what you want. Things take time, require patience, persistence, and discipline. It’s important to embrace the challenges you’re presented with, do not ignore them or try to go around them. Ultimately, you’ll wear them as badges for when you get to the other side.
You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Resiliency: I view entrepreneurship as a team sport. You win some, you lose some, and sometimes you get hit with a global pandemic! But the key to success is strengthening your resiliency muscles. This means taking learnings from failures, seeing each day as a fresh start, ‘hunting the good’ stuff even when you’re down, and searching for opportunity in every moment. Our experience pivoting Swerve was the ultimate test and exercise in testing our will to power through.
- Clarity of Vision: When you’re clear in your vision or what it is that you’re seeking, you naturally say “no” more readily, which is a superpower. Clarity breeds prioritization. Think of tying a string to a single point on the wall, that point being your vision. Every move and decision you make should be a tug on that string, bringing you closer to your vision. If it’s not, you’re wasting your time. Since the inception of Swerve, we’ve been so clear on the power of team and its benefits to the consumer. Even though we’ve pivoted the way in which we deliver on that vision (from brick & mortar to SaaS), we’ve remained true to our core promise.
- Empathy: Genuinely caring about other people, working to understand their needs, motivations, and points of view, is arguably the most important leadership skill when it comes to dealing with other humans (and I can’t name many businesses run solely by robots)! Culture stems from leadership, and strong culture fuels high powered teams. When navigating the pandemic, pivoting the business, and working hard to build a team, it was and continues to be about leading with empathy, for that’s how we’re able to build and maintain such a strong culture, and get a product off the ground so quickly.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which problems are you aiming to solve?
First and foremost, in a period when the world is feeling more isolated than ever before — with tech often being the culprit — we’re utilizing technology and the power of teamwork to bring more people together, in the same room, working out and connecting, together. Within all of this, we’re on a mission to build a new team sport for the everyday athlete.
The way it works: Swerve’s world-class trainers are filmed at our NYC HQ and LIVE streamed onto large video walls inside of existing cycling studios (within big box gyms), creating an immersive, theater-like experience.
Our tech seamlessly connects with existing bikes at our partner gyms (we are equipment agnostic). The bike data is pulled in real-time to gamify the experience whereby each studio is its own team competing against all of the other locations, globally.
In a world of leaderboards and individualized competition, our team-based approach motivates riders via competition while also building community within the room.
Although Swerve comes to life via gamified and dynamic content for the gym member, Swerve is simultaneously addressing key problems for gyms: 1) solving pandemic spurred labor shortages, 2) maximizing class offerings, offering live classes on the hour every hour, and filling space that is currently sitting empty and a sunk cost 3) decreasing operational challenges, 4) providing software tools to maximize engagement, retention, and customer LTV, and most importantly, 5) proving to drive profitability.
How do you think your technology can address this?
From the consumer’s perspective, Swerve is delivering an experience like no other and offering it at a fraction of the cost compared to boutique fitness. Instead of paying the high-ticket prices of boutique fitness (upwards of $36 per class), now, with our technology based product, you can pay that much for a gym membership, get unlimited Swerve classes included plus all of the other amenities offered at our partner gyms.
From the gym’s perspective, it’s important to note why Swerve’s solution is so important. It’s a known fact that gym members who participate in group fitness have higher lifetime value than those who don’t. Now that gyms are facing even more competition due to all the ways one can consume fitness, to sell more memberships and to retain them longer, there is increased emphasis on delivering a top-notch group exercise experience. Insert Swerve!
And with that, the value proposition is compelling. With a nominal investment for TV’s and Swerve’s technology, gyms can turn pre-existing cycling studios with any brand of bike into Swerve’s tech enabled boutique experience that has proven to have immediate ROI.
As a brief overview, in just 9 months of operation, we’re boasting an 88% month-over-month retention rate on ridership which is significantly higher than the industry average, and accounting for between 40–50% of group exercise bookings within our partner gyms, and this factors in all other modalities (strength, yoga, dance, etc.). Swerve is playing a significant role within our gym partner’s ecosystem as only one modality.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
For anybody who has played team sports, you know the power behind it. Team sports change lives. Being on a team is a universal language that the entire world speaks, and frankly, not enough people play them beyond their teenage years. With teammates, you work harder, celebrate bigger, lift others up, have more fun, and win or lose, you always walk away stronger.
What started as filling our own void, turned into a burning desire and passion to deliver a team-based fitness experience to the masses — the everyday athlete.
How do you think this might change the world?
Swerve is redefining group fitness as a category. We are building the future of group exercise — an infusion of live streamed content from best-of-the-best trainers, connected fitness technology with two-way communication, and gamification via a team-based, community enhancing format that appeals to a broad audience of all fitness levels. Cycling is just the beginning for Swerve’s offerings. Swerve is the bridge between the physical and digital worlds of fitness, taking all the top attributes from both.
Additionally, the fitness industry has historically struggled to create one experience that appeals to all types of athletes, be it triathletes or those early on their weight loss journey. A team-based platform opens us up to a broader audience, enabling us to keep seasoned athletes challenged while motivating beginners to get started. This is very challenging to do, but we’re thrilled to say that we’ve cracked it.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about? It’s difficult to pin down any drawbacks or unintended consequences since our technology brings people together and gets them exercising. We’re fostering movement and connection, two fundamental needs as human beings.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
- Stay true to your values. In a world that constantly changes, the most important part to building a business based around technology that positively impacts society, is defining your values and sticking to them no matter what. Let your core values guide your decisions. As clearly represented by our evolution as a business, we are staying true to our focus of bringing humans together and delivering on a team-based fitness experience, but now delivering it in a completely different, more efficient manner.
- Prioritize the health of the human. Technology can easily be isolating, distracting, addictive or even bad for the planet. While these products may drive revenues, consider the long-term effects on society, the behavior you’re seeking to drive, and the staying power of what you’re building. There’s longevity and plenty of money to be made in technology that breeds connection, focus, good health or efficiency. In addition to many anecdotes from our athletes who have shared how we’ve changed their lives, we have science that backs our experience. Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a NYU neuroscientist and internationally best-selling author ran a randomized controlled study on Swerve. In it, she found three months of Swerve two to three times a week improved brain functions, including mood, body attitude, motivation to exercise, focus/attention, and recognition memory.
- Focus on inclusivity. Technology’s most powerful benefit is its ability to scale. By focusing on inclusivity and eliminating barriers to entry, you can ultimately reach more humans, impact more people’s lives, and build a bigger business. Our business model allows gym partners to offer Swerve classes included in their memberships, eliminating cost as a barrier so more people can experience the benefits. As it relates to the experience, we’re all about creating an inclusive environment, building community within the room, and pulling all the positive attributes of team sports into the class. As we continue to build out the gamification and personalized elements of our experience, we put our ideas through the lens of teamwork to ensure we aren’t building anything that alienates our athletes (like an individual leaderboard).
- Invest in Analytics. Advanced analytics will help you help others in a more powerful way. Over the years, we’ve tested numerous class types, challenges, leagues, etc. and learned the strongest combinations and ways to drive customer engagement (and at different times of the year). This is powerful data since it not only drives member LTV but enhances the health of the consumer since they’re working out more regularly.
- Education is gold. Education is the enabler of positive outcomes for society. That’s why we encourage our trainers to think of themselves as teachers, empowering our riders with their knowledge on how to live healthier lives. It’s also why we encourage all Swerve employees to be forever students, and that goes for leadership too. One of Swerve’s core values is always to maintain a growth mindset, being open to learning from those around you to grow stronger together. It’s our goal for this ethos to reach our audience of athletes too.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
When was the last time you helped somebody? How did it feel? I’d bet my life savings that it made you feel amazing inside. I feel comfortable making that bet not only because I’ve experienced it, but because science backs it. Helping others is proven to release endorphins in the brain! Now, imagine multiplying that feeling, and dedicating your life to building tools and technology that can help the masses. You’ll live a very fulfilled life.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
When Tim Ferris is ready to experience my cooking, I’ll start the prep. I am an avid listener of his podcast, have read all his books, and learned so much from his life’s work. He’s an inspiration to me and to society, and I’d love to break bread with him.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow Swerve’s Instagram @swervefitness or my personal @posenosebest
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.
Health Tech: Eric Posner On How Swerve Fitness’ Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.