RE:INVENTION’s Expert Series presents a biweekly interview with a major player at a company that is notable as progressive, transformative and/or innovative within its industry.
Chicago-based Retrofit is a weight management program targeted at business professionals who tend to be too busy for exercise in their day-to-day lives. It offers a personalized regimen for each client, focusing on three core principals: diet, exercise and behavior change. Emphasizing the importance of weight loss and healthy lifestyles as a marathon rather than a sprint, Retrofit was founded in 2011 and continues to grow rapidly today. The following interview is with founder and CEO, Jeff Hyman.
RE: First, can you give us a brief background of yourself and of Retrofit as a company?
Jeff: I am an entrepreneur at heart, with a lifelong passion for creating innovative and human-powered companies. I decided to create Retrofit after I spent a life-changing week at an Arizona wellness retreat. I wanted to deliver the same kind of personalized weight loss program to others, but via the Internet. Prior to founding Retrofit, I was Founder and CEO of three Internet-based service companies. I also served as SVP Sales & Marketing for Ameritox, a private equity-owned healthcare services company, and before that was the first VP of Marketing at Dyson – makers of awesome consumer products. I graduated with a BS from The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from The Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
Retrofit is the expert-led, data-driven weight loss program for busy professionals. Its designed to deliver lasting results. Its innovative program includes wireless monitoring of a client’s weight, activity and sleep, as well as 1-on-1 online video coaching from a registered dietitian, exercise physiologist and behavior coach. Retrofit is leading the weight loss industry with its high-tech approach and remarkable results. Retrofit has been named one of the “Top 50 Best Health & Fitness Apps” by TechCrunch and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal. Bloomberg Television called the innovative Retrofit program “Weight Loss for the 21st Century.” The Chicago-based weight loss company is being called the “front runner in harnessing wireless and remote technology to help its busy clients lose weight” (Forbes.com). We’ve raised $10.7 million in venture financing, led by legendary Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ). Retrofit can be found on the Web at RetrofitMe.com and by calling 855-4-RETROFIT.
RE: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner? What did you learn from it?
Jeff: The biggest challenge we have faced is how to drive standard processes and best practices with a large virtual team. Retrofit utilizes a lot of technology to help us communicate as if we were all co-located. I’ve learned the importance of making sure that consistent company messaging exists, regardless of the fact we all work from remote offices around the country. Meeting through Skype videoconferencing and Google Hangouts has enabled effective communication and connectivity within our company as well as with our clients. Through the process, I have learned that to be a great entrepreneur, you need to be a good listener. It is imperative to balance passion with flexibility. Small business owners need to listen to their customers, prospects, vendors, industry experts, and even family. Then you must assimilate all that information to decide what’s important & what’s not. What advice you’ll follow & what advice you’ll ignore are all keys to success. This isn’t always easy, but I’ve found that the more I listen, the more I learn, and the more prepared I am to build a great business.
RE: How did your team start building a culture of innovation or transformation?
Jeff: First, we had to figure out how to crack the code on successful weight loss. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight and I was determined to help turn the tide on the obesity epidemic. First, I consulted with the top obesity experts and physicians in the field until we discovered how to deliver unrivaled results in the industry. Since we all know diets don’t work, we created a weight loss program that is not a diet. We set out to disrupt the traditional business model of group lessons and we created Private Lessons for weight loss. Retrofit personalizes the weight loss process. Since no two people lose weight the same way, our program is tailored for each client.
Retrofit differentiates itself from competition by using Skype videoconferencing with wellness experts—registered dietitians, exercise physiologists and behavior coaches. We use the latest in wireless tracking devices to collect and aggregate data. Highly trained wellness teams track and monitor client progress and analyze trends in the data and personalize each program. More than 90% of our clients are losing weight and our average client loses 19.1 pounds a year. Plus 50% of our clients are men, which is four times the industry average. Only Retrofit offers such a high level of privacy, personalization, and convenience to help clients lose weight and keep it off for life.
Retrofit works with individuals and employers to reduce their healthcare costs. Overweight employees cost companies almost $1,500 in additional healthcare costs each year. Retrofit is a voluntary benefit that works with employers to support employees and teach healthy living. When customers come to Retrofit, they’ve all lost weight before on diets, only to gain it back (and then some!) We’re successful because we’ve studied the science of what works and we share that with our customers across the country.
RE: What approaches do you take to keep up with and develop it?
Jeff: We aren’t trying to fit into the existing weight loss category. We don’t want or expect repeat customers. Retrofit takes the holistic approach to weight loss. People do not have time to travel weight loss meetings, so we are bringing the meetings to the clients through virtual technology. In regard to keeping up with the technological advances of the wearable fitness trackers and wi-fi scales, we realize that there will always be new wearables on the market. We can upload the real-time data from many different devices and support various brands and technologies. We differentiate ourselves because we provide the services that support the technology. Our tech team is always adapting to changes in the technology and we make sure our client wellness experts and weight loss coaches are always providing the best and most personal service to accompany the technology and enable clients to make sustainable behavior changes. We can import data from many different APIs. As technology changes, so do our platforms. It’s a matter of keeping pace. In fact, we do 3 software releases each week.
RE: Have you found yourself having to transform your business methodology since you started? How have you done so?
Jeff: Yes. Since launching, we have evolved our business model by offering three different levels of service. We originally had one premium-priced level and we now have three levels, including a weight loss Advisor program, which allows access to one weight loss coach instead of a full team of three. Clients have responded favorably. We found early on that a combination of software, hardware, and human support would lead to industry-leading weight loss results for our customers. When we started, we had no idea if it would work. On the one-year anniversary, we ran the numbers and found that we had cracked the code on sustained weight loss. Customers love Retrofit because it works. In a sea of weight loss false hope, broken promises, and mixed results, Retrofit works.
RE: What do you think is most important for your company to do in order to keep up with the rapid changes in technology?
Jeff: We have to make sure that we are constantly testing new devices and adding features to collect client data wirelessly through our private and proprietary Retrofit dashboard and client mobile app.
RE: Lastly, do you like dogs? Our K-9 Intern “Kane” wants to know if he could have a future career opportunity at Retrofit.
Jeff: I love dogs. My two sons ask me for one on a weekly basis. “Kane” could be the perfect surrogate pet and also work as a Retrofit Intern to test our wireless fitness trackers. We have been told some clients put their trackers on their dogs to increase their step counts. (Not that we’re suggesting that!) But, we’d love to put a Fitbit on Kane and see the results!