Economy

The smart fitness mirror Vaha brings the personal trainer into your home

Ex-national goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is a testimonial for the Vaha mirror.

Vaha / Phil Pham

Mirror, mirror on the wall … Who is the fittest in the whole lockdown? The Vaha smart fitness mirror would theoretically be able to answer this question if everyone were to use it. The Vaha is an interactive fitness mirror that is supposed to function like a kind of digital personal trainer in your own home. Like an oversized tablet, the user can control it via touchscreen. Via the Spiegel, Vaha offers various workouts from yoga to boxing to strength and endurance training, but also the option of arranging a live conversation or training with a personal trainer.

In the middle of the first Corona lockdown in March 2020, just as all the fitness studios were closing, the serial founder Valerie Bures started with her latest startup baby Vaha. Actually, the perfect time to launch a home workout machine. “We obviously did not design Spiegel for the Corona situation, but the pandemic has also intensified the digitalization of sport,” she says. However, since Vaha only started selling products in March, Bures found it difficult to evaluate the corona effect on his own business.

In any case, experts have long been forecasting that interactive mirrors will become one of the most important new interfaces within the smart home. According to the market analysis firm Allied Market Research, the global market value for smart mirrors was estimated at 1.44 billion euros in 2017 and is expected to reach 3.44 billion euros by 2025, with an annual growth rate of 11.5 percent.

Vaha

A lot has happened since the company started with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product): At the beginning, some members of the associated Facebook group complained about courses or video calls being stopped. The transitions between the exercises in your own training plan also jerked a little. You could tell that the product was still in its infancy. Much has already improved, however. First, Vaha expanded personal training via video calls and the media library for on-demand fitness videos.

In September, Vaha then integrated live courses at fixed times. While around a third of the customers take part in the live courses, the even larger proportion mainly use the courses from the library, says Bures. Another third of the customers use the personal trainer (one session per month is included in the membership) – but especially in the first few months as a “Kickstarter program”, says Bures. “The first year was about building the base and now it’s about customizing the user experience more and more,” says Bures.

Vaha’s goal: at least 10,000 users by the end of 2021

In the past year, the startup has grown extremely: According to the company, the growth rates were 20 to 30 percent each month compared to the previous month. At the end of 2020, Vaha reached the four-digit user range. Bures’ ambitious goal for the new year: by the end of 2021, it wants to break the 10,000 user mark.

The growth rates apparently also impress international donors: It was only in December that Vaha received a double-digit million sum from investors such as Porsche Ventures and the London investor Unbound. Like most startups in the early stages, Vaha is not yet profitable.

Vaha plans to start expanding into Great Britain in the spring. On the other hand, the company is currently not banking on the American market, as “Americans think differently in the fitness sector,” said Bures. The competition is also already greater here. In addition to the top dog Mirror, whose product has been on the market in the USA since 2018 for 1,200 euros, there are already several competitors in the USA. Mirror sells around 600 copies per month in its home market.

The young startup Vaha can currently only dream of these numbers. The sportswear brand Lululemon bought the biggest international competitor for 500 million US dollars last summer. In this context, some US journalists and experts asked themselves the question: If things were supposedly going so well at Mirror – and according to their own statements it was on the way to the next Apple – why sell now? Is the fitness mirror business really as profitable in the long term as it is supposedly predicted?

A Vaha mirror costs 2,300 euros – plus a subscription fee

In addition, many users in this country are initially skeptical about technical innovations. There is also the question of whether the comparatively high purchase price for the Vaha mirror of around 2,300 euros is really worthwhile. Because the price for the fitness mirror does not include the monthly membership fee for the training content. The cheapest basic subscription is available for 39 euros and the most expensive premium for 388 euros. Of course, not everyone can afford that. “Our product is not currently aimed at Mcfit customers who only want to spend 20 euros,” says Bures

Vaha’s target group is mainly working parents with little time for themselves, like Bures. “I don’t see how I should even manage to go to the studio,” says the 41-year-old mother of three. The average age of customers is 45 years, 60 percent are female. According to the Vaha CEO, many would also live in the country, often living in houses with plenty of space for the mirror. There the device offers another advantage: especially in rural regions, athletes do not always have access to and a large selection of fitness studios.

So the typical gym goers will soon be leaving for Vaha? Despite lockdown and the online gym hype, the studio is not obsolete, say many experts. For example, McFit founder Rainer Schaller said in an earlier conversation with NewsABC.net that he believed in a hybrid use of online fitness and gyms after Corona. Benjamin Roth, founder of the fitness aggregator Urban Sports Club, said something similar. The sports scientist Dr. Stephan Geisler predicts a “run on the fitness clubs” in 2021 for the online magazine “Fitbook”. “It is estimated that things will start to pick up again from spring. Training at home is a nice way of bridging the gap, but equipment and dumbbells make training more effective. “Therefore, after the low in the fitness industry, there is an extreme high again”, Geisler told “Fitbook”.

It therefore remains to be seen whether Vaha’s promise will still sound so tempting to customers after the pandemic. So far, the mirror has only worked like another screen to play content. In addition to the fitness classes, customers can also use the Vaha to scroll through Instagram, listen to Spotify playlists or watch Netflix shows – and of course simply to check their own reflection in the mirror. However, all of this is also possible via a smart TV.

From February: motion analysis and live feedback

An important new function is therefore to be introduced from the beginning of February, which is to raise the mirror from a mere screen: With so-called motion tracking, the Vaha mirror’s camera can analyze the user’s movements in good light and internet conditions and give live feedback. The camera measures 26 body points and an algorithm superimposes them with a model skeleton and can thus compare how the exercise should ideally be performed. A feedback notice will then appear on the screen. The repetitions are also recorded, so that users can better compare their performance in the future.

Bures and her other company Pixformance developed the technology for this long ago. When using algorithms, however, it is important to be able to use a large database first, which is why the start of the feature has been postponed again and again. “As with the example of motion tracking, a lot of data and feedback loops are often necessary before a feature is perfectly developed,” says the managing director. Early users who waited for this function should have been annoyed by this, as motion tracking is one of the central points that could lift the mirror from a third screen.

In the future, the Spiegel will use this knowledge and algorithms to automatically recognize what customers want or need and suggest suitable workouts to them based on experience. With all this user data, the mirror on the wall could actually determine the fittest German – at least within the Vaha community.

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