Why start Balanced, a digital fitness platform for older adults.
Today, we’re excited to announce our $6.5M seed fundraise: co-led by Founders Fund and Primary Venture Partners, with participation from Stellation Capital and Lux Capital.
It started during the pandemic.
I was living in New York City and working as an Engineering Manager at Ro when COVID-19 shook in the world in March of 2020. It was a surreal time — with whispers of state borders and airports shutting down before anyone knew what information was accurate. If one were to get out of the state, this window of opportunity was at risk of closing.
My younger brother called me to express that the family decision was made: we were going home to Palm Springs, CA. I obliged. While my brother moved into our mom’s house, I moved into my grandmother’s house a short two miles away.
While living with my grandmother, I had a front row seat of watching her rebuild her identity after my grandfather had passed away six months prior to cancer. After decades of a partnership together, my grandmother was asking herself: “How do I take care of myself? What do I enjoy doing? What is my community?” and rediscovering who she was from the ground up in a vastly different world: her interests were different, her body was different, and her outlook on life was different.
Not all digital wellness was created equal.
During this time, my grandmother and I could read the same books together such as “The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery and debate on the meaning of consciousness. We could cook our shared meals together in the kitchen.
But when it came to exercise — I’d excuse myself to a separate room to workout with on-demand solutions such as Peloton, Obé, or CorePower. For myself, it was a question of “which one do I choose?” from a diverse array of high quality options rather than “what exists at all for me?” as it applied to my grandmother.
The digital fitness industry had a huge gap — from high performance one-size-fits all models, jumping to a clinical intervention of fall prevention.
I was frustrated by the limited fitness options available for my grandmother during the height of the pandemic. How was my grandmother expected to take care of her physical and mental wellbeing if effective and engaging exercise was not accessible to her? Especially in a world where fitness that embraced community, joy, inspiration, a variety of exercise styles, charismatic trainers, and high production value was considered a baseline standard for my age demographic.
She, and many like her, deserve better.
My cofounder, Kelly, across the country back in New York, was facing the same problem with her loved ones. Her grandparents found themselves isolated in their apartment without access to the movement they were accustomed to in order to maintain their health.
Without a solution, Kelly, a NASM and ACE-certified personal trainer, took matters into her own hands and started training her grandparents over FaceTime video with cardio boxing in April of 2020. Overnight, her parents and aunts joined in, too.
It was the joy and inspiration of their reactions that was the fundamental inspiration for what Balanced is today.
From inspiration to market opportunity.
In the 2010s, digital fitness didn’t make sense for a segment that wasn’t technologically savvy. COVID-19 was a game changer by accelerating all technical adoption trends and consumer behavior with older adults.
In 2021, with older adults we saw:
- 53% use a tablet daily,
- 58% stream content weekly,
- 64% own a smart TV,
- and 1 in 5 wear a fitness wearable daily.
On top of that, 90% of older adults wish to age-in-place, which is now possible more than ever due to the unbundling of health care and senior center services into the homes of older adults.
The market data and trends were there — we knew we were onto something.
And akin to our experience in startups, we knew the best way to validate our hypothesis was through data. So we decided to run a pilot program with 5 independent living communities across the United States to test:
- Will older adults workout virtually?
- Will they love it?
- Can we drive engagement?
- And can we prove empirical health outcomes?
The answer was a resounding and enthusiastic yes on all fronts. The time for Balanced, a brand-forward digital fitness platform for older adults, was now.
Aligning joyous exercise to scale with distribution.
The inspiration for Balanced started with our families — but the scale for impact is much, much bigger.
Today there are 54 million older adults (65+) in the United States and expected to be 74 million by 2025. By 2030, every Baby Boomer will be age 65 or older, which means that 1 out of every 5 U.S. citizens will be of retirement age.
As a result, there will be far more demand than supply of healthcare in the future. This means that healthcare costs will increase, and we’ll need to adapt. We see this illustrated with the economic costs of $50B spent on fall-related injuries and the booming $200B caregiving sector.
Exercise for older adults is healthcare. It makes sense. Physical ability means the difference between independence and dependence. It means the difference between being able to pick up your groceries or lift your grandchildren into the air. It doesn’t matter if we’re living longer if we’re not engaged.
Medicare Advantage and the value-based care model gets it. This is why 97% of Medicare Advantage plans offer some form of a fitness benefit for prevention exercise.
Medicare Advantage plans are structured in a format that endorses value-based care where technological advancement and prevention methods are a win/win for both beneficiaries and health plan’s bottom lines. They understand how important exercise is to maintaining independence and how the future of insurance can provide opportunity for continuous wellbeing instead of only kicking in during the failure state of an injury or condition.
Balanced will meet our aging population where they are by providing joyous, effective, and equitable exercise at scale via insurance without needing older adults to pay out of pocket in order to maintain their own health.
When I think of my grandfather, I remember the moments of him diving into the pool with me, snorkeling in Hawaii and making a goofy face at me with his mask on ten feet below the surface, and late night chats in his study when he told me he was proud of my work ethic for finding character outside of classic academic institutions.
My grandfather was able to be the influential and impactful figure in my life until the day he passed at 88 years old because he knew exercise was the key to maintaining agency in his life.
At Balanced, we hold these truths to be self-evident.
Fitness for older adults isn’t about age — its personalized.
Fitness for older adults isn’t about age, it’s simply about the types of modifications due to accrued chronic conditions, injuries, or wellness goals.
At Balanced, we meet our members where they are with personalized onboarding to understand their unique needs when it comes to their health profile and wellness goals.
For example, if someone is concerned about osteoporosis, we can serve them a variety of on-demand content ranging from strength training to improve muscle mass, dance cardio with weight-bearing movements, to vinyasa flows that are safe by avoiding contradictions of the spine.
Joy and evidence-based are not mutually exclusive.
Exercise doesn’t have to feel prescribed or “age-appropriate” in order to be effective and safe. All of our trainers present classes with joy and build connection with our Balanced members. Making exercise fun is what drives engagement to keep our members coming back over and over again. While entertaining, all of our content is based on evidence-based outcomes. Our physical therapy team works directly with our trainers on the exercises that are scientifically proven to benefit our members based on the goal of the class.
A joyous fitness experience comes from inspiration and community, not silvery or clinical undertones.
Other fitness solutions targeted towards older adults focus on silver-adages and clinical undertones with statistics of muscle loss and likelihood of falls. At Balanced, we lead with a brand-forward approach to empower and inspire, not fear monger into why one should exercise.
We understand that exercise is the mechanism that allows one to continue engaging in the activities they love with whom they love. For example, many of our Balanced members enjoy walking as one of their primary activities to stay healthy. So we created content specifically designed to help our Balanced members have endurance for daily walks or prepare for a vacation to discover a new city.
Looking towards the next generation of fitness.
At Balanced, we’re creating an incredible exercise experience that builds community and embraces belonging for healthy aging. An experience that folks coming back, not only because they love it, but it works. Over time, we’ll be able to deepen our exercise vertical with targeted exercise plans, improved recommendations, and clinical outcomes.
Balanced is a love letter to the generations that came before us. After all, we’re all aging. If you’re excited about our mission to help empower healthy aging through exercise, please check out our careers page for available roles.