Vishal Gondal, 38, calls himself a marathoner, gamer, entrepreneur, investor, sportsman, fitness freak, foodie and traveller. In 1999, he founded Indiagames. Initially a five-member team, the company became a leading game developer and publisher in India, and was eventually sold to The Walt Disney Co. for $100 million (around 610 crore now) in 2011. Earlier this year, Gondal launched a new venture called GOQii (pronounced Go-Key), which offers users a combination of a wearable device, personalized coaching from experts, and the chance to do their bit for charity. Here he talks about his “personal lifestyle journey", which shaped the idea for GOQii, and why they aren’t competing with other fitness bands available in the market. Edited excerpts:

At what point did you get the idea about a fitness band? How does this tie in with your regular fitness regime?

GOQii is something I built purely based completely on personal experience with changing my own lifestyle. In school, I was a national volleyball player and in college also, I was very active in sports. When I founded Indiagames, I was going through a phase of ignoring my health. During this period of 12-13 years, I had put on a lot of weight, became sluggish, never exercised, and could barely run even 100m. At that point, I decided things needed to change.

Since I am a geek, I decided to buy all the health gadgets and apps. This was around the year 2011-12. I bought the Jawbone, Fitbit, and downloaded every app. For the first few months, it was great, with all that data coming in. But eventually it all became boring and didn’t make any sense to me. I almost lost interest, and a part of my problem was that there was a lot of travelling involved, a busy schedule, and eating unhealthy food a lot of the time.

This is when I came across a coach (who specialized in running-related exercises) and shared my dilemma with him. He suggested regular coaching, but my routine didn’t allow that. This is when he requested access to all the fitness data that the various bands and apps were collecting, allowing him to coach remotely.

That is where the journey started. I used to exercise and follow the programme and diet plans he would send me over WhatsApp. He would make sense of all the data, and tell me what to do. We had some face-to-face sessions, but it was mostly remote training.

From being a couch potato a few years back, I have now done seven half-marathons and three of the 100km walks. I went trekking in Ladakh earlier this year, and plan to do the Everest base camp next year. I was able to make a lifestyle change with the data that the gadgets provided, but with the help of an expert who knew what I was supposed to do next. I realized that if this could help me so much, it could certainly help millions of people.

Fitness bands are religiously used for a month or two, but then end up being chucked into a drawer. How will you deal with this problem?

This is the biggest challenge with fitness bands. People eventually lose interest, because all this data means nothing beyond a point. It is like me reading stock prices, but unless someone can analyse the trends for me, it really makes no sense. You can take an X-ray of your body, but unless there is a doctor to tell you what it means, it is of no use.

The other problem is of motivation. GOQii was developed based on personal experience, and with a disruptive model. We give away our fitness band for free, but what you are actually paying for is the human factor.

What is the GOQii Coach feature?

This is the key element of our product. The coach’s job is to tell you what to do based on the data, and motivate you. We believe that GOQii is not really a product or a service, but more of a lifestyle. We promote the idea of being fit, eating healthy, but the philosophy includes karma, experts to guide you and, of course, the band.

Are the coaches employees of GOQii?

Yes, all the coaches are our full-time employees. They have training in aspects of fitness management and nutrition. They have the software through which they access user data, after which they can give feedback to the user. On an average, a coach exchanges five-six messages a day with each user, through the app. We will soon have a few hundred coaches.

What are Karma Points?

As part of the GOQii package, we have something called Karma Points. As you start becoming fit, you donate these points to charity. For example, as you walk, we convert your steps into points—every 390 steps give 1 Karma Point. We have partnered with Oxfam which, for every chunk of points, gives some money away to different charities.

Users can choose from the various charities listed on our platform, supporting child education, women empowerment, etc. The users don’t pay any money for these charities and causes, but based on their fitness regime, are just donating what we call “sweat equity"; the actual cash is paid by Oxfam.

Does GOQii work with all platforms?

GOQii is an open platform, and we are working on integrating with other bands and devices. If you buy the upcoming Apple watch or a Google watch (based on Android Wear) or the Fitbit, for example, our coach service will work with the data each of them provide. We are actually not competing with other bands, but partnering with them. Our basic aim is to provide motivation and help you make a lifestyle change.

How big is the challenge of retaining subscribers?

In our business, coaches actually are incentivized to drive more engagement with the user. Their performance is ranked on the basis of how satisfied users are with their guidance. We believe that the pricing of GOQii isn’t much ( 11,999 a year; 6,999 for six months) if we are able to help you make a lifestyle change with the help of technology and a coach. Once you have a rapport with a coach, why would you want to lose that?

What next for the company?

We are about to launch in the United Arab Emirates and the US by December. For us, the next big thing is to take the model global. Secondly, with more and more wearables being launched, we want to establish ourselves as a platform for coaching.

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