Two years ago Meng Li suffered a problem most runners know all too well. She went out for a gentle training session and came back injured. 70-80% of runners experience the same problem, and know the frustration of feeling their fitness slip away while sitting on the sidelines.
"I got injured and I wanted to know my body better. I had to be on Ibuprofen every day," she told Wareable. "I had been biking, swimming, running and never got injured before, I just thought I knew my body so well. At that moment I realised that I didn't. I knew my iPhone better than my body."
"That's what pushed us to make a personal coach to help people to know themselves better."
Essential reading: Moov Now all you need to know
Moov was released back in 2014 as a crowdfunding project and has enjoyed rave reviews, especially here at Wareable. The beauty of Moov is the actionable real-time insights it offers on a myriad of data points that belie its low price. And Meng revealed it started life not as a fitness coach, but as an iPad rival at Microsoft Research.
"Eight years ago I met my other two co-founders at Microsoft Research. Tony is our hardware guy and he produced a bunch of gadgets including a kind of sensor based iPad Mini, before the iPad – and Microsoft. It's kind of funny.
"But that's the technology we're still exploring and using right now. It's basically the motion gesture based sensing technology. It's super accurate but at that time it was big, it was chunky and it was expensive. Now it is so small, it fits on the wrist."
While Microsoft's iPad rival, which was in development at its research HQ at the same time the iPhone was announced, never came out – it's still alive and kicking at Moov.
"We have accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers and we worked with a touch sensor and light sensor. It's really interesting to see iPhone come out a year or so after we had that project, but we didn't successfully bring that to the market."
Insights are a hard problem to solve
While the team came together at Microsoft Research, Meng also draws from her experience as an product designer. Before she quit to found Moov she was working for a design agency, developing a product to help diabetic patients track their insulin intake.
"That inspired me a lot, how do we make our data more actionable. It's not just about taking steps but working out what the data means. How much food can I eat now or how much sugar can I intake? It's a hard problem to solve," she said.
And now Moov is back with a second product – Moov Now. The product still works as a coach for running, cycling, swimming and boxing – but also as a daily activity tracker too.
"Activity tracking is now a bigger deal, we want to track your active time. We believe in 30 active minutes per day or 150 per day per week. That's based on research by the World Health Organization."
And while Meng revealed that part of Moov's success had been that fitness tracking is now about so much more than steps – fitness tracking is now a big part of the new Moov Now product. Meng says that's because customers are conditioned to expect their wearables to track 10,000 steps a day – but actually bursts of exercise are much more important.
"It's what users expect because it's a metric they want to compare to other products. But then our users learn that the reasoning behind active minutes make more sense. Some of them do body weight workouts like planks at home. That's not a step. People don't have the luxury to do loads of steps but they do for active minutes. When people see that, they will see it makes sense."
That's all well and good, but with fitness bands like the Fitbit Charge HR promising better accuracy by continuous heart rate monitoring, where does that leave Moov. While it's focus on motion is great to make you a more efficient runner, what about resting heart rate?
"We're really good at motion, and we're probably number one. We want to use that at the beginning and active minutes is part of that, monitoring the intensity of your movement," she said.
And Meng remained bullish about the competition, and highlighted that adding new sports and features to the Moov hardware is a bigger deal.
"I don't think biometric people are getting into our space, because when you talk about fitness, movement is so important. It's about how you move and how much you move. Biometrics is not a high priority now. We're focusing on our workout programmes, and there's no other company out there that does as much content outside of the hardware as us," she said.
Standing out from the crowd(funding)
Moov is refreshing, in that so many crowdfunding companies struggle to get their product to market within a year, let alone come back with a second. And Meng believes that the company has made the transition from a crowdfunded start up to a 'proper' company, but believes that moov could not have succeeded without its community.
"We call our crowdfunders Team Moov. They work so closely with us, and we went to their homes and worked out with them in the Bay area. So we use them like an extended team and they've helped us to really transition from a start up to a company," she said.
But were they tempted to go back to crowdfunding for Moov Now? No, if the short answer – and Meng believes that unlike Pebble, which returned to Kickstarter to launch the Pebble Time – Moov's customers are too diverse for crowdfunding.
"Our community is not just early adopters and we have mums from the Mid-West than geeks as well as people from Silicon Valley. Pebble has a geek community but Moov does not, so we're not so tied to this Kickstarter thing. But we are a community driven approach, and we are using that for product development, so that is something we share without Pebble."
Making hardware is tough and with Moov's superb algorithms, the company could probably make more money by licensing its tech that building its own brand. But that's never been a consideration for Meng and the team.
However, the prospect of high profile wearables powered by Moov is still a possibility.
"We do have people approaching to license our technology, but now our focus is that we're passionate about helping people get fitter and better and the best path is to build a core product," she said.
"We haven't found a perfect fit. But yes, down the road we will have devices powered by Moov technology."