The other major difference, according to Morin, is that it is engaging - you can’t be looking at your phone while you are boxing, especially if you're sparring with a trainer online.
“On a stationary bike you can look at your phone, you can be texting your friends, you can watch a movie, you can do different stuff. With boxing, you have to pay attention to it all the time or you're going to get punched in the face,” said Morin.
The sparring machine is like a high-tech punching bag. It is equipped with a series of lights. The user responds to the online trainer and the lights - left jab, right jab, right cross, left cross - to the beat of accompanying music. The unit also has sensors that measure the force of every punch, as well as timing and accuracy, with a record of each workout to measure progress.
Morin, as CEO, co-founded Liteboxer with partner Todd Dagres, as chairman, about four years ago. Dagres is also co-founder and general partner of Spark Capital in Boston.
Dagres had discovered sparring with a trainer as a form of exercise he really enjoyed, and he tried to replicate the workout at home, using a punching bag. But the experience just wasn’t the same, according to Morin.
Morin has an undergraduate mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire and a graduate degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“He reached out to me through some MIT connections. He had taught at MIT and we got connected through there,” said Morin. “He was looking for a mechanical engineer and I had actually got my personal training certificate at one point, so it was a good match.”
“It kind of very organically developed into what it is today,” said Morin. He and his developers had heavy punching bags in their homes, experimenting with lights synced to music.
“Our significant others were like: ‘Hey, you got to get this thing out of here; I can't wait for this punching bag to leave the house.’ I realized heavy bags aren't the way to go,” said Morin. “So we took some cues from other connected fitness platforms and said: Hey, we can make some hardware that's really sleek looking, that people are proud to have in their homes, that checks a lot of the boxes that these other offerings aren't doing. And that's where we landed today.”
Each unit is $1,495 with a $29 a month subscription to the on-line training.
They have an office in Hampton and they use a studio in Boston where the video online sessions are put together. Morin said they have licensed access to Universal Music Group artists to use in their online sessions.
“With all the new stuff that comes out, we're able to program punch tracks and then the trainers can also act as DJs and put that music into their workouts,” he said.
Morin grew up in Manchester and settled in Exeter with his family after graduating MIT.
The trainers themselves come from all over the country; some are celebrities within their own right in the sparring-as-training community. Leyon Azubuike, for example, boxed in the U.S. Nationals, was captain of the Temple University football team, and founded Gloveworx in Los Angeles.
The company is in the process of getting its name out in front of the public, in particular people who are trying to find ways to exercise at home as they look for options to staying out of gyms because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They set up a display outside of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City to give people a taste of what Liteboxer is all about, and they have a partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods. They will also make a big push with the arrival of 2021 with a “new year, new you” campaign.
“There are 180 million gym memberships in the world, and it accounted for like $96 billion in revenue a year,” said Morin. “There have been studies with COVID that up to 60 percent of those people don't expect to go back to the gym in the same, the same way they did before. So that's a huge $55 billion market up for grabs.”
Units started shipping in November.
According to Morin, the company is looking ahead to other fields where their concept might apply. “There are many other extensions within the fitness space, but also within the medical space. There are a lot of brain science studies that have gone on for boxing, in terms of helping people with neurological disorders connect their brain and motor functions.”
A user can finance a Liteboxer for $49 a month, so that the monthly cost of owning a unit becomes much like what you’d pay for a gym membership, according to Morin.
One important aspect of exercise is committing to it on a frequent basis, said Morin. A reason why people don’t commit is that they consider it a chore - something they need to do, but begrudge doing.
He said a mission of Liteboxer is to remove that drudgery. “We want to make working out less of a chore. Anyway we can do that, we're going to do it,” said Morin.
The feedback from the metrics of the online workouts gives the Liteboxer team the opportunity to see what engages the users and what doesn’t. They can make changes as necessary to keep the users engaged.
“We're checking those numbers and then we're modifying our content to just make it better all the time,” he said. “We can see if people are having trouble with this song and this punch. We’ll go in and edit it and make things better.”
“Our North Star,” he added, “is the user experience: Are people liking it? How do we get the user experience better so that people form those habits?”