November 11, 2020
Peloton has cornered the market on interactive cycling machines; for rowing, Cambridge-based Hydrow has things covered. Now, a new startup is aiming to accomplish the same for at-home boxing workouts.
Liteboxer, co-founded by MIT-educated engineer Jeff Morin and Spark Capital founder Todd Dagres, has developed what is essentially a smart punching bag that gameifies boxing with light and sound. The device is made up of an interactive stand for boxers to hit, a screen where personal trainers can give instructions and a platform for the boxer to stand on during the session.
Liteboxer was inspired by Dagres’ personal experience. He took up boxing several years ago as a way to stay in shape without damaging what he calls his “wonky knee.” But when he tried to transition from boxing in a gym to boxing at home, he found that the home workouts fell short.
“It was a terrible experience,” Dagres said. “What I really missed was interacting with my trainer. He would motivate me and guide me through. The best part was when we would spar. He would hold these pads, and I would punch them.”
Liteboxer’s device aims to replicate the interactivity of those sessions. Through a partnership with Universal Music, Liteboxer has a library of songs so boxers can punch to the rhythm, all while being led by a personal trainer on a nine-inch screen. The machine also collects data about the boxer’s performance using embedded force sensors, and it responds in order to personally tailor the workouts.
Liteboxer was originally imagined as a simple interactive punching bag. Now, under the watchful eye of Morin, who was previously an engineer at Vecna Robotics and Formlabs, the device has evolved into what Dagres calls “a motivation machine.”
“What we really try to do, where the magic happens, is we try to match a user’s ability to the challenge,” Dagres said. “When your ability meets the challenge, and you’re finding it’s hard but you’re succeeding, the dopamine just starts getting released from the brain. Then, with the dopamine, you start working out a little bit harder, and then you get the endorphins. And then you’re having a party.”
For the trainers Liteboxer employs, it’s also a way to extend their reach: Instead of training a class of 30 in a gym, they can train potentially tens of thousands of Liteboxer owners remotely.
The Liteboxer bundle retails for $1,495, with financing available. The software is an additional $29-per-month subscription.
The startup made its official launch in July and began selling its devices about a month ago. In addition to the retail revenue, Liteboxer has brought in $6 million in a venture round led by Will Ventures, the Boston-based investment firm focused on sports tech. Liteboxer currently employs about 30 people.
Dagres and Morin began work on Liteboxer about three years ago and went full-time on the project in 2018. In other words, their product was not a response to the Covid-19 pandemic — but the startup will certainly benefit from it. With gyms closed, limiting capacity or deemed unsafe entirely, the at-home fitness market is booming. Peloton saw its first-quarter revenue soar this year, surging 66 percent from the same period in 2019; Hydrow’s machine sales in April were four times higher than sales in January.
It’s possible that this shift in consumer behavior will be temporary. But the Liteboxer team believes that not everyone will return to their previous gym lives in a post-Covid-19 world. In fact, Liteboxer is currently gearing up for a new product launch in the first quarter of 2021.
“Our feeling is, when the pandemic subsides, people will go back to gyms — people are even going back to gyms now — but the pendulum is not going to swing all the way back,” Dagres said. “People are becoming aware of the alternatives. Necessity’s the mother of invention, and people are realizing through things like Peloton and Hydrow and Liteboxer that, in the convenience of your own home, you can get an experience very similar to a gym and in some ways better.”
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