EGYM’s Dana Milkie Wants the Fitness Industry To Embrace Gamification & AI
Milkie believes the fitness industry needs to lean into AI and gamification, two areas where EGYM is hard at work creating products that resonate with members and club operators
EGYM has seen impressive growth over the last few years, rolling out products and software that have changed the way people workout at clubs across the globe.
The Munich-based company was founded in 2010 with the goal of bringing fitness into the digital age through its proprietary Smart Strength equipment and software offerings, which are now found in over 15,000 clubs worldwide. The EGYM Ecosystem includes the Fitness Hub, a smart kiosk that allows clubs to quickly onboard new members, Smart Strength equipment, its Branded Member App and Trainer App, along with 150-plus connected partners.
In 2021, the company received $41 million in Series E funding to continue expanding. In late 2022, EGYM reported year-over-year growth of over 200% in North America and announced plans to more than double again in 2023.
Athletech News spoke with Dana Milkie, EGYM’s General Manager for North America, about the company’s growth and its plans for the future, including how it hopes to innovate in the areas of AI and gamification.
Athletech News: Why did you decide to join EGYM?
Dana Milkie: I got into fitness through luck, really. I was in M&A at a publicly traded company and was trying to find something where I wasn’t traveling the world so much. I started working with a Gold’s Gym franchise group in Seattle. They were looking to expand, so with my M&A experience, I fit in perfectly. I then got recruited to go to ABC, which was ABC Financial at the time, as their Senior Vice President of Client Management. Then, I got tapped to become the CEO of InTouch Technology, which is a CRM software for the fitness industry.
During that time, I met John Ford, who is now the Chief Product Officer of EGYM. Over several conversations, John and I talked about how innovative EGYM was and how my experience would be a great fit. I was looking at where EGYM was going, and the differentiation EGYM was creating in the marketplace really got me excited. I realized that the future of fitness, as it relates to technology, is now and EGYM was the leader. So I joined EGYM three years ago in March. My first week was the week that COVID shut down the world.
ATN: There’s a prevailing sentiment that the fitness industry has been slow to embrace and implement technology. Why do you think that is?
DM: We’re an industry that’s been built on the backs of entrepreneurs. And the entrepreneurs who’ve gotten into the fitness industry have done so typically because they’ve been passionate about fitness. They haven’t gotten into it because of technology or other motivators. And so you get into running clubs and you start to get stretched super thin. And then along comes technology, which, when you apply it correctly, is a huge enabler, but that means operational changes and changes in management and staff. So I think a lot of times operators have looked at technology and said, ‘That’s great, but I’m busy running my clubs, so I want someone else to jump in first to prove it works.’ We’ve not historically been early adopters as it relates to technology and data. We are early adopters on the fitness side. We embrace innovation on the fitness side, but not so much on the technology and operational side.
I think the trend of bringing private equity money in and the consolidation of the industry is now opening the door for more advancements in technology, more products like EGYM’s, which are really growing rapidly in the market.
ATN: EGYM has seen impressive growth over the past few years, including in North America. Why has the company been so successful?
DM: There are several reasons, and timing is an important part. As these more sophisticated investors have come in and started to see how technology can be applied, I think that’s opened the door for companies like us to have a bigger voice. I think the other thing that’s been hugely helpful is that EGYM’s foundation is its focus on the members. In the very beginning, our founders, Philipp Roesch-Schlanderer and Florian Sauter, were looking at the beginner, or the uneducated exerciser, and saying, “How can we use technology to help those folks?” That matters in Europe, it matters in North America and it continues to gain importance.
Additionally, our ability to impact the entirety of a club’s membership base through technology has driven us forward. All health clubs have beginner, intermediate and advanced exercisers, it doesn’t matter what segment you’re talking about. So we’ve been able to develop, through technology and software, the ability to engage with each of these groups to drive personalization and motivation.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, our ability to impact operators and their success is critical. Because we can show clubs the exact impacts we’re having on their business and membership base, we’re able to help operators drive real ROI, measurable increases in revenue, increases in efficiency across their staff and improve member retention.
ATN: How did EGYM pivot and innovate during the pandemic?
DM: During the pandemic, the market just went on hold for a lot of equipment manufacturers. Operators weren’t buying equipment because people weren’t going to gyms. Because we’re a technology company, we were able to pivot quickly. People were still exercising, just outside of the four walls, so there was a need to help operators continue to speak to their members,even though they couldn’t come into the clubs. And since EGYM’s Branded Member App and Trainer App are an important part of our ecosystem, we were able to help clubs be able to push content out to their members to keep them engaged.
As an example, when we shut down due to COVID, we were immediately able to develop a new program, Immunity Boost. Within about two weeks, it quickly became the number one program that was used on our equipment. You can’t do that if you’re just steel. You can do that if you’re technology based.
ATN: Speaking of innovation, what are some of the key products and software that EGYM has recently rolled out?
DM: During IHRSA in Dallas (October 2021) we released the Fitness Hub, which is the center of the member experience for operators. It was a game changer because it reduced the member onboarding process from over 20 minutes to just 2 minutes.
At IHRSA in Miami (June 2022), we released Open Mode for intermediate and advanced exercisers. Open Mode allows intermediate and advanced members to do the workout they want. Being a technology company, we can change UI and UX and roll those types of innovations out quickly. So Open Mode allowed us to, no pun intended, open up EGYM to the entirety of the membership base.
This past IHRSA, in San Diego, (March 2023), we released Gameday, a huge innovation around gamification and motivation that we’re rolling out officially in July of this year.
ATN: How does EGYM plan to use gamification with Gameday?
DM: Gameday takes gamification and creates competition. It invites members and prospects into your gym to compete against each other and themselves. If you think about exercise as an athletic endeavor, if you’re a football player you practice during the week, and you play your game on Saturday or Sunday. The same is true for basketball, soccer, baseball, any other major athletic endeavor, they have a game day. In exercise, at least within the club, you don’t really have a game day, you just exercise. We’re bringing that event and competition aspect. But we also recognize that not everybody likes to compete against other people. So Gameday also allows you to compete against yourself. Because a lot of people are going to want to know, “Where was I the last time I did Gameday compared to where I’m at today.”
From an operator perspective, one of the cool things is you can have a Gameday where you open it up to the community. You can invite people in and have a full day where everybody gets to workout on the equipment, you give out prizes and promote your club. You can make it a prospect event, and have this massive day that you can really leverage from an overall community perspective. You can also do it internally, so members compete with each other, which they love to do.
What we’re seeing already, is that Gameday can be a great upsell tool. Clubs are enabling access to EGYM in their top-tier memberships, driving a significant increase in revenue.
ATN: What are your thoughts on AI? How does EGYM plan to leverage AI and machine learning?
DM: EGYM is already leveraging AI and machine learning to drive member motivation and personalization. We continue to build intelligence around an individual member and look to deliver the exact experience that they want, based on their goals, their history and their data. From an operator perspective, we look to help them build stronger communities within their clubs through personalized data. Ultimately, giving clubs deeper member insights creates more upsell opportunities, better member retention and improved operational efficiencies.
ATN: What would you most like to see change in the fitness industry with regard to technology?
DM: Embrace it rather than be shy away from it. Because as an industry, we tend to lean away from, instead of leaning into, what the next frontier is, so to speak. We need to embrace technology, like AI, so we can figure out how we can use it to make the member experience better. In the bigger picture, we can be the solution to the worldwide obesity pandemic, but only if we leverage the tools that are out there to help us.