As the fitness technology (fit tech) industry continues to flourish, companies increasingly compete not only for funding and customers but also for talent. From building out C-suites to adding trainers in customer-facing roles, the fit tech industry has many areas of talent management to focus on.
For example, Peloton announced in December 2020 that it will be adding over 100,000 square feet and adding up to 1,600 jobs at its campus in Plano, Texas. Another buzzworthy fit tech company Whoop has nearly tripled its staff in 2020 (growing from almost 120 to 330 employees) and plans to add over 300 more hires in 2021, reports The Boston Globe.
Add companies like Apple, Amazon and Google into the fit tech mix, and the race for top talent only gets more competitive.
These tech titans are “certainly going to be trying to poach people who are at some of these other fit tech businesses,” says Pete Leibman, founder of Stronger Talent, an executive search firm for innovative fitness, wellness, and sports companies. “So employee engagement and retention need to be a priority. And then really thinking strategically about recruiting efforts needs to be a priority.”
Given this backdrop, Leibman’s firm recently conducted a study looking at the landscape of fit tech leadership, across more than 50 of the top companies in this sector. He has also shared with Athletech News how fit tech companies can improve their talent searches.
Beyond Fitness Experience
While it might seem like fit tech companies should hire from within the fitness or sports industries, the reality is that many businesses have found success recruiting people from other sectors.
In Stronger Talent’s study, over 80% of fit tech executives came from outside fitness and sports. Instead, executives typically came from consumer internet (e.g. e-commerce, mobile apps) or consumer electronics businesses. In addition to tech, some of the more common backgrounds include having worked in healthcare or media/entertainment.
Given the types of businesses in fit tech — e.g., wearable fitness trackers, streaming platforms, connected equipment — these types of backgrounds can make sense, says Leibman. He notes that having some fitness or sports experience within fit tech companies can be helpful, but this knowledge can come from hires such as trainers or from consultants. At the executive level, having experience in other sectors can help fit tech companies develop a business that succeeds in this new era of digital-focused fitness.
That said, Leibman sees a risk in pulling too much from the tech sector.
“A lot of the companies in the study seem to be fairly narrow with their recruiting strategy, meaning that a lot of the executives at a given company kind of had similar backgrounds,” he says. “One piece of advice that I would share would be to expand their recruiting strategy and maybe look in some peripheral areas” such as nutrition, sleep tech, mental wellness, etc.
In addition to broadening searches in terms of the industries they hire from, many fit tech companies would also likely benefit from expanding their searches to find more diverse talent, especially at the executive level.
Stronger Talent’s study found that over two-thirds of fit tech executives in the sample pool are men. And the higher up you go, the less women tend to be in top positions. Only 16% of these fit tech CEO spots were held by women.
“That’s really a challenge for a couple of reasons,” says Leibman. “Number one, for a lot of fit tech businesses, the consumer base actually skews more towards women,” or at least around half of their customers are women. So if companies skew too far toward being run by men, “there’s a risk for kind of a disconnect there.”
“The second risk is if your leadership team is predominantly men, you’re not really providing role models for younger female employees in your company. And you’re really at risk for not being able to retain those employees because they don’t see anybody who looks like them in a leadership position,” he adds.
Similarly, while the study did not specifically analyze other areas of diversity, Leibman notes that fit tech companies would generally benefit from increasing gender, racial and other forms of diversity. “It adds value from a business perspective; it’s not just the social cause,” he says.
To increase diversity, Leibman recommends being mindful of how reliant a company’s leadership may be on their existing networks. While these networks can be a good starting point to find talent, they should not be the end-all-be-all.
“If you’re just going to your existing network, you’re probably not going to attract a diverse pipeline of candidates,” says Leibman. He adds that some fit tech companies he’s spoken with require that at least one woman or another minority be interviewed for any open role to try to avoid being overly reliant on existing, non-diverse networks.
As the fit tech talent hunt heats up, more companies also might start to conduct searches outside the area near their headquarters. Stronger Talent’s study finds that fit tech executives tend to be clustered in the New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston areas. But the pandemic has made remote work a more realistic option for many companies, which could prompt more fit tech businesses to conduct national searches.
Doing so could help increase diversity and allow companies to find talent with different types of experience, rather than being limited to the candidate pool in their immediate areas. At the same time, fit tech businesses need to focus on the experience they foster for their existing employees, especially as new competitors emerge.
“Employee engagement becomes even more important, because candidates, especially top performers, maybe have even more options than they did in the past because of this expanded geography for where companies are recruiting,” says Leibman.
Fortunately, many of these best practices for recruiting tie into employee engagement. If fit tech companies want to win the talent wars, creating more diverse businesses can help both add key talent and create a positive experience for current staff. Allowing more remote work may help too.
And as companies look beyond just the fitness and sports industries when hiring, employees can learn different types of skills and knowledge of other sectors from one another. That can help employees ultimately advance in their careers. Meanwhile, fit tech businesses can benefit from having staff that can take on the many challenges that fit tech companies may face, beyond just trying to facilitate great workouts.