The soaring popularity of fitness and wellness apps in Europe is a testament to technology’s role in improving lives on a widespread scale. Exercise, nutrition, and wellbeing tools have brought healthy habits within reach for many Europeans – no gym or in-person appointments required. If app store downloads and monthly users are any indication, it seems fitness and mobile are a match made in heaven.
Europe is now considered the largest fitness market in the world, so it’s no surprise that apps within this category are amassing significant user bases in a short time. Other big global players like Apple (iOS Health) or Google (Google Fit) have tried to get into the market but European tech companies continue to play a leading role here. While they could benefit from having data from their users available already, the success of the European players demonstrate that it’s all about innovation and crunching the numbers in a useful way. Further, the ability of the European companies to keep up comes from access to both talent and capital – two resources that have become increasingly available in Europe thanks to the rise of entrepreneurial culture and awareness. Even major players in other verticals have ventured into fitness territory; Spotify, for example, has created its Running feature, which matches music playback to a user’s running pace. It’s a market full of innovation.
Let’s take a look at seven European app success stories in the fitness and wellness category. From sleep pattern optimization in Sweden to healthy home cooking in Germany, these apps are changing the way people around the world approach their wellbeing.
There’s no better place to begin a list about prolific fitness apps than with the No. 1 player in the arena. Based in Munich, Freeletics had humble beginnings as a bootstrapped venture founded by a team with no tech background. Nowadays, it’s an AI-driven powerhouse with over 20 million global users, providing the most intense fitness training programs available on the market.
Freeletics offers four separate apps – Bodyweight, Gym, Running and Nutrition – that utilize data at high volume to generate personalized plans for its users. Between 2014 and the present, the company has experienced 10x growth, become profitable and amassed a team of nearly 150 employees (85 of whom focus on product, engineering and machine learning).
Swedish app developer Maciek Drejak launched Sleep Cycle in 2009 after becoming fascinated with an early seismograph app. The now top-grossing sleep tracking tool monitors its users’ sleep patterns via movement and sound and wakes them at the optimal time in their REM cycle. The app allows people to start their days feeling refreshed instead of groggy and reaching for the snooze button.
Other apps and sleep trackers have come and gone, but Sleep Cycle consistently remains a leader in the app store with healthy sales. Drejak has turned down acquisition and investment offers, instead opting to improve the app through his own research over the years.
Fitness apps can easily venture into unrealistic territory, promising lofty results only attainable through strict exercise and diet regimens. Not so with fitness and nutrition app 8fit. The company – founded by Spanish-born entrepreneur Pablo Villalba – focuses on sustainable healthy living and weight loss
8fit has grown tremendously in the past several years, having firmly planted its roots in Berlin. It names the U.S. as its biggest market, but despite the international success, has no plans to move across the pond. “We like it in Berlin,” says Villalba. “And if you want to do something for the next five years at least – then you better be happy.”
With its sleek non-pink design and strong, confident messaging, Clue has quickly become the gold standard of women’s health apps. Founder Ida Tin set out to create a better option for women in the ovulation and fertility space – one that would allow them to understand their bodies and how their cycle affects them.
Fast forward to today; Clue’s seamless melding of science- and data-driven technology with top-notch UX design has earned it numerous awards, including best app in 2015 by both Apple and Google. Tin has seen significant growth and traction, especially in the US, and remains vocal about Berlin’s positives as a startup hub.
Launched in 2013, Lifesum incorporates a wide range of features for a comprehensive health tracking experience. Whether it’s a daily reminder to drink more water or presenting an overview of your exercise and nutrition habits, the app functions as a tool for millions to shape up their lives.
Whereas the similarly minded 8fit dominates the US market, Lifesum has become the market-leading health app in Scandinavia, Germany, France, Italy, France and Russia. Lifesum is one of the many Swedish tech success stories (think Skype, Klarna, Spotify, etc.). CEO Henrik Torstensson has cited his country’s smart welfare state as a prime enabler for innovation and growth, which, he also notes, contradicts the widespread notion that cutthroat economies are the only place to make it big.
Fooducate’s concept is simple: to help people make healthier food choices by assigning a letter grade to items found in the grocery store. Users simply scan the packaging barcode and the app does the rest. Israeli founder Hemi Weingarten says the app’s algorithm is quite complex, drawing from data such as amounts of processing and intrinsic nutrients.
Fooducate’s developer team is based in the thriving tech hub of Tel Aviv, where an abundance of creative and programming talent has recently spawned some of Europe’s most innovative startups. “Some people have likened Fooducate to taking both your grandmother AND your dietitian with you to the supermarket for shopping advice,” Weingarten says. “We like that.”
While its moniker might suggest otherwise, Austrian fitness tech company Runtastic goes beyond just run tracking to offer hardware and a suite of apps across the spectrum of fitness. Users can track activities such as mountain biking and yoga and find communities of enthusiasts for each.
Runtastic came from humble beginnings as a bootstrapped venture during the height of Europe’s economic crisis. Running on cash from four founding friends and contributions from the Austrian government, the company steadily grew and became profitable on its own – until the unthinkable happened: it received an acquisition offer by world-leading fitness brand Adidas in 2015. Since then, the relationship between Adidas and Runtastic has blossomed into a true success story in startup integration. The CEO and face of Runtastic, Florian Gschwandtner, explains that his team has increased flexibility and the resources to think internationally.
While there is still much territory to be charted in app-based fitness and wellness, Europe is clearly a prime place to launch and grow products within this vertical. We’d love to know about the apps in this category that are improving your wellbeing or are on your radar.
(Image credit: forth with life)