Exercise is essential for healthy aging. It can help prevent heart disease, strokes, and diabetes and improves the immune system. Working out can decrease your risk of falls. Because it produces endorphins, it can also improve your mental health. Two 31-year-old techies, Katie Reed and Kelly Froelich, started Balanced, a digital fitness app so older adults, like their grandparents, can personalize exercise routines to protect against injuries, pain points, and illness and achieve their personal goals such as improving balance, bone density, flexibility, or muscle mass.
The pair are moving away from old-fashioned labels like senior, elderly, and silver to describe the demographic and the products aimed at them. Importantly, exercise for older adults isn’t being treated like a prescription or medicine; it’s fun! Their message resonated with investors, and Reed and Froelich raised $6.5 million in pre-seed and seed rounds.
“I grew up with my grandparents in Palm Springs, CA,” said Reed. “My grandfather exercised every morning.” He is one of the inspirations for the startup.
When Covid-19 hit the U.S., and social distancing mandates began, Reed worked at Ro, a healthtech startup, as an engineer manager. Instead of working from home, she packed her bags to be with her grandmother. Her grandfather had recently passed away from cancer. Reed wanted to support her grandmother as she rebuilt her identity without her husband.
Knowing that exercise was critical to her physical and mental health, Reed accessed online fitness programs such as Peloton, Obe, and CorePower. These one-size-fits-all workouts were great for her but couldn’t be customized to her grandmother. During a catchup call with coworker Froelich—who is also a certified personal trainer specializing in training seniors—Reed found out that Froelich was virtually training her grandparents with cardio boxing over FaceTime.
“The light bulb went off [in my head],” said Reed. Several factors led her to conclude that this was the one moment for Balanced, a digital fitness platform for healthy aging.
- During the pandemic, older adults became more tech-savvy. Four out of five adults age 50+ rely on technology to stay connected and in touch with family and friends. Weekly use of streaming increased to 58% from 44%. Reed’s grandmother, aged 78, has an Apple Watch that tracks her daily steps. Tech use among the 50+ increased, particularly in wearable devices—from 17% to 27%. However, technology adoption and use are uneven because of the cost.
- The convenience of exercise coming into the home would be necessary for the nearly 90% of adults over the age of 50 who want to remain at home and “age in place.”
- “When you get older, fitness doesn’t need to be clinical. It just needs to be personalized,” said Reed. Typically, older adults require low-impact workouts. But some may need weight-bearing activities to increase bone density or exercises that are mindful of injuries to the back, knees, hips, and shoulders.
- With work experience at tech companies such as ClassPass, Facebook, Namely, and Ro, the two knew that they could create a customizable digital fitness experience to inspire and build a community with healthy outcomes that all older adults deserve.
Reed became the CEO and cofounder of Balanced, and Froelich the COO and cofounder.
Baby boomers are redefining growing old as they turn 65. The pair found out that the new generation of older adults didn’t want to be called ”seniors,” ”elderly,” or ”retirees.” They didn’t like products aimed at them to have the word “silver” in their names. The Balanced team is modernizing the vernacular they use and the look and feel of its services.
“Kelly and I are both 31…It takes a lot of empathy, personal conviction, and tight-knit relationships with older adults to design a tech product for them,” said Reed. The two see things from their loved one’s perspectives, and the brand reflects that.
Direct-to-consumer services are expensive to market. Venture capitalists are resistant to this business model, and they want a cheaper way to reach older adults. Andrew Parker, founder and CEO of Papa, pioneered the model for venture-backed tech services to be covered by Medicare Advantage programs offered by private companies. Being covered by Medicare Advantage is a game-changer, and VCs understand the value, commented Reed.
Medicare Advantage Plans, sometimes called “Part C” or CMS, are changing the definition of medical benefits to include preventive care. “We are starting to engage with Medicare Advantage plans and having conversations with them for the 2023 cycle so that we can be offered as a supplemental benefit,” said Reed. She has policy experience in her background having worked in government and a think tank.
If the app isn’t consumer-friendly, fun, and affordable, it won’t get used. The goal for Balanced was to provide a joyful experience. While the service only costs $20 per month, high-speed internet access is expensive, so having Balanced membership fees covered by Medicare Advantage is essential.
When it came to raising money, Reed and Froelich relied on the relationships they had built at the tech companies they previously worked at. “We tapped our network and learned from as many people as possible,” said Reed. The two left Ro in January 2021 to work full-time on Balanced. By March, they announced pre-seed funding from Primary Venture Partners and angel investors from companies including ClassPass, Ro, CityBlock, and Stack Overflow.
Balanced officially launched in November 2021. The pair proved they could execute. “We built a video production studio in Dumbo [Brooklyn, NY],” said Reed. “We hired a consumer founding team from great backgrounds. We got our first batch of trainers and put an MVP into the market.”
In February 2022, Balanced raised a seed round, co-led by Founders Fund and Primary Venture Partners, with Stellation Capital and Lux Capital participation. The startup has raised $6.5 million between pre-seed and seed funding.
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