Fitbit CEO James Park talks classes realized from the corporate’s struggles


Two years in the past, Fitbit was in a tough spot. The corporate had ridden the wearables increase to an IPO and develop into nearly synonymous with the health tracker house, solely to look at its fortunes dwindle because the market shifted nearly solely towards smartwatches.
“That shift happened very rapidly over a year and a half,” CEO James Park mentioned in an interview with TechCrunch. We at all times had a smartwatch in growth — I’d have cherished to have launched it at the very least six months earlier. I believe that might have helped our numbers dramatically.”
The corporate threw a Hail Mary. It acquired a trio of distinguished startups inside a 12 months of one another. It was tens of thousands and thousands of explicitly invested to speed up its lengthy simmering smartwatch growth.
“Our internal team was totally capable of developing these products,” Park says. “It was the matter of time to market. Buying Pebble, Vector and Coin allowed us to really decrease the amount of time it took to launch Ionic. We developed our plans to launch a smartwatch much, much earlier. It was going to launch at some point, but the acquisitions really accelerated it.”
The acquisitions have been seen by many as a little bit of flailing from an organization that had misplaced its method. Positive the smartwatch class was rising, however these numbers have been pushed nearly completely by one firm and one product. Greater names like Google and Samsung had tried to elbow in on that market share with out making a dent in Apple’s backside line.
All instructed, the primary product to emerge out of these offers landed with a little bit of a uninteresting thud. The Fitbit Ionic was massive, cumbersome, nearly app-free and never significantly low cost at $299. This time final 12 months, nonetheless, the corporate dropped one other machine. The Versa was compact and priced to maneuver at $200. Fitbit, in the meantime, had been laborious at work placing all of that Pebble cash to work creating a extra sturdy app ecosystem.
By June, the corporate introduced that it had shipped a couple of million Versas. This previous quarter, in the meantime, the corporate started to see some dramatic returns. “I think the business is turning around,” Park says, with a touch of cautious optimism. “Q4 was the first time in two years that we’ve seen year-over-year growth in devices shipped. So, after two years of working pretty hard to stabilize our financials and our company, I think we’re starting to see a good rebound in the business.”
It was a modest rise, however an increase none the much less, with complete shipments for the quarter rising three % year-over-year to five.6 million. Common promoting costs on the units had dropped, however the firm had managed to return to profitability, thanks partly to varied cost-cutting measures.
Smartwatches are just one a part of the corporate’s deliberate progress. The opposite main piece, predictably, is healthcare. It’s a class Apple has been going after aggressively, whereas one-time competitor Jawbone has pivoted into the class solely. As gradual as progress may be on the patron facet, the healthcare business is downright glacial.
“We see ourselves evenly split between being a consumer company and being a health company,” says Park. “Despite some of the challenges over the past couple of years, our healthcare business has continued to grow. Last year, it grew eight percent year-over-year. This year, we’re projecting double-digit growth to about $100 million in revenue.”
This morning, Fitbit introduced a number of new units. There’s the Versa Lite, which delivers a stripped-down model of the profitable smartwatch at a good lower cost level; the Ace 2, an replace to the corporate’s youngsters tracker; and the Encourage, which finds Fitbit consolidating 5 units into two because the Flex, Zip, One, Alta and Alta HR are sundown. It’s a low-cost product pretty focused at Fitbit’s healthcare choices. All present an organization that has clearly realized the teachings of a tough couple of years, and for the primary time shortly, Park and Fitbit have a motive to be optimistic — albeit cautiously so.

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