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How one fitness startup went from Kickstarter to creating a R6.5bn fortune

Sep 12 2019 19:50
Tom Metcalf and Julie Verhage

Peloton Interactive started making its indoor exercise bike after raising $307 332 (R4.4m) in a 2013 crowd-funding campaign. It now aims to raise $1.1bn (over R16bn) in an initial public offering.

The company’s rapid rise to become one of the most sought-after brands in fitness is poised to give co-founder John Foley a net worth of about $450m (over R6.5bn), making him the latest in a string of entrepreneurs to profit from the exercise industry. Others include Lululemon Athletica founder Chip Wilson, Italy’s Nerio Alessandri, the creator of Technogym SpA, and Under Armour’s Kevin Plank.

Foley, 48, was president of e-commerce at Barnes & Noble before he launched Peloton, which sells exercise bikes and treadmills with internet-enabled screens and an app that lets users stream classes for a monthly fee, without purchasing equipment.

The long-time cycling fan had competed in triathlons and took classes at New York boutiques such as SoulCycle and Flywheel. But rather than pay $30 to $40 (upwards of R400) for a session and sign up days in advance, he got the idea for classes that could be broadcast to bikes in homes across the US and, eventually, the world.

Burning cash

After creating a prototype, Peloton sold its first bike on Kickstarter in 2013, pitching an 'early bird special' price tag of $1 500 (just under R22 000). The first studio was in the back of an office where the staff hung black curtains and propped up the instructor bike with bricks. Now, there’s a large production team and several cameras in each of its studios where cycling, running, strength, yoga and other classes are filmed.

Foley owns 3% of the Class B shares and options representing an additional 5%, according to a prospectus. The home-fitness startup plans to offer 40 million Class A shares at $26 to $29 each, which would value the company at about $7.6bn at the middle of that range, underscoring its status as a top player in the sector. Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global Management is Peloton’s largest shareholder with a stake valued at $1.3bn at the midpoint.

Still, the startup is burning cash as it expands in a fitness and mind-body industry worth $595 billion worldwide in 2017, according to the Global Wellness Institute. Peloton lost $196 million on sales of $915 million during the 12 months ended June 30, according to the prospectus. That followed a loss of $48m (R700m) on $435m (R6.3bn) of sales a year earlier.

Some investors are wary, questioning just how many people will pay thousands of dollars or more for even one piece of home equipment, let alone multiple Peloton products. The company said in the prospectus that the current product lineup could reach 12 million US households.

Such ambition can be traced back to the firm’s earliest days. In the Kickstarter campaign, for instance, Foley compared Peloton to Apple, saying it was "creating both the hardware and the software" to deliver a superior product.

fitness  |  wealth  |  startup  |  kickstarter
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