Sepel says her success is because “it just feels good to live a healthy life”.
“People want to know this is a lifestyle they can maintain forever, people are becoming too clever for the fad and the short term. Of course it is trendy and anything trendy people latch onto, but I want to go beyond the trending of the wellness space, it is something they can maintain for life.”
Surge in popularity
Australians are increasingly turning to wellness apps and while Apple won’t reveal numbers, last year the tech giant said apps in the category health, fitness and wellness “surged in popularity”.
“Apple Watch and HealthKit paved the way for developers to make health, fitness and wellness apps more innovative, intelligent and interactive, which in turn have inspired customers to be more active and mindful of their health,” a spokesman said. “Downloads for these apps have increased 75 per cent since the launch of Apple Watch.”
The leading Australian entrepreneur in the field is Kayla Itsines and her fiance Tobi Pearce, who are worth $46 million on the back of Itsine’s Sweat app.
Not just a matter of clicking your fingers
However a host of other entrepreneurs have also built businesses on the back of wellness apps including former Bachelor television star Sam Wood who created the 28 by Sam Wood fitness app.
Wood says he has great admiration for Itsines and “what she has done is nothing short of incredible, she is the biggest fitness influencer in the world”.
However, Wood says Itsines’ customers are mainly 15 to 22 year olds while his audience is 26 to 50-year-old women who are predominantly mothers.
“To be honest it has blown me and my team away how many people have done the program and how big it has gotten quite quickly,” he says. “Social media is part of the puzzle, but it is not everything, you need to be authentic and know what you are talking about and have a good product.”
Wood launched his app in July last year, which he says cost more than $1 million to build.
“It’s not just a matter of clicking your fingers,” he says. “We have 20 full-time staff. I think everyone thinks it is a lot simpler and your overheads are a lot less. They dive into the space because it is new and exciting but to do it well, and you do have to do it well to survive, it is far more expensive than you think.”
28 by Sam Wood is now approaching 60,000 downloads and Wood says he has had 150,000 people complete or still be on his program, with turnover of about $8 million last year.
“This space is becoming more and more dense with people bringing out programs,” he says. “I think a lot of people underestimate how much work is involved to create a business like this and keep it fresh and relevant.”
It has exploded
That work continues even if an app isn’t a money-making venture as Sydneysider Chris Plowman has experienced with his mediation app Insight Timer.
The app has half a million daily users and almost 7 million globally with 99 per cent of those using the app for free.
“We thought there was an opportunity to build a meditation app that was free, every other app out there was focused on building subscription and revenue,” says Plowman.
He bought an existing mediation app five years ago, which had 100,00 users, and Plowman says “now it has exploded” with the aim of getting to 100 million meditators by 2022.
“Our success, our survival is not guaranteed,” he says. “With our premium products we have about 50,000 subscribers, that income allows us to pay for our infrastructure.”
Plowman says it costs $5 million a year to run Insight Timer and the business loses about $3 million a year with the losses covered by investors including co-founder of Matrix Partners China, Bo Shao, who leads the $100 million Evolve fund that invests in companies doing good.
“Even the paid mediation apps are introducing people to mindfulness so in that respect they have done a great job in bringing mindfulness to the mainstream,” he says. “I do struggle with it a little as I think they are mostly focused on the commercial aspects. We shouldn’t be trying to make money as fast as possible off this new fad.”
Plowman wants to see more people in the space building conscious companies.
“It is mental health, this is not the gaming industry or house rentals it is mental health, not mental stealth, so it is important we understand the intentions of the companies involved,” he said.
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Cara is the small business editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne