On­go­ing pas­sion for fit­ness of­fers healthy re­turns to star­tups

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By HUANG XIANGYANG

How much would you like to pay to cul­ti­vate a healthy habit that will keep you fit? My per­sonal trainer at the gym charged me 5,500 yuan ($850) for a 30-hour body­build­ing course, and when I tried to bar­gain, he cutme short, “Would you bar­gain with your doc­tors over med­i­cal costs if you fall ill?”

Though some­what rude, he made a point: Health is in­valu­able, and it can­not be mea­sured by money.

More and more peo­ple buy into the idea with their bulging wal­lets and ris­ing health aware­ness, and a mo­men­tum is build­ing up in the de­vel­op­ment of keep-fit business, cre­at­ing wealth op­por­tu­ni­ties for those who see the po­ten­tial.

Spend­ing in health-re­lated sec­tors in the United States re­port­edly makes up 15 per­cent of the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, while the fig­ure in China is only about 5 per­cent. That may partly ex­plain why AlibabaHealth, an off­shoot of e-com­merce gi­ant Alibaba Group Hold­ing Ltd, re­cently es­tab­lished a 1 bil­lion yuan joint ven­ture to make foray into in­ter­net health in­sur­ance in China.

Not just big com­pa­nies are tap­ping the huge po­ten­tial for healthre­lated sec­tors in China. Some in­di­vid­u­als with noth­ing but in­no­va­tive ideas have also jumped on the band­wagon.

One suc­cess­ful ex­am­ple is an am­a­teur run­ner with an on­line nick­name Tiger, who came to Bei­jing sev­eral years ago af­ter quit­ting his job in his home­town. He might not know Peter Lynch, but he def­i­nitely grasped the essence ofUS leg­endary in­vestor’s in­vest­ment prin­ci­ple, “In­vest in what you know”. It is run­ning that he knows best. I hap­pened to learn of his story from an in­ter­viewof him on China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion. He op­er­ates a pro­gram “100 peo­ple run­ning for 100 days” through Ten­cen­tHold­ings Ltd’s so­cial net­work­ing ap­pWeChat, to help peo­ple build a run­ning habit within 100 days, and of course, for him­self to make money.

In less than two years, Tiger has turned his so­cial net­work­ing group into a boom­ing business, with the pro­gram’s en­roll­ment hav­ing in­creased by 16-fold from 100 peo­ple when it was first launched.

The idea of mak­ing money out of peo­ple’s zeal for run­ning in­ter­ests me. To learn how his pro­gram works, I joined its lat­est, or the sixth edi­tion lately, and now two weeks into it, I have been amazed.

The en­try fee for the task-ori­ented pro­gram is 598 yuan, but you get a 200 yuan coupon to buy gear such as run­ning shoes, socks and shirts from an on­line shop run by Tiger once you join. I used the coupon to buy a pair of leg­gings.

To ac­com­plish the task you have to run at least three times a week for a min­i­mum cu­mu­la­tive dis­tance of 210 kilo­me­ters within 14 weeks. If you stick to the plan till the end, you get a re­fund of 200 yuan from e-hong­bao, or red en­velopes, of­fered by Tiger, and hope­fully form a habit of run­ning reg­u­larly that makes you ca­pa­ble of run­ning a half marathon or an even longer dis­tance.

Those who fail to ac­com­plish the min­i­mum task set at the start of each week will be kicked out of the so­cial net­work­ing group— with no re­fund.

All this is made pos­si­ble thanks to an in­ter­net age and wide­spread own­er­ship of smart­phones. Arun­ning app, Joyrun, en­ables mem­bers of the group to send and share data such as time, dis­tance, pace, and rank­ings in the group. Team lead­ers are se­lected from mem­bers to mon­i­tor how well each one ful­fills his task.

A sense of be­long­ing, I be­lieve, must be a ma­jor rea­son why so many choose to join the pro­gram. As a mem­ber of the pro­gram, run­ning is no long a sport for lonely peo­ple.

The at­mos­phere in the on­line so­cial net­work­ing group ac­tu­ally re­minds me of a church, as we ex­change our run­ning ex­pe­ri­ences with mis­sion­ary pas­sion and read shared run­ning guide­lines like the Scrip­tures. Here we are all pi­ous fol­low­ers of the re­li­gion of run­ning.

While ev­ery­one is happy, Tiger could po­ten­tially make at least 100,000 yuan each month from this lat­est edi­tion of pro­gram, with ba­si­cally no mone­tary in­vest­ment.

Not bad for a startup en­tre­pre­neur.

Con­tact the writer at huangx­i­angyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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