Koko: The Making of a Gym for Member Success

It’s the early years of the 21st century and a young couple, Mike and Mary, realize they’re seriously out of shape. Mary recently gave birth to their son, Kai, and pregnancy has not been kind to her body. They’re busier than ever – work is crazy, home a blur of diapers and take-out food – and Mike’s also putting on pounds. They join a health club near their home in Massachusetts, but are soon disappointed. It’s a soul-less place with blaring TV screens and grunting weight-lifters. The workouts are time-consuming and unpleasant. And after several months, the results are…unimpressive. The weight isn’t coming off and they don’t feel anything close to their fit, energetic selves. Mary signs up to run a half-marathon in Boston, but is barely able to finish, struggling the whole way. Shown a photo of herself at the finish line, she cringes.

They know they’re not alone. Gyms and fitness centers everywhere are full of people working hard but obviously not reaching their goals. Does fitness have to be a dreary chore? Isn’t there a better way?

Reading up on exercise science, Mike learns of important discoveries barely known outside of the scientific community. Most surprising, it turns out the real “secret” of fitness and longevity is building lean muscle mass. But many people are scared of strength training or are doing it incorrectly without proper guidance.

An entrepreneur with a successful digital start-up behind him, Mike wonders: why can’t the technologies that have revolutionized so many other parts of life do the same for fitness? He buys a weight machine, hooks it up to his laptop, and starts experimenting. He puts Mary on a new exercise protocol that calls for just 30 minutes a day of strength training with the computer regulating her pace and repetitions. The results are astonishing. Mary drops 3 sizes in 3 months. Mike tries the program himself and watches the flab melt away, replaced by muscle. Friends notice their progress and try to hire Mike as their personal trainer.

Instead, he brings together a team of MIT engineers, software developers, leading exercise physiologists and designers. Their task: reimagine fitness from the ground up. Over the next few years, they produce the Koko Smartrainer, the first strength machine to truly harness the power of digital technology. After several stages of development and intensive field testing, Mike’s invention is ready for sale. He starts contacting gyms and going to trade shows, where he gets a lot of “wow” reactions but few sales. The gym industry is risk-adverse and afraid of radical change, which would disrupt their current business models.

He’s at a crossroads. He knows he has a product that will change people’s lives. If it can’t reach them through traditional fitness channels, maybe it’s time to break out. He and Mary decide to create an entirely new kind of gym based around the Smartrainer – a digital gym that redefines the fitness experience.

In 2007, the first Koko FitClub opens and others soon follow. They’re nothing like traditional gyms – no TVs, no obsessive bodybuilders flexing in front of mirrors. Each club is a quiet, light-filled studio where members come to do short, efficient workouts tailored to their needs and goals. They’re out the door in 45 minutes. Everything is tracked and analyzed digitally, with up-to-date fitness results stored in the cloud and accessible on all devices.

Flash forward to today. Koko is growing rapidly, with tens of thousands of enthusiastic members and locations in 30 states. Mike and Mary’s idea has grown into a movement that’s transforming how the world stays healthy and happy. This is the future of fitness.