Indian gaming startup prodigy Vishal Gondal (of GOQii fame) has run half marathons, completed four 100-km walks, and even gone to the Everest Base Camp. But he was not always this fit. There was a time when he says he transitioned from being a national level volleyball player (in school) into a “volleyball” himself — the occupational hazard of running a gaming company.
When gyms, dieticians, Fitbit, apps like myfitnesspal, and others failed him, a friendly neighbourhood coach came to his rescue and taught him an important lesson:
Health-related change can’t come from an app or technology along but requires the motivation and guidance of a fellow human.
This experience is what got Gondal thinking about the tech-human gap in the fitness/health sector. He finally came up with a solution — GOQii, a smart wearable launched in 2014 that helps people track their steps, sleep, and other physical activities, and then does more.
GOQii supplements the health tracking with goal-setting by the user to keep them motivated and brings in the human touch in the form of a remote coach who guides the user towards this goal — all via the app. Yes, we’re talking about a real, human fitness coach who makes decisions for you based on the activity and sleep tracking data sent from your wearable. And it also allows you to choose your coach.
The GOQii app can be integrated with 35 major fitness bands including Jawbone, Fitbit, Garmin, Moov, Misfit, and Sony.
Gondal says that GOQii’s biggest competitor is the couch and that they want people to get out of the couch. In essence, what he means to say is that the fitness and healthcare industry’s biggest challenges are laziness and inertia.
GOQii wasn’t Gondal’s first venture as an entrepreneur. He made his first bet in the Indian startup ecosystem in the 1990s with gaming company Indiagames when he was just 16. After running the company for more than 13 years, Gondal sold Indiagames to leading global entertainment company Walt Disney for $100 Mn.
In his over 20-year entrepreneurship journey, Gondal has worn several hats — serial entrepreneur, angel investor, hustler, podcast show host, and others. As an angel investor, Gondal invests in startups from Tier II and Tier III cities and enables them to compete at a global level.
In the 22nd episode of Inc42 Ask Me Anything (AMA), we hosted Vishal Gondal, the founder-CEO of GOQii, who spoke to us about gaming, fitness, how GOQii is gamifying fitness, and a lot more.
Here’s are some excerpts from the Inc42 AMA with Vishal Gondal:
Inc42: IndiaGames was your first company that you started back at a very young age in 1999. Tell us about the experience.
Vishal Gondal: So, during the late 90s, there was no concept of a startup or any of these things…there was no Startup India. So, I think for me it was something more, it was my passion and hobby, and I had to find out a way to make a business out of that. That’s how I first started the company and clearly, there were no venture capitalists at that time; we only raised money in 1999, but my was company started much earlier.
The way we were making money was that I would go to corporates and make games for them. So, we created a very interesting, I would say the advergaming model. Of course, now many companies are doing this, but we started that way back in 1996-97.
Inc42: It’s unusual for someone to start a company at 16, let alone know how to run a business. What was your motivation? How did you start so early?
Vishal Gondal: I don’t think that the motivation was necessarily to start a company.
The motivation was that I loved playing games and making games and here was a way I could do that as well as make some money.
I don’t think I really did any serious thinking about the business opportunity or market size and all of that.
I just did it because I love gaming.
Inc42: After being in the gaming industry for so long, you ventured into the health sector. What gap did u see in the health sector that you decided to start GOQii?
Vishal Gondal: I think my journey in gaming and in GOQii is quite interesting. When I was in school, apart from being into computer games, I was a national-level volleyball player — super fit and athletic. However, running a gaming company made me a volleyball myself. It was too much into junk food, pizza, travel, Pepsi, etc. There was a time when I figured that I needed to do something about my health and tried apps such as myfitnesspal, bought a Fitbit, joined the gym, went to dietitians, etc, but nothing worked.
What worked for me was when a neighbourhood health coach — a running coach — said, “Vishal, I know you keep travelling, I will keep sending you stuff to do.” So he would text/WhatsApp me ki aaj ye karo, kal wo karo (do this today, do that tomorrow). From being somebody who could not focus or get hooked on any regime, I not only started following my remote coach, but ended up running my first half marathon in 2011. Since then, I have done half marathons, I have done four 100-km walks, I was at the Everest Base Camp a couple of years back.
What I saw was that change happened in me not because of any such technology/app. It happened only when these things were connected to a human who was able to motivate and guide me. That’s the gap I saw in the health sector.
I think the world is full of health apps, fitness apps, and weight loss apps, but the reality is 99% people fail at their goals. My goal was how can we build a platform that is much more sustainable, much more saleable, and at the same time, holistic, and that was the entire idea.
Inc42: What is your vision for GOQii and your take on how the industry will shape up over the next three-five years?
Vishal Gondal: See, GOQii’s vision is very simple. The biggest challenge in health is not data, information, or access. Most people already know what they have to do. People know they should not be smoking or drinking or eating fried food or doing other such things. It is not like a doctor or somebody else can tell you anything new.
I think the reality is that people lack guidance and motivation. So, at GOQii, what we’re trying to build is a technology-enabled platform that will guide people, motivate them, and make them help others by becoming an agent of change. That’s how you scale the model.
This model of healthcare can’t be delivered by providers such as doctors and hospitals. If they could do it, the world would’ve already be healthier. The problem, especially in a country like India, is that given the low number of doctors and hospitals, we need to create a preventive healthcare model.
What GOQii is trying to do is use this in a fun, engaging, gaming way, where you can have fun while getting healthier. So, this is what we are doing. We are right now in version three of our health ecosystem and have signed up with insurance companies and healthcare providers. You will soon see GOQii get more deeply involved in the health and the fitness ecosystem. So, you will see even offline partners come in whether they are gyms or studios, health food companies or hospital and clinics. They will all be engaging with us and, in turn, our players, in the next few years.
Audience: Most fitness trackers are good for tracking steps but not for traditional gymming or strength training. Is GOQii working on some technology to overcome this problem?
Vishal Gondal: These trackers are not about measuring everything you are doing, these are more what I call a trend. Were you walking 8,000 steps before? That was your trend. Have you now started doing 10,000?
For example, we recently launched GOQii Vital, which can measure blood pressure. Now, we don’t claim this to be a medical device, you can’t get an absolutely accurate blood pressure on this; however, if you constantly see high or low readings, that means you need to go and see a doctor and get your blood pressure tested.
So, these devices are more of a trend. Having said that, every day there are advancements being made in sensor technologies and hopefully, we will soon have a tracker that can track everything — maybe it will be embedded in your skin, you may not even have to carry it.
I think the entire tracking space is going to soon become about implants and people will have different kinds of implants, including those that can enhance your ability. So, imagine that if you actually have an implant that has Bluetooth connectivity and, along with bone-conducting, you don’t need to put a speaker inside your ear so you can actually have a bone-conducting implant which becomes a speaker embedded in your body.
You could have an implant which could continuously tell you your blood sugar level as well as other parameters because. I think the whole world of sensors is going to explode, which is why companies like GOQii are gonna win because we have the ability to take this data and help make sense out of it. Most people don’t know what to do with data, they don’t know how to take the next step. We have the ability to do that and as data volumes increase, it is going to be a game changer.
We also had a rapid-fire round with Vishal Gondal. Here’s the lowdown:
Inc42: Name a book that has made the biggest impact on your life?
Vishal Gondal: I am a big fan of Tim Ferriss The 4-Hour Workweek
Inc42: Your favourite entrepreneur in the Indian startup ecosystem?
Vishal Gondal: Vijay Shekhar Sharma…rockstar.
Inc42: Who do you consider the biggest competitor of GOQii?
Vishal Gondal: Laziness. What we have seen is people stop using our app is not because they are using some other app or have started going to gym or have bought another wearable, but because they are doing just nothing. And when they dont buy GOQii, it’s not that they buy something else.
Our research says that what we are fighting is laziness and inertia and our biggest competitor is the couch because what we want to do is get people out of the couch.
In a similar context, Netflix considers sleep as its biggest competitor, not Amazon Prime or any other service. So, Netflix is trying to fight against sleep and we are trying to compete against laziness.
Inc42: The next machine or gadget or technology product that you’re looking to get your hands on?
Vishal Gondal: I’ll be most probably be buying a new version of this meditation band, which can tracks how you meditate — called a Muse. The new version is to be launched in October. I have the previous model. I meditate everyday and I use it to measure my state of mind.
Inc42: One skill that is crucial for the success of any entrepreneur?
Vishal Gondal: Focus
Inc42: You’re a fitness enthusiast. One piece of advice you’d like to share with the viewers on how to stay fit?
Vishal Gondal: I think the most important thing for staying fit is to measure your (vital) stats. Most people don’t do blood tests, measure any of their body parameters, and wait for an incident to happen before measuring them. So, the first step is to start measuring your stats, so you know where you are, because only when you measure can you improve.
Whether its fitness or even if it’s your business, having metrics, and then managing these metrics is very important.
Inc42: Let’s say GOQii isn’t there tomorrow and you have to start again from scratch, which industry would you venture into?
Vishal Gondal: That’s a tough question, but given that gaming is my love, I’d be doing something with gaming for sure.
Inc42: Among all the investors of GOQii — and you have plenty — who do you like the most and why?
Vishal Gondal: The most fun, favourite, and absolute best is Deepak I Shahdadpuri of DSG. I think he is a combination of part co-founder, part investor, and somebody who has, possibly, the most insights in the consumer space. So, if you are building a startup in the consumer space, one person you’ll be lucky to have is Deepak.
Inc42: A lot of people look up to you, who do you look up to?
Vishal Gondal: I don’t look upto one, there are multiple people in my life who will be my mentors/gurus. One of them is Ronnie, who has been a big mentor and guru to me. At the same time, Vijay Shekhar has been another friend and mentor to me.
This is not all. There’s a lot more thoughts, insights, and experiences that Vishal Gondal, the hustler, shared with us on our AMA.
Stay tuned for our next article on Vishal’s Ask Me Anything!
This interview is an excerpt from Inc42’s Ask Me Anything (AMA) series. It has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
This story was last updated at 4.35pm on September 14, 2018.