Why Khalil Zahar Built Home Boxing Gym FightCamp
20 Minute Fitness Episode #86
This week on the 20 Minute Fitness podcast we have Khalil Zahar, the Founder & CEO of the very first interactive at-home boxing gym, FightCamp. Khalil is an engineer by profession and became personally invested in boxing during his studies in Toronto. He had the chance to train with some of Canada’s best boxing coaches, which made him fall in love with the sport. However, he quickly realized that something was missing from the traditional experience of boxing in a physical gym, which was tracking.
As a result, Khalil set out a mission to himself to create something that would tackle this issue: a device that would provide users the opportunity to receive highly tailored and accurate feedback to ensure their personal improvements. And this is how first Hykso and then FightCamp were born.
Listen on to hear all about the ins and outs of FightCamp that will teach you how to master your punches with real-time feedback on every move you make!
Three Things You Will Learn
1) What’s In The FightCamp Box
So how should you imagine an at-home boxing gym? Just a pair of gloves and that’s it? Nope. With the FightCamp gym, you really get everything that you need to become a pro boxer.
You’ll receive the best quality punching bag, a heavy workout mat, quick wraps, premium boxing gloves, and the “secret sauce”, motion trackers. Once you put the motion trackers in your wraps, they will track your hands 1,000 times/second. By tracking your punches, the FightCamp algorithms will build your output profile based on the type and speed of every punch you make.
On top of all these, FightCamp also comes with an app through which you can tune in to live classes or access any workout from their on-demand library. Pretty much like Peloton for boxing.
Press play to learn about the specific programs FightCamp provides for pro boxers vs those who’re just about to throw their first jab at the punching bag!
2) Moving From The Pro Athletes To A Mainstream Market
FightCamp has an older brother, Hykso, that was born back in 2015. This was around the time when Khalil was living in Canada and had already started to immerse in boxing. After he’d learnt that the only way to measure incremental progress was to look at how long you were able to go in the ring, he wanted to find a solution.
So he started to focus on the technology piece and built a motion tracker, Hykso. Hykso was first picked up by those who had been craving the boxing data the most, professional athletes. Namely, the first client of Hykso was the Canadian Olympic team and their coach.
After a number of product iterations, these professional boxers started to use their trackers with their private clients or during group workouts that they were teaching. By hacking the device, which was originally created for athletes, they gamified the more fitness-oriented boxing experience of everyday people.
Listen to this week’s episode to hear how Khalil and his team have built the FightCamp that we know today!
3) The Future Of At-Home Fitness & FightCamp
We’ve already seen an amazing evolution of at-home fitness. We had moved away from fake and overpromising products to authentic companies with innovative hardware and software and great business models. Today, at-home fitness is really for a health-conscious audience, who have busy lives and hence struggle to find time to go to a physical gym.
One aspect that people still tend to criticize about at-home workouts is the lack of social experience. However, if we think about it, the real beneficial social gain that we get from an in-person gym experience is the social pressure to push harder. Which is something that can be replicated in a virtual setting with performance data. Hence, Khalil believes that at-home fitness will only see increased popularity and growth in the future.
Looking at FightCamp in particular, Khalil shared some secret features that we can expect to pop-up soon. These involve everything from further gamification to getting the users to immerse in the history of boxing. Tune in to learn more about the sneak peeks now!
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00:04 Martin Kessler: Hello, everyone. It’s time for another show of “Why I Built This” on the 20-minute Fitness Podcast. It’s yours truly, your host, Martin Kessler. And we are here to bring you the latest and greatest in fitness and health technology. We’re bringing to you the inventor of new companies that you probably haven’t heard of. So today, I’ve got an interesting guest, Khalil Zahar, the founder and CEO of the very first interactive, at home boxing gym called FightCamp. Now Khalil and I, we go back a couple of years now already. I’ve met him when he went through YC, just shortly after we did here in Silicon Valley. And yeah, I mean, he originally started out in Toronto when he was at university. And though he was an engineer by trade, he got personally, very much invested in boxing during that time. Khalil had the chance to train with some of Canada’s best boxing coaches which made him fall in love with the sport. However, he quickly realized that something was still missing from the traditional experience of boxing in a boxing gym, for instance, which was personalization.
01:09 MK: As a result, Khalil set out to off a mission to create something that would tackle this issue, a device that would provide users with the opportunity to receive highly tailored and accurate feedback to ensure their personal improvement, which is how FightCamp was born. So make sure to stay tuned in to learn all about the ins and outs of this amazing high-tech equipment that will teach you how to master your punches with real-time feedback on every move you make. But before we move on, I’d like to thank our sponsor, Shape. As you may now, Team Shape’s been working on the 3D body scanner called ShapeScale, and we’re currently looking for new engineers in both hardware and software. And if you’re interested or you may know somebody in your own network, please make sure to head to our careers page at shapescale.com/careers, check out our jobs, maybe there’s something for you or somebody that you know. On another quick note, if you guys like this podcast and enjoy tuning in, please give us a five-star rating on Apple Podcast or your favorite podcasting app. It really only takes a couple of seconds, but it could really go a long way in helping others to discover our wonderful podcast, thank you.
02:17 MK: Hey guys, it’s Martin from Shape. We’re here right now in San Francisco, in our studio, and I’m connected to LA today with the founder of FightCamp, Khalil Zahar. Khalil, why don’t you introduce yourself a little?
02:27 Khalil Zahar: Yeah, awesome. First of all, thanks a lot for receiving me on the podcast, Martin. So my name is Khalil, I’m the co-founder and CEO of FightCamp, and we basically started FightCamp about a year and a half ago.
02:38 MK: What is FightCamp?
02:39 KZ: So, FightCamp is an interactive home boxing gym. It comes with everything you need to start boxing and you actually follow videos that are built by the best trainers of all the West Coast, they’re all former fighters, they all have obviously a tremendous fight experience, but they’re also great fitness instructors, in general.
02:55 MK: So for the listener on our show that has never seen it, what should we imagine? Should we imagine a punching bag and a pair of gloves or what do you guys have?
03:03 KZ: Yeah, so it comes with a free-standing bag, the best free-standing bag on the market with a pair of genuine leather gloves made and approved by fighters, it comes with a workout mat, a pair of, what we call, quick wraps. And the special sauce is two motion trackers that you put in the quick wraps and they track your hands a thousand times per second.
03:19 MK: Track what? Like my speed and my punches? How many punches I’m doing per minute or what should I expect?
03:24 KZ: Yes, they track the type of punch you throw, they measure the speed of the punches and they basically build your output profile from one round to the other.
03:31 MK: What about impact?
03:32 KZ: Not the impact, it’s really the velocity.
03:34 MK: Okay.
03:34 KZ: Right? So the velocity of your hand and which punch you’re actually throwing.
03:37 MK: And how does the coaching look like? You were mentioning that you have coaches all over the place and should I imagine like watching them on my TV, or on my iPhone or how does that look for me?
03:48 KZ: Yeah, so it comes with an iOS app, you connect the iOS app, you mirror it on the large screen TV, or you can watch the workouts on an iPad, whatever you prefer. And then from there, it’s kinda like, all-you-can-eat buffet, really. So if you’re advanced, you can jump straight into the advanced workouts right away. We go in deep into complex combinations, we practice footwork and the workouts are very intense. Otherwise, it can literally start at the very first time you’re throwing your first punch. So we have what we call a prospect path, where it takes you from zero boxing experience, teaches you the six punches. And then at the end of the prospect path, which is about a four weeks program, you actually know how to throw the six punches properly, you know how to stance, you know the basics of boxing.
04:28 MK: Right, and it’s mostly regular boxing or do you also offer classes for Thai boxing or MMA?
04:32 KZ: No, so we’re actually, we’re focusing on boxing at the moment, but we’re having a lot of internal conversations around providing kick-boxing as well. As a kick-boxing and Muay Thai, really, as an extension.
04:43 MK: And so, who’s your core user right now? Is it really like, what you just mentioned, like the beginners or is it like somebody that’s been boxing all their life or how does that look for you guys?
04:53 KZ: Yeah, it’s really 75% beginners, but it’s actually very interesting to see like a lot of them are now not beginners anymore. So we kinda took a bunch of them. And through the program, you get to see their videos online and on the social media and they’re getting with very proper form, they have the basics of boxing. Of course, they don’t have the in-ring experience, right? ‘Cause it’s still a, it’s a home virtual experience.
05:15 MK: Yeah, you can’t really compete against somebody else, right?
05:18 KZ: Right. So yeah, actually, you can compete. But on output and precision, you can’t compete on actual defense and offense, of course, you’re not gonna get hit.
05:25 MK: And how does a class look like? Is it one-on-one coaching tailored to me or is it like a big class, like Peloton style or…
05:33 KZ: Yeah, it is really a group class. So you’ll have… Usually, the video stream will be divided kind of like in two, not that it’s divided on the screen, per se, but we vary between having the camera centered on the coach, and then you’re getting b-roll that is very dynamic. The camera moves around in the class and focuses on the participants taking the class live at our studio in Newport Beach.
05:55 MK: And for me, me having an iPhone, am I supposed to, I don’t know, put up my iPhone somewhere on a counter and then look at it while I’m punching it out on my bag or how should I imagine it?
06:07 KZ: Yeah, that’s a very good question. There’s not a lot of people that actually use it only with the iPhone unless they’re traveling or unless they’re actually using it within a gym, their local gym or their apartment gym, depending. Most people take an HDMI cable, upload the stream directly on a big screen TV.
06:23 MK: Yeah, that makes sense.
06:24 KZ: Yeah, or we have a portion of our users who actually are doing it on an iPad.
06:27 MK: And how about Apple TV? That works, as well?
06:29 KZ: Yeah, you can mirror… Exactly, you can use Apple TV to mirror the stream directly on a big screen TV as well. That’s definitely the best experience, you’re getting very loud sounds and music, you hear the voice really, really properly. The noise of the bag doesn’t supplant the voice of the trainer unless your stats are displayed very big for you, so you’re really into it, you kinda feel like you’re being tracked and really part of a group experience.
06:51 MK: And it’s both iOS and Android or is it mostly iOS right now?
06:55 KZ: No, for now, I would say, it’s only on iOS.
06:56 MK: Got it. And so why are people doing it? Do they just wanna get a workout and they’re not happy with an experience like Peloton or maybe they have a Peloton, and they wanna supplement it with something else? Or do they actually wanna get into boxing and learn those skills for, let’s say, self-defense?
07:12 KZ: Yeah, it’s interesting. So we have two types of customers. The first type of customers really just… They were always intrigued by boxing, they wanna do it because it’s a workout that you actually get something out of it. Even though you would stop working out after a year, you would still acquire the skills; And those are self-defense skills. A lot of people are mystified by how to actually throw a punch and how to do it properly. So that was one portion of our customers. The other portion of customers are actually coming from the idea that boxing is the best workout to get in shape. And they discovered the fundamentals and the techniques through FightCamp. So the first reason they joined is for fitness purposes, really assuming that boxing is the best workout out there. The other portion come straight because they want boxing, but they can’t attend, they have a busy lifestyle, they’re young parents, hitting the gym is increasingly harder with a busy schedule. So that’s the other proposition that they really resonate with.
08:01 MK: And right now, does it only work if I buy your equipment on your website, the FightCamp gym? Or can I also try it without any equipment, let’s say, I’m doing some shadow boxing? [chuckle]
08:14 KZ: Yeah, so we actually have a few classes. You can do all the classes, technically, shadow boxing. And you can use the trackers, the trackers will still detect your punches even though you’re not punching anything. We really recommend, from an actual workout perspective, we really recommend you punching the bag. Because at the impact, the body really gets a lot more stress out of it. Stress in a good sense of it, where your muscles are really, really… I would say, their action, right? So your whole body will actually have to sustain that impact and it’s a lot more tiring, a lot more effective workout.
08:43 MK: Sure, sure. You have more resistance.
08:45 KZ: Yes, exactly.
08:45 MK: And so what does it cost if I buy a FightCamp gym? ‘Cause I think you have some different packages, right?
08:51 KZ: Correct. So if you take the typical FightCamp home gym, it’s $1095. It comes with free delivery and you’re getting everything. We have a family package where you can get an extra pair of gloves, and we ship you actually a pair of kids gloves that comes with it for the whole family. And if you take the connect package, that only comes with the trackers and the quick wraps. So if you already have a bag that you really like, well, you can use the connect package and you’ll be good to go.
09:15 MK: Gotcha. And how much space would I need? Is it like something that I could set up in my living room, my bedroom?
09:20 KZ: Yeah, pretty much all of the above, depending how… Depending how big is your bedroom. I’m sure in certain areas of Manhattan…
09:26 MK: Yeah, no, we have a lot of our listeners, obviously, in places in San Francisco and New York City and they have a whole lot of space.
09:32 KZ: Right. So 6 x 8 is the minimum space required.
09:35 MK: Got it. Let’s talk a bit about the founding story because that’s quite interesting. ‘Cause you guys were in FightCamp in the beginning, right? You have worked on a product called “Hykso“, correct?
09:45 KZ: Correct.
09:45 MK: So tell me more about how you actually got going and what the first idea was and then how that changed for you?
09:51 KZ: Yeah, so FightCamp is really, let’s call it like around 16 months old. When we started Hykso, it was actually back in 2015. And Hykso is basically the holding company now, it includes FightCamp and both Hykso. We focused only on the technology piece, so the motion trackers themselves. And our first clients was actually the Canadian Olympic Team. So…
10:10 MK: Okay, stop, stop. I’m gonna stop you right there. How did you even get to the idea of building practice for boxing?
10:16 KZ: So myself, I started boxing pretty late. My background is in microelectronic mechanical sensors. And basically, I studied MEMS as part of my research project. It was clear that they were getting small enough to be put on the body and you had all sorts of applications about that. Now, my research was actually on a medical device used… Really focused on microfluidics. Not really, accelerometers and gyroscopes, which is the core tech of the product. But I started boxing pretty much at the same time as I started my research. And I completely fell in love with the sport. I was going five times a week, really, really into it, preparing for my first fight. And at the beginning, when you start boxing, the progress curve is really addicting ’cause you evolve very fast. And boxing, for me, was always this thing that I was like… I thought it’s like, you have it or you don’t. And I was putting in hours in the gym [chuckle] and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m actually getting really… I’m getting much better.” And at some point, it starts to be a game of inches.
11:08 MK: What got you into it in the first place? Somebody that was doing it as well, or what happened?
11:13 KZ: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I met a guy, back then, I actually met him when I was traveling. And I don’t know, we just started talking a lot. He started… At that point, he had started boxing about a few years now and he was so passionate about it, and he kinda intrigued me and he was in super shape. And growing up, I always played a lot of sports. And there was something about boxers that was like… They’re just the next level of athleticism. They’re strong mentally, physically, emotionally, and it’s a sport that always intrigued me. And when I moved to Toronto, I just happened to go right next to a boxing gym. And the first time, I just wanted to come and see how it looks like. So for anyone who has been at a traditional boxing gym, it’s gonna be familiar for them. But I just showed up inside, I was expecting to maybe get a pamphlet and learn more about how the classes go. And the guy looked at me and he was like, “Hey, hi,” whatever. And 20 minutes in, I’m just sitting, watching a class, and he goes around his counter and gives me a pair of gloves. He goes, “Glove up, we’re gonna do… “
12:06 KZ: Yeah, he’s like, “Glove up, we’re gonna do a small session.” And I’m like, “Okay, damn, okay.” And then he gave me just an ass-kicking workout. In 20 minutes, I was done, we were doing mitts, everything was horrible about it from my own performance, but I was like, “Wow. Okay, that’s the ass-whooping I was hoping for.” [chuckle] So I just kept going to the gym and I fell more and more in love with it. At that gym, you had to earn your way to the ring, to an actual first sparring experience.
12:31 MK: And how do you do that?
12:32 KZ: So you practice a lot of defense and practice the basics until they think you’re ready. Then whenever you’re ready, they put you in there, but you don’t go all out. They’re gonna, at the beginning, they’re gonna put you with a more experienced person and then you’re gonna throw punches at them. They’re really gonna be on defense and then they do the opposite. And then at some point, you have your first, real sparring session.
12:51 MK: But is that something that you actually managed to replicate? To have really… Also, that counterpart, for really practicing your punches. Can you replicate that with just a punching bag?
13:03 KZ: Yeah, so that’s the interesting part is… Nowadays, if you look at YouTube, right, if you look at any skill, acquired skill, right, there’s a tremendous amount of teaching just happening one way on YouTube, pretty much about every physical skill. Even though you need a lot of feedback often, especially when it’s like a two-way street. But when you do a lot of boxing, you spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. You spend a lot of time replicating drills and focusing exactly on your body positioning. For that whole part, you don’t really need a partner. You don’t need someone to throw punches back at you. That’s actually a very small portion of the boxing workouts anyways, so we can get very far.
13:36 MK: Anyways, just to go back, I was just curious. So how did you get… You were working on accelerometers and gyroscopes, and you were getting passionate about boxing. And then, what motivated you to bring the two of them together? Were you actually missing getting to the gym, did you want to work out at home or what was it?
13:54 KZ: No. At the beginning, I definitely wasn’t even thinking about Home Fitness at all. I was just thinking of a way to really measure my incremental progress. It was a frustrating process because there was no objective data, whatsoever, in the gym. And I was in a gym, where my coach was actually an international referee, she was part of boxing Canada, so she knew a lot of high level coaches as well. And I’m like, “There’s no way there’s no measurement.” She’s like, “Yeah, there are some type of measurements, it’s how many rounds are you able to go in the ring?” [chuckle] But then it’s like, “Oh well, it’s dependent on how hard do you go in the ring, or on the bag?” And then the other measurement was, well, how long can you run for and how fast? It was all these side things that were not exactly correlated to your boxing performance, right? So the best benchmark was measuring if you’re getting better than others, but they’re evolving as well. So it became a little bit frustrating, and some self doubt about, “Am I still progressing here or am I only maintaining?”
14:50 KZ: And at that point, I was like, at least if I could measure just literally the speed of my punches, if I could measure the amount of punches I’m throwing when I’m going three minutes on the bag, that’ll give me some information. So we started there.
15:01 MK: Got it. So, that was really the initial product. Hykso was really kind of like a tracker, but for boxing.
15:06 KZ: Exactly, exactly.
15:08 MK: And then how did that go when you guys launched that product, how did you guys go about it and then what happened?
15:13 KZ: Well, it’s pretty much like every entrepreneur, you don’t really know what you’re doing, so you’re… We came from a product-oriented and it’s called… Not even product but engineering-oriented, problem-solving approach. So basically, we had tried to make the technology work and it wasn’t working well at all, in the beginning. For example, every time that you would flick your hand, the product would count that as a punch. [chuckle] Or you’d scratch your head quickly enough, and that would be a punch. That would screw up your whole dataset.
15:38 MK: Yeah, it’s kind of like fitness trackers in the early stages when you move your hands and yeah, you would actually hit, track steps, whereas you’re not actually moving at all.
15:46 KZ: [chuckle] Yes, exactly. So we did a lot of engineering and R&D to make the product good enough, we were lucky to be in touch with the Canadian Olympic coach, very fast and he was very patient ’cause he really saw how he could use this with all of his athletes. He was telling me of how difficult it is to get data outside of when they’re in training camps. So he could at least see the data, even though the… Especially in Canada, is such a big country, getting everyone at the same place is hard. So he could at least track his athlete’s performance throughout the regular off championship seasons and whenever they come to training camp, then he could actually get a lot of background of who’s in shape, who’s not in shape, is one speed of a punch much lower than usual, which would mean injuries. He’d have all sorts of information. So he was patient a lot with us. We build multiple iterations to a point where, that’s it. He started using the product on a regular basis and started requesting features and features, so this is where we knew that we were on to something.
16:43 MK: Got it. And then how did that further evolve? You were on to something, but it was still not quite the same experience of what you’re offering today, right?
16:49 KZ: Oh, very far, right. So at the beginning, not only the hardware itself was very, very prototype-y. Right? So we would build the boards in small batches and we would seam them into silicon ourselves, literally at our apartment and we’d ship them to people. And the app was very, very rudimentary, not a lot of features. But the interesting part is we were only dealing with professional athletes, and it was almost like the reverse of going mass market. The higher the person was, the more they were interested in the product. So very quickly, we were shipping prototypes to the US Olympic Team, to Vasyl Lomachenko, to Anthony Joshua. Some of these guys are users of the product today, but they don’t use FightCamp, the FightCamp app, they use the FightCamp trackers with the version of the app that is made for professionals.
17:33 MK: So, was it also like the group that you thought you could sell the device to, in the end, and you’d really make a business out of it or…
17:40 KZ: Yeah, yeah, for sure. We knew we would sell it to the professional athletes and we knew that this was such a small world, that we had a very high referral rate in that top athletes community. And of course, in the meantime, which is where met, we got accepted into YC. We moved the whole company to California and we started the mass manufacturing process.
18:00 MK: And then was the plan really to go beyond just athletes and really go to the consumers, or is that like something that you just really stumbled into?
18:07 KZ: So that part is interesting. So we only focused on getting the product out there. So once we went through mass manufacturing, we started shipping the products and we had a very high penetration in the athletes market. What happened is kind of like the fitness world stumbled on us, more than us going directly to the fitness world. In boxing, and MMA, it’s a very different structure in terms of the market. It’s a very different structure than like a basketball or a team sport. Most of the money that goes into doing these activities are not for people that actually are pursuing the sport, it’s only for the people that are pursuing the conditioning aspect of it, the fitness aspect of it.
18:43 KZ: So what happened is we had a lot of early customers that, they would go at 2:00 PM, they would train their prospect. And then at 4:00 PM, they’re doing a private session with Johann from New Jersey, who’s only there as a private client to do their fitness workout and they would use our product to motivate their clients. So they’ll give punch goals to them, they’ll give typical outputs that they have to reach within four weeks. So they were kind of hacking the existing product really to gamify their fitness experience on a one-on-one, or even on a group class. So then the trainers started coming to us and, “Hey, can you build this orange tier-y type of user interface where everyone in the class would wear your trackers and you could compete against everyone on the big screen?”
19:22 MK: And did you try going that approach? Really working with, let’s say, personal trainers or coaches in gyms that were offering these boxing classes or one-on-one sessions?
19:31 KZ: Yeah, yeah, for sure. We started developing more fitness features, we actually built a version of… A gamified user interface that can take 30 people and we had those in 50 different locations in the United States. And we still, to this day, have a bunch of gyms that are still using that version of the product. We never went fully commercial on it because home fitness was a bigger opportunity we wanted to pursue.
19:53 MK: So, was that like the “aha” moment for you where like catering first to those groups or you were like, “Well, wait a minute, why not bring that experience, also, to the home, if we can?
20:04 KZ: Pretty much, exactly. And one of the thing that we noticed when we shipped that gym product was that a lot of… There’s a big variance in the quality of trainers you’re getting in boxing, right. Most of them have somewhat of a no-case fitness background, a lot of them maybe studied in physical therapy and have some scientific notions to it. But when it comes to the boxing skill itself, we had a very high variance. Some coaches and trainers really were teaching the best classes ever. Not only they were taking beginners and teaching them about the real fundamental aspect of the sport and at the same time, giving away a great workout that was engaging and others were just completely off on the technique. And we felt like, there’s something where we could build the content and that content, we can control the quality of it and it would spread. We would consider very, very high quality of teaching but everyone can access that same high quality of teaching and we thought it was a great way also to control the experience with the trackers. ‘Cause we had to do a lot of education with the trainers to tell them how the technology actually works, what it measures, what’s a good benchmark, what’s a bad benchmark. Where in a completely integrated app, we control the whole experience from zero to end, really. So we thought it was a big opportunity.
21:15 MK: Got it. And so that was like about two years ago from now, was it?
21:18 KZ: Yeah, pretty much. 16 months, actually.
21:20 MK: 16 months. And do you feel like you were a bit influenced also by some of the… It seems like there’s a lot of products that have been entering either like a few years ago into that kind of space, into the whole online, on-demand fitness space. Be it like physical products and services like Peloton or Tonal, recently, we had the founders on the show, or Mirror. And we’re also seeing, of course, app-only classes that are either on-demand or live by, let’s say, ClassPass, or even Peloton has been moving beyond just the treadmill and the exercise cycle. And you can go into yoga, running, I think there’s also Aaptiv that offer coaching for you, for your running skills, and all kinds of other sports. Do you feel like that is a general trend and that has also been influencing you, in some way, or another?
22:08 KZ: Oh, it definitely did. When we started looking at home fitness, we used to hate home fitness. We used to think that it’s only people that are not really trying to put in the work to get in shape and they’re trying to get this magic pill and put the Abtronic directly on their abs, so they can go back to their typical occupation while getting in shape. And some of these… The previous generation of home fitness companies, a lot of them were, we felt, were very over-promising.
22:33 MK: Over-promising how?
22:34 KZ: In terms of results. We felt there was a whole… A little bit of scam-y pitch there where they would say, “Lose 10 pounds in 10 days.”
22:41 MK: So we’re talking about the product that you would find, let’s say, on QVC and it’s promising and all that?
22:46 KZ: Right, yeah. So they would sell you at weird hours of the night where you were at your weakest and most vulnerable moment. And they would try to upsell you so much and really portray people that really haven’t been using the product, but they’re just really, really people that are in shape, representing that new product, although it’s actually very untrue, they didn’t get in shape through using that product. So we just felt like the home fitness market… We had that bad assumption, if you wanna bias, negative bias.
23:16 MK: Yeah, it fees like that market was stuck in the ’80s for like over 20 years. Like home fitness, you’ll also get a VHS and some exercise with you and all of that seems to have changed in the last five or so years. And I’m just wondering, what really has been driving that change, what do you think?
23:33 KZ: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think there’s just has been this new generation of companies that are a lot more authentic, they’re not over-promising. Just the whole business model is not made around trying to get you through the first purchase, right. So I think that probably influenced a lot of it. On subscription businesses, the interest is aligned between the company and the user, right. ‘Cause if they stop getting value out of it, they will stop paying for the subscription. So I think that business model, by itself, aligned a lot of the companies with the users benefits, I think that probably helped, I think, technology helped, itself. Everyone now has, literally, a super powerful TV in their pockets, at all times. And a lot more people are definitely aware of the benefits of being in shape or, let’s call it, at least, exercising. And I think that drove a different market to home fitness. And personally, I think that combined with the new business model is probably what drove the biggest change is that the people that are joining our service, they’re not people that are completely out of shape, never were in shape. They are busy people that have just a harder time getting their exercise in because of life. So either, they’re a young parent or either they just bought a house in the suburbs. Now, hitting a good gym is basically a hassle. Right?
24:41 MK: Yeah, it’s all about that friction. Even if your gym is just a five-minute or 10-minute drive away, you still always have that lingering thought in your mind, “Well, it’s still gonna take me 10 minutes there and then 10 minutes back, and then I may have to go to the locker room and get changed.” And before you know it, you decide not to go because it’s too much hassle.
24:56 KZ: Yeah, for sure. And 10 minutes, it’s definitely… It’s because it’s not too far. Believe me, here in LA, if you’re in the traffic, and the traffic time, 10 minutes can transform into half an hour very, very easily.
25:08 MK: Yeah, plus you have to care also about what you’re wearing, and you don’t wanna look like a slob and… [laughter]
25:13 KZ: Yeah, and you have to pick up the kids after school, and who’s gonna do that? And now, I have to find a babysitter to just go hit the gym or…
25:20 MK: For sure.
25:21 KZ: There’s so much friction into incorporating three, four, five times of fitness in your life that you’re probably gonna stop working out.
25:28 MK: But on the flip side, do you believe that there’s gonna still be a place for brick-and-mortar gyms and group classes like SoulCycle, various bootcamps or even the newly introduced Rumble?
25:39 KZ: Yeah, I do think that boutique fitness is still gonna be a thing, for sure. Because there’s people, first of all, that just don’t have the required space to have a good home fitness product, that’s still gonna stay the case. These facilities will still provide an answer to a need that will stay there. However, I do think that the new market of fitness is gonna go out and consider, at least, a lot more home fitness products. Specifically, for the reason that, once you get in a gym, it’s a social experience and that is the number one reason why people are still going to the same locations because they now have a certain community to go to. The interesting part now is, technology provides a lot of those tools to build communities around workouts.
26:17 MK: And do you think you can replicate that? ‘Cause that I still see, personally, as one of the challenges. I do own a Peloton bike, for instance, and I do see people on there… No, not that bit in the camera, but you can really use the camera, nobody’s really using it. And I like the leader board, that you can compete against others, that is definitely an important fact. But you don’t really get to have that chit-chat before or after the class with the other people in the group. Unless, we do this big, anonymous group sometimes. I think there’s a little bit less, almost cohesion there. Because if I had a regular group that I would go to, I would always feel that social pressure that I would have to come again ’cause otherwise, they would ask me where I’ve been, where have I been in the last class because I didn’t show up.
27:00 KZ: Yeah, for sure. I don’t think our generation of companies have figured everything out yet. I think that, right away, performance data weaves the social fabric a lot. And we see it in products that actually measure performance and allow you to compare because suddenly, there is… If you think about how you’re interacting in a gym, right? Yes, you have the chit-chat before, you have the chit-chat after, maybe in-between exercise, a little bit. But what you’re getting also, and that’s really useful for your fitness experience is, you’re getting that social pressure around you whenever you’re performing, right? If it’s a group class, you kinda wanna perform. That’s like, kinda like, almost your way of investing in that class is raising the bar. So everyone raises the bar together.
27:36 MK: Plus, you see others and how they’re performing, and then you’re like, you kinda wanna be as good as they are. You do have some of that, through the metrics, but it’s still a lot less visible, I think.
27:46 KZ: And like in a gym, you would see people getting better, you’d see them getting in shape, you’d see all of that. A lot of these things, they are definitely replicable to a certain extent through performance data. And I think it’s still not to the level that everyone is buying into it but we get power users that are literally, they’re getting to a point where… We have these two couples, it’s like the story this month inside the office. We have these two couples, one couple is from Alaska and the other couple is in the Philippines, they’re American but they’re in the Philippines, and they’re constantly challenging each other. It’s very healthy and they’re literally, they’re talking about how they wanna meet, how they wanna… There’s this whole… They’re tagging each other and they’re posting pictures and they try to be that Michael, and this and that. And it’s getting to a point where, man, they’re getting more social experience than what I’m getting at my gym. You know what I mean?
28:38 MK: How do they do that, do you have a chat function inside of the app or do you have a forum or how does that look like?
28:44 KZ: Yeah, so right now, we have a Facebook community. So that Facebook community is where people go and post their results. We have people posting before-and-after pictures, we have people asking feedback on form. We have all sorts of terrible moments that people interact on.
28:57 MK: That’s awesome.
28:58 KZ: And it’s a very empowering community, everyone is striving to be a better version of themselves and it’s literally becoming a selling point, like the community itself, and how I feel like I’m not having this just lonely experience in my basement. But now, I’m actually getting this whole… I’m becoming friends on Facebook with these three, four people, now they’re liking stuff that I’m posting that is not even relevant to FightCamp. Like, I build that contact and the only reason why we’ve met is through FightCamp. And that, for them, it’s a very social experience. For the people who don’t partake in it, it’s maybe gonna be a leader board. So I think we have still ways to go, to make this a really truly social experience, but these new innovative features are definitely doing a portion.
29:40 MK: Do you think like a few years out from now… VR and AR’s definitely still a technology that’s been in development for some time and it’s not quite mass market ready, but I do see definitely some trends there especially, support for fitness. There are quite a few VR apps now that would facilitate fitness, do you see that maybe also as an avenue that could help to bring a bit more of a social element into fitness?
30:03 KZ: I don’t know about VR, per se. I think there’s still gonna be a challenge around wearing something on your eyes. However, I do think that an industry that is… Should be a source of inspiration for everyone that is building a connected fitness experience, is the gaming industry. ‘Cause with E-sports, this thing is very, very social. They took social dynamics and even literally took it to a whole new level. So I think there’s a lot of things that we can look at at the gaming industry and be like, “Wow! So that’s how they created these interactions between people.” I think there’s gonna be a lot more of that specifically, where you can think of fitness gaming as being an evolving category. Where now, you’re going through this ecosystem in this virtual world and you are represented by an avatar, like you said, and that avatar is evolving in a different way depending on your performance. So I think that aspect is really yet to be explored. I think right now, we’re really two dimensional which is already better than one dimensional. It used to be really, you’re watching content, it’s… And a lot of apps are still like that, you’re just watching content and you consume it, you can basically consume it while eating chips, nobody will care.
31:02 MK: [chuckle] For sure.
31:03 KZ: But now that it’s connected, it’s a two-layer product. I’m having the video stream on one side, but the experience reacts to what I’m doing. I think we can definitely push that concept to a lot more where gaming in 15-20 years from now, is gonna be looked back at… It was gaming sitting while having a remote control in your hands, all the way to a very engaging gaming experience where my body is really challenged there.
31:29 MK: Yeah, I think that’s also for you guys definitely one big aspect to have that gamification going on that you wanna beat, not only somebody else on the leader board, but you wanna beat your own output score, or your amount of punches, and so forth. And so, there’s a lot to that as well for those, at least those among us that really like to have the competitive spirit. There’s definitely also other applications or services, I think. SoulCycle, there you have really more of a fun experience and they wanna go beyond tracking or showing you some numbers. It’s a very different experience as well, which is more about just having fun.
32:03 KZ: And that basically gets me to the thing that we’re starting to explore. What we believe is… I don’t know if you’ve played a lot of RPGs when you were younger, or even now. But that whole concept where you don’t know exactly where the game is gonna take you, and it’s depending on your performance, we believe a lot in that aspect and we’re launching, soon, a series of what we call Paths. Those Paths are basically gonna be… Think of it as like a video game ecosystem where depending which path you’ve completed, it unlocks a different portion of content, and the content is dependent on which direction you’re going and which content you’re consuming. And it can take you in all sorts of directions, within that boxing world.
32:44 MK: Now, that sounds fun.
32:45 KZ: Yeah.
32:46 MK: So you’re gonna have different challenges and unless you complete a challenge, you cannot really unlock the next one. I think that’s really fun.
32:53 KZ: Yeah, yeah, we think that has a lot of potential. And we saw it already we did with the Prospect Path, it’s a little bit of that, but it’s, the content is still, it’s still very… We call it, Version One, where you just get more and more instructions as you go. We take exactly what we think you need to hear at that moment and we serve it to you after we know you’ve completed certain things. But what if you add some certain entertainment aspect of it? What if you add a certain challenges? What if you haven’t completed a challenge at a certain level, it doesn’t direct you towards the same piece of content that you’re actually getting, that becomes a whole journey now. It’s not only about getting a workout in, it’s where are you in FightCamp? Did you go this route? “Oh man, I’m completely over there, and I even want to improve that specific skill.” And that takes me far down the history of it and the whole culture of it, and we feel very lucky that boxing is a very deep-rooted culture for basically everything. From, like, the origin of jump-rope in boxing all the way to, why people are putting gloves on.
33:50 KZ: It’s funny, a lot of people think putting gloves on to not hurt the other person, but it actually started to protect your hands back in bare-knuckle boxing. [chuckle] And all of these stories, I learned them through a traditional gym with the chats that I was having with my coach after the workout and before the workout. So I was getting lost in that culture; I became addicted to it, so we kind of want to recreate that, but on one app where you have everything you need.
34:13 MK: That sounds interesting. And then beyond that, where do you see FightCamp is going?
34:18 KZ: Beyond that, that’s a very good question. We have all sorts of predictions, if you want, internally in the team. There’s one aspect that comes out of that and it’s, to provide more than just a boxing bag. So think about now instead of having just a boxing bag, what you’re getting is also a smart jump rope. And you’re getting the smart jump rope, it unlocks that whole smart jump rope module. So you’re not only getting good at throwing the right combinations at the right time, you’re actually now developing this extra skill. Now, we’re also adding the double-end bag, which has its own purpose in boxing. We’re now adding a specific history-type of a… Like, a history about a specific fighter. You can have a Muhammed Ali type of path where you kind of learn all about his life and the influence he had while still having workouts that are specifically on brand with what he’s done. So you can go in a lot of different directions.
35:06 MK: Got it. That sounds really interesting to add more features but also, more accessories to the whole FightCamp experience.
35:13 KZ: Right. And there’s this aspect that is very, very common for people who have been at the traditional boxing gym, a lot less common to the people who have just been attending a studio boxing gym, is basically that whole concept of, “Now I’m getting close to that culture,” so I am basically becoming a fighter myself. And a lot of the fighting culture is based around inspiration and inspirational stories: “How I overcame a specific struggle,” that’s really ingrained in the boxing culture. What’s interesting there is that if you look on You Tube, motivational speakers have millions and millions of followers. Why? They just tell you something that helps you go through your day. They help you become this better version of yourself. And people are re-watching the same… Like, the Tony Robbins of this world. And all these inspirational, motivational speakers. In the traditional boxing gyms, these guys are there if the gym has a very strong culture. But it’s just like you have to attend the gym to get these elevating type of speeches. Now, you can make them part of your FightCamp experience at home.
36:08 MK: How do you hope to replicate that? How do you integrate that aspect, the story part? Is it gonna be like a cut scene, like in a video game that reveals some interesting historic moments or facts?
36:22 KZ: Yeah. So we believe a lot in short form content, not in long form content. So we want to build short videos, short videos that you can listen to either just before your workout, or you want to listen to them maybe on your way to work. Or you’re on the bus, or you’re in the subway; you want to listen to those pieces easily, digestible, not a 45-minute commitment but does come in series. And we have, we are lucky because of the initial product, we have a pretty wide network of people that are achieving a lot of great things in this ecosystem of boxing, so we want to get them on camera; we want to get them to tell their stories. We want to build the story arcs with them so as you’re going through this, you’re getting a drip of these short form series about personalities that you like, about stories that you like.
37:04 MK: Gotcha. I want to move to our final part of our interview which is a quick-fire round. So basically, I have a handful of questions that I’m going to ask you, one by one, and I really just want like a quick answer from you out of the top of your head, not really thinking too deeply or too long about any of those. Sounds good?
37:22 KZ: Yeah, let’s do it.
37:23 MK: All right. So besides FightCamp, are there any other fitness apps or wearable devices that you’re currently using in your routine?
37:31 KZ: I’m a user of Strava, a big fan of Strava. I run maybe two to three times a week on top of my boxing workout. I really enjoy a lot of the features on there, a big inspiration for us. I know the founder as well, Mark Gainey. He’s… I think, have built an amazing product and an amazing platform.
37:44 MK: And anything else?
37:46 KZ: I’ve tried a few smart scales. I, actually, I want to get a ShapeScale.
37:52 KZ: So please, send me one. But…
37:52 MK: Coming soon for your bedroom.
37:54 KZ: There you go.
37:55 KZ: I think that… The weight is really just the first level, and it’s very misleading when it comes to progress in your fitness journey. You have to go deeper than that, so I’m kind of looking forward, those new generations of scale coming out on the market.
38:06 MK: Speaking of which, what would you say is one thing that most people actually get wrong about fitness? Or maybe even boxing, in general?
38:13 KZ: So a lot of people think it’s all in the arms, which is completely untrue. It’s probably, solicitates a lot more of your legs than you could think of. So a lot of people are starting their boxing journey thinking, “Oh, it’s only an upper body workout.” It’s actually a very full body workout, your legs are gonna work out a lot. I would say the other thing that a lot of people get wrong is how your body actually is supposed to change. You will gain weight. If you’re getting more in shape, you’re building muscle. That doesn’t mean that you’re actually going backward at all. This is a phase where you’re building out your muscle mass before you actually lean out. So a lot of people will start doing some strength training, and then they’ll be like, “Man, but I gained seven pounds”, which is actually a good result if they have been conscious about their eating. But they’re gonna get discouraged and they’re just gonna go back to cardio, which is the wrong move at that point. You should just keep going.
39:00 MK: Yeah, that’s the whole point. You’ve gotta gain weight if you want to gain muscle.
39:02 KZ: Right.
39:02 MK: If not, you probably would be doing something wrong. [chuckle]
39:06 KZ: Exactly.
39:07 MK: And can you share habits that has really deeply influenced you and your powerful wellness or fitness routine?
39:14 KZ: I think that the worst thing that has happened in fitness and why people kept failing at it is to think that you have to change everything at once. “Now suddenly, I will eat well, work out five times a week, restrict myself from alcohol, and do all these things at once,” it’s a recipe for disaster.
39:29 MK: Yeah. That’s part of the reason why most people fail when they go on a diet, right, if they try to change their entire lifestyle and it’s just too much.
39:36 KZ: Exactly. And they’re also targeting things that they really, really care about. Like, they wanna have a drink with friends, every now and then, they really like the type of food. For them, it’s super hard to change it. Yet, they’re starting there. What I advise everyone… Literally, I had a talk with my mom three days ago again because she fell back in her old habits and my whole speech to them was like, “Just choose one habit, internalize it, just one. Start eating just one meal, one healthy meal a day. If you have trouble doing that, just start there.” Once you internalize the habit, by the end of the year, you will have taken 365 good meals and it’s gonna make a big difference. As soon you internalized it, a month later, it’s really easier to get to the second habit to change. It has to be sustainable. We have to try to aim for something that I will be okay doing for the next two months, and then the next two months, and then the next two months.
40:25 MK: Yeah, that’s really valuable advice to give. And can you also recommend a book or a potentially, a influencer, a YouTube channel, blog, to our listeners that you found particularly useful in your… Well, both career, but maybe also in fitness or health?
40:40 KZ: Yeah. I was a big fan of “The 4-Hour Body” when it came out.
40:43 MK: Why?
40:44 KZ: Because a lot of it was actually based on results. Of course, it was based around Tim Ferriss’ results, which is only one individual. But a lot of it was really counterintuitive to what a lot of people thought, and it’s super deep in terms of… It goes all the way from nutrition to supplements, all the way to the exercise you should be doing, and how your body is actually changing towards that. So I just felt… Even testosterone and sexual drive even, there’s a whole chapter on that. You can get yourself lost in that book for a while and you’ll have content to experiment on for years.
41:18 MK: Yeah, for sure. He’s probably one of the few that, and especially at the time of the writing of the book, he actually was one of the few that put everything to a test, right?
41:26 KZ: Right.
41:27 MK: He was doing experiments, almost like start up mentality. But then also, running the comparison between the different methodologies to really see what was working best. Which is something that is, still to this day, pretty rare. Right?
41:39 KZ: Yes.
41:40 MK: There’s a lot of black magic out there of what’s supposed to work and what is really yielding the best results.
41:45 KZ: Absolutely.
41:47 MK: And, I guess, besides Tim Ferriss, would you say there’s anybody else in fitness or health that has been an influence on you?
41:53 KZ: In terms of figures? I don’t know.
41:55 MK: Or even brands.
41:56 KZ: I think that… So it’s a little bit different, right? ‘Cause as a founder, I’m looking at what CrossFit has built, and it’s amazing how they’ve taken a concept and made it a movement. And that’s something that is very hard to do, build a worldwide movement centered around a workout. Probably, honestly, one of the hardest workout I’ve ever tried, so I respect it a lot, right? It’s very hard to do to take one concept like that and take a workout, start with the idea of that muscle confusion is the future. Although, it’s building events where now, it’s on ESPN and you’re filling up stadiums to come watch athletes perform, I think, I respect what they’ve done a lot.
42:33 MK: Yeah, it’s incredible. Anyways, that concludes our quick-fire round. Thank you so much for making the time. Just to round up our interview, if our listeners wanna get a FightCamp, where can they get one right now?
42:45 KZ: So you go our website, it’s www.joinfightcamp.com and you can purchase directly on there.
42:52 MK: And it’s available US only or can you get it outside of the US?
42:56 KZ: It is US only, for now. We’re getting quite a bit of demand in Europe and Canada, but we will delay it until we’re ready to provide an A plus experience there.
43:04 MK: Gotcha. Well, I bet you must have a lot of Canadian friends that are dying to get this. [chuckle]
43:08 KZ: Yeah, absolutely, yep. [chuckle]
43:10 MK: Alright. Anything else that you would like to share with our audience?
43:13 KZ: No. No, thanks a lot for inviting me on the show. It’s amazing to see all the other great founders that you had on the show, really inspiring.
43:19 MK: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show, Khalil. It’s been an absolute pleasure to have you on here.
43:23 KZ: My pleasure, Martin. Thank you.
43:24 MK: Yeah. Take care.
43:25 KZ: Take care.
43:25 MK: Thank you for having tuned in to 20 Minute Fitness, today. It’s been an absolute bliss to learn from Khalil and how they got on to the founding of FightCamp, going through the struggles and now really seeing how they’ve found their own niche of really developing that experience of having a boxing gym, plus a coach, right in the center of your own home, which is great. We can’t wait to try it out for ourselves and our team. And yeah, thanks so much again for Khalil to come on in this show. Also, big shout out to our wonderful producer, Lilla Laczo, without whom this show wouldn’t really be able to happen. And if you have any comments, feedback, do let us know. We do have an email, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And that’s 20, as a 2-0, the number, don’t write it all out. For a full transcript and for the show notes, make sure to head to 20minute.fitness, and that’s it for today’s show. Thanks again for tuning in, it’s your host, Martin Kessler. Bye.