We talk to a few Finnish companies that are way ahead of the pack in connecting fitness with apps and social media
Ever gotten halfway through a workout and wondered how you could possibly continue? Companies such as HeiaHeia and Golf GameBook offer users a virtual location to track and share their sporting achievements, and to cheer each other on.
“I was living in Singapore when we came up with this idea,” explains HeiaHeia CEO Jussi Räisänen. “Cofounder Olli Oksanen was living in London and we wanted to exercise virtually together. The original context was very international.” They noticed that there was a demand for their idea, a gap to be filled.
Named after a Scandinavian sporting chant, the online social training diary service currently has users in more than 140 countries. Focussing on the positive effects of logging workouts online, and the resultant peer-to-peer support, these activities can also be shared on Facebook and Twitter.
Something to cheer about
HeiaHeia users cover a broad range of ages. They log some 400 different activities, with going to the gym, walking, skiing, running and walking the dog among the most popular.
“We like to keep the threshold for joining really low,” Räisänen says. “It could be garden work or even chopping wood. It’s about getting people motivated to do something.”
Meanwhile, the company’s success has grown to include the participation of health professionals and insurance companies:
“We want to enable an ecosystem of wellness involving experts. Coaches, wellness professionals and even nurses all use HeiaHeia. Working with businesses, schools, rehabilitation organisations or even the Finnish military, each finds the product useful for maintaining the wellbeing of their specific personnel.”
Räisänen points out that some of HeiaHeia’s features were developed around the same time Facebook became a hit in Finland. “We introduced virtual cheering three weeks before they brought in the ‘Like’ button,” he says enthusiastically.
Teeing off globally
The Facebook benchmark also surfaces in the story of Golf GameBook, with CEOs Mikko Manerus and Kalle Vainola deciding on the business name before Facebook arrived locally.
With over 20 years of professional golf experience between them, they set out in 2007 to reinvigorate the time-honoured game in an increasingly digital world.
“We thought that it would be nice that people finish their round the same way they started it: smiling and looking forward to playing again,” says Vainola.
Golf GameBook offers a virtual meeting place where users worldwide can share their real-time golfing experiences. While players keep score on their smart devices, their friends can receive this information instantly, share photos and comment on how things are proceeding.
The thwack of a golf ball cracks through the air. No need to duck, however, as the sound has come from Manerus’s iPhone, indicating that one of his friends has just teed off somewhere.
“Another thing is that if you are pro golfer Mikko Ilonen’s friend on Golf GameBook, for example, then you may also receive a comment from him when you are on the golf course,” he explains. “Previously, people would have gotten a player’s signature; nowadays they get a comment. It’s a great way to engage people.”
A tweeting sound fills the room.
“First birdie of the day,” Vainola announces, smiling.
Keeping track of things
Looking for up-to-date reports of your sporting activity? Nokia’s Sports Tracker isn’t the only noteworthy Finnish fitness tracking innovator we’ve seen recently. You can also keep an eye on things via your smart device using Moves, an app that is advertised as “fully integrated” into HeiaHeia and divides your daily physical activities into time segments.
With an app called Fjuul (pronounced “fuel”), tracking need not be confined to rigorous exercise. How about vacuuming, taking out the garbage or preparing dinner? Fjuul notes the light workouts you receive while performing everyday tasks.
By James O’Sullivan, October 2013