About two and a half years ago, Liteboxer co-founder and CEO Jeff Morin was at robotics and devices firm DEKA Research and Development Corp. when he got a call from Todd Dagres, a venture capitalist and fitness enthusiast who liked to box.
Dagres, a founder and partner of Spark Capital, wanted to replicate the experience of sparring with a partner in a gym at home. Although he had a heavy bag at home, he found that the experience wasn’t remotely the same. It lacked the excitement and adrenaline rush that comes from actual sparring.
The venture capitalist thought Morin, an MIT-educated mechanical engineer, was just the person to bring that concept to life. That’s how Liteboxer began to take shape.
Liteboxer began shipping its in-home units about a year and a half ago. The Liteboxer fitness unit can be mounted to a platform or to a wall. The workout is fun — like a combination of the 1980s game Simon and Dance Dance Revolution. The company’s engagement statistics show that users work out 18 or more times per month on the hardware. Peloton-like classes on the Liteboxer app lead the user through combinations and sequences of punches backed by the Universal Music Group’s catalog of songs and artists.
The device has a steep price point — starting around $1,500 — but that’s where a new VR app for the Oculus Meta Quest comes into play.
During the holiday shopping season 2021, demand for the Oculus soared. The Oculus app that is used to set up and manage the Quest 2 was the most downloaded iOS app on Christmas weekend that year. The installs of the Oculus app soared more than 150% year-over-year during that period.
Earlier this month, Liteboxer released its VR application on the Oculus Meta Quest. The app is stil in an early iteration, which allows users to "punch" a virtual version of the Liteboxer unit. Eventually, however, the app wil replicate the experience of boxing an actual opponent, according to Morin.
Liteboxer provided me with demo units of the Liteboxer device and the Oculus Meta Quest to try out. Co-founder and CEO Morin also sat down for an exclusive Q&A about the journey to market, the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has presented his growing technology company, and why he sees such huge potential in fitness in the metaverse.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Business of Business: How did you get involved with Liteboxer?
Jeff Morin: I’m an MIT-educated mechanical engineer. Todd is a VC guy who liked sparring with a trainer at the gym. He wanted to bring that experience home. He contacted me to build it.
How would you describe Liteboxer to someone who has never heard of it and/or isn’t familiar with boxing and sparring as a fitness activity?
I’d describe working out with Liteboxer’s hardware or VR app as the Words with Friends of boxing. Users can challenge friends to sparring challenges and attempt to beat their score. Liteboxer is more like esports than a fitness class in that it becomes so much fun to take the challenges that it keeps the user coming back for more.
The average user of fitness devices is shifting away from the baby boomers and to younger generations. Liteboxer is more like a video game or Esports 2.0 – you’re playing a sport while working out and having fun. It can be compared to Guitar Hero – you’re having fun and getting better at it the more you do it, but with Liteboxer, you’re getting healthy and in shape at the same time.
How does the music factor into the experience?
The music was the hardest part of the development of Liteboxer. It was also the most expensive. With our licensing agreement with Universal Music Group, users can work out to any of the artists on that label. The music helps trick the brain into enjoying the activity while working up a sweat and improving cardio endurance.
How long was the VR App in development?
The VR app for the Oculus Meta Quest was in development for almost two and a half years. We’ve been shipping Liteboxer hardware for a year and a half. The app, on the other hand, took more time due to the music licensing, IP, and patents in mixed reality and augmented reality. The app uses green screen to film trainers. That function hasn’t officially launched yet. In a few weeks, working out in the Liteboxer app for the Meta Quest will have you sparring against different trainers in the VR environment.
Why was it important for Liteboxer to launch a standalone VR app? After all, users working out with the Liteboxer hardware already have the app for tablets.
It became important for us to democratize access to the Liteboxer. After all, not everyone can afford $1,500 and up for a premium device. And some who can afford it may not have the space for it. With the VR app, it becomes immersive and opens up the Liteboxer experiences to a wider range of users.
What challenges did the Covid-19 pandemic present Liteboxer with? Did you see an increase in sales due to the shutdown of gyms?
While many would assume Liteboxer was in the right place at the right time with the start of the pandemic –the truth is a lot of other players in home fitness came to market at the same time. Two of the biggest challenges we faced were shipping and music. Shipping was affected by the pandemic. Shipping containers from Hong Kong were $3,000 at the start of the pandemic. Today, that same shipping container costs $20,000. Our profit margin on the Liteboxer hardware (the units) has been drastically reduced as a result.
Ah, that’s a good point, it’s not like you can triple the cost of the Liteboxer units to make up for the upcharge on shipping containers. Tell me about the process of getting the Liteboxer VR app approved by Facebook for the Oculus.
Actually, this was one of the most challenging parts of getting the full Liteboxer experience to market. Facebook has high expectations and guards up when it comes to getting into the app store. I submitted the Liteboxer VR app to Facebook on November 3, 2021. It took three months to get approved and during that time we could not change anything about the app and everything had to be perfect.
What was the other most challenging thing?
The music licensing. It is single handedly the most expensive part of the business of Liteboxer. Currently we have a licensing agreement with Universal Music Group in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Mexico. We’re working on the rest of the world.
From your point of view, where is fitness in the metaverse going?
Fitness is Facebook’s focus in the Metaverse. Facebook worked closely with Liteboxer and told the company that fitness is a highlight category for them. Facebook is focused on fitness because it not only has good growth potential, but it is healthy and has no negative context.
Fitness in the metaverse will use the tech that’s developed to make people healthier. I cannot stress how much Mark Zuckerberg is set on making fitness the biggest component of the metaverse. Facebook even bought Within, the company that developed the VR Supernatural fitness app for $400 million – the company would only spend that kind of money if it believes in the potential of fitness in the metaverse.
Do you have any closing comments on Liteboxer and/or its role in offline fitness and fitness in the metaverse?
Most fitness companies are marketing companies. Look at Peloton – it’s all in the marketing. Liteboxer is a tech company – we will grow and develop the app and the VR app as time goes on. There is so much potential in the virtual reality space and Liteboxer is a thought leader in VR.