GoPro Inc. ($GPRO), as we previously noted, is the poster child for the “hardware is hard” narrative. Look at this chart:
It’s brutal. Of course, there are obvious exceptions to the narrative. Apple($AAPL), for instance. Take a look at this chart:
Apple’s hardware division feeds a services division of other software products that grew 34% in 2017 and generated $34b. That’s massive. And that’s what makes Apple so special: it crushes margins and revenue on its hardware and tags on services revenue for good measure. It’s obvious, then, why Apple is marching towards a $1 trillion market capitalization.
Elsewhere in hardware, Peloton made big waves recently at the Consumer Electronics Show after it unveiled its $3,995 Peloton Tread, a new connected treadmill. It’s the first new Peloton product to market after its wildly popular and “cultish” $1,995 exercise bike came out a few years ago.And, no, those figures are not typos.
It is ironic that Peloton is expanding its product line right at the same time that GoPro is shrinking. Just a short time ago, GoPro’s growth prospects were predicated upon it moving away from pure hardware and pivoting towards “content” fed by an ever-expanding line of EXTREME new cameras and even EXTREMER drones. Fast forward a little more than a year and the new cameras are official flops, the drones are toast, and its content is nowhere to be found. Hardware is hard, sure, but pivoting into new (hardware) product and (expensive) content is too.
Meanwhile, Peloton ALSO maintains that it is more than just a hardware company; it is a hardware, software, media (read: content), and logistics company rolled into one. And, it seems, its gadgets are only a piece of the pie; its service is equally if not more important. Still, the core product, to date, has been the exercise bike. It is the vehicle for home-based live-streamed fitness workouts that cuts out the chafe of schlepping to the studio, sweating like a beast, showering, changing amidst strangers, and then walking back out into the cold to commute home. For this luxury, people pay handsomely. The numbers bear this out.
The company reported $170mm in sales in 2016 and $400mm in sales in 2017. In additional to the lofty hardware cost, people pay $39/month for the monthly service — just a little over the cost of one SoulCycle class. This monthly recurring revenue helps to offset the company’s breakeven cost on the hardware. Indeed, hardware is hard. But it’s made easier with 600,000 reported subscribers, a 95% retention rate, and a 90+ “Net Promoter Score.”Meanwhile, Peloton has funded its R&D with $450mm of venture capital at a valuation of $1.25 billion — the latest Series E round arranged by JPMorgan ($JPM)(as they make PAINFULLY clear in this video) and participated in by NBCUniversal, Fidelity Investments, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, among others. Some suspect an IPO is near. Others — like Tristan Walker — suspect a sale (to Nike?). After all, Peloton is causing people to cancel their gym memberships. And sparking Twitter debates. And none of this really even speaks to the revenue to be generated from a hardware-independent app, branded apparel, and data.
Right, the data. Peloton founders make a point of saying that they WANT you to work out. Think about the difference between that and a gym. A gym doesn’t give a rat’s a$$ whether you use that membership. They just want you to sign up; they know that once they have you, they’ve got you because that membership is sticky AF. In fact, the LESS you go, the better…? That’s less maintenance at the location. Fewer towels to wash. Longer-lasting Kiehl’s product. And so forth. In contrast, Peloton is the best guilt-inducing machine on the planet; it sits right in your living room. With a (relatively) low monthly nut, it just sits there encouraging you to hop on and give it a whirl. Each time that you do, Peloton captures your data. The data makes Peloton a lot like Netflix. It can produce content based on what its users are doing. It has health specs now on 600,000 users. Do most gyms have content geared towards AND health data on you?
Peloton can also make its instructors stars in a way that Netflix can provide Gaten Matarazzo the opportunity to be in literally every commercial on TV. Distribution. Teach a few classes at Equinox a week to 100 riders, in the aggregate, or put yourself on Peloton’s platform and broadcast to 600k. And get paid more to boot. As “celebrity” instructors flock to Peloton, won’t that just juice the network effects further and encourage EVEN MORE people to flock to its platform? And with the treadmill, 51k future NYC marathoners can now get marathon coaching too. So, add a huge running community to the mix.
The disruptive implications of Peloton’s incursion into your home are immense. Look at the way they market: get up and ride before the kids even need breakfast. Who needs to deal with a gym membership when you can do THAT? Note, also, how the Tread is being billed as more than just a treadmill. The video demonstrates people getting off the apparatus, on to the floor for some weights, and back on the Tread. After a while, Peloton will no doubt distribute streaming videos from star trainers without the need for you to even hop on a multi-thousand dollar machine.
A few weeks ago, Hollywood released its numbers and they were ugly. Revenues down. Attendance down. Netflix ($NFLX), meanwhile, reported numbers on Monday and, with its addition of millions of subscribers, blew everyone away (and ascended into the $100b market cap stratosphere). In summary, millions more people opted to watch content at home YOY while millions of people opted to view fewer movies in the theater YOY. Now take a look at this third chart:
Now, what happens if Peloton owns home fitness like Netflix owns home entertainment? How does Equinox/SoulCycle do? New York Sports Club? Private-equity owned 24 Hour Fitness? Consider this: Dwayne Johnson has 318k Instagram followers. Half of his posts are photos and videos of him working out. How hasn’t Peloton nailed down a partnership with him? If people will watch other people play videogames on Amazon’s Twitch, and people will stream instructed classes on Peloton, there’s no doubt that they’d watch and mimic the Rock working out. Or Hugh Jackman beefing up to become Wolverine. Or Tom Hardy becoming Bane. Or Gerard Butler jacking up for 300. How hasn’t this happened yet? The sky is the limit.
Others have noticed. Namely, SoulCycle. It filed its S-1 years ago but, for now at least, still remains private. That is indicative of something, isn’t it? But, it, too, is evolving — in this case with different style classes. As is Classpass, which recently introduced ClassPass Live, live-streaming classes for home bodies. And, finally, Fitbit ($FIT), which continues to try anything to remain relevant. It is launching its partnership with Xbox One, making it easier for users to work out at home with its Coach training service. Clearly a number of players have identified the home as the next frontier in fitness. But Peloton may just have a very solid head start.
But here’s the thing: as readers read on Sunday, Guggenheim predicts a recession in late ’19 or early ’20. What happens when that downturn ultimately occurs? When disposable income and consumer confidence both go down? Who gets beat up more — Peloton or, say, SoulCycle? What happens to Peloton and its expensive hardware then? Do people start cancelling their monthly subscriptions? Alternatively, do people quit SoulCycle and migrate towards Peloton on the (arguable) basis that it’s a stronger value for the money? Or is Peloton’s customer demographic — seemingly the 1% — immune to a downturn? What happens, though, if the venture capital dries up? The company has had a tremendous amount of success but is it just a product of a frothy time? These are all important questions.
For now, though, the wind seems to be at Peloton’s back. And more conventional fitness players ought to be concerned. Just like with entertainment and Netflix, the fitness home invasion is happening. And there’ll be winners and losers.