Using social networks to improve health

By Victor Paul Alvarez
Contributing Writer
ShapeUp Inc. began eight years ago with a simple idea: shine a public light on a person’s health by embracing it in a public and social way. No stepping on scales in the bathroom with the door closed. No hiding diet shakes behind the sodas in the fridge. No more doing it on your own. More

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Using social networks to improve health

PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
WALKING THE TALK: ShapeUp employees Jake Denham, left, and Andrew Bianchi get in exercise while doing their jobs at stand-up desks in the company’s Providence offices.
By Victor Paul Alvarez
Contributing Writer
Posted 9/16/13

ShapeUp Inc. began eight years ago with a simple idea: shine a public light on a person’s health by embracing it in a public and social way. No stepping on scales in the bathroom with the door closed. No hiding diet shakes behind the sodas in the fridge. No more doing it on your own.

“We advocated for bringing people together both through an online social network and in the workplace to collaborate and support each other in achieving common health goals such as weight loss and improved fitness,” said Dr. Rajiv Kumar, founder and CEO of ShapeUp Inc.

It worked. In less than a decade ShapeUp has reached nearly 3 million people in more than 100 countries. However, a lot of people in the company’s home state of Rhode Island still think all the company does is run the ShapeUp RI program. Readers may be surprised to know that ShapeUp offers its services in 22 languages in order to effectively reach out to the world. And it doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

It is through this thoughtful approach to wellness – and the business of wellness – that ShapeUp has become one of the most innovative companies in Rhode Island.

Kumar describes ShapeUp as a “Facebook for health and wellness.” Participants sign up, connect with their social network and participate together in healthy activities such as weight-loss and exercise competitions. The formula promises fun, accountability and increased chances to reach health goals.

This includes a strategy called Front End Customer Strategy. FECS looks at everything first through the perspective of the client. From customer advisory boards to robust market research to co-development partnerships, ShapeUp wants to understand the changing market and develop the innovations that keep it ahead of the curve. What it has been doing has worked. FECS is simply the next step in ShapeUp’s growth.

“While our philosophy will remain constant, our charge now is to continually re-imagine our product and our company to meet the critical needs of our customers and members. To that end, we’ve fostered a culture of constant, customer-driven innovation,” Kumar said.

The innovation also comes from employees. Their best ideas come not from the top down but from the bottom up. ShapeUp’s service is designed to harness the power of a community to promote health and the same is true of its in-house innovation. The best ideas don’t come from the boardroom.

“Instead they stem from organic conversations around the office – we have an entirely open floor plan – brainstorming with our customers and testing out new products and features with a small group of core clients. We believe in the lean product-development methodology,” Kumar said. •

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