Becoming A Platform: How RunKeeper Continues To Keep Competitors At Bay

from the business-model-jujitsu dept

Last year, we wrote about the very interesting case of RunKeeper, a small startup, which initially focused on software for iPhones for people to track their running information, and how it successfully outran Nike and other big sporting goods companies. This was in response to the claim we hear all the time that a small company "can't compete" with some big company that can just "copy the idea and throw lots of money at it." The reality is a lot more complex. Can big companies sometimes do that? Absolutely. Does it happen that often? No. The reasons aren't too difficult to understand. If the innovation is truly disruptive, the big companies are often at a steep disadvantage: (1) They don't fully understand the innovation or really why consumers/users want it. Instead, they understand the superficial reasons and that's all they copy. (2) They are held back by legacy issues, and their legacy business model, which might be undercut by the true innovation. That was definitely the case with RunKeeper, which could be brand-agnostic in its solution, whereas players like Nike and Adidas were somewhat held back.

Since then, I've been following the situation with RunKeeper pretty closely (and got to meet CEO Jason Jacobs a few months ago, where we got to totally geek out on innovation and business models). Anyway, the company has now taken things to the next level, distancing itself even further from the competition. Over the past few years, the company has added ways for other data and systems to hook into RunKeeper, which has become a wider "fitness" app rather than just a running app. One of the things that the company developed during this time was a "Health Graph" that pulled a lot of this info together in a very useful manner:
Imagine a system that can identify correlations between a user’s eating habits, workout schedule, social interactions and more, to deliver an ecosystem of health and fitness apps, websites, and sensor devices that really work, based on a user’s own historical health and fitness data. The Health Graph has the potential to completely alter the health and fitness landscape.
But where things get really interesting is that RunKeeper has now opened up the Health Graph API so that others can not just tap into Health Graph but build on it as well, basically letting all sorts of other services and devices build on this pretty cool and complete platform -- something which the other players in the space simply don't have:
What does this mean for device manufacturers and developers? They now have the opportunity to build an endless array of apps, that draw on the powerful data within the Health Graph. Health Graph developers also benefit from the social features on to gain exposure and drive sales. Social features, like our FitnessFeed and Facebook & Twitter sharing integrations, are a fundamental part of the experience; we’re opening up these forums to apps and devices that build on the Health Graph, to provide our 6MM+ community members with easy access to all the tools that integrate with RunKeeper.
I find this especially interesting considering our recent discussion on platform reliance, and how the big opportunities are in becoming your own platform. Think about this for a second: many people dismissed RunKeeper, early on, as a small app for tracking running info, and lots of people assumed naturally that once the "big players" got into the ring, RunKeeper would inevitably be crushed. But RunKeeper has continued to innovate and continued to focus on that core goal of making the overall "fitness" community better informed and better able to do things with their data, so that they're able to stay ahead of the big guys, even though we're talking about some of the biggest companies around, with tons of cash and the most recognized brands in the world.

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  • icon
    Thanatossassin (profile), 8 Jun 2011 @ 1:36am

    Becoming a Platform, on all Platforms

    After I ditched my shoddy iPhone hardware and jumped over to Win Phone 7, RunKeeper came out within a few months after the switch and I was stoked, no need to start over with a new running program. Developers keeping their customer's options open, that cannot hurt business.

    Pandora will be eating crow soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jun 2011 @ 6:07am

    RunKeeper, a small startup, which initially focused on software for iPhones for people to track their running information, and how it successfully outran Nike and other big sporting goods companies.

    Yes, but im fairly sure RunKeeper does not compete with Nike or Addidas in the market of selling sporting clothes and goods.

    And that Nike and other companies like it do not make their income primarilary (or significantly) by providing services similar to RunKeeper.

    Are there lots of people out running waring "RunKeeper" shoes ?

    Or does everyone who uses RunKeeper run naked ?

    Do you think the Nike equivalent is 'brand fixed' ? in that if you own addidas shoes you cannot use that service ?

    Looks to me like it was RunKeeper who "copy the idea and throw lots of money at it." ... From Nike and / or Addidas.

    Nike and addidas do a far better job at making money from their primary business than RunKeeper does at its primary business.

    RunKeeper's Primary business is a trivial secondary 'service' provided by the likes of Nike and addidas.

    It's like someone saying they did an Excell spreadsheet better than one Microsoft produced !!! big deal, so what. It was Microsoft that created the Excell software program that enabled you to make that better spreadsheet.

    It's the likes of addidas and Nike that created the "running industry" but RunKeeper has not even 'jumped on the bandwagon', they are simply using a market the big companies created, and produced some slight support or service industry attached to it.

    Nike and so on happen to also provide those services but you have a choice, and you do not have to own Nike shoes to use the Addidas runkeeper.

    So this entire article is just a mash up really ! it contains nothing of any note, it does not appear to make alot of sense or logic....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jun 2011 @ 6:25am


      maybe you should know what you are talking about before responding to an article. Or at least click on the link provided that gives context to his statement.

      Big company tried to copy small company idea to make it their own. Big company failed despite having incredibly more resources.

      Then he briefly described issues of brand awareness/loyalty among consumers that would restrict usage of such things.

      IE: If Nikon released an all purpose awesome picture sharing site I would not use it because I'm insanely loyal to Canon brand cameras.

      Learn to use your brain or to troll smarter, not harder.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Greg G (profile), 8 Jun 2011 @ 6:46am


      Get a brain, will ya?

      While you're right about RunKeeper not selling sporting goods or sportswear, they run rings around Nike, Adidas, et al, in what they do.

      And while I'm pretty sure you're right that Nike doesn't get the bulk of its profits from an iPhone or Android fitness app, they did try to create one to compete with RunKeeper, and failed to keep up with them.

      Also, it's "Excel". One "l" at the end, not two.
      I've done tons of spreadsheets better than some that Microsoft has created, even if I used their template to do it. And why does the creator of the software make any difference? Do you think the people that build cameras take the best photographs? Those that build the tool don't always know how to use said tool.

      So your entire comment is just a mash up really ! it contains nothing of any note, it does not appear to make alot of sense or logic....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Greg G (profile), 8 Jun 2011 @ 6:52am


      Oh, and welcome back, Darryl.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      The eejit (profile), 8 Jun 2011 @ 9:49am


      Runkeeper doesn't compete with Nike and Adidas, because it doesn't need to. Is that so hard to understand?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mr Big Content, 8 Jun 2011 @ 1:15pm

    Ripping Off Others’ Intellectual Property

    Companies like Nike and Adidas pour millions into developing footwear for the benefit of runners, and along comes a company like this sucking a tidy profit out of those runners, without a cent going to the companies whose footwear makes it all possible.

    They’re parasites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2011 @ 4:04am

    looks like the "big players" can't keep up running...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gene Cavanaugh (profile), 9 Jun 2011 @ 11:20am

    Innovation and the need for IP

    Interesting discussion. Here is what I got from it:

    1. Decide what your conclusion will be.
    2. Cull out any information that disagrees (or just ignore it).
    3. Thereby you "prove" you were right all along.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Steve Kusmer, 9 Jun 2011 @ 1:54pm

    MapMyFitness,, and RunKeeper

    I have to disagree with the conclusion that RunKeeper has outrun the competition. The Nike+ GPS app is now #1 and #2 in iPhone Health & Fitness paid apps in most of countries in the world. But RunKeeper is currently #12 in the US in iPhone Health & Fitness free app category.

    And no other competitors are mentioned, including those who are ahead of RunKeeper. MapMyFitness has had a complete and functional API system for more than a year. Another social network for fitness,, has had an API for more than 6 months. So this really isn't pioneering news.

    Also, the RunKeeper CEO implies that 6 million users are currently actively using the RunKeeper application. This is simply not true. While RunKeeper may have had 6 million downloads of their free app, a download does not constitute an active user, since a small fraction of downloads will continue as active users.

    In fact, would say that RunKeeper has only 60,000 active visitors every month, only 1% of downloads. Here is a URL that compares the relative monthly visitor traffic of three sites:,, and

    While RunKeeper has enjoyed well-deserved success, their corporate messaging overstates their success.

    Disclosure: I'm the CEO of Abvio, a developer of iPhone fitness apps, including Runmeter, Cyclemeter and Walkmeter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jay (profile), 11 Jun 2011 @ 10:32pm

      Re: MapMyFitness,, and RunKeeper

      Very intriguing. Just a thought from one "customer" of Runkeeper. I've had the app for quite some time, using it mainly for my runs and jogs. I made my decision based on negative feedback from Nike+ and the other apps that have more users. Then, techdirt ran the story of how they're continuing to compete in a marketplace that Nike and Reebok should "own" because they're bigger. Have to say, it was an interesting look at one of your competitors.

      Regardless, Runkeeper works on my Android phone. I've seen nothing for Abvio in the Google marketplace. Runkeeper seems to be doing a lot more with their API than others are currently, and I'm positive I would keep using them since the website along with the run app do a lot for me.

      Just from the looks, the Mapmyfitness and dailymile apps seem to be a little more limited in what they can do.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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