Audio Workouts: 5 Questions With Ethan Agarwal, Founder & CEO, Aaptiv



Studio class fitness is in a huge upswing, with boutique workouts flourishing in metropolitan areas and larger brands like Orangetheory Fitness and Soul Cycle branching into smaller populations. These fitness tribes have great benefits: targeted workouts and vibrant communities that keep you competitive, engaged and moving. But they’re not for everyone. They’re pricey. You may burn out on one type of exercise. Maybe you prefer to move at your own pace. Or perhaps you like more individualized workouts like outdoor running, lifting or rowing.

Aaptiv offers an affordable alternative to trendy classes and expensive personal trainers. The app is exploding in popularity by delivering fun, frequent content in a variety of fitness disciplines including strength training, marathon prep, yoga, meditation, cycling and more. Its audio-only delivery format may feel a bit challenging if you are new to fitness, but for most people, not having to fiddle with your phone is the beauty of Aaptiv. You have a trainer in your ear, counting your sets or tracking your pace. And you can choose workouts at Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced levels in case you need a little more time and explanation.

I got to demo Aaptiv on a recent business trip, apropos since founder and CEO Ethan Agarwal got his inspiration for the app when traveling. Access to content like this while traveling is a great advantage, when you never really know what equipment you’ll have at your disposal. Back at home though, I found myself tuning in when I was mentally drained but still wanted to get a session in. It’s great to go on auto-pilot if you’re feeling too tired to self-direct a complicated circuit training or cardio interval workout.

Based on current wellness trends and a hunger for fitness content, it’s easy to see why Aaptiv is experiencing explosive growth, but I wanted to learn about its ecosystem and Ethan’s strategies for keeping people moving. We sat down at the Health 2.0 conference to learn more.

What are the experience tenets of an Aaptiv workout? Are there signature elements that differentiate it from other digital workouts?

Ethan Agarwal Aaptiv

Aaptiv is different from other digital workouts in that we focus exclusively on audio because it doesn’t make sense to be staring at a video while doing most workouts. We combine the guiding voice of an expert Aaptiv trainer with motivating music by top artists in every genre—so no sleepy stock music. This audio-based format eliminates distractions, allowing members to focus on their fitness goals wherever and whenever they want.

Our trainers also set us apart. We have over 25 of the world’s best trainers who are experts across every type of exercise—from running, to boxing, to meditation. In addition to being certified, each trainer provides motivation and guidance throughout the entire workout. They’re giving body cues; they’re keeping you energized; they’re playing music. It’s the combination of instruction, motivation and music that’s actually really hard to do.


Aaptiv democratizes fitness training, making it easy and affordable for anyone to follow a workout or training plan. But there’s an accountability factor that’s missing when you work out on your own. How are you thinking about accountability and success tracking for members to keep them active and motivated?

When you work out with Aaptiv, you’re not working out alone. Our trainers are there with you every step of the way during every class, and technology can actually do a lot more in between workouts than a traditional person.

For example, when you take a class at the gym or in a studio, who are you talking to between workouts? No one, right? The trainer is not talking to you between the workouts, telling you what workout to do next, asking you about injury recovery, notifying you that you have this next class in the program coming up, sending you content about what you should be eating, and so on. We have the ability to make that experience even better than an in-person experience would be.

Additionally, we have scalability. So if you’re traveling for a trip and have a trainer back home, you’ve now lost that access. You’re not bringing a trainer with you—but you are bringing your phone, so you’re bringing Aaptiv with you no matter where you are.

We also have an amazing, private community of almost 35,000 people who posts hundreds of stories a day about classes they are taking, sweaty selfies and notifications about working out.

Again, this is another instance where being digital is better because you can interact with people all around the country who are taking the same classes you are.


Since it’s a subscription business, maximizing a membership and reducing acquisition costs are key. What other strategies are you employing to keep consumers engaged?

For us, everything is about an engagement. We want people taking as many classes as possible. A lot of companies sell inventory—like a pack of classes—at a discount in the hope that you don’t actually use all the classes.

We want you to take more classes because most importantly, it’s good for your body and mind, but also because engagement drives retention. The more you use the classes, the more likely you are to stick with us. Everything we do from a product focus is around engagement—motivation, structures of classes, keeping you excited between the workouts, the community aspect—it’s all about the engagement, which helps to drive retention.


So at this point in your growth, are you thinking about building out the Aaptiv world? What do you see as the adjacent services/products/partnerships that will help to build a brand ecosystem?

We’re really focused on the world within the app. Any partnerships that we do, any content that we create, any new trainers we hire, any new features we add—all of that should be available to our members and should live in the same product.

We also try to bring different categories of content into our training programs, so if you’re a member training for a marathon, for example, you’re not just going to run. You’re doing core workouts; you’re doing strength training; you’re doing stretching; you might do meditation. And we have all that content in the same place. It’s already its own ecosystem when it comes to reaching your fitness and holistic health goals.

Your panel at Health 2.0 was called “The Frontier of Consumer Tech: Digital Therapeutics and Beyond.” Do you see Aaptiv as a therapeutic tool? Is it a health brand?

Absolutely, it’s about health. We’re not about “look great by losing 20 pounds in two months.” We care much more about health, and specifically, both physical and mental strength.

We don’t think of fitness as the end goal; we think of working out as means to living the actual life you want to live, such as helping members increase their own energy to play with their kids, or to go on a hike with their parents, whatever it is.

And we realize that needs to stay healthy vary throughout a member’s life so that’s why we have something for everyone including a maternity program, low-impact strength training, walking programs, marathon programs and everything in between.

Get more insights in our Q&A series.


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