Making an App for Runners: Thoughts and Lessons Learned

Fuel My Run appHappy New Year!

Occasionally on this blog, I like to write about stuff that doesn’t directly relate to helping you with your health and fitness.

As you’ve probably noticed, one of my favourite fitness endeavours is running. I actually just signed up for the Toronto Goodlife Half Marathon, which takes place May 4, 2013…my 6th half marathon.

Anyway, I haven’t posted articles as much as I would have liked the past three months. Part of the reason is that my time has been consumed with a project.

My idea for an app to help runners with their fueling was born in June of 2013. Since August, I have spent lots of time focusing on creating, designing and figuring out how the app world works. I did hire a developer to make the app, but regardless…it took up much of the time I usually allocate to this blog.

The app is called Fuel My Run. If you want to check it out, it’s available for iPhone (and hopefully Android in the spring).

Fuel My Run on iTunes

This post highlights some the lessons I learned and thoughts I had after going through the app creation process.

Let me know what you think.

Marketing is Tough

I am a science guy and really wish there were was equation like E=mc2 for marketing. Truth be told, I don’t know that I’ll ever be great at marketing. From what I have read, listened to and learned from my super smart wife (she works in digital marketing) – marketing is about communicating your product or service’s value. It’s also identifying and connecting with you customer. It’s about telling a story.

So when I had the idea for an app to help runners fuel properly, I took some time for deep thinking. Why does marathon runner really want? Do they really care about how much fuel they take in during a race?

No. But runners do care about being the best runner they can be, finishing a race strong, maintaining their pace late in race and avoiding the dreaded “wall”.

Theodore Levitt said it best when it comes to this idea of your customer wants.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole in their wall!”


Simple is Hard

It’s extremely difficult to keep things simple.

In the early development days of Fuel My Run, I made a massive list of features I thought were necessary.

Time, distance, pace, split times, maps, integration with lots of popular running apps, social sharing capabilities, login via Facebook, altitude, interval calculations – the list went on and on. Then, top this off with the fact that I hadn’t even addressed to main point of the app – fueling!

More features, more features, more features…hold on!

I took a step back and created two lists. Essential features and “maybe later” features. I got a lot of clarity from this process. Fuel My Run would include a beautiful clean design and these basic running features (plus the fueling aspect):

  1. Distance
  2. Time
  3. Average pace

Simple is hard.

Tell People What To Do

Figuring out how the fueling aspect was going to work was a bit trickier. Again though, I got some great advice from my wife and Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running.

People want to be told what to do. Hold their hands.

What an epiphany this was for me.

With this advice, I developed two sample fueling plans to get runners started. A half marathon and full marathon plan.

People Will Interpret Things Differently

When I came up with the three different types of runs a user could choose, I thought I had figured it out. I had “Quick Run” for those that wanted to go for a run of any distance, without any fuel, sample plans for half and full marathoners and a reminder mode where a user can create a custom fueling plan for their upcoming race.

I received a text one Sunday morning from a friend that was testing the app out for me. He told me he entered his fuel, but the timer would not start. Crap.

Turns out, he didn’t read the instructions for the type of run he was trying to do. And this guy is a tech-savvy runner dude. If he didn’t get it, did I have to go back to the drawing board?

Thankfully I didn’t, but his experience certainly made me re-visit the instructions I created in Fuel My Run.

Never as Good, Never as Bad

I launched Fuel My Run on December 3, 2013.

I had a press release, emailed a boat load of contacts and The Next Web had agreed to write a short blurb about the app on launch day. Bingo!

This seemed all pretty good to me. At a price of $1.99, who could say no? Turns out, a lot of people.

My sales on day one, when I was hoping for 500 sales, turned out to be a measly 35.

$47.94 in profit.

Epic fail?

Initially, I was pretty choked.

As time went on the day after the launch, I started feeling much better. Me, an exercise-science, fitness-geek with no marketing or business background whatsoever, created something that 35 people thought would help them become a better runner. Cool.

It got even better. I received an email from a couple of people that had questions.

One guy had diabetes and thought my app might be able to help him manage his blood sugar during his runs. He and I went back and forth a few times over email and I provided him with my ideas of how Fuel My Run could help him.

And that’s when it hit me. Sure sales and money are nice, but helping a runner do the thing they love, to their full potential – now that means much more.

Sure, another $500 in sales on launch day would have been awesome. But who cares. Impact and helping matter more.

I’m glad the launch of Fuel My Run reminded me of this.

Are Paid Apps Dead?

Before building Fuel My Run, I asked some readers/subscribers to complete a survey. One of the questions asked how much they would be willing to pay for an app that would help their fueling. 15% of the respondents said that they would find such an app useful yet they would not be willing to pay anything for it.

I am not sure if this is a reflection of the times or that some people simply don’t value digital products or services as much as they say they do.

I found it interesting that 76% of all Apple App Store revenue in the U.S. was generated using in-app purchases (source). Also, 91 of the top grossing top 100 apps are free to download and then make money using “in-app-purchases”.

Will Fuel My Run ever go free? Truthfully, I am not sure.

The app cost me just over $6,000 to develop and I would like to recover those costs. I feel that it certainly adds more than $1.99 in value to a runner and with that, it’s a bargain.

Over To You

What are your thoughts on using apps for health and fitness? How much are you willing to pay? What are your favourite health and fitness apps?

Leave your comments below.

Thanks for reading.

  • Chris Nentarz

    Thanks for sharing Mark. Look forward to your future content!

  • Mark Kennedy

    Thanks Chris!

  • Howard Elakman

    It is essential to differntiate between social runners and competitive runners. All people are different and cook book schedules and how everyone should train can only apply to some but not all.
    Making your body strong applies to all.
    Running FORM applies to each as an individual and can vary for many. One session with a good coach can set them on the correct path.
    To many people start training for a half or full marathon before they have completed the preliminary steps (5K, 10K, etc.).
    There are to many injuries in running and it gives the sport a bad name. This can be avoided if people would get the correct information and train properly.
    Why did you leave the field of Kinesiology? Runners need you.

    • Mike Post

      I agree that too many people jump into a marathon without building up their run fitness and mental strength in 5/10k’s instead. This is probably because marathons have become a fad, and people just want to do it to say they’ve done it. If people gave more thought instead of blindly following the crowds, they’d realise the massive benefits that a whole season of 5k races can give them.

  • Mike Post

    Thanks for sharing your insights. I’ve had a similar experience with FitFriend, launched in September.

    Like you, I come from a strong running background and have a strong sense of the problem I was trying to solve. But I’ve found that the realistic need for strong marketing and pricing expectations were the biggest shock! I knew that marketing was important, but I kind of assumed I’d have to work hard at it for the first week of launch and then it would “take care of itself” from there…oh boy lol!

    The pricing took me a while to accept, I also retailed mine at $1.99 until this month when I took it free. Especially when runners shell out $100’s of dollars for a Garmin, which essentially is only better by perception (there’s no technical reason why a smartphone app can’t be better than a watch…that’s what I’m trying to teach people most of all. I’m also a developer so I know the tech behind it). Anyway, I’ve blogged a bit more about why there’s this free expectation with software so I won’t go into details here, but thanks for sharing :)

    • Mark Kennedy

      Hey Mike – wow, thanks for sharing some of your story. I downloaded you app and will check it out. Where can readers check out your blog? Will you be experimenting with in app purchases? Cheers.

      • Mike Post

        Thanks! I’m checking out Fuel My Run, it’s a good concept and is pretty clean. If you want to partner up in some way in future, let me know. I haven’t done IAP’s yet, but may bring it in with a new mapping feature I’m working on.

        I’m now blogging most of my running related stuff on the FitFriend blog:

        But I blog on anything startup or tech related, including pricing, marketing, etc on my personal blog:

  • Cameron

    Certainly worth $1.99. I am sure your app would have improved my marathon performances. Runners should use it for all training runs over 1 hour. I did plan fuelling when training and/or running marathons but likely not as scientifically as your app does.
    Keep smiling Mark. Good things come from perseverance ( a marathoner’s mantra).

    • Mark Kennedy

      Thanks for your comment Cameron! And yes, a marathon is definitely a game of patience and perseverance – thanks for the reminder.

  • Daniel Brady

    Find some unbiased runners (who won’t lie to you to make you happy) and ask them:

    When looking at the AppStore app page – would you download this and use it? Why not? The sales page is more important than the app itself for getting customers, but the app is still important so its good enough to earn 5/5 ratings on the AppStore page.

    Honestly, your screenshots (the most important thing of all) are unconvincing. They don’t show clearly how you will help the runner to improve. It just shows tonnes of words. Ask your wife to plan more convincing images, and your conversion rate will rise.

    I am a weight lifter and sprinter (but internet marketer primarily) but I have only ever downloaded 1 nutrition app, MyFitnessPal for calorie tracking with food database (and that’s free). Anything less useful than that is not enough to convince me. If your app is barely more helpful than if I read an instructional article about marathon dieting, then it is not above and beyond the free altenatives (not convincing enough to make me pay money). A food database by alternative, is far superior to a free article.

    The other apps that I use are UberSense motion analysis and progress recording and charting.

    • Mark Kennedy

      Thanks for your feedback Daniel. Much appreciated. MyFitnessPal is a beast – what a great resource.