Monthly Archives: June 2014

Fitness apps are great model to help consumers talk about money

Eric DunstanThis past weekend I attended a beach wedding in Santa Cruz, CA. I played the role of husband to the matron of honor and father to the ring bearer. I spent a lot of time with the groom and groomsmen as we waded through the schedule from taking pictures to the bride walking down the sandy aisle. Having never met 90% of these people, most of the idle conversation topics focused on how long we’ve know the groom/bride, where we’re from, the weather, sports and physical fitness.  The wedding party was a very physically fit group and a lot of time was spent discussing work out routines, fitness goals, injuries, metrics for measuruing those goals and what mobile fitness applications were used. One groomsman was a tri-athlete, another a cyclist and several runners…me included. Even though we all did different sports, we all shared a common language around how we set goals and measured success; how many reps/sets, timed distances, time splits, calories burned. Of course, as the day wore on and the drinks flowed, these reported metrics achieved super human status. “I ran a marathon in under two hours, backwards…uphill both ways. In the snow. Waiter, can I have another Grey Goose?” The common interest and shared vocabulary of fitness enabled 8 guys to have a great time at a wedding.

There continues to be a lot of media coverage about our lack luster economy and the fear that many people have about their financial fitness. The fear has grown to a level where many books, websites and personal finance management services have emerged to meet the demand. Clearly, money and sound financial management is top of mind for most people. Unfortunately, talking about ones financial health is a taboo that it is never discussed openly even with close friends or a spouse. I openly discussed my physical health at the wedding last weekend…but it would be WEIRD and AWKWARD if I discussed my financial goals and health with the other groomsman. Why? Isn’t financial health just as important as physical health? We ask others for suggestions on improving our physical fitness.  Why not our financial fitness?

Alexa von Tobel, CEO of LearnVest, addresses the taboo of talking about personal finance in her book, “Financially Fearless“. “We openly talk about everything else, from sex to diets to politics, yet when was the last time you spoke with your friends about money?” I think Alexa is spot on. We as a US society DON’T talk about money and how to manage it well. Most Americans prefer to put their heads in the sand and not think about financial planning for it’s too scary or confusing. One of the biggest reasons we don’t talk about money is that we don’t know how and we don’t have a common vocabulary or framework to pull from.

Eric Dunstan

Flexscore is working to provide that financial framework to enable the conversation. They have developed a methodology that helps consumers assess their financial health through a score and provides support for how to improve. The score measures factors including assets, debt, savings, cost of living, retirement savings…and weights them against a goal. Goals include by what age to retire, buying a vacation home, or sending a kid to college. Flexscore users can compare their goals, expenses, and scores against others within their peer group.

What Flexscore is developing sounds a lot like a fitness app! I am an avid user of the Nike+ iPhone app where I set goals, track fitness activity, achieve milestones…and compare against others. The Nike application also let’s me challenge others to a race or to ask others for coaching advice. Wow, this is a fun way to track fitness activity and engage with friends. Can the same level of engagement be achieved with a financial fitness application? Through the right approach, I think a financial fitness application can be very powerful in helping others discuss money, goals and questions they may have about improving compared to their peers. A scoring system, such as Flexscore, will be a key engagement element that makes measurement informative, fun and something that can be easily discussed with others.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to envision similar personal finance discussions happening with the right measurement tools and applications developed on mobile devices. Going back to the wedding I attended, the wedding party was quick to whip out their phones and show off their fitness data on Nike+ or RunKeeper. The application UI makes the data visually fun to show off and discuss. I can easily envision the same conversation happening around finance applications. The conversation could start with a groomsman saying, “We are really trying to pay down our credit card debt, but it’s not happening fast enough.”  Another groomsman could respond, “I’ve been using this great finance app that scores my financial health. It’s helped me A LOT.”  The conversation goes on from there.

Driving adoption of these finance apps by going direct to consumer will be quite expensive and the marketplace is crowded. However, I think the right strategy for Flexscore is to white label their solution to financial institutions and advisors. A similar platform, Set for Life,  takes another approach by white labeling financial education and money management tools to corporations as a benefits program to get employees to start talking about their money. Flexscore and Set for Life hope to pull through a solid customer base through these white labeled partnerships …while receiving a monthly per user fee. Smart…and this strategy does not require aggressive and expensive direct to consumer acquisition programs. The right clients and partnerships will build a large and highly engaged consumer base for both companies.

As Gen X , Gen Y and Millennials age, the greater the momentum around having financial oriented conversations. The key play for companies like Flexscore or Set For Life is to be the platform that these users engage on to discuss and engage with their finance. Consumers will benefit and so will financial institutions and advisors who are looking for opportunities to engage customers. Consumers will be drawn to the banks and providers who do this best.  Those who don’t engage at this level will watch  their consumer base walk out the door.

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Grokker content could be key driver of Blue Apron subscriber growth

Like many of us, my wife and I struggle in keeping a good work/family life balance. We are parents of two young boys and our goal is to provide them with the best opportunities to grow and develop physically, intellectually and spiritually. We’ve learned that parenting is a lot of fun, a more than full time job AND is very rewarding. One of our biggest struggles is getting healthy, flavorful and “kid friendly” food on the table. We make frequent runs to Safeway, Trader Joe’s and to Whole Foods to buy as much fresh food as possible…and end up buying a lot of pre-made food too. Let’s face it, after a LONG day at work, it’s a lot easier to throw in the microwave a Trade Joe’s meat loaf than to whip one up from scratch.

The inspiration to prepare a complete meal does find us a few times a week, however. So we are not a complete “ready made meal” family…at least we’ve got that going for us.  We’ve found that the big challenges in home cooking are…

1. Finding inspiration for great meals

2. Finding recipes that are easy and quick to prepare

3. Shopping for the ingredients

4. Taking the time to prepare the meal (the fun part)

5. Cleaning up (the not fun part)

UGH….any of these challenges is enough to push a family to do ready made food or to buy take-out.

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 11.54.28 AMWe have been finding home cooked meal inspiration from a great site called Grokker. Signing up for Grokker is free and they do a great job in how their content is organized. The site provides how-to videos on preparing some great meals taught by professional chefs. When I say “professional” I mean chefs from the higher end restaurants or expert food bloggers…so they know a trick or two. One of our favorites is Whitney Bond who just KILLS it on creative ways to prepare the standard meals. My wife LOVED her sweet potato skin recipe. Or Doc Ward’s smoked ribs are AMAZING.

Grokker clearly addresses the challenges of finding inspiration and finding recipes that are easy to prepare. They also provide the recipe in text form that can be emailed or printed out to then find its way on a shopping list. It would be GREAT if Grokker could make it easy for me to export the list of ingredients into a shopping list on my iPhone. Hint, hint.

Grokker, however, does not help consumers take the pain out of 3 of the biggest challenges of home cooking; shopping, preparation time and clean up. I think if Grokker helped consumers do the shopping they will address A HUGE pain point and the site will attract more consumers eager to be inspired and enabled to cook great food. Hmmm…but how is this done? Grocery delivery is a tough business. Remember WebVan?

Grokker may address the shopping challenge by establishing a strategic partnership with Blue Apron. The combined assets will deliver a powerful consumer experience for both companies and their consumer base. Blue Apron just announced a $50M C-round of funding and is boasting the delivery of 500K meals a month. Wow. Blue Apron positions itself as a better way to cook with fresh ingredients, great recipes delivered to the consumer’s home. For a monthly fee starting at $9.95, Blue Apron provides recipes, ingredients and a home delivery service. The consumers can do the fun part, taking the time to prepare the meal.Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 12.02.55 PM

I think Blue Apron is missing a key element…the inspiration around food and the community engagement with other foodies.   By partnering with Grokker, Blue Apron receives well-produced content that may help it differentiate itself from competitors such as Plated or PeachDish. Given Blue Apron’s momentum, we all know competitors will be HOT on their apron strings. Amazon is working out the kinks of Amazon Fresh and as we know, they are good at getting e-commerce right.

Clearly, Grokker will gain a great deal from a Blue Apron strategic partnership. They will benefit through the monetization of its well produced cooking content through licensing agreements. Grokker could provide a VALUABLE service to Blue Apron that will generate a handsome revenue stream to fuel expert content development across more categories. Grokker will also provide a key service to their consumer audience – shopping and delivery of recipe ingredients. As a Grokker user, I see this as a great service!

Some may ask why Blue Apron would not just create the content themselves given their large capitalization. Clearly they have the money.   Aah…creating the right, well-produced content is easier said than done, young Jedi. This is Grokker’s core competency. Another obvious question is why Blue Apron does not just buy Grokker…after all Grokker’s valuation at the moment is far less than Blue Apron’s at $500M. From what I can see the Grokker team is focused on building an expert video network including content beyond food, including yoga and health/fitness. In short, Grokker may not be open to Blue Apron’s marriage proposal…which is smart. Grokker will become a real hot number and potential suitors will be coming out of the woodwork.

The big key in making a Blue Apron/Grokker partnership work is ease of integration. The Blue Apron leadership team is under A LOT of pressure to grow subscribers and revenue. Grokker content can help grow subscribers by providing a lot of great content, recipes and chef personalities. If this content can be easily integrated on Blue Apron with minimal front-end engineering support, it’s not a stretch to envision this partnership.

I’m hungry.


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