Startup Running Heroes rewards people for running while providing valuable data insights to health and fitness brands

- June 10, 2015 6 MIN READ

Running has many rewards, including better brain performance, better mood, and better sleep. But if you’re not a fan of running or other vigorous physical activities, the post-workout panting and muscle soreness overshadow the health rewards. French startup Running Heroes has launched in Australia to not only reward avid runners for their dedication, but to also motivate non-runners to start hitting the pavement.

Running Heroes functions as a mobile-friendly web application that connects with the user’s existing running app or activity watch. As users run, they collect activity points and can then redeem exclusive offers using those points.

For its Australian launch, Running Heroes secured partnerships with brands like Shopwings, Kindy, Spotify, HelloFresh, Anytime Fitness, Uber, Elite Energy, Fitness Calendar, SlashSport, SafeMate, Helpling, 180 Nutrition, Farmer Jo, and many more. This means that users can get up to 50 percent off on services offered by these brands.

Running Heroes’ activity points system takes into consideration elevation, pace, time, and distance. An average runner would earn about 1 point per minute. If they run for 30 minutes, they’ll get 30 points, which can be exchanged for the smallest offer. If the runner has her eyes set on a particular offer that costs, say, 300 points, she’ll have to do 10 30-minute runs before she can redeem it.

Of course, if the user is more of a long-distance walker than a runner, they will still be able to collect activity points, just at a slower pace.

Running Heroes was launched in France last year by fitness-conscious entrepreneur Boris Pourreau. The startup has since gained about 130,000 members from France and secured partnerships with 100+ brands.

When looking at new markets to explore, Running Heroes recognised Australia as its next ideal launch location. Alexandre Auroux, who’s lived in Sydney for four years and is heading up Running Heroes’ Australian operation, said there are about 5 million runners in Australia, smartphone penetration is really high (81 percent), and 60 percent of runners use a tracking device, making Australia the perfect market to kickstart Running Heroes’ international expansion. Auroux stressed, however, that the startup is not just targeting experienced runners, but people of fitness levels.

Auroux explained that Running Heroes was originally inspired by a gap in the fitness market: namely, an absence of programmes designed to reward people for their fitness activity. “There are rewards programmes that reward people for spending money or for their shopping behaviour. But what about rewarding people for their fitness behaviour? That’s what we wanted to tackle.”

“When we looked at the fitness industry, we quickly saw a gap in the market. There was no programme rewarding people who are starting their journey towards a healthier lifestyle. There are two ways of looking at the problem: firstly, people who start to go on that journey are not always being recognised …  And secondly, when someone does start to go on that journey, what is going to drive their motivation? It’s very easy to lose motivation.”

By creating a community of runners, the startup realised that it had captured a key target audience that many sports, fitness and health brands are looking to engage with, but are not always able to do so via traditional advertising means.

“If Nike is doing a TV advertisement, they’re going to be reaching a lot of people, but they might not be reaching the target audience,” said Auroux.

Brands can pay to have their products, services or exclusive offers promoted on Running Heroes. The value for brands is that their promotional materials reach a highly targeted audience.

For instance, runners will certainly want a good pair of running shoes every six months or so, depending on how frequently they run. Shoe manufacturers, on the other hand, go to great lengths to innovate shoes every season and are always looking to promote their latest range. Running Heroes can therefore be the connecting platform between runners and shoe brands.

Brands can also promote their products or services through ‘challenges’. Every week, Running Heroes will present its runners with a challenge – like ‘run 20 kilometres’ – and the winner/s will receive a prize. This method not only helps increase brand awareness, but also allows brands to design and offer unique experiences or even test new products.

Another way brands can engage with Running Heroes’ community is by sponsoring a race. Runners get to fundraise for a brand’s charity partner and collect activity points along the way, which can be traded for offers.

According to Auroux, Running Heroes is essentially “creating an ecosystem where everybody wins”.

Brands can still offer deals without promoting their products or services or sponsoring challenges. It just means that brands will have to agree to reduce their margins to acquire more customers.

“Brands don’t have to pay for the offers; instead, they pay through incentives. If you put your product onto another site, you have to pay 15 percent commission. What we’re saying is, don’t pay the commission to a third party, give that percentage back directly to the end user and they’ll thank you for it,” Auroux explained.

Running Heroes’ offers are ‘exclusive’, which Auroux said is important for the company, as it aligns with the philosophy that ‘you have to run for your reward’. “You have use your sweat and tears to collect points; you have to earn the right to redeem offers. You can’t find them in a magazine or other places.”

Auroux said Running Heroes offers value for businesses of all sizes. In fact, its partners range from startups to big established companies.

“For startups, it’s a very good way of promoting their brand, increasing brand awareness and acquiring new customers. For bigger brands like Nike and Spotify, obviously they’re going to acquire new clients, but they’re really interested in being top of their game and pushing their products in smart ways,” said Auroux.

Although the products and services these brands offer are diverse, Auroux said they have to be relevant to the lifestyle of the runners.

“We try to create offers that make sense to the community. It’s always either sport-related like a pair of shoes or attire, or we offer something health-related, like a service that delivers organic food to your place. We also partner with brands like Kindy. The value proposition is even though you have kids, you can have an active life. You can go out and go running whilst having someone do your laundry or look after your child,” said Auroux.

Running Heroes is also open to the prospect of converting points to cash which can then be donated to the user’s chosen charity.

Moving forward, there is potential for the startup to partner with other existing rewards programmes so that users can convert their activity points for, say, Frequent Flyer, Velocity or flybuys points. But before speaking to big players, Running Heroes will need to reach critical mass. Auroux said the company is open to pursuing opportunities of this nature, should it be suitable in the future.

For the time being, Running Heroes is firmly focused on becoming the number one big data reference for the fitness industry. By aggregating and analysing data from activity trackers like Garmin and Polar and running apps like Runtastic and RunKeeper, the startup is able to offer a whole new layer of value to brands. Not only can Running Heroes help brands acquire new customers and sell more products, it can help them understand user behaviour.

For instance, if a ‘challenge’ offers a pair of running shoes as the final prize and there are more women entering the challenge, then Running Heroes will be able to tell the sponsoring brand that their product is actually attracting women between the ages of 20 and 25, 30 times a week. This insight can then help the brand tailor its marketing efforts. Auroux stressed that users’ personal information is not provided to brands.

“Interestingly, there are some brands coming back to me and saying, ‘I don’t know how to market my product’. What I’m saying is, ‘do a challenge for that particular product, and see who is responding to that offer and I can tell you whether your product is perfect for that target market’,” said Auroux.

“We examine how many people see an offer, how many people click on it, as well as their demographics and behaviours … so we become a marketing tool for brands to understand how they could market and create new products for their target audience as well as our community.”

Running Heroes has gained over 1,100 Australian members and recently appointed singer/songwriter Paulini Curuenavuli (Australian Idol 2003 finalist)  and Trent Morrow (a.k.a Marathon Man) as brand ambassadors.

Auroux and his fellow Australian team are also gearing up to launch Cycling Heroes in the upcoming months, which is conceptually similar to Running Heroes, except targeted at cyclists.

The startup has raised two rounds of seed funding, totalling €350,000 euros (AU$514,000+), and is looking to raise a Series A (between €1 million to €5 million) to accelerate its international expansion. After successfully replicating the model in Australia, Running Heroes will be looking to launch in the UK.

“We’re relying on organic growth, so mainly word-of-mouth referrals as well as cross promotions … The idea is to try to demonstrate the value of our product without spending money, so when we’re talking to investors, we can say ‘I’ve reached X number of users without spending a lot of money’ and they’ll realise that if they put money on the table, we can grow really fast and be more successful,” said Auroux.

Running Heroes’ scalability is apparent when you take into account there are almost 350 million runners globally. In the US, there are over 60 million runners. By starting out in smaller markets like France, Australia and the UK, the startup has the chance to tweak its business model and algorithm if needed before expanding into the US where adoption rates will likely be higher.

For the moment, Auroux said it’s been exciting to run a startup out of Sydney. When he arrived four years ago, Sydney’s startup scene wasn’t as vibrant as it is today.

“It’s really exciting to see that Sydney and Australia is now becoming very active in the startup space, which it wasn’t three or four years ago. More and more startups are coming from Australia. And I’m really excited to be part of this space. We’ve got a great product and Australia is a great place to be running [our startup],” said Auroux.