With Sales Slowing, Fitbit’s CEO Sees The Health Care System As Next Growth Area

The company predicted modest holiday sales, leading some to believe the U.S. fitness tracker market is headed toward saturation.

With Sales Slowing, Fitbit’s CEO Sees The Health Care System As Next Growth Area
[Photo: Mark Sullivan]

Fitbit recently reported disappointing earnings and underwhelming sales guidance for the holiday quarter. Naturally, this news put many investors in a mood to sell. The question that emerged was whether or not the U.S. market is hitting a saturation point where everybody who wants a fitness tracker already has one.

Fitbit CEO James Park says that’s not the problem. He cites research revealing that 66% of U.S. adults say they’re interested in owning a fitness tracker, but that only 15% to 20% actually do.

Park says the key to getting Fitbit to its next wave of sales growth is turning Fitbits from a “nice to have” device to a “must have” device, responding to a question from Fast Company at the Techonomy conference Thursday in Half Moon Bay, California. And Park said he believes the way to do that is to get health networks and insurance providers to see that Fitbit use by patients can improve health outcomes and ultimately save lots of money.

“We see deeper data integration with the health system to monitor very concrete health goals and outcomes as the way to, maybe not explosive growth, but very strong and steady growth,” he said. “We’re trying to give patients, doctors, and payers a very comprehensive view into the patient’s health outside of their office visits.”

Park says a number of Fortune 500 companies have already given Fitbits out to employees to enlist them in helping improve their own wellness. But health networks have been slower to buy in. Park thinks they will eventually, and it’ll start with one pioneering player. “Once there’s that first player there are going to be a lot of insurance companies or providers that are scrambling to catch up,” he said.

Park believes Fitbit can “work with the health care system to prescribe treatments.” By this, he means wellness treatments, not chemotherapy. “A lot of cancers can be prevented through lifestyle changes like improving sleep and diet,” Park says. He said the medical establishment often misses out on these basic approaches because they’re less sexy than new, cutting-edge treatments.

Park sees future Fitbits as tools to monitor whether or not people are taking their meds, and even monitor how well the medications are working in their bodies. Fitbit’s R&D efforts are focusing on new types of sensors and new product form factors that will allow for a more comprehensive look at the wearer’s health, Park said.

But he says his company will try to do it in a fun way. “We’ll be trying to do that in a way that’s not too Big Brother-esque or too medical,” Park said. “We’ve got to make it fun; if people aren’t excited about using it it won’t work.”