Rishi Mandal is the CEO and Co-Founder of Future, the fitness training app that pairs you 1:1 with a world-class coach to manage your ongoing fitness remotely.
Formerly, Rishi served pivotal roles at Google as a Senior Product Manager, Postmates as the Director of Product, and Sosh as the founder and CEO.
Prior to tech, he was an astrophysics researcher at NASA and Stanford University.
Mandal works alongside Co-founder and CTO, Justin Santamaria, the former lead Apple engineer who created iMessage and Facetime.
Rishi is a serial entrepreneur, which can be chalked up to his upbringing — his father founded a tech company at a picnic table in the family’s garage.
At Future, Rishi’s entrepreneurial streak lives on as he continues to find ways to redefine the virtual fitness industry and build an unparalleled coaching experience.
We sat down with Rishi to discuss the pandemic’s impact on fitness, projected workout trends for 2022 and beyond, and how Future is revolutionizing the landscape of health and wellness at large.
How is Future altering the existing fitness landscape?
We believe the future of fitness is coaching. Pro athletes, celebrities, and executives have long depended on coaches to keep them in great shape and performing at a high level. We've made that quality of coaching accessible to everyone.
When you become a member of Future, we pair you with a coach and send you an Apple Watch. Your coach customizes your training plan each week and keeps you accountable by checking in each day via text message. Future is incredibly unique because your plan adapts to fit your daily schedule, needs, and restrictions. When it comes to fitness, consistency is key. We designed Future to help you stay on track.
Your brand talks a lot about leading the “managed wellness” trend. In what ways does your platform specifically achieve this, and why is managed fitness so critical for our overall well-being?
It’s been proven that having another human being in the loop helps when trying to accomplish anything - this is what will take connected fitness to the next level. Through wearables and fitness equipment, you get all these insights but need an expert to analyze them and tie them together. In the future, you’ll have a support system of experts on-call through your phone, who are up to speed on your needs and help keep you on track to your health goals.
Future provides people with the expertise, accountability, and flexibility they need in order to achieve their fitness goals. Through the app, users can message their coach daily to make any scheduling adjustments, talk about what they loved or didn’t love about their workouts, or ask any questions they have.
Your app is largely based on virtual communication between client and trainer. Can you talk a bit more about the benefits of this virtual communication, and how it compares to in-person training sessions?
Managing your health effectively is actually a communications challenge - for example, most people talk to their doctor only 1-2 times per year. We realized that by combining messaging-based technology, world-class coaches, and hospitality principles, we could deliver high-touch, meaningful interactions at scale for fitness.
It’s not feasible for most people to see a personal trainer in person a few times a week - it is expensive and inconvenient for many people who are already overscheduled. With Future, the average client is doubling their number of weekly workouts, motivated by a high-touch virtual relationship with their coach, who they’re texting with every day. Our app was designed by the creator of iMessage, which is the most used app on the iPhone because texting is the primary way we communicate. For building a virtual relationship, the frequency of communications matters. In terms of price point, Future costs $150 per month, which is the lowest you’ll pay for unlimited access to a trainer all month for just the cost of 1-2 in-person sessions.
Future is positioned as a “personalized concierge app.” Can you unpack what this term means, and what are the implications of this for the consumer?
The term “concierge” really comes down to the high-touch, personalized experience created by our coaches. We hire the world’s most accomplished coaches from all different types of backgrounds so that we have an expert for everyone. Once a client is paired with their coach, coaches build your workouts around your schedule, environment, preferences, fitness level, the equipment you have available to you, and more.
The personalized workout is ready for you on your phone anytime, you can text your coach anytime with questions or adjustments. And if you tell your coach about your travel plans, your coach will check with your hotel ahead of time to see what equipment you’ll have on your trip. Coaches will check in with clients daily to see how they are doing - whether it’s sending a motivational quote or asking how their big meeting went, Future coaches are known to go above and beyond their job description, making it a concierge-style fitness app.
How does Future adopt the business model of Uber Eats or Postmates, and apply it to the health and fitness space?
All of our coaches are full-time employees - we thought this was essential to give them the stability and support they need to give the best ongoing attention to our clients.
Before Future, I was working on long-term health projects at Google and then went on to build Sosh, the AI-curated local activity concierge that was acquired by Postmates. I became interested in how the world’s greatest restaurants and hotels used hospitality principles to deliver significant interactions at scale, which helped us frame the high-touch, concierge-style experience that Future enables.
We hired the most elite group of fitness and performance coaches from professional sports to D1 athletes to former marines, and built the largest team of full-time fitness trainers in the US, after the military.
In what ways is Future different from other fitness apps?
Future offers the three things that are key to being successful at fitness: flexibility, expertise, and accountability. It works with people’s busy schedules so they can work out anytime, anywhere with or without their fitness equipment/hardware - all they need is their phone.
By removing the requirement of being in the same place at the same time, users are ultimately paired with a better guide/expert that truly suits their fitness needs over convenience. Most of our Coaches have Bachelor's and Master's degrees, and almost all of them came from coaching professional athletes, so they have a level of expertise that lets them adapt to any client.
For building a virtual relationship, the frequency of communications matters. Our average user trades 4 texts with their Coach daily - a relationship that gets users to work out more frequently than if they were seeing an in-person trainer.
It’s no secret that the pandemic has altered our fitness needs and routines. How is your app adapting to these changes?
Fitness is now hybrid - some at-home, some in the gym, some group fitness, some outdoors. Pairing clients with an expert makes it the most adaptable fitness program that evolves with the client, their environment, schedule, and life changes. Someone to strategize and weave it all together. More recently, fitness needs to be able to travel with consumers - people can’t pack their bike or fitness equipment to bring on a trip. Future is growing faster this year than in 2020 as people began to hit the road and needed more flexible ways to maintain their routine, a trend that’s likely to outlast the pandemic.
Fitness trends are constantly changing. What would you say is the “It” trend right now, and how is your app taking this into consideration?
The big trend is mixed modalities - doing a variety of types of workouts. A mix of cardio, stretching and weight training is important, both for rounded wellness and to keep the routine interesting. We are sometimes working out at home, sometimes outside, other times at the gym, group fitness or on the road, so we’re balancing a goal of different types of workouts, and also executing them in different environments.
How is your platform not only helping users with their fitness needs but helping employment rates in substantial, measurable ways?
Our Coaches are full-time salaried employees, and we’ve built the largest cohort of trainers in the US, second only to the military. On the other side of things, we recently launched an initiative for companies and organizations who want to offer Future to their employees. Because of our technology’s ability to scale the individual coach-to-client interactions regardless of geography, we offer employers a tool to rethink how they care for their people, which in turn will help them attract and retain talent in a competitive marketplace.
On a broader scale, where do you see the future of fitness heading? How is your product a part of this future?
Across healthcare and fitness, we’ll start seeing people virtually paired with an ongoing guide to steer their wellness every day. This is where the flexibility of digital will win out. At-home fitness is now embedded into weekly routines, but people are still missing the social and human interaction of the gym/in-person classes.
To bridge this gap, connected fitness apps/hardware will start bringing human experts into the mix, adding 1:1 personalized coaching into their offerings over the next year. We’ll start seeing this trend go mainstream with the New Year wellness push. We’ve built the largest team of full-time fitness trainers in the US (after the military), so we’re one step ahead of this.
Photography by: Courtesy Fitness