Health 2.0 Exclusive Interview: Robin Thurston, Chief Digital Officer of Under Armour

Introducing Under Armour! Robin Thurston, Chief Digital Officer of Under Armour provides insight into the acquisition and partnership happenings with Under Armour and major trends in the consumer digital wellness space. Emily Hagerman, Senior Producer of Health 2.0, was given an opportunity to speak with Robin Thurston and find out what Under Armour has to share!

Emily Hagerman: I’m on with Robin Thurston, the Chief Digital Officer of Under Armour.  Robin is joining us this fall for our session, The New Consumer Health Ecosystem, in Santa Clara at the 9th Annual Health 2.0 Conference.

Robin, thanks for joining us today. Can you start off by telling us about your role at Under Armour?

Robin Thurston: I’m the Chief Digital Officer, which includes overseeing our Connected Fitness business, a part of the roll-up of our recent acquisitions, our e-commerce business, and our digital marketing efforts.

EH:Under Armour acquired MapMyFitness in 2013, where you were a co-founder and CEO. Earlier this year you acquired a couple others — MyFitnessPal and  Endomondo. Under Armour is becoming quite a force in the world of digital fitness and tracking. Can you tell me two things; one, how has that integration been going with the acquisitions? And two, from the unique perspective of someone who came to Under Armour through one of those deals, what are some insights and lessons learned?

RT: When I first met Kevin Plank, the CEO and Founder of Under Armour, we had good rapport. We agreed on a bigger mission – how to take their core mission as a brand — Under Armour’s core mission, make all athletes better. Our philosophy at MapMyFitness is empowering active lifestyles and bringing those two worlds together to help a billion people on the planet get healthy and be much more proactive about their day-to-day activities — their workouts, their sleep, their nutrition.

Kevin will say part of the challenge that Under Armour had before was, they didn’t know the right questions to ask. The first acquisition with MapMyFitness was really about getting a team of people that could help Under Armour articulate what it is they wanted to achieve. In the community, the open platform that we built was not only a great platform, but also allowed us to think about what was next in these components that we were missing, like nutrition. We had the opportunity with an unbelievable leader in Mike Lee at MyFitnessPal to start a dialogue with him, and that alike at Endomondo, and start to fill in some of the pieces.

We basically looked at how we could bring all of those things together and fill in the buckets of those four areas where we could help the 140 million people that are on the platform. It was about articulating a story and then executing that vision.  That’s what we’ve been up to the last 24 months.

EH: What are the major trends that you’ve seen in the consumer digital wellness space as it’s been evolving quite rapidly? I’d also love to hear your insights and thoughts for the next three to five years.

RT: It’s still an evolving space and possibly the same partners of ours that go public and other people will raise more capital. There are certainly new players in the space coming into the market. The investment in the tech space, health tech space, is growing enormously fast. Those are all really good trends from the standpoint of many individuals, people that are active and thinking about getting active are much more aware of the tools and services on the technology side they can use to achieve those goals.

MapMyFitness started late 2006; we’re almost at the 10-year anniversary. The first 10 years was about collecting data, getting friction out of the system, making it easier and easier for people to collect that data so eventually we could use that data to help them better understand themselves in some ways and help them maybe achieve new goals.

That first cycle of collecting data is to build into the next layer, which is more automation, and the third component which is insights. That’s what you’re going to see over the next three to five years. Basic activity trackers become more like personal coaches with the combination of artificial intelligence and data. It’s exciting for the category because we have the opportunity to fundamentally change health, not only in the U.S., but also worldwide.

EH: What’s in the pipeline that you can share? I’ve heard that Under Armour is looking into creating another hardware device. Can you offer us a peek behind the curtain there?

RT: We’re certainly interested in expanding the partnerships that we have. We hope to remain an open community and integrate as many partners as we can. We’re excited about some of the new partnerships that we have coming on board, some we’ve already announced like HTC and others like will be coming shortly. But, the idea is for those hardware devices to plug into our platform and make it extremely meaningful for those end users and not necessarily having separate software form the hardware and having to go through multiple apps to connect and things like that.

We’re excited about the partnerships and categories of people that are coming to us, the brands that want to work with us, to continue evolving this proactive health and fitness growth that the whole space is seeing. We have many new features, especially social coming to the platform.  But, what we’re seeing is to drive more activity because fundamentally our whole goal as a brand is basically to get people more active. The more people work out, not only do they feel better because they create loyalty with the brand, but also they’re going to buy more products too. So that’s a net result of helping them and getting them to stay better

EH: Great, thank you so much for your time today, Robin.  

Hear more from Under Armour’s Chief Digital Officer, Robin Thurston at the 9th Annual Health 2.0 Fall Conference. He will be a speaker on “The New Consumer Health Ecosystem”. Purchase your tickets here!

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