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Fitbit CEO James Park Explains Why Your Fitbit Won't End Up in the Junk Drawer

Fitbit sees opportunity in corporate wellness programs and health devices.

Asa Mathat

Fitbit Chief Executive James Park has figured out how to stop customers from leaving their fitness bands in junk drawers: Peer pressure.

In addition to tracking steps and sleep habits, the Fitbit incorporates social features that let the wearer encourage or compete with friends in the quest to live a healthier, more active life.

“The social engagement that happens on top of the data is incredibly powerful,” Park said in an interview Thursday at the Code/Mobile conference at The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif. “With every friend, your activity level increases. You end up walking 500 to 1,000 more steps a day.”

In a wide-ranging discussion, Park assessed the competitive threat of the Apple Watch, which debuted in the No. 2 spot in the global wearables market this spring; how Fitbit’s bands are used within corporations to promote a healthier workforce; and whether future Fitbit products might veer in the direction of medical devices.

The eight-year-old company shattered Wall Street expectations in its first public quarter, posting a second-quarter profit of 21 cents per share on $400 million in revenue. Analysts had expected more modest earnings of eight cents a share on $319 million in revenue for the June quarter.

Meanwhile, it sold some 4.5 million wearable devices in its first public quarter, a significant boost over the 1.7 million it sold at the same time a year ago.

“Consumers spend over $200 billion on health and fitness every year,” Park said, in addressing the entry of the new wearable rival from Cupertino. “With $200 billion spent, there’s clearly opportunity for more than one company to be successful.”

Park said his company may go where no fitness-band maker has gone before: Developing a health device that would require the regulatory approval of the Food and Drug Administration. He said he sees opportunity in developing devices that help monitor glucose levels or blood pressure.

“It’s going to be fun for me figuring this out, in concert with regulatory agencies,” Park said.

In the near term, Fitbit’s devices are being incorporated into corporate wellness programs at BP and at Target. These major employers see this as an opportunity to reduce stress and absenteeism. But Fitbit will only work with companies that offer the fitness bands as part of a voluntary program where employee privacy is safeguarded.

“We will only work with companies who agree to work with aggregated data,” Park said.

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