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Former Google search boss joins board of startup that wants to give you a coach with your wearable

You may not know GOQii, but you might know it's new board member.

Asa Mathat

Wearable fitness trackers have a nagging problem: People buy them, then toss them out. People are generally lazy.

GOQii, a startup based in California and India, believes it has cracked that. And now it has recruited a Silicon Valley big name for guidance as it prepares to enter the U.S.

Amit Singhal, the longtime executive atop Google’s search organization, is joining the board of GOQii, his first role since retiring from Google in February. GOQii builds a fitness tracker, but its main business is in the services alongside. In fact, it gives the tracker away for free — consumers then pay a monthly fee for certified “coaches” that work with them to hit fitness targets (i.e. lose weight, run a marathon). They can use the service with a number of different wearables, like those from Jawbone, Fitbit and Apple.

“Wearables are great but most people don’t know what to do with the data,” CEO Vishal Gondal said. “The problem we are solving is the problem with engagement.”

Like virtually every startup nowadays, GOQii is also using machine learning — advanced data-crunching of the measured activity. But they are also pairing this virtual intelligence with real-life motivation, something that Singhal said made him come on board.

“The big difference that I saw between what [Gondal] was doing and what many others have tried is that there is a human element to the process,” Singhal said.

Singhal and Gondal, both native Indians, met around five years ago. So far, GOQii has operated only in India. (Gondal wouldn’t share exact user numbers but said they are in “the high six digits.”*) But it plans to launch in the U.S. this month and in China “very soon,” said Gondal. Cheetah Mobile, the Chinese Internet company, is an investor.

Eventually, the startup could deploy its data in adjacent markets, like health insurance. Yet it is competing in a crowded field of medical and device companies, many of which are struggling to turn wearable computing into viable consumer businesses.

Its newest board member, Singhal, spent nearly 16 years at the helm of Google’s most viable business product, search. When he announced his retirement, speculation swirled that the 47-year-old would be heading somewhere else in tech. He assured me he was still “very much in retirement.” And he noted that he’s spending his time in another healthy practice.

“I’ve had more meals with my family in the past month than in a very long time,” he said.

*Update: An earlier version of the post noted that Gondal described GOQii user numbers in the “high five digits.” He intended to say six digits.

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