Fitness guru with an eye on a healthy profit

UK businesses are doing their bit to counter the increasing levels of obesity among the British workforce, says entrepreneur Paul Landau.

Mr Landau is the founder of Fitbug.com, an online health and wellbeing service which uses an interactive tracking device to help people lose weight and improve their fitness.

The Fitbug is a pedometer-style gadget that fits inside a pocket or clips on to a belt and counts the number of steps taken and calories burned. Each week, users log on to the website to track their progress to receive health updates and new targets, including a healthy eating plan.

Launched in 2005, the concept was initially aimed at consumers, but Mr Landau realised there was a greater opportunity among corporate clients, wanting to use Fitbug to measure the general health of their workforce. The company now has around 25,000 clients - 75 per cent of them corporate. They include Tesco, BP, O2, Ford, Sport England and Channel 4.

"Until recently, I think many companies just wanted to tick the box and say: ‘Yes, we are doing something healthy for our staff'. But now most companies recognise that having healthier staff has real business benefits," says Mr Landau, 33.

"Healthier staff have less sickness absence and are more productive, so there is a real return of investment that you can show. The traditional thing for companies to do was to get a discounted gym membership for their staff, but there is only a certain percentage of people that the gym appeals to. Many people out there are still afraid of exercise, lack motivation and need some hand-holding."

A self-confessed fitness fanatic, Mr Landau left management consultancy firm Accenture to start the company. He secured the £240,000 seed funding from ADDleisure, the AIM traded company formed to develop products and services in the health and wellness sector.

Its founders are some of the industry's best-known entrepreneurs: David Turner, co-founder of LA Fitness; Allan Fisher, founder of Holmes Place; and David Cummin, founder of the software company Membertrack.
"They took to the idea quite quickly, especially David Turner," says Mr Landau. "David recognised that one glove doesn't fit all and that there needed to be other solutions to help those people who didn't want to work out but knew they should be improving their lifestyles. Both Davids bought into the Fitbug concept fairly quickly and then David Turner sent me off to meet Allan Fisher to get his viewpoint."

Bupa are now 50 per cent shareholders in Fitbug and offer the service to selected clients who come in for health checks. Insurance company PruHealth is also a partner.

PruHealth members who use Fitbug can earn points and get discounts on their premiums each year. This contract has recently been extended by a further five years - taking the partnership through to 2014.
Mr Laundau admits he did not anticipate how significant the corporate market would become. "I thought: ‘Why were we going after the gym-goers who already exercise when there are probably 90 per cent of people out there who don't or haven't made the jump to do something about it yet?' Those people who knew they should be doing more but didn't really know where to start.

"I figured there had to be a more realistic alternative for people."

Mr Landau started getting approached by major companies. "It was around the time that the obesity epidemic was starting to get into the press," he said. "I was always confident about the concept but probably didn't realise how important the B2B channel would become."

The programme is being piloted by Bradford & Airedale Primary Care Trust, where around 200 obese patients are on the scheme. Six months in, there has been a reduction in patient prescription levels. Mr Landau hopes to get other PCTs on board and is also working with gyms, including Israel-based Holmes Place International, which will use Fitbug technology.

Growing up in Hendon, North London, Mr Landau lives in Hampstead.

    Last updated: 2:48pm, September 11 2008