“When you sit your activity level is only 4% higher than when you sleep,” said Ida Mänty, Head of Design and co-founder of Cuckoo Workout, when I met her along with fellow co-founder and CEO, Veera Lehmonen, at their office in Espoo. I decided not to correct them on that statement, my activity level is barely more than the average sloth and 4% sounded way to generous a figure. Thankfully they weren’t referring to me, but to the average office worker, which is the massive pool they are targeting with their fun, office based workout routines.
There are a number of sports and exercise based start-ups already out there focussed on providing a platform for sports enthusiasts of all types to engage with one another and encourage employee fitness. Cuckoo Workout are not one of these. Ida and Veera realised that if someone loves running or playing sports, they’re going to do that anyway, regardless of a work based program offering them incentives. The real group that needed reaching are those people that don’t go to the gym, that don’t run or play sports.
Working in an office environment and being seated the whole day can lead to a whole host of physical health problems; neck and shoulder pains, lower back problems, RSI in the wrists and fingers. Being seated and inactive for extended periods can bring on to some serious issues which Cuckoo Workout aim to combat with short burst of fun exercises that can be done at the desk throughout the day.
The idea came to Ida and Veera while they were working in an open office together as part of their internship for Laurea University of Applied Sciences. They’d come back from their summer holidays and began to get anxious about how passive they had become, just sitting around an office all day. So they began to set an alarm clock that would go off a few times a day, and whenever it went off everyone in the office would do jumping jacks.
Veera said, “We loved the idea, everyone loved it, slowly we could feel the energy return to the office. Inspired by the joy and energy brought by all the jumping and bouncing, we began to develop the service that was named after the cuckoo clock as Cuckoo Workout.”
The way the web-based service works is that companies purchase licenses to use Cuckoo Workout then receive a link which they send to employees to register personal accounts. Once set up those employees can create schedules for alarms that will go off during the working day to alert them that it is time to do some exercise. A maximum of three alarms can be set per day and when it goes off the website will display a short three minute video for them to exercise along to.
“These are not Jane Fonda type workout videos,” Ida emphatically said when I asked whether any of the videos would feature a voice over instructing you how to perform the required actions. While in their office conducting the interview Ida’s workout alarm went off and I was encouraged to join her and Veeda in an impromptu workout session and see one of their videos for myself. The video that played featured a young woman punching coconuts while heavy metal music played over the top. Jane Fonda this most definitely is not. If I didn’t already know I was dealing with a Finnish company, the heavy metal instrumental music would have guaranteed it.
While that can all sound a little surreal there is method to their madness. First of all, in regard to the exercises, Veera explained that, “After careful planning and professional consultation with our partner Sun Osteopatia we came up with a series of moves and motions to ease the day-to-day lives of ordinary office workers.”
Then to make the service more fun and reward Ida and Veera also added gamification elements. They told me how with each video watched and each exercise completed users of the service are awarded virtual coconuts and diamonds. Hence the woman punching coconuts.
Those coconuts act as points which accumulate, and the more gained, the higher a user's level goes. Every time they level up there will be a reward given in various forms. Sometimes new videos, which means new fun exercises, and sometimes new gifts. The gifts will come through partnerships with other companies, one part of the business that is still being developed. They have already brought Elixia on board who will be offering gym vouchers, so even the rewards encourage more exercise.
I also mentioned diamonds. Those are more like an in-game currency. You’ll be able to spend them to do different things within the service. Ida and Veera gave two examples, the first being to send messages within the service. They gave the example of sending messages of encouragement or congratulations to colleagues who are doing well. However if it was anything like the places I’ve worked at they would more likely be messages teasing and mocking the laziest teammates. Although that could just be because I’m British and that’s what our sense of humour is like.
The second example though I thought was hilarious. You can use the diamonds to buy virtual donuts. Now I’m sure your first thought was just like mine, that getting donuts as a reward for exercising seems counter-intuitive. However these aren’t donuts you buy for yourself, no you purchase them to send to other people. Stick with me, this does make sense and there’s a brilliantly twisted logic to it. You see you want to buy donuts to give to others because they’re unhealthy, so the person receiving the donut has coconuts knocked off their score.
That’s right, you can negatively affect another’s score through your own exercise. Suddenly the competitive nature of the platform takes on a new and brilliantly devious form. I was thinking of all the ways I’d mess with that system to wind up friends or colleagues and keep them from reaching their next level. Again, maybe that’s just because I’m British and most of our humour revolves around teasing and ‘banter’. However it ends up working out, it’s certainly a creative way to get people exercising.
Ida said, “If you notice it making you feel better, you use it.” Which is what they feel Cuckoo Workout is all about. Make people feel better about themselves by getting them out of their chairs and having a bit of fun a few times a day, with the added health benefits that come from moving and stretching muscles that might otherwise be slowly wasting away.
Right now Ida and Veera are looking for investment to take this platform and grow. With their partnership to Elixia already in place once they are established in Finland they plan to target Norway and Sweden where Elixia already have gyms. Then once their Nordic presence has been built up they can look to Western Europe and the US, taking advantage of both their fun platform, and the esteem and reputation that comes from being a successful Nordic brand.
They’ll also be with us at Arctic15, having booked themselves a demo booth and are looking to take advantage of the excellent opportunities to talk to investors and business angels. If you are going to be at Arctic15 then go and say hi to them, they’re very friendly. Although be warned they might try to make you join them should you happen to be around when the cuckoo clock goes off.
Right now the service is only in Finnish but will be live in English as well soon.
Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go and punch more coconuts so I can continue throwing donuts at my bosses.