Leveraging their economic and medical backgrounds, the C-suite of Fitness Cubed aims to change the way people work and live
“People telling you that they’re willing to buy something versus actually putting down money is very different,” says Arnav Dalmia, CEO of Fitness Cubed LLC. The University of Chicago-educated economist founded Fitness Cubed, along with fellow University of Chicago alumni Shivani Jain, who also graduated with a bachelors in economics, and Ryota Sekine, who earned a degree in immunology at the highly rated institution. (University of Chicago is ranked third in National Universities by U.S. News & World Report.)
Dalmia had a dilemma. He had come up with a product idea that could drastically improve the lives of time-starved executives, entrepreneurs and really anyone who spends a good bit of their time in a chair. Dalmia was also getting strong encouragement from his mentors to start a business based on this product idea. But Dalmia and his friends had other promising futures ahead of them, and he didn’t want to risk those futures until he had solid financial proof that it was a solid business idea.
They found that financial proof at Kickstarter. “We had a goal going in of $80,000,” says Fitness Cubed CMO Jain. “By the end of our six-week campaign, we raised about $300,000. This was approximately 3.5 times our raise, and we were actually the most funded campaign in Chicago that year.
What was the product that generated all that revenue? A desk exercise machine called the Cubii that is designed to reduce barriers to an active lifestyle for working adults.
Dalmia concedes that the Cubii isn’t the first under-desk exerciser, but he believes it’s a disrupter because it’s the first under-desk exerciser to deliver a superior experience for modern desk jockeys. “In terms of customer expectations in today’s world, it’s changing drastically compared to where we were a couple of years back,” Dalmia says. “The entire brand experience is starting to pick up more importance. Look at what’s happening at companies in apparel, footwear and men’s shaving.
“All of them have started to focus on the whole brand experience,” he continues. “That’s really what a lot of these other kind of pedal exercisers or under-desk exercisers were lacking. So we saw an opportunity to take something that is clunky and looks old and looks kind of archaic and bring it up to today’s day and age.”
Dalmia did see more modern options in related products, such as standing desks and treadmill desks. But he didn’t think they were necessarily the answer for exercise in the workplace. “I saw this trend where people were switching over to standing desks and treadmill desks,” Dalmia recalls. “I thought to myself that is not the best possible solution. It’s cumbersome. Changing your desk and cubicle and office furniture is not an easy exercise.”
Standing desks don’t fully address the sedentary issue, and treadmill desks face an uphill battle for corporate approvals because they are costly, often have a noise level either from the machine or the person’s steps that is disruptive, and are difficult to install or remove from the workplace.
Fitness Cubed COO Sekine explains, “So initially when we designed the Cubii, we made it specifically for the workplace.” Dalmia adds, “The first thing we kept in mind was the cost of the product, making it such that an individual could purchase it by themselves without the need to ask for any financial support from the company. Most companies do help their employees if they’re interested in buying a product like this, but we wanted to keep the price low enough so that people could buy the Cubii on their own without getting a reimbursement.
“The second thing was ease and portability of implementing the device,” he continues, “making it such that it is something that you can easily slide under your desk. It doesn’t interrupt your entire work setting as opposed to a standing desk or a treadmill desk where it’s not really easy to go back to your original cubicle setup. The Cubii’s design makes it easy for HR departments to test out with their employees because everything else in the employees’ offices and cubicles remain the same, including their desks and chairs.
“Lastly, we wanted to include the ability to track how a user is performing,” Dalmia explains. “This is something that HR cares a lot about. Most companies want a return on their investments. They want to easily see if they’ve invested in these devices that their employees are actually using them to be healthier, which can result in real productivity gains as healthier employees often take fewer sick days.”
North Star is to improve lives
“For me, Cubii is part of something that goes back to my childhood,” Jain says. “Because I grew up in India, this idea of giving back is just part of my development as a person. I used to always spend summers teaching at underprivileged schools. Similarly in college, I interned with the Clinton Foundation, which was great exposure to the kinds of problems that organizations are trying to solve. So I am always seeking ways to give back.
“We have tons of customers who have said, ‘We bought a treadmill machine and that is just our laundry hanger now,’” Jain recalls. “We are making a fitness product that people don’t dread.”
For Dalmia, the company’s mission goes back to his family. “I grew up in a family where I had seen my parents and grandparents undergo health challenges because they were not moving much,” he explains. “My parents were entrepreneurs, and I noticed that health was taking a back seat in pursuit of that entrepreneurial dream. And in my opinion, these goals should not have been mutually exclusive to one another. I felt that there needs to be a way where someone should be able to do their regular work—because that’s important—but at the same time take care of their health.”
This is a dream shared by Sekine. He adds, “My work with Cubii is really a natural extension of my earlier dream of becoming a physician. And I feel like that transition has gone very smoothly. I’m able to affect the lives of millions of people right now. And that’s what drives me every day.”
The next stage of their mission? To build upon Cubii’s success as an under-desk device for U.S.-based workers with a new machine that brings the health benefits of its smooth elliptical action to an older set of home-based shoppers and expand distribution of all products internationally.