I'm sure you saw the site announcement about SparkPeople closing, so I wanted to share some comments from my perspective:
First, thanks for your support. We've been doing SparkPeople for about 20 years, and it's been an incredible journey working to transform lives and build an amazing community of people supporting each other. Thanks so much for being part of this mission. It wouldn’t have been possible without you believing in our program and then spreading the spark.
The article (www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=2659
hits on what's been going on with us, but I'll share part of it in my own words:
* We have always wanted to provide a free resource for people to lose weight and reach goals in all areas of life. It's amazing we've been able to do this for 20 years.
* In addition to the many millions of dollars I invested into the company, we primarily earned revenues from advertisers and a much, much smaller amount from consumer subscriptions
* For the past 5 years or so, doing ad sales has gotten MUCH harder with the giant tech
companies soaking up most of the ad sales. This has led to even really large ad-supported publishers having trouble staying in business, and many of those publishers have had to sell to other companies at fire-sale prices. Consumer subscriptions also haven't gained much traction for us. This issue could have threatened the survival of our company.
* But, a couple of years ago we started offering services to companies and organizations to help keep their employees healthy and other services. With this business model, the companies themselves pay us directly. This business is going really well for us, has very promising growth and we're getting great financial and health results with our client companies and their employees. Honestly, this has made life less stressful for me and our team on the business side. Our focus on companies and organizations is a reason why you might see the option to select your company on the new platform. Note that you don't have to be involved with a company to use the new platform. The new platform is free for anyone in the US to join. Ultimately, this business has more potential for us to eventually be able to devote even more resources to build our tech platform in the future.
* For this business, we had to build a separate tech platform because there is a bunch of behind-the-scenes functionality and we needed to appeal to a broader type of audience than on SP.
* At the same time, we wanted to be able to open up this platform so we still have a free offering to help people reach their goals. Unfortunately, we can't maintain the expense of two tech platforms including salary costs to keep multiple platforms updated and large costs for a company to "host" sites/apps. For reference, Our annual expenses for SparkPeople are in the millions of dollars.
* One part I'm really excited about is that, in developing the new tech platform, we came up with new software called SparkCoach. Originally, this was intended to appeal to a broader audience, but then we realized that it may end up being a better weight loss solution than food tracking. Partly because of this, our new platform might end up being a better weight loss/weight maintenance solution than SparkPeople (it will take work to get there, but this is how we’re spending a good chunk of our time now). This will include adding a food tracker to the new platform and then community features as well. It drives me nuts not having community features available yet. To answer LIVELYROSIE's point below, SparkPoints will also be added to the new platform -- likely a better version than on SP now :).
* Another newer feature on the new platform is the Fitness Game. For this feature, I used the exact same process I used for my own fitness tracking and turned that into software with our team. This software helps people focus on both consistency with a 10-minute fitness goal and also tracks your daily average minutes. This regularly motivates me to do things like get on the exercise bike to keep my 10-minute streak, but then the daily average minute tracking makes it like a game to stay on the bike longer. Or it motivates me to take a walk with my dog late in the day when I'm feeling tired. I've done this hundreds of times and haven't once regretted taking Flash for a walk.
* I do know that even with this new option, there are some real issues with this transition like tracking data, blogs, and our international members. We've had so many tech projects for the new business that focuses on organizations in the U.S. that we haven't been able to do the legal expense and tech work to open the site up beyond the U.S. I'm really sorry we can't make this all super smooth for everyone. There is real pain with these trade-offs.
* I have been overwhelmed working on some of this new software and details of the business, but everything continues to go really well after my surgery about 2.5 years ago. This has been a crazy ride, but I’m more committed than ever to do my best to help other people reach their most meaningful goals and so is our team. Especially the team who works on SparkPeople like Denise, Merle, and Jen, there have been near-tears about this announcement. I’ve tried to stay focused on doing what we can to keep building the new solution, but it’s an emotional change for me too. Even as we’ve done much better as a business by helping companies and their employees, a motivator in my head has been to use this momentum to also help consumers.
* Finally, as part of SparkCoach, I will be writing highlight blogs on the new platform as well. Here is an example from yesterday: portal.spark360.com/HealthyLiving/Blog/SparkGuy/1426
So thanks again for helping keep the spark alive. We hope you'll join us in this next chapter, and bear with us as we build the new platform and add features. We truly believe that in the the long run, we are creating something better that will reach even more people and help them reach their goals.
Added 6/8: People have asked a logical question: “Why didn’t we share that our former business model wasn’t working well so they could have helped?” The reality is that we’ve had a consumer subscription service for 5+ years and honestly it hasn’t done nearly as well as we hoped. Next, we have no doubt that some of our incredibly passionate community members would have helped if we had asked them to subscribe to this service to increase our revenues. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of our total users are passionate community members, so doing the math we knew this wasn’t a viable solution to stay in business from generating enough revenues to cover our expenses.
Working directly with companies ended up being a very viable solution. And like I mentioned, this solution lets us still have a way to help individuals too in ways that may eventually be better than the current SP site/app though I know it will take us a while to get to that point especially with some types of features like community.
Added 6/8 #2: We just got confirmation that a food tracker will be launched to the Spark360/SparkAmerica platform by August 15. It will include all nutrients. We've been working to build this for a while. A food tracker and SparkCoach are meant to work well together. I've been spending a lot of time working on this personally.
Added 6/8 #3: I want to address a point mentioned by some people: We are pretty sure that someone accessed the article in an unusual way (i'm not going to share details -- it wasn't nefarious, but we didn't intentionally or accidentally release it) and then started sharing it over the weekend. Our team convened over the weekend when we heard about this and made sure we moved the plan forward as early as we could on Monday to alert everyone including me publishing my blog shortly after (I'm 3 hours behind them). So we were bummed that happened, but worked to move forward once we saw what happened. We do understand all the frustration though.