GymPact vs Beeminder

Wednesday, August 1, 2012
By dreeves

Beeminder vs GymPact, Spy vs Spy style

[UPDATE: GymPact (later Pact App) sadly shut down in 2017.]

If we were nervous about our competitors — and we’re not — we might be most nervous about GymPact. GymPact is currently an iPhone app (UPDATE: Android as well now) that pays you money for going to the gym, funded by the slackers who failed to get themselves off the couch. But they just raised almost a million dollars of funding and changed their name to Pact, Inc with the intention to expand beyond incentivizing gym usage.

You’re literally betting on your own success and the people who lose fund the people who win.

GymPact’s business model is one we thought we’d try for Beeminder at one point: You’re literally betting on your own success and the people who lose fund the people who win. We shied away from that in part because of the adverse selection problem. The adverse selection, in GymPact’s case, is that gym rats — people who go to the gym every day anyway — will be especially incentivized to sign up. Even worse is that you can make money by cheating. For example, you could hack your iPhone so it reports that you’re living at the gym. Last we checked that was especially easy: you self-report your gym’s location, meaning you could enter the address of your favorite bar. (We’re not suggesting this is a dealbreaker for GymPact’s model.)

We don’t have that problem with Beeminder since your only reward is being awesome and reaching the end of your yellow brick road. (And getting our pretty graphs and bot reminders and data import/export and whatnot for free — I guess that’s nothing to sneeze at!) But that means it has zero appeal to cheaters and weaselers, which is why we’re able to be generous about what counts as a legitimate derailment without it inviting abuse.

Speaking of perverse incentives, we’re often asked about our own. It seems that from the perspective of those paying us, Beeminder is providing a ton of value and a ton of motivation and the occasional cost of derailment is a fair fee for Beeminder’s service. In that sense it’s almost natural that the fee is waived for people who never go off track. Those people evidently didn’t really need Beeminder in the first place.

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  • Caleb

    Interesting article.

    I disagree with you on one thing – Gympact does veto the locations you checkin as a gym. If you checkin to your house, the team will see that and will disregard your location.

  • Steven

    So how is the division between stayers and quitters? If this business model works, does it not mean the burn or burn method does not work, or is not powerfull enough than any other method where the results will move towards a bell curve..?

    Since the stayers can’t earn anything if there are no quitters, you basically depend on the quitters, shouldn’t the real goal be to convert the mass of users to a stayer through this behavioural science?

    The participants might be betting on their own success, but the company is betting on the failure of others it seems… Reminds me of some other practices..

    Correct me if you think I’m approaching it through the wrong angle if there is one..

  • Daniel Reeves

    That’s definitely the most common objection we hear. I think having been around 5 years now is maybe our best counterargument. We’d have to be super myopic to try to make money by causing derailments. Empirically we make the most money from people who are getting the most value out of Beeminder, as you’d expect with any business. I’m not sure how well this analogy works but I think I heard it from a user defending us somewhere: Do you worry that your doctor’s incentives are to keep you as sick as possible so you keep needing their services?

    Anyway, more thoughts about the seeming perversity of our business model here:

    Thanks for asking about it!

  • lifeofmatt

    >Do you worry that your doctor’s incentives are to keep you as sick as possible so you keep needing their services?

    This is a frequent worry with modern medicine and something I do worry about. I think that these incentives have a lot to do with why we focus on treatment instead of prevention.

  • Steven

    Thanks for your reply, it slipped my mind but..

    I think being around for over 5 years only proves that the model works, not that the approach is the best one, or the ‘ethically right’ one, nor that the burn or burn method does any better than any other method..

    I don’t suggest you make money by causing derailing.. I think you make money by counting on human nature and the fact that there will be derailing.. This systems obviously works for some people so if the question is will the users of the product really miss it if its gone, than sure you are solving a problem in a valuable way so keep at it.

    I’m also not judging whether what you do with your business is right or not, or ethical or not, but I do question it.. What actually matter is the question if there might be better ways to use behavioral science to help also the people that are more prone to not sticking to their intended behavior, so we address the cause. My opinion is you should also focus on addressing the cause in addition to what you are already doing. One one side you make money from those who cannot follow up, but you also focus on improving their follow up rate… I think that should be the combination.. not just the first part.

    For your doctor analogy, and to agree with @lifeofmatt:disqus I don’t worry doctors incentives are to keep us sick, I worry doctors field of expertise and viewpoint is too narrow and focused on only what is taught to them and by who and on treating symptoms instead of finding causes and treating the root cause.. Which is most certainly more difficult and if successful will cause the client not coming back as often and not purchasing patented symptom relievers..

    So my goal of my comment is to have you think about it as well, you already have a running business and are reaching people. Why not think about other methods to further help those that are more prone to not sticking to their habits.. Some research into Nir Eyal’s work might be a good start.