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We speak to founder Nezar Al Saleh on how months and years of planning helped HOT Technologies not only be pandemic-proof, but resilient enough to be one of the few Arabic e-fitness apps and landing a $1.1 million investment in the midst of a global crisis.
Let me personally attest that one of the most pressing qualms I had when the Corona lockdown started was that maintaining any semblance of ‘healthy living’ quickly got out of hand. Binge-eating became less of a quirk, and, well, a way of life. The 30-day yoga challenge quickly became a two-day fail. And, of course gyms, were out of the question.
Despite hailing from the Zoomer generation, it took quite longer than I would’ve expected to arrive at the most obvious alternative: fitness apps. The phenomenon isn’t new, but still, it took a pandemic to really wrap one’s head around the idea that these platforms can be the Holy Grail answer to staying fit - with the added benefit of doing so within the confines of your home.
HOT Technologies (Healthy Online Training), a Kuwaiti-based e-fitness startup that offers bilingual fitness content for all exercising levels, saw the opportunity in stretching the MENA region’s e-fitness landscape. “After running a physical gym called ‘The Burrow’ for a few years, I realised I’m not just hooked on exercise, but I’m equally passionate about helping people achieve their individual goals,” founder, Nezar Al Saleh, tells Startup Scene. “By leveraging the latest in tech, and carefully curating content, we really believe in helping users across MENA, and beyond, to live their best life. A HOT life.”
From day one, HOT was intended to be a harbinger of e-fitness in Kuwait, before then trickling out into the rest of the MENA region. In light of the Coronavirus crisis, the fitness scene had to go through some ultimatums: shutting down until it was safe to spring back up (evidently that took about four and a half months), or to pseudo-pivot to offer online classes or live-streamed workouts. In HOT, there was a ready-made solution.
“The obstacle course we had to maneuver was mostly helping users realise how easy and simple it was to use an e-fitness app,” Al Saleh points out. “The pandemic definitely accelerated the move. People were aware of the platforms, but now they became truly clued-up on the benefits of online training. HOT’s features were specifically catering to keep the regional fitness community on their toes and motivated.”
That ripple effect of digitally overhauling on-ground activities was, to say the least, widespread - both regionally and globally. E-commerce boomed, edutech soared and fintech skyrocketed. Basically anything with ‘tech’ as an affix had a field day. When it came to e-fitness, however, only 46% of respondents to a MENA survey by Statista in May 2020 stated that they would consider using a health and fitness app. It comes as little surprise, when you consider the seeming homogeneity of fitness apps found on an app store and when you consider that these apps are all English-language.
The region needed a ‘by us, for us’ solution that’s nuanced and localised - not a Californian app that’s ushering you to the nearest Wholefoods to find all the ingredients for your healthy meal prep. These apps, while definitely great in their own right and within their intended domains, are offering an experience that’s just entirely foreign - not just in language, but in all the features entailed, too.
“We’re heralding this new platform, with all these new features and services, and Kuwait and the GCC are still being introduced to the possibilities of it all,” adds Al Saleh. “We are the first movers in the region in the live online fitness category, and we’ll continue to develop our services to help regional users familiarise themselves with e-fitness, and achieve their goals.”
And it seems to be working. According to Al Saleh, the app has seen unprecedented growth during the pandemic, which led to a $1.1 million investment in seed funding from a regional roster of angel investors in July 2020. Al Saleh intends to use the investment to help HOT scale to on-board more coaches, not just from Kuwait, but from all across MENA, and ultimately have a holistic platform that becomes a go-to for Arab users
“We launched our Beta version in December 2018, and the market-ready version in October 2019,” notes Al Saleh. “So while we did not launch in the pandemic, it was definitely a compounded amount of work that helped us not only hastily react to such an unparalleled global crisis, but to scale in spite of it.”
You can download HOT Technologies on the app store right here.
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