Fitbit CEO: Wearable tech isn't one size fits all

Wearable technology startup CEO James Park says during an interview at the LeWeb conference that there is plenty of room for more wearable companies and products in the market.

Fitbit CEO and co-founder James Park sits down for an interview that was webcast at the LeWeb conference in Paris in December 2013. Screenshot by Roger Cheng/CNET

One size doesn't fit all when it comes to wearable technology, said James Park, CEO and co-founder of fitness tracking wearable technology FitBit.

Speaking at the LeWeb conference in Paris on Wednesday, Park said that there is no single killer device in wearable technology. He implied that there is still plenty of room for devices such as Google Glass, Pebble's smartwatch, and its own lasted product, the Fitbit Force, a fitness sensor that doubles as a watch.

"Google Glass and other wearables like smartwatches are great," he said. "But for wearables, no one size fits all. They each serve different needs. Google Glass is different from a smartwatch."

Park said that the new Fitbit Force is not trying to compete with smartwatches. He sees Fitbit's focus on finding different ways in which people may want to wear technology for tracking activity and sleep, such as on a wrist or on a bra. He said that Fitbit also offers products in different price points from affordable to more expensive products to fit different customers' needs.

He said that Fitbit's particular niche is focused on health and wellness. And that is where he expects the company, which earlier this year raised an additional $43 million from venture backers Softbank Capital, Qualcomm Ventures, and SAP Ventures, to continue to focus.Where the company can expand and innovate is in developing better sensor technology and more intelligent software that can do something useful with the data collected.

He said the latest round of funding will be used to hire more employees and expand the company's business internationally. Fitbit currently employs about 220 people, most of whom are in San Francisco. The company, which started in 2007, launched its first product in 2009. Initially, the devices could only be bought through Fitbit's Web site. But now the products are available in more than 30,000 stores in 27 countries.

Park said he hopes to keep expanding this presence globally, but that takes money. Park said the company has raised a total of about $66.5 million in just over 6.5 years. But he wishes he had raised more in the beginning.

"It's more difficult and more expensive to start a hardware company than to build software and apps," he said. "It takes a long to build products. And we only had $2.8 million in capital to start, which sounds like a lot, but it's not. When you're dealing with hardware, it doesn't leave a lot of room for mistakes."

Fitbit now offers five different devices, which range in price from about $60 to $130. The devices monitor and track how many steps users' take and calculates how many calories they burn. They also monitor how much sleep people get a night. Users can then study the data collected in an easy manner, which they can compare and share with others.

The hope is that people will use the information to make healthier choices. Indeed, simply logging activity does motivate many users. For example, Park said that after 12 weeks of using a Fitbit, people tend to increase their activity level by 30 to 40 percent. When they start adding social elements, like sharing data with friends, activity also increases.

"Weight Watchers is an analog form of tracking habits," he said. "Logging what you eat and your activity is nothing new. But it motivates us. So we aren't changing behavior with Fitbit, we are adding digital tools to make it easier and so it can be done transparently."

 

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