A search of exercise apps in the iTunes store gets thousands of results—be it HIIT, running, dance, or more niche categories like prenatal fitness, belly dancing, or “office yoga.” Tech has made working out a more personalized and convenient experience, giving users the boutique fitness studio experience from their living rooms. The rapidly growing market grew 330% between 2014 and 2017, and is expected to reach $27 billion by 2022.
And yet so many of these apps follow the same aesthetic formula: A mirrored-wall studio with hardwood floors, harsh fluorescent lighting, and uninspiring decor. Maybe there’s a medicine ball, sometimes a barre.
“Nothing really grabs you and makes you excited to work out,” says entrepreneur Mark Mullett, a former talent agent who found the available options rather uninspiring. “If you look at the fitness landscape, you quickly realize you can’t really tell the difference between an at-home fitness video from 1993, 2003, 2013, or today.”
In May 2018, Mullett and fellow Creative Artists Agency (CAA) alum Ashley Mills launched the Brooklyn-based Obé, an acronym for “our body electric.” The live-streaming and on-demand fitness platform offers a more design-centric experience with a focus on lighting, setting, even fashion. For a $27 monthly subscription, users access 14 daily classes, each boasting a color wheel of pastel and neon colors against a minimalist background. It feels like a mix between a Jane Fonda workout and the movie Tron, with a dash of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video.
“Our customer wants something different,” explains Mullett of his (mostly) millennial audience. “She wants something that that feels branded, that feels special–that evokes joy.”
Like many Angelenos, Mullett and Mills were obsessed with boutique fitness studios. The two CAA colleagues routinely found themselves dissecting everything about the L.A. exercise scene: Whose class did you take? What was the atmosphere? What music did they play? How was the instructor?
For a certain subset of wellness aficionados, class reviews can be as exciting as any Game of Thrones recaps.
It was during one of these talks that the two remarked that no app truly captured their favorite boutique studio experience. Why shouldn’t they–agents who represented lifestyle talent and networks like HGTV and the Food Network–give it a go? Their entire careers centered on bringing talent to the forefront of entertainment.“There was nothing that really spoke to us, that was a community that we could rally around, workouts that were as effective as they were fun and stimulating,” recalls Mills.
For inspiration, the duo reached back to a cultural moment where people were most excited to feel the burn: The Jane Fonda fitness video era (and to a lesser extent, Richard Simmons). The fitness heyday of the ’80s pushed spandex-clad women across the country to energetically lunge in their living rooms. At the height of her empire, Fonda sold hundreds of thousands of cassettes a year, occupying Billboard’s top 10 videocassette sales chart for 145 weeks. She sold 17 million copies total.
“Our moms worked out in the ’80s and they were always having a really, really great time,” says Mills.