Peloton is an American exercise equipment and media company that was founded in 2012 by John Foley, Graham Stanton, Hisao Kushi, Tom Cortese and Yony Feng. Headquartered in New York City, Peloton initially made a name for itself by selling high-end stationary bikes with built-in touchscreens that allowed riders to join live and on-demand cycling classes streamed from the company’s fitness studio.
Over the years, Peloton expanded it’s product portfolio to include other fitness equipment like treadmills, while also building out a massive library of online workout classes across different fitness categories. The company pioneered the concept of bringing boutique studio classes into the home and developed a loyal community of users.
However, while Peloton experienced meteoric growth in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as at-home workouts became necessary, it has struggled more recently as demand has slowed with the reopening of gyms. The company has had to grapple with high costs, supply chain challenges, inventory build-ups and slowing sales.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at Peloton’s founding, innovative products, cultural impact, pandemic growth spurt and recent financial troubles.
Founding Story and Products
Peloton was founded in 2012 by a group of five individuals – John Foley, Graham Stanton, Hisao Kushi, Tom Cortese and Yony Feng. John Foley, who served as the company’s CEO for nearly a decade, first came up with the idea for Peloton after realizing the limitations of outdoor cycling classes he was taking in New York City. He envisioned bringing the energy and competition of studio cycling classes into the home.
The company’s first product, launched in 2014, was the Peloton Bike – a stationary bike priced at over $2,000 with a built-in 21.5” HD touchscreen for streaming on-demand and live cycling classes. With the bike’s built-in sensors, riders could track metrics like cadence, resistance and heart rate which instructors could see in real-time.
This interactive technology allowed Peloton instructors to guide and motivate riders during classes in a uniquely engaging way. The bikes also fostered community, with riders able to see profiles and performance metrics of other participants.
In 2018, Peloton launched a treadmill product for at-home running and bootcamp classes. And over the years, the company has significantly expanded it’s class library beyond just cycling and running to include strength training, yoga, meditation, stretching and more.
Developing a Cult Following
A big part of Peloton’s success has been the cult-like following it has developed among it’s users. As more consumers bought the equipment and signed up for class subscriptions, an engaged and growing community was built around the brand.
Peloton understands the importance of building community to boost engagement and retention. Users are encouraged to create profiles, follow each other for motivation and accountability, celebrate milestones together through the class shoutouts from instructors and more.
Many credit the charismatic instructors carefully curated by Peloton for attracting such devout fans. Top instructors like Robin Arzón, Cody Rigsby, Tunde Oyeneyin and Ally Love have garnered large fanbases through their unique styles, motivating messages and genuine relationships with riders.
These star instructors along with Peloton’s production quality and music licensing partnerships make classes entertaining and addictive. The communal motivation and accountability keeps users coming back. Many members talk about their Peloton workouts with an almost religious zeal.
Growth During the Pandemic
When COVID-19 hit the United States in early 2020, gym closures forced people to work out from home. Stuck in lockdowns, many consumers turned to Peloton as a way to stay active and sane.
The company saw an incredible surge in demand over the course of 2020 – it’s annual revenues more than doubled year-over-year and it’s stock price exploded over 400%. Equipment sales skyrocketed, class subscriptions grew rapidly, workouts per subscriber increased sharply and the Peloton became a status symbol product with lengthy waitlists and shipping delays.
Beyond just selling gear, Peloton played an important role during the pandemic in providing a physical and mental health outlet for many. It’s uplifting messages of resilience during live classes acted as therapy during an incredibly uncertain and anxious time. The company executed well operationally to capitalize on the unexpected demand spike despite major supply chain bottlenecks.
For a while, it felt like Peloton could do no wrong. The at-home fitness movement it helped pioneer was suddenly seeing rapid adoption across the mainstream consumer market. But this astronomical pandemic growth was ultimately unsustainable.
Recent Financial Struggles
Coming off the highs of 2020’s stay-at-home fitness boom, Peloton has crashed hard over the past year as consumer demand has slowed with COVID-19 restrictions ending. Excess inventory has piled up, substantial losses have been recorded and drastic actions have been required to right-size the struggling business.
In response to softened sales, Peloton attempted to stimulate demand by cutting prices on equipment by 15-20%. But this only angered existing customers that paid full-price while simultaneously hurting revenues and margins. Efforts to sell equipment faster have largely backfired.
Making matters worse, the return to normalcy has hurt subscription growth. Churn has edged upwards as subscribers have cancelled memberships or paused accounts after going back to using their gyms or in-studio classes. Peloton also shot itself in the foot with some strategic missteps that have turned off customers like requiring membership fees and discontinuing free access to class libraries for customers not on paid plans. Significant investments in costly new product development projects like Peloton’s upcoming rowing machine have also raised concerns.
All of these issues finally came to a head in early 2022. In February, Peloton’s stock crashed over 20% in a single day on the heels of the company announcing lackluster quarterly subscriber and revenue growth along with these elevated churn rates. Weeks later, revelations surfaced about tragic injuries and the death of child related to Peloton’s treadmill product. Peloton saw another 25% value wiped out in 24 hours as a result.
After limping through 2022, things only got uglier. The company has resorted to pausing all manufacturing of new equipment, halting planned warehouse expansions, withdrawing sales outlooks, testing price increases, exploring bankruptcy protections, cutting thousands of jobs and seeking a sale to performance improvement firm UnitedHealth for pennies on it’s IPO dollar. Peloton has had to drastically scale back bloated operations that were built for a level of demand unlikely to ever return. It’s been a remarkable fall from grace for a company once viewed as a pandemic darling.
Pros and Cons
|Pioneered connected fitness space with engaging, motivational classes and instructors
|Initially overinvested based on unsustainable, pandemic-fueled growth
|Built loyal community that keeps users engaged and accountable
|Excess inventory and lowering demand leading to financial troubles
|High production quality content across different fitness categories
|Missteps like membership fee requirements and removal of free class content library access
|Innovative technology allows for real-time motivation and tracking during classes
|Supply chain issues and manufacturing pauses hurting ability to meet demand
|Provided important physical/mental health outlet during COVID-19 pandemic
|Safety issues related to treadmill product resulting in injuries and child death
|Strong brand recognition and large existing subscriber base
|High churn as customers return to gyms or in-studio classes
|Leading market share in growing connected fitness industry
|Uncertain post-pandemic consumer fitness trends and competition
|Opportunities to expand through corporate partnerships and digital apps
|Rocky transition to new management after CEO/founder ousted
What’s Next for Peloton?
Looking ahead, there is still hope Peloton can turn itself around and return to growth – albeit at a more modest scale.
It remains a widely recognizable brand with an enormous existing base of 2.9 million subscribers. And even amidst widespread erosion, the connected fitness space appears here to stay. While gyms have reopened, many consumers have formed lasting habits around working out from home that won’t fully reverse. Customers also continue pointing to Peloton’s superior content and community features not replicated elsewhere. Leaner and humbler, perhaps the company can better realign with post-pandemic fitness realities.
Peloton could stand to benefit from evolving it’s business model towards a more Netflix-like software focus. Transitioning further from primarily selling hardware to subscriptions might allow sustainable monetization from it’s hardcore user base without high equipment volumes. Reassessing pricing, doubling down on digital apps and potential studio expansions could also help. Rumored corporate partnerships to place bikes in hotels and apartment complexes may additionally boost reach.
Under new management after the surprise ousting of long-time CEO and chairman John Foley earlier this year, Peloton will need to stay agile. Significant unknowns around demand trends, market positioning, financial restructurings and competitive responses still loom. But by keeping costs contained and staying laser-focused on it’s core value proposition that resonated so strongly with early adopters, perhaps Peloton can pedal ahead.
Peloton pioneered a new category of connected fitness equipment and content that attracted a loyal community of users with its immersive cycling and running classes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company saw astronomical growth as consumers were stuck at home searching for at-home workout options. However, Peloton overestimated the staying power of pandemic demand surges and over-invested in inventory, warehouses, manufacturing capabilities that ultimately weren’t sustainable. As gyms reopened in 2022 and sales stalled, the company faced substantial losses, job cuts, production halts, and other financial troubles.
Under new leadership after the ousting of its CEO and amidst explorations of a sale, Peloton now aims to right-size itself to profitability at a smaller scale focused on its hardcore user base rather than fade to irrelevance. If the company can get back to its roots of providing uniquely motivational interactive workout experiences fueled by tightly-knit community features, while evolving the business model to depend less on equipment sales, perhaps it can pedal ahead as connected fitness maintains a role in the post-pandemic world. But after its remarkable rise and rapid fall from pandemic darling to troubled turnaround, plenty of uncertainties and challenges around consumer demand, competitive positioning, and Peloton’s stability remain.
Peloton is a fitness technology company that sells connected exercise equipment (primarily bikes and treadmills) paired with live-streaming and on-demand workout classes. Riders and runners receive real-time metrics and motivation from instructors during the classes.
The original Peloton Bike retails for $1,445 but frequently goes on sale. The higher-end Peloton Bike+ costs $2,495. Treadmills range from $2,845 to $4,295. Financing options are available to offset the large upfront costs.
The Peloton membership ($44/month in the US) provides unlimited access to Peloton’s live and on-demand class libraries including cycling, running strength, yoga, meditation, bootcamp classes and more. Members also gain access to performance tracking metrics.
You can use Peloton equipment without a membership, but won’t have access to classes. The membership provides the real value of experiencing Peloton classes and instructors. Most customers purchase a package with equipment and membership included.
Yes, the Peloton app is available as a standalone digital membership for $12.99/month. This provides access to the full class catalog for remote use, just without the unique live connectivity and performance tracking with Peloton equipment.
As of August 2022, Peloton has approximately 2.97 million connected fitness subscribers. Subscriber growth slowed as demand softened in 2022 amidst gym reopenings.