Fitbit: From Startup to Global Digital Health Leader

James Park, Fitbit (@parkjames) + Jeff Clavier, Uncork Ventures (@jeff)

Focusing on Health

Fitbit has tracked over 95 billion steps. To put that in perspective, you could have walked to Pluto with the steps they’ve counted. James Park, founder and CEO of Fitbit has been at this for over 11 years. Almost every year, his role and responsibilities have completely changed, so he finds himself asking, “Am I still excited to come in every day even as my tasks change?” And the answer has always been a resounding YES.

Really? Nintendo Wii?

Once upon a time, Fitbit was simply an activity tracker – over the years they have become one of the tops players in the smart watch market. “We want to drive health outcomes for people.”

Surprisingly, the inspiration for the Fitbit came from none other than the Nintendo Wii. Park was fascinated by the Nintendo Wii, how they could make something so entertaining yet still provide healthy movement – turning gaming into something that was active and fun.

While Fitbit has always been and always will be focused on the consumer, there is so much impact they can have beyond the consumer, specifically in the healthcare ecosystem and people’s overall health. Starting meaningful integrations with companies like United Healthcare for programs that research types of physical activity and goals that lead to reduced cost savings.

“We did a data share agreement where people can get rewarded and compensated for hitting certain physical health goals.” Fitbit recently acquired Twine Health to boost the ambition of becoming a leader in health care tools. Having these types of integration can be powerful in giving consumers insight and guide them towards whatever health goal they hope to achieve.

The "Seatbelt" Vision"

Think about it, you don’t get into a car without instantly thinking ‘seatbelt.’ Fitbit wants to play into that fear-based statement, but in a good way. By thinking of all the positive health outcomes you’ve reached by wearing the Fitbit, you wouldn’t want to leave home without it. “My hope is that what we are doing will be considered mission critical in the future.”

Some Stats You May Find Interesting

70 million devices in the field

6.1 billion in revenue as of Q3 2017

50,000 stores

6 billion nights of sleep tracked

95 trillion steps counted 

The Entrepreneur Story of Fitbit

What has changed for entrepreneurs in the ecosystem in the past 11 years?


When we started 11 years ago, there was no real infrastructure for hardware startups. It was hugely knowledge passed between people in the industry. There was nothing like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. We were planning hardware pre-orders which nobody was doing. The question becomes “how do you keep customers happy when your project is inevitably late?”

We got 3000 pre-orders in one day, all we said was “ship for Christmas” luckily we didn’t say the year because they weren’t shipped until the following Christmas.

What is the difference between have’s and have not’s in hardware? How do you achieve such scale?

Make sure you’re creating/building something people actually want. Kickstarter is a great way to test that concept. If your project isn’t getting the initial level of excitement, you most likely have some tweaking you need to make.

Investors helped with advice, as did early adopters – you choose what information and advice to act on, but you need to listen to the advice. Many companies raise too much capital but don’t realize how deadly that can be for financial efficiency in the long run.

Any thoughts on the pro’s and cons or dangers in raising tons of money?

If I look back, I would say it was very difficult to run the business on the amount of capital we raised. But it forged our DNA to be incredibly efficient. Every product that we launched, it changed our gross margin, not just direct to consumer, but what to think of when a retailer is involved – really think of MSRP, is this what the consumer would pay?

It helped us get to a point of how could operate on our own steam, without raising more capital. When we went public, we were generating over 300 million.

An impressive point was how strong the early team you built surrounding yourself at Fitbit. How did you choose or how did they choose you?

We were fortunate to build a great leadership team in the first few years of the company. Leaders who were able to build, and grow with the company. I didn’t think “will this person be here in 10 years?” But we did bring in and hire experts in their field.

Who had the ability to work hands-on. If I had to pick a characteristic of the early Fitbit management team it would be deep industry experience, with a good amount of small business know-how, those who could do things themselves without needing a huge team in order to be useful. It served us really well.