BodyMedia acquisition will steer Jawbone toward health plans, self-insured employers

By: Jonah Comstock | May 27, 2013        

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gI_0_BodyMediaCEOChristineRobins.JPGWhen Jawbone acquired BodyMedia last month, it made a big splash in the health and fitness tracker space: the two companies are both major, visible players in the quick-moving field, and we predicted that the acquisition would make other competitors like Fitbit and Basis nervous, and possibly lead to further acquisitions and mergers in the field.

MobiHealthNews caught up with former BodyMedia CEO, now BodyMedia general manager and VP of Health and Wellness Business Development at Jawbone, Christine Robins. Robins couldn’t say too much, but shared something of her vision for the newly merged company.

“Everybody assumed at some point that this was going to break, that somebody was going to get acquired,” Robins said. “There has to be consolidation in the category. Until Nike came along — even Jawbone, even though they’re privately held — it was all startups for the most part that were in this space. So you just know that the natural evolution for those investors, just by virtue of the business model, was a strategic exit. We’re really pleased to be the first one, we’re excited that [Jawbone] sees the space the same way.”

Robins scoffed at the idea — articulated in this Gizmodo column, for instance — that the acquisition was primarily an intellectual property grab for Jawbone.

“They obviously bought BodyMedia for a number of different reasons, one of which is the FDA [clearance], the science, the clinical nature of the product,” she said. “But how we combine these protfolios to maximize market penetration and demonstrate what a combined portfolio can do, we haven’t worked out all those details but I think it’s going to be a really exciting place. It became clear between the two companies where the broad market opportunities were — that you can have almost one stop shopping, in a sense. … They bring consumer design and simplicity and we can bring some of those things into the clinical arena, and vice versa. So we haven’t figured out all the details yet, but there’s absolutely no intent [on Jawbone's part] to buy the business and shut it down for IP, let’s put it that way.”

The one-stop shop mentality is not just for the consumer, Robins explained, but also to leverage BodyMedia’s experience with B2B plays, including health plans and employers.

“There isn’t any one company right now, you know, before this acquisition, that could serve a really broad spectrum of the market,” she said. “We think it will start to change how not only consumers but the B2B customers, whether it’s health plans or employers, will think about this category. I can go to one company that can give me a really wide range of products. It’s not ‘I need to work with this company for this and I need to work with that company for this,’ which becomes really difficult for them to manage.”

Robins confirmed that BodyMedia’s product catalogue, announced at CES, is still on schedule, and will perhaps even be improved by the merger. The Core 2 Armband (now just called the Core 2) is currently scheduled for a September launch and will be upgraded shortly thereafter with an integrated heart rate sensor. The product, as it was announced in January, had a heart rate sensor built into an optional, attached strap. Robins also said the company’s alleged patent infringement suit against Basis Science, filed a year ago, would be continuing, unaffected by the acquisition.

Robins said she and Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman share a vision for the future of the space: multiple sensors, from fitness trackers, environmental sensors, and other sources, integrated by an actionable data analytics platform.

“We were founded 14 years ago by a gentleman who was a PhD in machine learning and artificial intelligence,” Robins said. “So the hardware and the sensors, in a fashion, were really just a way to get data to feed this analyitics engine people are really just now realizing we have. Jawbone, thankfully, realized that capability and we have some other strategic customers and partners we’re starting to engage with because that’s where the future’s going to be. Right? How do you take your environmental sensors, your activity sensor, your blood pressure cuff, the pollen count that day off your phone — how do you bring all these things together to start to make recommendations for me, in the area I’m in, on any given day? … That’s where this category’s going. It’s not about the data, it’s not about the sensors, it’s about the analytics applied across the platforms.”