JUST like hopping on stepping stones across a river, local fitness wearables company Actxa was formed as a result of an opportune moment. Back in 2015, parent company Activate Interactive, which was a game and software developer, was tasked to create an app for the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) first-ever National Steps Challenge.
It was a campaign to encourage Singaporeans to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. At around the same time, HPB decided to give out free step trackers for the participants.
Using trackers bearing the Actxa brand - then an Internet of Things (IOT) division of Activate Interactive - Activate Interactive later won an open tender from HPB to provide the free trackers, said Actxa chief executive Lim Chun Hong.
He said: "The timeline was really short, by the time they decided to give free trackers out, we had two months to design and release them." With both the app and step tracker under its belt, Activate Interactive not only had to source for different suppliers in China and test prototypes, but also to ensure that the free trackers were synchronised with the app.
Despite the tight deadline, the campaign was a resounding success, drawing over 156,000 participants, according to HPB. There were two more iterations of the campaign, including the current third season.
While the company admitted it does not make much money out of the campaign, it was proud of making a positive contribution to the nation. "We consider it national service," Mr Lim joked.
With such a huge number of participants using Actxa-branded trackers, the company also saw it as a business opportunity to meet a market demand, in light of the participants' feedback about the free step tracker.
He said: "A lot of them found that it was too basic. They asked: 'Is there something out there that has more features, higher quality that I can afford?' So that is part of the market we went after."
Evolution of trackers
Actxa was then spun off from Activate Interactive to become a separate company, which has seen rapid growth. The company posted a revenue of S$1.14 million last year, more than triple compared to 2016's figures of S$360,000.
Since its founding in 2015, the company has developed a product line of trackers, adding more features in each model. Notably, Actxa trackers have remained in the sub-S$100 range, while Actxa's higher-end competitors have priced their basic models from S$200 onwards. Actxa Stride, which was used in conjunction with the National Steps Challenge, has basic capabilities like step count and time display.
In 2016, the company came out with Actxa Swift and Swift+. The new models offered features such as sleep monitoring and calorie burn count. And last year, the company's newest model, the Actxa Spur, was released. It was able to monitor heart rate - a gauge of the intensity of exercise - which the company said was a much requested feature that was already available in the market.
Mr Lim said: "Up till the end of last year, we were driven by what the market wants. It was time to release a tracker with heart rate tracking that people could afford."
Now, the company is working on a tracker that can track "VO2 max" - the maximum of oxygen the body can effectively utilise during intense exercise. It is scheduled to be released later this year.
On its significance, Mr Lim cited scientific studies that showed a correlation between quality of life and VO2 max, especially for people who are less fit.
He said: "If I increase my VO2 max number by 10 per cent, I gain 10 years of good quality life, which means the last 10 years of my life are not spent being bedridden."
Health and wellness
This approach towards providing more macro-based interpretations - not just fitness levels - represents a broadening vision for the company.
"We don't believe that a healthy person just needs to focus on fitness. You need to focus on stress and recovery, mindfulness, rest and diet. It is a holistic ecosystem that needs to be developed," Mr Lim said. This is the reason that the company has decided to venture into more health and wellness areas.
Earlier this year, the company introduced Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment - pioneered by Finnish physiological analytics company Firstbeat - a service that measures stress and recovery.
Using electrode pads that are strapped onto the body, the Firstbeat device tracks a user's heart rate over three whole days. The assessment then provides an analysis of the data, which shows and advises users how certain lifestyle activities can affect them.
Eventually, Mr Lim said the company wants to work with relevant service providers to develop programmes - such as corporate wellness and weight management programmes - to help users act on the advice given out by the assessment.
He pointed out: "If you have programmes that work very well, then the wearables are just supporting them."
The goal for the company in the next seven years is to sell a total of 100 million devices and products, added Mr Lim.
"That is a huge number, but to make it happen, we start by forming a team within Actxa. The people that we hire are very committed and passionate about health."
Actxa aims to double its staff size of about 10 by the end of the year. A significant amount of work is outsourced to its parent company, which has about 70 staff.
While the company registered a profit in 2016, it was not profitable last year, which it attributed to the growth of the team and becoming the exclusive Asian distributor of the Firstbeat assessment service.
Mr Lim said the company is currently on track for a return to the black. He added that the company's projected revenue for this year is S$2.5 million to S$3 million, at least a doubling from last year.
"We do have big plans to impact as many people as possible - this year is where we put these plans into action."