Attendees at the ACRA and IRA Championships probably noticed that the medals backdrops had a big CREW on them, with a social media @crewbytruerowing account as well; the sponsorships marked the public debut of CREW by True Rowing, a new company that hopes to bring the experience of rowing on the water to large numbers of people not seen paying attention to rowing since the days of wagering on the riverbanks.
CREW Instructors will go out on the water in their rowing shells followed by a film crew to run a live workout that would be streamed live directly to people rowing at home on ergs, who would follow the workout at the same time as the instructor, or later on demand from a library if they can't make the live session.
The company is currently doing a search for "Rowing Superstars" who would be the on-water instructors (find details and application info at rowingsuperstar.com), as well as developing a new erg for use with the product, all for launch over the next several months. We talked to True Rowing CEO Bruce Smith, formerly the Executive Director at Community Rowing, about the project this week.
row2k: You were doing demos at the ACRA and IRA regattas the past couple weekends, and I heard the product referred to as "Peloton for rowing." Is this an accurate or good way to understand CREW?
Bruce Smith: Yes. That is a very accurate representation. We love Peloton, and think they are super cool. There is a critical difference in that Peloton broadcasts from a New York studio - which is awesome, though we have a slightly different mission. We want to take the extraordinary experience that rowers have out on the water and deliver that to as many Americans as possible. To accomplish that, the big barrier to entry of course is you need a boat, and a boathouse, and a dock.
We thought, what if we could get 90% of that experience to people? So we're building a really beautiful, really quiet rowing machine with a giant 22-inch screen on it, and we're going to broadcast live right from a practice on the water to the screen on a rowing machine. The machine should start shipping in early 2019, so for now you can retrofit your own iPad onto a Concept 2 rowing machine with our app that will be available in the Apple App Store in early July.
row2k: The demo I saw followed Dani Hansen in the single, and toward the end of the video she bumps into a goose. Rowers know that all kinds of things can happen in a real practice, so what happens if it is snowing, or your instructor flips, or someone else out on the water starts heckling? The live element of what you are describing could be challenging on one hand, but on the other hand it could be like reality TV for rowers. Tell me a bit about how that's going to work.
Bruce Smith: I think what a lot of people want most in their life in this time of fake news and computer generated images is a sense of authenticity, so by broadcasting live those unexpected things that happen are the token of the realm that gets traded between the instructor and the person at home that proves hey this is a real thing. It’s authentic, and we're trying to build a tribe of people who value the community aspect. That live experience is actually really critical.
If that was overproduced or if we edit Dani hitting the goose, then we lose that authenticity. Other than having enough to eat and a roof over your head, and physical safety, a sense of community and connection is what keeps people alive. We want to deliver that through this and through the machine. We think that for the first time we can actually make screens a really positive thing in people’s lives for their health as opposed to something that is distracting or that makes people more sedentary. We can actually make it genuinely connective.
If you do miss the live workout and you get home from your job at 7:00 at night, we post the live work out on demand for you to do whenever is convenient for you at home.
Peloton really led the way, and we think that rowing, because you use 86% of your muscles instead of 44% when biking, there will be a lot of people who are really excited to use the rowing machine to accomplish their goals and feel connected as well.
row2k: So will you make a blooper reel?
Bruce Smith: (Laughs) We already have footage internally. It's actually hilarious and we like it a lot.
row2k: Who is the target audience? Is it hardcore rowers, recreational rowers, non-rowers, gym rowers, all the above?
Bruce Smith: Definitely all of the above, but the most important thing is that we're relying on the rowing community and on hardcore rowers to help us build this product. It's certainly for people who have never rowed, people who have never heard about this sport, but who do have a rowing machine in their gym or want to have a rowing machine at home, but it’s not going to work unless the whole community helps us test this and works on it with us to make it better.
It's hard to say exactly how many rowers there are in the US, but it is something between 175,000 and 250,000 people, but there are 4.3 million people who use indoor rowing machines every day. If we can get our story out to those people with the help of the community, we think it's good for everybody.
row2k: So you are looking for the rowing community to get involved; what specifically are you looking for?
Bruce Smith: The first thing is we're looking for rowing superstars who want to be instructors. We launched that campaign at the ACRA and IRA's this past weekend. So we're looking for rowing superstars, but as important as the instructors are people that actually test the app.
It's free for the first couple of months, and we want people to tell us what they love, what they really don't like, tell us what works and what doesn't work about the app in the app store. Then as we grow, we want to iterate and make the experience of sharing rowing the most compelling experience you can have for working out.
row2k: So you are looking for people break it.
Bruce Smith: Yeah, break it in every way possible. Contribute your thoughts on content, what would be cool, what isn’t cool, what’s fun, what's not fun. All of that feedback is what we’re looking for.
row2k: Can you explain the "superstar" job search?
Bruce Smith: With the superstar search, we're looking for people who love rowing and love performing, and who are going want to share their love of the sport with other people. We hope that our rowers will think this is an incredible opportunity, to do what you really love and share it with people. We’ve assembled not just such a great filming team, but we have a great team of coaches. Our hope is that many of our rowing superstars will also be training for the National team, so they will earn full time salaries with good benefits with a really fun team of people. We have a great coaching staff and wraparound support that will not only support them in their quest to become genuine rowing superstars, but also in their quest to represent the United States and hopefully earn a medal in Tokyo and Paris and L.A.
row2k: Who will be good at this?
Bruce Smith: That’s a really good question. The people who are our current superstars are generally really enthusiastic about rowing. It’s not just that they're outgoing, it’s that they're doing something that they love, and with some practice and direction they get really good at sharing that enthusiasm directly with the people at home, and it’s really accessible. You don't need any prior experience. It’s literally just talking to your parents, your parents' friends, your own friends as if they were right there and sharing your workouts.
You get to share your workouts with what we hope are going to be tens of thousands of people. In terms of a job, I can't think of a better job in the world. You get to work out and share your favorite thing with the whole world, and you get paid and you get healthcare. We have a tremendous relationship with Hudson Boat Works; they are providing boats, so our rowing superstars all get their own single and a beautiful set of oars and Speedcoach. They’re really set up with tremendous support and tremendous gear, and they get to do their favorite thing in a way that is sustainable.
row2k: So how does it work if the workout is, say one minute one minute off at max rating, and as the instructor you are about to lose your breakfast? How do you talk to an audience through that?
Bruce Smith: Ha, that’s awesome. If you’re doing a really hard workout and you’re really, really tired, that is that authenticity we’re chasing. For the users, some workouts are just brief workouts where you just want to loosen up, or you can choose one of the crazy-hard workouts and go through those trials and tribulations with the community and the people on the water.
row2k: Where are you now in the overall development process?
Bruce Smith: We will have an app in the Apple App Store in early July that will be the most basic version of the app. We know that not that many people are going to be on erg in July, but the few people that are we want to work out some of the kinks as we get started. As serious erging gets going later in the year, we want to encourage as many people as we can to test the app and continue to improve on what really works well.
Then in January of 2019, we are going to be making the first delivery of our silent rowing machine, which uses a really quiet resistance system instead of a fan for its system. We can use some really clever computer programming to make the resistance match any kind of resistance, whether it's a single or an eight, or another kind of rowing machine. We can program that brake so that the experience of erging is actually pretty variable and under control of the user.
row2k: With an app and a full rowing machine that involves manufacturing that you hope to bring to 4 million people, that will take some resources. How are you funding the project to get from idea to an assembly line and out to customers?
Bruce Smith: We've had a tremendous response from the venture community, so we’re a venture funded company. We closed on a $5 million seed round, and we're having a lot of good conversations with venture capitalists now in Boston and New York and San Francisco about funding the A round.
That A round is what's going to help us build the machine. We've interviewed manufacturers and our first prototype is actually sitting in the office. We're very eager to unveil it to the whole community so we can some more feedback.
row2k: Were you guys able to break it yourselves?
Bruce Smith: We've broken it a thousand times, and fixed it 1001 times. It is actually working better than we dare hoped.
row2k: Was there something that you ran into that was really hard?
Bruce Smith: Filming live on the water has been a completely wild ride. There are a million things that nobody ever thinks about when you look at a really beautiful TV show or a really beautiful Peloton workout when it comes to getting the color right and getting the sound right, and getting all the music licenses so that you can listen to your favorite song while you're working out.
For example, the number of people who have a stake in your favorite song is at least 10, and they all have to agree that it's a good idea for us to use that song in a workout video. Getting that stuff sorted has been a massive education, and we're lucky we've been able to assemble such a great team to solve all these problems.
row2k: How does music fit in?
Bruce Smith: It's not just the exercise, but it's how you feel about the exercise that keeps you coming back. Part of that is showing up to join your crew for the live workout, but another part is hearing your favorite songs. We have been working with a really phenomenal music licensing team to make sure that you can access the right library, so you can choose your work based on which song you like, which type of music you would like. You can get exposed to new music and also hear great old tunes you like, so be inspired not just by the instructor and by the rhythm of rowing, but also by the beat.
row2k: What is the timeline for the various stages of the project?
Bruce Smith: The Superstar search is open through June 25th, and the app will be in the app store in July. We are planning a preorder campaign for the machine starting in September, and then start to deliver the machines in 2019.
Find CREW by TrueRowing at