In the summer of 2015, an investor who shared my interest in office fitness approached me and offered to fund an “active office” publication. We quickly discovered a common vision for the topic and worked out an operating agreement, and I got to work.
I developed the idea, designed the business, and operated Well9to5 until early 2017.
Like any startup, Well9to5 involved a lot of learning and a few pivots.
Through all of these pivots we stayed focused on our core mission: “to help people get moving more routinely in the office, to raise awareness of office ergonomics tools and practices, and to encourage new thinking about what ‘fitness’ means in an office environment.”
During the last half of 2015, I interviewed a number of wellness-industry experts and researched the wellness-promotion field. I had written and published a book on office fitness the year before, so I was well-versed in sitting disease, office ergonomics, exercise, and habit formation. But I had a lot to learn about the business of wellness.
After my discovery research and several consultations with my business partner, we decided to prototype an office-focused wellness publication.
Content testing – and our first pivot
I spent a couple of months developing sample content and testing it with users in our targeted demographic (computer-using office workers). We quickly discovered that it is really hard to stand out amidst the surplus of wellness content that is available. Even though we brought a distinct style to the articles and podcasts we tested, user reaction was almost uniformly, “Meh.”
We were also doing research at this point on how to best monetize the publication. Affiliate programs were re-emerging as a viable revenue stream. Publishers like Gawker and The Wirecutter, and even venerable publications like the Washington Post, were earning decent revenues with these programs that give publishers a cut of sales they refer to online merchants.
So we decided to shift our focus to active-office gear like standing desks, treadmill desks, and active-sitting gadgets.
The “Standing Desk Buying Guide”
We first tested a basic buying guide for standing desks. We polled users to learn about their shopping criteria and then built a prototype of the guide. This entailed:
- creating a tidily structured (lots of data normalization) product database
- organizing the products around a taxonomy tailored to our users’ language
- populating each category with enough product information to test the guide
- experimenting with various ways of accessing the product information (faceted search, category info pages, etc.)
- displaying product category and detail pages on the website
- establishing affiliate accounts with merchants who sold the products
Again, “Meh.” Our users wanted recommendations from us about which products were best. So, on to our third pivot.
Active-office product ratings
In the spring of 2016, we decided to build a Consumer Reports–style product-rating system. I built out an active-office product testing lab in a vacant part of the basement at the Impact Hub co-working space.
We were on a limited budget, so I used my iPhone for unboxing, assembly, and other videos and photos. Most of our other gear was similarly low-budget and low-tech. We did splurge on a good lighting set and on some measurement gear. For example, to objectively measure stability (crucial in active-office ergonomics), we spent a few hundred dollars on an analog force gauge.
I also researched and devised an experimentation methodology and editorial operation that would let us publish objective, detailed active-office product reviews. Here’s one of the forms we used to record data on standing-desk stability.
I recruited product testers from the co-working space. It took a little work to convince folks to leave the more-polished spaces on the upper floors. Here’s a note I sent to lure testers to “The Standment” (standing desk lab in the basement). I ultimately recruited about 20 testers, most of whom tested several products.
We prototyped the testing set-up with a comprehensive review of the best standing-desk mats. This took about three months from beginning to end. Our process was actually more efficient than that sounds because we were also gathering user-feedback data on other products at the same time.
We published our next review, of affordable standing desks about five weeks later.
The standing-mat review was well-received and almost immediately began generating significant search traffic and industry attention. It had also validated our testing-operation set-up and editorial workflow.
The affordable-desk review was up against stiffer competition. So I stepped up our content-promotion efforts there. We were also well underway on a comprehensive standing-desk review.
Unfortunately, the funding we had negotiated wasn’t adequate to see us through the publication, promotion, and monetization of the next rounds of reviews, so we closed Well9to5 in January of 2017.