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How RunKeeper built its business on six key platform principles

November 26, 2013

I recently wrote about delighting your customers and partners using six key platform principles. Those principles are:

  1. Customer trust is key for consumer-facing platforms.
  2. Customer control of their data is central to earning and keeping that trust.
  3. Customer control demands that they be able to choose with whom they share data.
  4. Customer control also requires that they be able to disconnect any partner, including the platform provider.
  5. Customers like the assurance of being able to export a copy of their data.
  6. Partners need confidence that the customer is in control of their data and its retention, not the platform provider.

Now I’d like to examine how we came to and applied these principles while I was at RunKeeper.

Your health and fitness are influenced by many interrelated factors: Exercise (cardio, strength training, yoga, etc.), what you eat and when, your weight, the number of steps you take while going about your everyday routine, how much and how well you sleep, and much more.

In building “the personal trainer in your pocket” at RunKeeper, we realized early on that we needed to connect all of the above variables in one place. This correlated data could be used to motivate, guide, and nudge individuals towards healthier choices with just the right advice, at just the right time. We saw the need for an open platform that would provide a win-win for customers and their health partners of choice.

In order for individuals to be comfortable uploading their data into such a platform, they needed to know how they would maintain control over the access, storage, and deletion of their data. And they needed certainty that they could export their data and take it with them, if they ever chose to do so.

Similarly, partners needed assurance that when a customer connected their app, service, or sensor to the platform, they would have access to that customer’s collective health and fitness data in the same manner and amount as all other customer-connected partners. Should a customer disconnect a partner from their platform account, that partner needed to know they would have the option (with the customer’s permission) to retain a copy of any data that partner had previously read out of the platform on that customer’s behalf.

When we surveyed the health and fitness landscape looking for such a customer-centric, open, partner-friendly platform, we found none. The existing platforms were all in various ways closed: Vertically integrated, only offering private APIs to a select few partners, not allowing customers to save a copy of their own data, etc.

So we pulled the trigger: RunKeeper committed to building the open Health Graph platform based upon the six principles above, guaranteeing customers control of their data and a level playing field for all partners.

RunKeeper’s commitment to those principles has paid immense dividends. As I write this there are more than 26 million customers with platform accounts, hundreds of millions of fitness activities and health measurements in the platform, and millions of API calls made daily. RunKeeper has welcomed more than 150 publicly launched integration partners, from one-person shops to big players in the health and fitness space including MyFitnessPal, Withings, CarePass from Aetna, and Jawbone UP. There are hundreds more private integrations live on the Health Graph platform as well, with the total number of Health Graph API developers in the thousands.

So long as partners respect the customer’s right to control the access and flow of their data and abide by the customer-centric API Policies and Terms of Service meant to ensure that, all are welcome. Even other activity trackers, including iSmoothRun, Caledos Runner, and Digifit (all partners who are also competitors to RunKeeper).

All platform providers must decide how to best grow their customer base through partnerships. That growth in large part hinges on the trust that providers build with their customers and partners. And that trust hinges on those customers and partners feeling secure that the data they rely upon can’t be yanked away on a platform provider whim.

If you’d like help in putting these platform principles to work yourself, please contact me today.

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