Most fitness industry brands do the same thing: They offer pre-recorded classes in which everyone can participate but the information only goes one way. Barry's X is different.
Barry’s high-intensity interval training is known for its addictive energy, signature “Red Room” and strong community. In 2020, the team decided to go digital and partnered up with STRV to get it done. What they wanted had never been done before, certainly not at this scale: A two-way live stream that feels like the real thing.
Here’s how we tackled that challenge and why “just put a red filter in there” is a lot harder than it sounds. As explained by Filipe Simoes, the first Product Manager on the Barry’s X project.
For the full story, check out the Barry’s Case Study.
Translating the in-person experience of a massive brand to digital is a huge undertaking. What helped you in defining the Barry’s X product?
We had a bit of a head start because [our CEO] Lubo was so invested in the brand already; he did the Barry’s World Tour, which helped us because Lubo cooperated really closely in the early definition phase. But even more than that was how the brilliant people at Barry’s supported the project, participating in countless brainstorming sessions and remaining committed to making sure the brand voice was translated into the digital experience the right way.
Being sexy and having design on-brand was very important. The first thing we did was an initial concept that allowed us to dream. It got everyone at Barry’s excited and that gave us the green light to launch into a formal Discovery Phase, where we did our due diligence as far as tech goes. What is possible? What are some of the industry’s limits?
Ultimately, finding a way to enable two-way communication was one of the first things that we tried to solve and we didn't move on until we found a way.
What makes a two-way stream such a technical challenge, and how did we achieve it?
There's a reason why these kinds of live classes didn’t exist, besides Zoom and Google Meet — which have their limits. It's just really difficult to do. For you to push video in all directions from every single user and instructor to every other user, it's quite complex.
The way we achieve having 200 people in one class and the instructor being able to see them all is that we create multiple rooms. We create one room where we have 50 people and the instructor can see those 50, and we handle the two-way video connections. We then create a view where we merge all of these experiences on both the moderator’s and the instructor’s side, so they can see them all.
Which features ended up being key in bringing the Barry’s experience online?
The most notable one is that the instructor can see you. Once we jumped that hurdle, we moved on to the next fundamental feature: You can choose every user you want to see in a class, so you can pin all of your friends on your screen. You're seeing your instructor and your friends working out, similar to how you work out in the offline world. You draw motivation and companionship out of the fact that your friends are doing it with you.
Not everyone feels comfortable being on camera in their home. How did you deal with that?
What solves that problem while still building a sense of community is a chat. You can have your camera off but can still communicate and give feedback back to the instructor. For example, “Is there another way to do this exercise?” or, “I'm pregnant, is there some special care I can take?”
There's a moderator viewing and helping coordinate all user feedback. A host, kind of like an MC or a DJ. When the class starts, he/she introduces the instructor, talks about the required equipment and, as the class goes on, he/she has all of the users on multiple big screens.
Barry’s is famous for its classes' red lighting — the famous “Red Room.” How was this implemented online?
This one wasn’t as easy as it may seem but it was a must-have — not only so users could have those fancy red lights at home but because some people don't have the best lighting or gym equipment; that light makes everything look nicer.
What made it tricky to implement — besides the fact that it needed to be replicated and is happening in real-time on the stream of everyone to whom the user is transmitting — was that the frontend experience was being served in a multitude of platforms and technologies, meaning web and mobile across all Apple and Android devices.
Adding a red overlay on a video is easier, or you can tint the frames. But here, you get every single frame from a live connection. On something like FaceTime, Zoom or Google, they control the architecture fully. We had to build a solution using specific third parties and services.
Can you talk a bit about the special camera and microphone feature settings?
You can control your camera and microphone — have them on or off — and can have your camera on only for the instructor, so nobody else can see you. Because maybe you're a bit self-conscious but still want that instructor encouragement.
You also have quick reactions, like on Instagram Live. If the class is going great, just quickly tap some emojis into the chat to express, “This is fire.” And if someone’s background noise is a bit too loud, the moderator has the power to mute anyone’s microphone.
The Barry’s Fit Fam concept represents the overall connection among the community, not just during a class. How was this moved online?
When you join, there's a sick onboarding in which you have to add your picture, bio, name, username, the usual things. But you can also tweak your settings in a way that carries the in-person experience over to digital.
Each Barry’s X user has a profile that shows his/her favorite instructor, classes, stats, etc. And just like in real life, you can choose to make that public, friends-only or private.
What does the Barry’s X experience offer that might be better than an in-person class?
As far as the connectedness, one upgrade compared to the offline experience is that you can start following people. You can see when they have classes, which is very motivating for the Barry’s community — seeing how others are doing can encourage people to have some friendly competition and is a great conversation starter. But mainly, it makes the Fit Fam even more connected than if they were solely in the offline world.
STRV continues to be Barry’s main tech partner so, clearly, all of this went very well. What’s been a highlight for you?
I think one of the biggest compliments we've gotten was how well that sense of community translated into the digital world — which, with a brand like Barry’s that relies so much on how connected people are, how great the Fit Fam gets along and how much they identify with a brand… the fact that we managed to somehow bring that over to the digital world is one of the things that makes me proudest.