October 4, 2017

Stairforce takes it one successful step at a time

Climb stairs into space! By using motivational tools, Stairforce wants to make the world a better place one stair at a time.
Climb stairs into space! By using motivational tools, Stairforce wants to make the world a better place one stair at a time.
Stairforce

Next time you are about to step into an elevator, this Finnish company would like you to consider taking the stairs to the stars.

The Sydney Opera House is known for many things: ingenuity of design, being a symbol of modern Australia and a venue for many of the world’s greatest performers. In addition to these, the iconic building now represents another symbol of achievement: it stands at 65 metres tall, the exact elevation I have climbed in total over the past 48 hours since activating Finnish app Stairforce on my phone.

In fact, my upward trajectory has already surpassed the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (56 metres) and the Statue of Liberty (46 metres), to name but a few of the motivational icons on my phone.

“Our goal is to hoax a person to become healthier with clever service design,” states Stairforce co-creator Timo Leppänen. “We already have enough gauges and heart rate monitors etc.”

This surely is welcome news for a global community that is increasingly becoming dormant in a digitalised world, as technology facilitates greater ease of, well, pretty much everything.

“Choosing the stairs instead of the elevator is the easiest thing that you can do for your health,” Leppänen says. “While the health benefits of exercise, in general, are nothing new, renewed attention is being paid to the effect that exercise during the workday has on an individual’s output.”

The first steps

Although Stairforce has only recently been soft launched, the idea itself has been brewing for considerably longer.

“You don't need to keep the app open at all times for it to work,” Leppänen says. “Altitude data is collected even when the phone's screen is locked/asleep.”

“You don’t need to keep the app open at all times for it to work,” Leppänen says. “Altitude data is collected even when the phone’s screen is locked.”

“Three years ago, I was climbing the stairs at work and I visualised myself climbing a stairway into space,” Leppänen recalls. “This struck me as a cool way to encourage people to dodge elevators. At the same time, I was reading books about making habits and thinking about how redesigning habits could nudge people towards healthier choices.”

The idea quickly took shape, fuelled by the fact that stair climbing burns more calories per minute than jogging. Service design company Palmu funded the development of the app and the five-person team built its first prototype and tested on users. The past nine months have seen a big push to develop and launch the app – all the while with a marketing budget that is close to zero.

“We are now at the beginning,” Leppänen observes. “We are trying to find our tribe and understand what users want. Our main channel to connect with and listen to our users is Instagram.”

Another social media tool being harnessed is Facebook, through which users can connect and compete with one another on their race to the top.

The only way is up

The company is making some final tweaks to the concept for the remainder of the year, after which Leppänen points to an international horizon.

“In 2018, it is time to roll out the app to more markets,” he foresees. “Now we are looking for funding, but more than this we are interested in partners. We could join forces with a player in the healthcare sector or an app/game company.”

Leppänen enthuses about a future when apps such as Stairforce could be prescribed by doctors to treat certain ailments.

But for the time being, Stairforce is continuing its path to the stars. Yet for all of the talk about upward motion, one wonders what happens to users when the tables are turned and staircases are descended.

“Many people have asked this, but Stairforce doesn’t have a Hell,” Leppänen says with a laugh.

One final thought comes to mind, as the interview draws to a close: for all the talk of being pioneers with monitoring stair climbing, isn’t this already possible via Fitbit?

Leppänen smiles.

“Fitbit can count stairs, yes, but we have gamified it.”

Alongside regular users, Stairforce has also been growing in popularity among elite tower runners.

Alongside regular users, Stairforce has also been growing in popularity among elite tower runners.

Stairforce

Text: James O’Sullivan

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