AMHERST — Striving to lose weight and become more fit, Rosemarie LaPierre of Greenfield began going to her city’s YMCA last year.
It was after several weeks of workouts on the treadmill, and finding the routine increasingly difficult to continue, that LaPierre learned about MiCoachee, a motivational app downloaded to her smartphone. The app has helped her drop 40 pounds since last spring, a result that led her doctor to take her off two medications.
“Doing MiCoachee I wanted to go to the Y,” LaPierre said. “It’s almost like self hypnosis. It’s self motivating to get to the gym, and kind of tunes your brain to want to do it.”
At its most basic, its creators describe MiCoachee as a wellness tracking app, combining exercise science and diet with brain science. It collects a variety of data about the user, such as the steps walked in a day, protein intake and hours slept, while also providing a series of behavioral change tools and cognitive therapies that clients can use when they are not at the gym.
Based in Amherst, MiCoachee founders Jaime Reloj and business partner Tom Mann have created a system that extracts biometric data from more than 100 types of wearable devices, such as FitBit or Google Fit. The system merges this information with guided meditation, hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and neuro-linguistic programming.
“For example, if you want to push harder at the gym or have a habit of late-night snacking, emotional or stress eating, we give you focused brain science mental tools to enjoy the extra push while exercising, or eliminating the desire for mindless eating,” Mann said.
As Reloj puts it, MiCoachee is about making a “shift in the mindset” for clients, retraining their brains using the technology, which includes a website with videos featuring expert behavioral therapists to modify a person's behaviors and improve that person's health.
“People are starting to understand how psychotherapy helps with life,” Reloj said.
For Mann, of Bernardston, who has extensive experience in corporate sales management, and Reloj of Deerfield, a veteran of the tech industry in California’s Silicon Valley, development of MiCoachee was about creating a platform, with customizable therapies, that could lead to dramatic results for clients.
“What makes MiCoachee unique is we work on their goals specifically,” Reloj said. “Our first target is looking at health and eating behaviors.”
Mann said bringing to the masses these cognitive behavioral therapies will help people overcome their self-limiting actions.
“The overall application uses customizable therapies and digitizes these,” Reloj said. “The core technology gets feedback for how our customers are doing.”
MiCoachee currently operates on a subscription model that is charging between $29.95 and $49.95 per month, but both creators hope to lower costs over time. The company has seven people involved in a full- and part-time basis
Another aspect of their creation is what Mann refers to as retention analytics that provides extensive data about why people are or are not using gyms and fitness centers, and how to keep them as members. Mann said the big concerns for gyms are profitability, and MiCoachee can improve the 5 to 10 percent retention rate of an average gym. It does this by providing a better understanding of the clients and what they are seeking, in part through a wellness team responding to a series of personality profile questions.
“We're gathering information for members to help them to be more successful,” Mann said.
Scott Finch, general manager of Hampshire Athletic Club in Amherst, said after initial skepticism his site has seen the benefit, observing that many people join and then don’t use the club’s amenities.
“We’ve found it (MiCoachee) could be valuable in helping people do what they initially came here for, better conditioning, better health and losing weight,” Finch said.
Mann said MiCoachee is also being promoted at Northampton Athletic Club and the YMCA in Greenfied.
The data analysis, he said, is the key to understanding how clubs can best meet the needs of the clients.
As a start up, Reloj and Mann chose to base themselves at AmherstWorks, the coworking space in downtown Amherst, which means better access to the data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence at the University of Massachusetts.
Brant Cheikes, the executive director of the Center for Data Science at UMass, said the hope is to help the local business grow and find students who can participate.
“Our mission is to partner with and help small companies to grow and stay in the Pioneer Valley,” Cheikes said.
Last year, a graduate student worked with MiCoachee and was instrumental in analyzing data and improving how the tool works.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.