What initially started as an effort by Vik Paruchuri, Nicolas Saint-Arnaud and Tyler Martin to prevent cardiovascular disease eventually turned into a long look at what keeps people healthy. Paruchuri, Saint-Arnaud and Martin are the founders of Turfly, an innovative app billed as “Runkeeper meets Foursquare” that allows users to capture turf, gaining points for movement and competing with their friends.
“The idea was giving people points for moving without presenting it as health and exercise,” Paruchuri says. “We wanted to frame it as a fun and engaging experience instead.”
Turfly was born at MassHack last year. As Paruchuri explains it, their thinking stemmed from a recent study where people walked or ran three miles. One group was told that they were exercising, while the other group walked for fun. After the run, the people who saw the run as exercise ate 300 calories more than those who didn’t see the activity as exercise. “People equate exercise with work,” Paruchuri explains. “But Turfly is passively tracking, sending encouraging posts and updates. People don’t have to work to get into it. It’s a ramp to health.”
After winning the top award at the hackathon, Paruchuri and his colleagues started designing the interface and researching usability. Now, six months later, the app has been released into the world.
“We’re seeing great engagement numbers already,” Paruchuri says. “People are walking more and going out of their way to capture turf.”
Once you log into Turfly, a map will show you the turfs around you – all divided into football field-size areas. If you go for a walk, the app tells you where you went and how many turfs you captured (walking or running through a turf gives you one point). You can also engage in turf battles with your friends; whoever moves through the turf most often captures that turf until someone else challenges them. Through connectivity, engagement, and encouragement – rather than calories and steps – Turfly’s founders hope to inspire movement.
Turfly’s development has been a journey for Paruchuri and his colleagues, and he says that he didn’t expect the uncertainty to be quite so challenging. “It’s hard to navigate uncertainty when all you have is this vision in your head,” he says. “It’s a lot of stress, but when you get to see what you’ve created, it’s great. I keep reminding myself that what we’re trying to do isn’t defined by feature X or feature Y. We’re trying to build a link between the virtual world and the real world to help people get moving – it’s casual fitness. That’s the point.”
Turfly is currently available in Boston and San Francisco, and a new, updated version will be released soon. Download the app here.
Jenni Whalen is the Executive Assistant of Editorial at Upworthy. She was previously MedTech Boston's Managing Editor and has an MS in Journalism from Boston University, as well as a BA in Psychology from Bucknell University. Whalen has written for Greatist, Boston magazine, AZ Central Healthy Living and the New England Journal of Medicine, among other places. She has also worked as a conference planner, ghost writer, researcher and content developer.
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