Jeff Halevy is one of the most well-known and respected fitness experts in the United States and has been bringing his healthy lifestyle message all around the world for nearly a decade, helping people understand how they can take greater control of the way they think, the way they eat, and the way they move.
An award-winning entrepreneur and fifteen-year veteran of the health, medical, fitness and technology industries, Jeff’s career counts successes and exits in verticals including health clubs, education and content creation, insurtech, television and media, and public health advocacy.
Jeff Halevy is regarded as a thought leader and innovator in the health and fitness industries, which has earned him distinction in the mainstream media, with features by CNBC, Fox, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Women’s Health, as well as trade publications like Club Solutions.
We are excited to have a few minutes with Jeff to learn about how he got started and what he is working on now.
How did you get started?
Okay. How did I get stuck? My first career was as a professional musician and that led to some lifestyle issues and six rehabs later, I got the clarity I needed to leave that life behind. I ended up working in public relations in specifically corporate financial communications, which is the stodgiest form of PR, as well as crisis PR with clients like American Red Cross Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Human Genome Sciences and Wilbur Ross.
I got bored of that though, and ended up getting hired by a marketing agency to work in business development. I did well there and a short while later I was hired away by another marketing agency as their youngest executive. I did really well with that job, largely putting together deals for NHL, NFL and NBA sponsors, insofar as their sponsorship activation. So for example, I would put together multichannel deals for the likes of NFL Films and Warner Home Video, NFL Films’s distributor and NFL sponsors. I also did a bunch of music programs.
But I got tired of that lifestyle too and burned out. So I quit my job without having any idea of what I would do next. And something that had been an avocation for years came to the forefront. After I cleaned up my act from my “lifestyle issues,” I needed to get back in shape and I started kickboxing. It started with me hitting pads and doing classes.
Then doing partner drills, then eventually sparring, and then eventually amateur fights. One of the first things that I observed while I was looking for a competitive advantage was that conditioning was incredibly important – if not the most important thing in amateur fights. I saw too many fights where the fighter who was clearly more skilled became the less skilled fighter’s punching bag by the second round because he ran out of gas.
So I decided I needed to learn how to never get tired. That set me on a path of reading strength and conditioning, exercise science, and exercise physiology texts, as well as crawling the internet for new research and data. I eventually started putting together my own programs and helped some of my friends too, but I never considered that I would have a career in this area.
So after I quit my job and I had no clue what I was going to do next, I figured that I would most likely go backpacking somewhere and wait until I figured it all out – maybe on top of a mountain somewhere. But after a week of relentlessly asking myself what I loved most, I came up with two answers. One was helping other people. And the other was exercise science.
So I immediately thought I’ll become a personal trainer — which was one of the worst thoughts I had in my entire life. For me, the idea of a personal trainer brought to mind Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading. But I asked a friend of mine who was a celebrity trainer at the time and very knowledgeable both academically and with his experience, what he thought.
And he encouraged me to become a trainer, telling me that I knew more than 99% of the trainers out there already. I really didn’t believe him, but he went on to explain that most trainers don’t know anything. So just knowing that I was at least one notch up above a very low bar was enough for me to get started.
I ended up working at a Crunch Fitness on Wall Street for a few months, and rather fortuitously met the owner of a member’s only private health club in Manhattan that had just opened, who believed I could help him. I ended up becoming his partner and taking on equity running the business day to day as the Managing Director. We doubled the membership at the club in under two years, but I ended up forfeiting my equity in order to leave, starting my own place and becoming a “celebrity trainer.”
After that things happened very quickly. I ended up doing a lot of local TV segments to promote my business. And the next thing I know the Biggest Loser reached out to me asking me if I’d like to replace Jillian Michaels while she was on leave for a few years. For two years in a row, I was in the final five of the talent pitched to NBC by the show, but unfortunately they passed both years.
That however gave me an opportunity to do my own TV show for an upstart network at the time called Veria, which is now Z Living. Around the same time I was hired by Cory Booker and Michelle Obama to create a technology-based childhood obesity program for Let’s Move! using early wearables. The program ended up becoming the most demonstrably effective program under the initiative’s umbrella.
I continued to grow my business, started a few others and eventually got an opportunity to join the Today Show as a correspondent for 2013 to 2014. I continued along the business front as well, starting different businesses and failing most of the time, but succeeding once in a while, just enough to keep me going.
In 2018, I realized I wanted to rebrand and relaunch the private club that I had started years ago with a new mission. And that was to create the so-called “athlete experience” for all of our members, meaning that we would bring together expert personal training, expert nutrition, and expert orthopedic care.
So I ended up relaunching the club as Apex Human Performance in 2019 and delivering this “athlete experience” to our members — most of whom were not athletes by any stretch of the imagination, nor did they represent themselves that way, but they all wanted to feel what they had optimal health and energy every single day.
So we had a lot of fund managers, Fortune 500 CEOs, captains of industry, and celebrities who worked with us from Hugh Jackman to John Oliver among many others. And then I started a sales process before COVID looking to exit Apex and focus on a new project called Altis, a tech startup that would bring the world’s first AI personal trainer to market. I successfully sold Apex Human Performance about a year later in 2020. And by then I had also raised a seed round of over $2 million for Altis, and that’s also when I became its full-time CEO.
What inspired you to start Altis?
It was a confluence of factors. Some of which I had been aware of for a while and some of which were emerging.
One was the fact that computer science and exercise science had yet converged in a meaningful way to deliver value to end users – people who want to get in shape.
There was no personal training product out there. There were apps, there were classes, and then even Peloton emerged, but there was nothing that delivered the personal training experience: a knowledgeable coach who understands you and is able to create custom programming for you, your goals, and your capabilities.
I also had been tracking the progression of computer vision for several years. I remember when the Kinect with XBox came out and thinking, someone’s definitely going to use this to create a killer training product. And that just never happened. I think it’s because the technology just really wasn’t there, the Kinect just didn’t work all that great.
I was also becoming increasingly interested in machine learning and the implications that AI would have on many industries, but particularly fitness and exercise instruction. I saw AI as being a solution to democratizing the elite fitness offerings that I was able to give my club’s members for years — at a fraction of the cost. And with much greater reach.
I also tracked the rise of Peloton and the rest of the connected fitness category, including mirror. And my observation was that these products are pretty great providing a whole new experience to users at home, but they were still lacking. They were connected to the internet, but they were not connected to the user. They didn’t see the user, they didn’t understand the user and they didn’t personally instruct the user.
So based on all of those factors, I really thought there was an opportunity to do something, bringing together computer vision, machine learning, and an expert exercise science team to create an in-home product that really delivered a true personal training experience.
I was fortunate enough to meet Altis’s co-founder Constantine Goltsev in early 2019 and shortly after sharing my observations and interests with him about connected fitness, he believed his background as a technologist in both machine learning and computer vision could help turn my dream into reality.
We started very humbly doing early R&D to see if it was even possible to track a user the way we needed to. As soon as we realized that we would be able to build the computer vision element, we decided to go raise money to fund our ongoing R&D.
I was very lucky to gain the trust and interest of a new fund called PentaLab in Tel Aviv, Israel. It had been recently started by the founders of both Juno and Viber, with $200 million and $900 million exits respectively — all within the prior five years. They helped lead a seed round in which we raised a little over $2 million, giving Altis enough thrust to continue its R&D and develop the product.