Portl is an AI ‘mirror’ that gives the user tailor-made fitness lessons while keeping each person’s health and lifestyle in mind. For the device, the team bagged crores on Shark Tank.
Somewhere in an apartment complex in Hyderabad, a 30-something woman has just started her day. With chores lining up and errands to run, she finds herself at a loss for time for herself. But the lifesize interactive fitness screen in the hallway is a quick remedy to this.
Designed with artificial intelligence, the ‘mirror’ is a mini gym with on-demand personalised fitness classes, and exercises that are focused on cardio, yoga and even boxing.
This customised compact fitness model is a product of startup Portl, founded by friends Vishal Chandapeta, Armaan Khandari and Indraneel Gupta.
The trio hailing from Hyderabad come from a background of technology and have each contributed their varying expertise to this unique fitness startup. The aim, they say, is to make every home in India equipped with the AI-powered 3D screen to improve holistic health.
‘We wanted to make fitness accessible.’
How often do you skip going to the gym because it’s too far; or skip a workout because you don’t know the correct way of doing it?
As Indraneel and Vishal noted, these were common concerns that people looking to start their fitness journey faced. At the time, they were engaged in a startup that built applications for other players in the fitness and wellness space.
This gave them a vantage point to launch Portl. The initial idea was to create a smart device that would have everything a person needed to workout, provide users with guidance on wellness and lifestyle all in the comfort of their home.
With the closing down of their previous venture during the peak of the pandemic, and with this innovative idea all ready to take flight, the duo decided there was no better time to start than now.
“A lot of our customers were from the fitness industry globally, and so we had an understanding of what people were looking for. Especially with the advent of the pandemic, an increasing number of people were starting to work out from home and were looking for professional trainers to help them. Everything aligned,” says Indraneel.
This unique idea eventually led to the launch of Portl in 2021 in Hyderabad. The duo were joined by Armaan, a close school friend of Indraneel.
How does the AI mirror work?
When the trio first started out, they wanted to personalise fitness according to an individual’s needs.
“Though there were virtual fitness apps, the issue with them was a lack of good professional trainers. This essentially meant that people were performing exercises without knowing if it was actually beneficial for their body type or not,” says Indraneel, pointing out that no human contact also meant that exercises and workouts were not tailor-made keeping in mind the injuries the person had.
“People would often end up not seeing results and giving up the workout midway,” he says.
This compelled the trio to attempt to design a device and software that would ensure every user got a highly regulated programme that kept their current health conditions in mind, while also conducting health baseline tests.
The AI mirror makes it possible for people to access professional trainers and have a customised workout, in contrast to a one-size-fits-all regime. Due to the integration of AI, as well as the health information that people input, suitable workouts will be available that will not aggravate the user’s preexisting conditions, if any.
Through the months that followed, the trio put their heads together brainstorming on the software and applications that they wanted the smart device to possess. But a major challenge was figuring out how to integrate the hardware with the software.
However, they say the combined expertise they brought to the table helped significantly.
“We each had significant experience in the fitness domain, and we formed a team that comprised top fitness experts. The knowledge was ready. All we had to do was integrate it into the system,” explains Indraneel, adding that within a year, they were ready with a prototype.
The Portl mirror is a classy addition to the living room, occupying 2.5 ft of floor space and is equipped with biosensors. These provide feedback on the user’s strength and stability, giving the trainer a sense of their physical capacity and limitations.
“It helps us determine the starting point of the individual’s journey,” explains Indraneel, adding that this is a crucial element. “When people workout unsupervised and at a random starting point, they rely on their own ability to execute the workout correctly, often injuring themselves in the process.”
To avoid this, the smart mirror comes equipped with a feedback feature, wherein the sensors detect the person’s posture, angles of bending, etc and relay to them the correct way of doing the workout.
The Portl studio is a comprehensive one, equipped with a pocket-sized bio sense device that can track your ECG, Blood sugar, temperature, blood pressure, and more. There is also a Buddy Workout feature on the platform that lets users workout in groups or do yoga as a family.
Another sensor provides information to the user on their technique, just like a personal trainer would.
“To add to this, there are live classes and also 1:1 interactions wherein users can interact with their coaches, talk about workouts, nutrition, and share experiences with other members of the platform. This creates the feeling of community,” says Vishal.
He adds that in time they plan on launching a feature which would enable the trainer to appear in the mirror during the workout. In January this year, Portal scaled heights when they took this innovation to the sets of Shark Tank India Season 2, where they won Rs 1.5 crore for 2.5 per cent equity.
‘It gave us a national viewing audience.’
Currently, the startup is busy manufacturing the smart device to fulfil the 1000-plus orders they have received, a majority of which they say is because of the visibility they got with Shark Tank.
Recounting the experience, Indraneel terms it ‘exciting’ for many reasons. “Along with enabling us to showcase the product to the ‘sharks’ we also got a national viewing audience. It helped us establish a sense of trust as we could demonstrate the idea behind starting the company.”
Today, Portal has a network of 20 world-class trainers and professionals who the team say fitness enthusiasts would find it tough to get access to otherwise. The platform boasts of 15 different workout formats and even pain management for elderly people along with bodybuilding, karate, etc.
Not just in India but even abroad the startup has managed to make waves, shipping to the US, Canada, Middle East, Singapore and the UK.