Tech Talk with Jon Pass, COO of Magic Mountain

We’re thrilled to launch a new blog format – tech talks with remarkable IT professionals, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders across industries who also happen to be QAwerk clients.

In this interview, Jonathan Pass, COO of Magic Mountain, will look back on the journey the Magic Mountain team has taken to be where they’re right now. He talks about the product concept, what works and what doesn’t, where the fitness app development is headed, and shares a ton of other valuable insights. So stay tuned!

What is Magic Mountain?

Magic Mountain is a UK-based startup that came up with an idea of a social fitness app. Finding the motivation to work out or be active is often what people lack, especially if we’re talking long-term. The Magic Mountain app offers a solution to this issue by uniting people around fun challenges and making it feel like a game.

Magic Mountain syncs with wearables to automate activity tracking, yet inputting calories burned manually is also available. Magic Mountain’s motto is “Connect, Collaborate, Compete.” And that’s exactly what the app does – keeping family, friends, or colleagues competing for the highest spot on the virtual mountain, creating their own challenges, socializing, holding each other accountable, and showing off their results.

Magic Mountain is developed with inclusivity and human psychology in mind. It brings value not only to individual users but also to:

  • companies introducing or redesigning their corporate wellness programs
  • personal trainers trying out new ways to keep their clients engaged
  • gyms building large fitness communities and getting them excited
  • charities hosting movement challenges to raise funds

Magic Mountain helps people become better versions of themselves by giving them a reason to stay active, all while socializing and supporting other fitness enthusiasts.

QAwerk Contribution to Magic Mountain

Magic Mountain turned to us at the stage of redesigning their iOS and Android apps. QAwerk is known for its mobile testing expertise, so it was a perfect match.

Our primary goal was to help Magic Mountain polish both apps before launch, ensuring the user experience is on a par with that of tech market giants. Another important aspect was to thoroughly test the integration with wearables because that’s where things may get annoying for users, for example, when their hard work is not synced, and some data is lost.

Last but certainly not least is the challenge functionality, the app’s specialty. Since it presupposes interactions among multiple users using different devices, we needed to recreate all those scenarios and report any collaboration bugs or deviations from business logic or UI designs.

All our efforts were aimed at enabling Magic Mountain to up their game and become a subscription-based product. If you’d like to learn more about this partnership, be sure to request a free case study at the end of this interview.

Meet Jonathan!

We invited Jonathan Pass, COO of Magic Mountain, to discuss how the idea of a social fitness app was born, the fitness industry challenges, common mistakes startups make, and of course the impact a committed QA team can make on user retention and overall product positioning.

Let’s dive right in!

— Please introduce yourself.

— Hi. I’m Jon Pass. I’m the COO of Magic Mountain. Responsibilities right across the business from finance, legals, but kind of what we’re speaking right here today, I’m in complete control of our technology development and QA.

— On your LinkedIn page, you call yourself a sports fanatic. Could you dive deeper into that.

— Sure. I suppose a fanatic is one of those strange words. I mean, I love sport, I love all types of sport. I love playing sports, watching sports. Primarily in the space that we’re talking about here is that I grew up playing sports every single day – rugby, running, cycling, swimming.

And then kind of as I got older, although I still loved sports, the opportunities to play it and kind of partake in sport and exercise dropped down a bit. So I still think I stayed fanatic about it and I love watching it. But what I then found is the reason that we started Magic Mountain and building the app that we did is just trying to get more people back into being able to have that fun and enjoyment they had as kids. And then ultimately get healthier and fitter and lead healthier and happier lives.

— Magic Mountain is not your typical fitness app. What makes you stand out?

— What about having fun? You know, primarily a lot of fitness apps are fantastic and are very well geared towards the kind of people who are already doing fitness, already playing sports. They tend to be heavily statistical. And, you know, I’m a geek. I love all that.

I love kind of seeing my ranking leaderboards and understanding, like how fast I run, how far I run. But actually also what I just want to do is be able to have fun with my friends and that’s what Magic Mountain really is unique. You know, using a kind of group psychology, positive kind of peer pressure really means that you don’t feel like you’re doing a lot of exercise and actually in fact you are doing lots. You’re specifically doing a lot more than you would have done if you weren’t using something like Magic Mountain.

— Have you ever used a fitness app other than Magic Mountain? What was the experience like?

— Yes, good question. Yes, I have used hundreds. Primarily in my personal life, but also in testing and reviewing things for Magic Mountain. And I still use them. I still use all the fitness apps. I won’t name names now, but under certain circumstances, other fitness apps work very well. If you are very heavily into your statistics, you do want to know how fast you are running at a certain point or how far, then other apps are great.

But what they don’t have, and what we really bring to that kind of ecosystem, it’s the fun side. It’s being with your friends, being able to talk to them, have mini challenges and to really celebrate each other’s achievements, you know, everything’s positive in Magic Mountain. It’s all about having fun, laughing with your friends and then kind of unconsciously even just going out and doing a little bit more. And that’s why we’re different.

And other apps, as I said, there are some great ones out there, and they’re fantastic for what they do, but they’re not as much fun.

— Why do more and more fitness app companies try to gamify their apps?

— I think they’ve realized that it works, you know, to be kind of blunt about it. If you just have an app that’s full of numbers, and isn’t pretty, and doesn’t make you feel like you want to engage, then people will use it for a time, but then they’ll drop off, you know. Gamification, using social psychology, group psychology – all of these things are proven to work across a whole range, you know, across the whole world. And there’s no reason why fitness apps should be any different.

So we were kind of a front mover on that, and I think other fitness apps are slowly realizing that if you want to keep your market share as big as it is or even grow, you have to gamify.

— What are common mistakes fitness app startups make during the ideation stage?

— I think the biggest mistake that fitness app startups make at the moment is going for function over form. I think they tend to look very much at what it is that I want the end user to do, but don’t think about what it looks like. They don’t spend that much money on design upfront. They don’t think about how it needs to be visually pleasing. Nobody wants to open an app that’s dull, or boring, or gray, or just full of tables.

It has to be visually pleasing. It has to be engaging. It has to be a reason for you to come back into it. Where a lot of fitness apps are very good for a certain group of fitness professionals predominantly, where it’s more about your numbers, your stocks and your functionality, you have to have that beauty and it has to feel engaging. And that’s, I think, where people make mistakes really early on.

— The fitness app market is projected to hit around 30 bln by 2026. Are there any developments or trends that may hinder this growth?

— I mean, look, you never know what’s going to come around the corner. I think, you know, COVID has taught us that apps in general and their ability to kind of democratize a process are just going to keep growing. You know, Joe Wicks with his kind of videos of homes wherever in the UK and around the world was fantastic. But actually, it was kind of specific. And the minute it went on to YouTube and came on demand, it saw massive growth, I think.

You never know what the next big thing is going to be. Certainly, I think for startups, the big players, Apple, Google, Strava are all moving rapidly into the more gamified fitness space. I think you have to be really unique to compete against those, yeah.

— Did the pandemic influence your business and how?

— I think yes, absolutely. You only have to look at, you know, the share price of Peloton, for example, to see that all kinds of fitness apps were impacted by the pandemic. I think what it really did, though, was drive home to people that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get fit.

You know, other fitness apps that were free or not very much money at all saw tremendous growth. And for apps like ours I think, where you are able to bring disparate kind of fitness communities together, so if you had a functional F45 fitness or CrossFit through to, you know, 60-70 Rachael going out for a walk – that ability to kind of marry them together but still have some kind of meaningful collaboration or competition is incredibly powerful.

And we certainly found that people who started out maybe using Magic Mountain just with a couple of their close friends for fitness, then actually expanded it into their family. It was a really good way of ensuring that your family and those that you loved and cared about was staying active when you know, no one was allowed to leave the house for days on end.

— According to Statista, health & fitness apps have just 4% retention rate on day 30. Do you believe investing in QA helps reduce customer churn?

— Yes. And number one, it doesn’t surprise me that there’s kind of a small percent standard in the market. We’re lucky enough to see much, much higher numbers than that. And I think that is ultimately down to two things. And one, as I mentioned previously, is around the app being engaging. But ultimately in the modern world we live in, people aren’t comparing a fitness app to another fitness app. They are comparing a fitness app to Facebook, or they’re comparing it to how Google runs the world.

And what they expect from Facebook, Google, Netflix, all of the big players, is that your app works. Your app works all the time. And the only way you get that is with really thorough QA. You just can’t without a decent QA team. You just can’t test all the possible scenarios. So many types of phones, platforms, you know, it’s impossible. So these days, if you are an app that crashes more than once on a user, people will just stop using you.

So having a really solid QA team backing up the developers, is one of the most important things in the development cycle.

— What milestones did you want to achieve with QAwerk, and what obstacles were standing in the way?

— The main milestone was obviously the release of our app. What I found was incredibly good for QAwerk is just the communication. We’ve had QA teams before and the real big issue was there wasn’t really back and force with the business. They talked to the developers and were very much focused on the developers from a technical point of view, like does it work.

What QAwerk did really well was from the very outset, they talked with me, they talked with Katie, they talked with the rest of the wider business. So it wasn’t just like functionality: if I press this button, does this work? It was also, oh does this feel right?

And actually very proactive, going off the testing scripts to say, actually, you know, we’ve tested this. And yes, looking at your test script, this works exactly as it should, but it just doesn’t feel right, and here are the reasons why that is; here are some suggestions about how we might look at making it better. And that just massively accelerates our development process and actually gave us a much better product in the end.

— What results have you attained with the help of QAwerk?

— Great. You know, let’s be honest, we’ve had an MVP out for sort of six to 12 months now. We knew we had to take a step up. We knew that involved investment in both developers and QAwerk. We have moved from a completely free, simplistic version of the app 12 months ago to now being a premium subscription ready in both app stores.

Our crush logs have gone down I think something about 40 or 50% since we’ve been using QAwerk, and we’re growing subscribers, right. We always knew that when you go from a free model to a subscription model, you lose a lot of your users. But actually we’ve seen growth beyond what we could have expected. So that is yes, down to obviously the product. But as I mentioned before, that is down to the fact that the app works, it doesn’t crash, and that’s all through the very, very thorough testing that QAwerk did and are still doing with us.

— What was the most valuable in this cooperation?

— I’ve worked with quite a few agencies in my time and I would say the biggest differentiation of QAwerk was their productivity and their communication. Lots and lots of good engineers and creatives I’ve worked with do an incredible job of taking a testing script, reading it, testing it across multiple devices, platforms, and writing very detailed steps to reproduce and issues when they arise. And that’s great. And it does a very good job of just making sure that functionally and technically your product works well.

What QAwerk did that I was really pleased with is as well as that they really embedded themselves in the team. You know, it wasn’t like we had a QA testing team and we had the Magic Mountain team. It was one team working together.

And as well as the technical – yes, this does what it should do. They stood up actually yeah, it does, but I’ve been playing around with this, and I don’t think that this user flow works that well. I don’t think these buttons are in the right place. Here’s the reasons why I think that is and, you know, proactively came back to us, the business, to say, I think we should change your designs or I think this user flow needs to be tweaked or actually have you thought about this additional feature?

Now for me, that goes from being, you know, a QA testing team into the development and design team. And all of that is just absolute value add. The communication was incredible from the very early stages when we met with the team, very proactive in discussing with us what the costing would be, very open about the cost model, very open about who they are bringing on and what the skills were of those people.

And then on the project, PM Christina was fantastic, continually gave us great feedback throughout. And the testing team we had, you know, due to world circumstances, which I think QAwerk did fantastically to continue working through. By the way, we had not many, but a small revolving number of testers. Everyone when they arrived knew what the product was and they met with us, they instantly landed in the team and we were just really happy to have them as team members, not as a kind of outsource service. They definitely feel that way.

— Who would you recommend QAwerk to and why?

— I mean, I recommend QAwerk to everyone I meet at the moment. Anyone, anyone who is in the process of either starting a startup or actually has a kind of mature technology team already in place, even if they’ve got an existing kind of QA team or outsourcing relationships set up. I’ve suggested to come and have a chat with you.

I think they’re fantastic. And like I said, especially for startups. At times you’re kind of learning as you go and the kind of skills and nature that the QAwerk team brought just was super helpful to us and I think it would be for anyone else. I think, you know, the ability to bring people, their ability to scale as we grew from kind of one tester up to four testers in a matter of weeks. It was just brilliant.

So I would think if you’re a startup, QA might feel like it’s an expense you can’t afford to start with, but I would say it’s a false economy. Yes, it costs money, but actually not lots of money and not a lot of money compared to how much development costs if you get it wrong the first time round.

And if you’ve got a mature kind of technology capability already, I think it’s worth having a conversation with QAwerk because as I said, they in my opinion went from being a QA team but brought so much more well above the kind of, you know, the cost, and the benefit to us was incredible.

Work With Ukraine

We’ve worked with Magic Mountain before and through the war and continue consistently delivering our QA services despite the trying times we’re living in. More so, all of our clients firmly stand with Ukraine. They extended our partnerships, never doubting our resiliency and ability to keep our word and deliver what’s expected.

So if you’re looking for ways to improve the quality of your app, retain more users, and make your product subscription-based, consider hiring a Ukrainian QA agency. You’ll get great results from people who are not afraid to work under pressure and who are now focused on work more than ever because that’s what keeps our economy afloat and helps us stay sane. People who’ll be genuinely invested and grateful for the trust and the ability to continue doing what they do best.

By hiring a Ukrainian IT vendor, you also make a tremendous contribution to supporting the local communities dependent on businesses like QAwerk that create jobs, volunteer, help the needy, and donate to nonprofits.

Stand with Ukraine by working with Ukraine!

See how we helped Magic Mountain
transition from MVP to Premium
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