Few people would want to walk a mile in SportBrain’s shoes. The maker of a Web-enabled pedometer that not only clocks a wearer’s mileage but also allows her or him to compete against others and track results on the Internet has finally gone belly-up, but not without a fight. And those doing most of the fighting were the company’s 36,000 enthusiastic customers, several of whom still hope to buy the company. Bob Martin, SportBrain’s vice president of engineering, had been posting blow-by-blow descriptions of the company’s efforts to stave off bankruptcy on its site, inspiring a groundswell of customer support. “I bought my SportBrain on March 24th and since then I have walked over 1.1 million steps and changed my life. This little device basically got me off my lazy butt,” said one user.
When a user-sponsored purchase began to look less and less likely, the SportBrainiacs, as they called themselves, begged SportBrain’s management to let them pay a monthly fee. The company’s only source of revenue had been the $99 it charged for the device itself; it had never implemented a fee for its interactive Web services. But the offer from the SportBrainiacs came too late in the game. SportBrain’s financial problems didn’t differ from those of many other dotcoms, but its customer loyalty certainly did. At the end, SportBrain users were logging onto the site more than four times a day on average, according to Martin, and new orders from current members’ friends and families continued to roll in. But that support still didn’t provide adequate cash flow — a lesson for those who would not only talk the talk but walk the walk.