ASICS buys Runkeeper for $85M, plans to expand Boston staff

Fareed Mosavat, Chas Wagner, and Jason Jacobs looked at support tickets at Runkeeper.
Fareed Mosavat, Chas Wagner, and Jason Jacobs looked at support tickets at Runkeeper.

Runkeeper, supplier of a smartphone app that tracks users’ jogging routes, has been purchased by Japanese sports-apparel company ASICS Corp. for about $85 million, giving new life to one of the first successful Boston startups of the iPhone era.

Runkeeper will become a subsidiary of ASICS, which said in a news release that it plans to benefit from Runkeeper’s technology and “a management team with extensive experience in this field.”

Runkeeper founder and CEO Jason Jacobs said Runkeeper’s roughly 40-person Boston staff would expand “aggressively” following the acquisition.

“We are planting a flag, and in Boston for the long haul,” Jacobs said. “ASICS Boston will be something you will hear much more about going forward.”

Jacobs said he will remain in charge of the Runkeeper unit and plans to take on a larger digital strategy role with ASICS in the future. He also said little would change for the app’s users.

“Not only will the Runkeeper product carry on, but we will be able to move even faster. We will be able to pursue the vision we’ve set out to pursue all along, with a partner that can bring many resources to bear that we couldn’t fathom having access to on our own,” Jacobs wrote in a blog post.

Founded in 2008, Runkeeper had raised about $14.5 million from investors through 2014, according to ASICS. Boston-area venture firms Spark Capital and Launch Capital were among Runkeeper’s investors.

Sports apparel companies have been snapping up Runkeeper’s competitors for the past few years, which set up the Boston-based app developer as a likely buyout target.

In August, Adidas paid $240 million to acquire Austria-based Runtastic. A year ago, Under Armour said it would pay $475 million for MyFitnessPal, a San Francisco startup that attracted about 80 million registered users, and $85 million for Denmark-based Endomondo, which had about 20 million registered users.

Julie Ask, an analyst for Forrester Research, said sports-apparel companies are hungry to access data about what consumers are doing in their day-to-day lives, in hopes that they might be able to use that information to bolster their marketing efforts.

But so far, Nike has been the only major sporting goods company successfully build its own digital apps that appeal to consumers, she said.

“People aren’t going to download an ASICS app or an Under Armour app yet. What they’ve created on their own just isn’t close to good enough yet,” Ask said. “In some ways, Under Armour and ASICS have taken a roundabout way to getting that audience — they bought it.”

Runkeeper recently said its registered-user count had reached 50 million. But the company also had struggled to find a way to make money from that user base, and cut about 30 percent of its staff in layoffs last fall as it switched its focus from adding users to growing its sales.

Last month, Runkeeper announced it would push toward its own fusion of fitness data and sportswear by selling its own branded clothing online. Combining with ASICS makes that plan much more achievable, Jacobs said in an interview.

“It became clear to us that in the long term, we wanted to have our own products. But we’re not a physical product company. And it became clear to ASICS that they needed to have strong digital assets — all the things that we have,” Jacobs said. “It was really just a strong natural fit.”

Updated 5:57 pm with quotes from CEO and analyst.