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Can Pavlok's wristband zap you into better shape?

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 25, 2014 02:30 PM

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Plenty of people have started sporting wristbands from Fitbit, Mistfit, or Nike to track how much they walk or exercise each day. But if just looking at a chart of your activity level — or sharing it on Facebook — isn't motivation enough, a Boston startup called Pavlok may have the answer.

It is designing a wristband that can give you a not-so-gentle electric shock when you miss your fitness goals.

The startup came to Boston last summer, after winning admission to the Bolt accelerator program under the name Behavioral Technologies. Pavlok is planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign soon to raise money for its first batch of bracelets, says founder Maneesh Sethi.

"It's not about the shock as much as it is about training your brain to do the things you say you're going to do," Sethi says. Negative reinforcement, a/k/a punishment, "really does make people pay attention," he says, adding that he studied with behavior change expert BJ Fogg at Stanford. (Sethi didn't graduate.)

Sethi previously built a motivational website called Get It Done in 30; he also gained some notoriety in 2012 for hiring a woman to slap his face when he got off task. (Where else? From Craigslist.) He also runs the "life hacking" website Hack the System.

sethi.jpg"The idea with Pavlok is getting a feedback device on your wrist that adds serious ramifications if you don't go to the gym, and also rewards you when you are doing the right thing," Sethi says, comparing the concept to other startups that use money for motivation, like Stickk and Pact.

Sethi wasn't ready to talk about specific features or pricing, but Pavlok has brought on a former iRobot and Lego engineer, Jim Lynch, to help shepherd its product to market. Lynch is the startup's VP of engineering.

Sethi has said on his blog that he has raised more than $100,000 for Pavlok so far (the Bolt program provides $50,000 to chosen companies), and that his goal for the forthcoming crowdfunding campaign is $500,000.

I briefly mentioned Pavlok/Behavioral Technologies last summer, in writing about the startups chosen for the first class of the Bolt accelerator.

What do you think? Would a zap from a wristband help you stick to your fitness goals?

(Concept drawing is from Pavlok's website.)

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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