EPISODE 21 — Will Ahmed — Unlocking Human Performance
Will Ahmed is Founder and CEO of fitness tracker & lifestyle brand WHOOP — and he’s on a mission to unlock human performance. Used by world-renowned athletes and high-performing entrepreneurs alike, WHOOP wants to give everyone the chance to operate at their peak and understand their bodies in a profound way.
On this episode of The Game Changing Attorney Podcast, Will busts the myths and reveals the real science behind operating at your optimum potential. He answers questions like:
- How can tracking your own body’s data unlock your peak performance?
- How does stress manifest differently in entrepreneurs and elite athletes?
- Does blocking blue light really help you get better sleep?
- Can a health tracker predict COVID-19 in asymptomatic patients?
- And much more!
2:43 – The origins of WHOOP. “My experience of being a college athlete showed me that athletes, myself included, really didn’t know all that much about what they were doing to their bodies while they were training. There was sort of just this perception that if you trained a lot eventually you could get fit. And for me, I used to overtrain as a result of that because I used to kind of push, push, push — and then all of a sudden, you fall off a cliff. Other athletes would get injured or misinterpret fitness peaks or not necessarily understand the importance of recovery or sleep. So for me it was really trying to understand everything I could about the human body. I did a lot of physiology research while I was in school. I read something like 500 medical papers, and I wrote a thesis around how to continuously understand the human body. I would say that ultimately became the business plan for starting WHOOP.”
5:03 – The first breakthrough. “If we can measure [heart rate variability], we would have this unbelievable lens into your body status and how rested or recovered your body was. And for me that was quite exciting. So a lot of the first 12 months of the business — ‘business’ really in quotes because we weren’t selling anything — really the first 12 months of technology development were spent figuring out if we could measure heart rate variability accurately from the wrist, and that I would say was our first breakthrough as a company.”
7:38 – It’s not just for athletes. “If you go back to the origin story for WHOOP, it was really feeling like I didn’t know how much I should train on a given day. And so my assumption was that I should just train a lot — and that’s how you burn out. That’s how you get run down, and we’re seeing this now outside of sports and exercise, all across society. How do you prevent burnout? How do you be more optimal as a human being in your daily life, right? And so that’s where the origin for this idea of recovery came from: to be able to give someone a statistic every day that told them not just what had happened, but what they should do next.”
10:38 – Creating the best for the best. “So what we saw is in 2015, two of our first hundred users were people like LeBron James and Michael Phelps. And so that was a sign to me that we were on the right path, because there were a lot of things wrong with our technology from just an ease of use standpoint, yet we were able to have, you could argue, the best athletes in the world at that time — the best athletes ever — willing to use it, because for them, the promise of being able to measure things accurately like sleep and recovery was such a big promise that was a huge value proposition.”
13:04 – Adding balance to your life. “There are two ways to think about adding more balance to your life. The first way — and this is the way that most people recommend — is, ‘Well, you’ve just been putting too much stress on your body so you need to take on less stress.’ And that’s fine. I mean, we do that with consumers every day. We show them you didn’t sleep well. Your body’s run down. Do a little less today. But the other way that’s actually less talked about, that’s more important for entrepreneurs, is how can you actually take on the same level of stress, but be more recovered and be more rested so that you can keep taking it on. And so, what I encourage entrepreneurs to think about is all the habits that they can embody that actually allow them to maintain a high output for a long time.”
17:22 – The WHOOP difference. “We collect a lot more data. That’s an advantage we have over other products in the market. We sample data across five sensors 50 to 100 times per second, and we collect about 100 megabytes of data on a person a day. That’s about 10,000 times as much data as a Fitbit or an Apple Watch in a given day. So we have a massive data advantage, and then we’ve built the best algorithms on top of that. I would also say that we approached it from the point of view of wanting to be as accurate as the gold standards — as true medical equipment. We want to be able to be the equivalent of a sleep lab. We want to be the equivalent of a chest strap. We want to be an equivalent of an electrocardiogram. And frankly, if you don’t strive for that level of accuracy, you don’t come anywhere close.”
22:16 – Follow the data. “For the longest time I felt like pop culture health stuff has been very all one-size-fits-all. The flavor of the month is paleo, the flavor of the month is keto, the flavor of the month is melatonin before bed — whatever it is, right? And that’s what you should do. I just think that’s BS. I think it has to be entirely based on who you are and what the physiological response is. So if someone says, ‘Hey, should I go on this diet?’ I’d say, ‘Try it, test it, and see what the data says.’”
25:25 – The keys to good sleep. “Sleep consistency, I would say, is one of the most profound and that’s something that WHOOP does a good job coaching you on. Alcohol is bad. Alcohol affects sleep. Sounds obvious, but when you see it in the numbers, you’re kind of like, ‘Ah, that’s a bummer.’ Generally speaking, the colder the room, the better. Most people are sleeping in a room that is too hot, and they’re also sleeping in a room that’s too bright. So, you also want to have a darker room if possible. Some people have found benefit from noise machines. You also typically want to avoid looking at your phone right before bed and staring at screen devices.”
28:33 – The power of momentum. “The cool thing about finding a way to manage through really difficult times is that when times are then good, you realize that it’s almost like you’ve been training with weights on, and all of a sudden the weights are off, the wind’s at your back, and you really realize the power of momentum. I think for any entrepreneur or executive trying to get something done and it’s an uphill battle, you’re sort of faking in your mind some level of momentum you’re giving yourself, some illusion of momentum to keep going. That’s a mechanism, but what the reality is is when you actually have true momentum, like true tangible momentum. You feel so much faster. You feel so much freer. So I would just encourage people who do feel like they’re going through a tough patch to know that it’s a healthy thing that they’re building in the process.”
31:48 – Innovating quickly pays off. “We got there early. We did a lot of research. We understood that [COVID-19] was a respiratory tract infection. We honed in on this idea of respiratory rate early, and in early March we were the first consumer app to have COVID-19 tracking in the app. And the nice thing about having a lot of data and a lot of members is that you can build data sets quickly. We had about 2,000 responses of people who had tested positive for COVID-19, and within three weeks we were partnered with CQU and other research institutions, and we were up and running to publish data on what WHOOP data looks like before, during, and after COVID-19 — and what we found was quite powerful.”
34:26 – How WHOOP changed the PGA Tour. “The PGA Tour for a long time had a bunch of golfers wearing WHOOP. One golfer, Nick Watney, had been wearing whoop for 10 months. About a month ago, he tested negative for COVID-19 on a Tuesday, and the tournament is from Thursday through Sunday. He then goes to play in the tournament on Thursday, wakes up on Friday feeling completely fine, but his WHOOP data shows this massively elevated respiratory rate. For 10 months, Nick Watney’s respiratory rate was 14 every day, and all of a sudden he wakes up one day at 18. He had seen the research that we’ve published about respiratory rate and so he went to the tour doctors and said, ‘I think I need to be tested again.’ They actually said he didn’t need to get tested again, but he forced their hand and he got tested. Sure enough, he had COVID-19. For the next two weeks, he didn’t have symptoms, yet if you looked at his WHOOP data you could tell that something seriously was up with his body.”
35:51 – You must monitor your body closely. “There are secrets that your body is trying to tell you that you can’t feel. And in general, feelings are overrated. I don’t think that’s ever been more true than with COVID-19, where you can literally be a carrier of COVID-19 and feel nothing, and give it to someone else, and it kills them. I mean, that’s how scary this virus is. And so, yes, in general, my bias is that people should be monitoring their bodies to understand their bodies.”
39:16 – Branching out and scaling up. “We’re working in virtually every industry. We’re finding partners to do this with now, which is exciting for us, but also a little surreal. Like, we can actually play a big role right now, so we’re doing our best to keep up. For example, we’re working on a construction site with 10,000 construction workers. They need to work, and they also need to be thoughtful about how to do that safely. We’re working right now on some Hollywood sets. We’re working with transportation — people that are responsible for transporting humans and people who are responsible for transporting supplies. These are airlines. These are helicopter companies. We’re working with corporations — people in a corporate environment where an executive wants their team to be more thoughtful about how they manage their bodies. You know, a little bit more sleep and recovery focused than just COVID focus. We have a bunch of partners there.”
43:04 – Will’s predictions for the future. “I think every individual is going to have a perfect recipe of what makes them more optimal, and then of course it’ll be the responsibility of the individual to decide if they’re going to follow that recipe. But I believe that WHOOP is pretty close to being able to provide a 24/7 life coach that tells you exactly what you should do. And that’s what we want to offer to the market. That’s what we’re excited about. I think over time it’ll expand into other aspects of performance. But we want to be able to help people understand their bodies in a very deliberate way.”
44:13 – What does being a game changer mean to you? “I try to stay hungry. I think for me, I don’t necessarily think of myself as a game changer. I think I’m really fortunate to get to work with brilliant people every day, and I get to work on a really special product. So that’s what gets me up and energized every morning — the people I work with and the product that we’re developing. And if at the end of that road, we can make a big impact on someone’s life, that’s pretty cool.”
Heart rate variability
Blue light glasses
Respiratory Rate & COVID-19 WHOOP Study
Michael Jordan Flu Game
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