Whoop | How to Avoid Copying Your Competitors
📈 Whoop's 6 unique innovations that led them to a $3.6B valuation
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When you think of "wearable tech" today, you probably think of the slough of smart watches, fitness bands and sleep rings that have flooded the market.
Though the term "wearable tech" has been around since the '80s, it was only really known amongst the super-nerds. The Apple Watch and Google Glass didn't come out until 2014 and, until then, the only real contender for "wear
able tech" was Fitbit.
That's the lay of the land where our story picks up.
Hop in my time machine for a sec - we're warping back to 2012. And everything is about to change.
Will Ahmed was at Harvard studying Government and playing Squash, and he desperately wanted to find a way to track his body's data in pursuit of peak performance and, unfortunately, Fitbit just wasn't cutting it. Nothing he could find gave Will a 24/7 picture of his health.
So he decided to build something of his own.
He teamed up with with two Harvard classmates, John Capodilupo and Aurelian Nicolae, to start a company they called Whoop.
The vision was to give you a 360-degree view of your health.
But to get the sort of comprehensive data set that they needed, the tech had to be tracking your body's metrics 24/7, which, barring a chip implant, would be incredibly difficult.
The technology that Will had envisioned wasn't just measuring your heart rate. It was measuring skin temperature, respiratory rate, blood oxygen levels and much more, all of which required an array of sensors and would need to be touching your skin at all times.
This created two seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Challenge 1: How do you get people who wear a device all the time?
Challenge 2: Even if you could get them to wear it all the time, what do you do about charging?
Let’s get into it.
Back to First Principles
As Will, John and Aurelian began brainstorming their new device, they quickly realized that they would have to do something very different than what had been done before.
If they tried to copy FitBit, they would end up fighting against the same behavioral patterns that made Fitbit unusable for Will in the first place.
People would take it off when they weren't exercising because it was either too bulky, heavy or unfashionable.
People would take it off when they slept because they needed to charge it.
To tackle these two problems, they had to go back to first principles. First principles are the fundamental assumptions on which an idea is based.
Instead of asking, "what sort of tech can we pack into a traditional wearable device," first principles would ask, "how can we make this technology more wearable?"
Challenge 1: Wearability
The challenge of wearability is harder than you might expect.
As a thought exercise, name one thing that you wear 24/7. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
The only thing I could think of was my wedding ring. For some folks, perhaps that list might extend to a necklace or bracelet? But even then, a necklace wouldn't guarantee consistent contact with your skin, a ring couldn't contain all of the hardware they needed and most people wouldn't wear a techy looking bracelet because it would be too visible.
After weighing their options, the team narrowed down their criteria to two requirements. Whatever the general public is going to wear 24/7, it must be:
preferably with a choice between the two.
Solution 1: Make it Cool
Innovation #1: Make it screen-less.
If someone were trying to be cool, they might want to wear a nice watch. And if the Whoop had a screen, it would look like another watch and wearing two watches is definitively not cool.
So the Whoop got reduced to a sensor that would simply beam the information to the screen everyone keeps on them - their smart phone.
Innovation #2: Make it minimal.
It couldn't be chunky or annoying. That means no buttons, no push notifications, no chimes or noises. And instead of a sweaty, rubber strap or heavy, metal strap, they opted for something light and comfortable: fabric. It needed to feel like a piece of fashion, not technology.
Innovation #3: Make it customizable.
Another perk of opting for a fabric strap was the sheer number of possibilities that allowed Whoop to offer near-infinite possibilities. With over 74,000 options, there was something for everyone.
Solution 2: Make it Invisible
Once they had designed for the "cool" factor, they didn't want to just stop there. What if someone didn't want to wear something on their wrist? Like if they were going out for a nice dinner?
They had to offer an option for the Whoop to turn invisible.
If you can't wear something on your wrist, the only other option is you must be able to wear it somewhere else. Of course, that opened up a new set of challenges. The sensors and the strap were both designed to work on the wearer's wrist.
Innovation #4: Make it versatile.
So they went back to the drawing board and engineered the sensors to be able to work no matter where it's worn on the body. A huge feat by itself which paved the way for the second-part of the innovation… they made it invisible.
Innovation #5: Make it invisible.
A technology hardware and software company became a clothing company, designing clothing specifically to work optimally with the Whoop.
They released a line of “Any-Wear” apparel, all designed with specific holders for the sensor, tucked away, out of sight.
Challenge 2: Charging
While Challenge 1 was a social challenge, Challenge 2 was a hardware challenge. How do you charge a device that's designed to never be taken off?
I'm sure they explored powering the device using solar, induction charging or even the body's heat like they're experimenting with at UC Boulder.
Innovation #6: Make it modular.
In the end, they opted to build a modular charger that you can slide onto the device while it's on your wrist. Once it's charged up to 100%, slip the charger off and... you know... charge the charger.
Whoop's commitment to their vision of a 360-degree view of your health led them back to the most fundamental questions. And the answers to those questions showed them their path to innovation.
Stories from the Trenches
When we started building a CRM for small home service providers, the industry incumbents were all web-based platforms. And while this is fine for the larger operations that have office staff to manage their admin, the smaller owner-operators would often be left with no other option than to do all of their admin from their kitchen table in the evenings after a hard-day's work.
So we build for mobile first, allowing them to handle 100% of their admin from the field in the moment. Our vision was for these hard-working folks to pull up in their driveway at the end of the day with their admin done.
I’m not going to pretend like designing for mobile first is on-par with creating 24/7 body-tracking hardware. Just trying to give you a peek behind the curtain :)
I'll see you in the trenches
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