The saying goes – “To spot disruption, look for something that people do frequently, then look for the points of frustration in their experience and ask, ‘Could technology make that significantly easier to do?’”  Although it may be counter-intuitive, technology is revolutionizing an activity and industry that we as humans certainly participate in frequently, but is traditionally ‘low tech’ and based rather on determination, discipline, and physical exertion – exercise and fitness. Technology and Digital innovation are enabling the personalization of fitness and unlocking our ability to optimize human performance to create a new normal of using technology to make our bodies more efficient and effective. A company born from the Harvard Innovation Lab producing the first fitness wearable product engineered to unlock human performance, Whoop, has developed a unique business and operating model to deliver on this promise of using technology to further our human capabilities. I argue that the company has the potential to optimize our fitness activities and healthy lifestyle decisions to a much greater extent going forward by leveraging the power of their digital technology to deliver even more data about our daily activity.
Founded in 2012, Whoop’s first product is a wearable device that not only monitors a vast array of body statistics, including ambient temperature, recovery scores, heart rate variability, as well as motion statistics , but also recommends actionable steps to improve performance based on this data. Whoop also does all of this while maintaining style and fashionability, appealing to both elite athletes and fashionistas alike. Different from other wearables and fitness monitors, Whoop’s business model creates value for the user with its expansive and customized set of insights, instead of just simply monitoring metrics and serving as an aesthetic for the ath-leisure community. As a result, Whoop has been very popular with elite athletes across a variety of sports, including superstars Michael Phelps and Lebron James, by educating its users on themselves in a way that was previously only available through intensive lab testing. Digital innovation and the expansion of technological capabilities makes this process possible on a personal and customized basis, allowing the user unique flexibility. Whoop’s unique operating model vs. competitors is based on not only analyzing more data, but continuously analyzing data and generating a constant feedback loop. This is differentiated vs. some other wearables (FitBit, Nike FuelBand) that only monitor your fitness on a just-in-time basis without the continuous feedback loop to allow for innovative iteration towards peak performance, and I would argue is the future.
A key problem that Whoop is solving in the health & fitness space is the lack of data transparency and difficulty of monitoring health statistics vs. athletic performance, the same type of problems we have seen throughout our TOM course in regards to delivering value with a product and communicating the value along the supply chain. I think Whoop does a great job in combating these problems, although can do even more in terms of data collection and application as they continue to expand. Whoop should allow athletes to track what type of workouts are the most effective given certain rest and recovery statistics; i.e. Whoop would be well served to broaden the innovation and product development funnel to further improve the company’s ability to deliver customized solution to maximize performance. This would come through an iterative process and increased analysis of scenarios, bolstered by the addition of further data from increased commercialization (as Whoop’s products have been primarily focused on elite professional athletes to date). Whoop should also consider expanded partnerships with leagues and training or health providers to make their data analysis even more effective and applicable. This could be accomplished by broadened their offered solution sets with help from these outside entities.
Competition will be fierce in the fitness wearables industry for many years to come, as industry experts expect 150m units (including performance monitoring wearables, smartwatches, etc) to be sold annually by the end of this decade . To withstand competitive pressures from much larger players such as Apple (Apple Watch) and Nike (FitBit), Whoop needs to focus on its core value-add to the consumer, which is amassing data at scale to make recommendations to optimize human performance. This iterative analysis and application of data is what sets Whoop apart and must be defended as its competitive advantage as the digital innovation in this space continues to heat up.
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