In an exclusive interview for our CEO Corner series, Whoop founder and CEO Will Ahmed talks to Athletech News about his journey to creating the popular wearable technology company platform
“Whoop was founded with a contrarian belief that feelings are overrated. You can’t necessarily feel everything that’s going on in your body.” Whoop founder and CEO Will Ahmed expressed this profound statement to Athletech News ten years after creating the wearable technology company which includes investors Kevin Durant, Patrick Mahomes, and Eli Manning.
However, the story of Whoop evolved with scores of medical knowledge ingested by Ahmed along with genuine fascination about the inner machinations of physiology. He founded Whoop after graduating from Harvard University. When Ahmed was 24 and Whoop was about two years old, it had 25 people in its ranks and 20 million dollars raised. The entrepreneur admits feeling “pretty overwhelmed” at the time, but adds he “ultimately learned tools and techniques that helped me manage that stress and become, in turn, a better leader. I think that a lot of being a good CEO or being a good leader is also being comfortable with yourself and in your own skin. Sometimes people need to look inwards before they look outwards in the process of growing in that role.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating health awareness, Ahmed assembled a multibillion-dollar company employing 700 people and built technology that has continued to improve the health of others, as well as himself. “I’ve definitely had a lot of breakthroughs from wearing Whoop myself. Over the years I’ve cut back on alcohol considerably. I’ve definitely optimized things related to supplements and sleep. I discovered I had COVID because of my Whoop,” says Ahmed.
The Whoop wearable, currently in its fourth iteration as the WHOOP 4.0, helps measure a number of metrics including one’s skin temperature, blood oxygen, and heart rate on a 24/7 basis. By collecting accurate, traceable health data, Whoop helps to simplify this once unknown information in order to truly understand one’s body. For Athletech News’ CEO Corner series, Ahmed not only discloses why Whoop is the future of predictive and preventative health but also details his motivation and habits which keep him going strong.
Athletech News (ATN): Please tell us about your background.
Will Ahmed: I got into health and fitness because growing up I was always into sports and exercise. I was probably playing a dozen different sports as a ten-year-old. I ultimately went on to play squash competitively. I played squash while I was at Harvard and I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing to my body while I was training. I got very interested in how you could better understand the human body — what did it mean to train optimally, what did it mean to overtrain, undertrain, misinterpret fitness peaks, prevent injury? These were some of the questions I was asking myself as a student.
I ended up reading about 500 medical papers while I was in school and writing a paper myself around how to continuously understand the human body. So my background was really in physiology in terms of being oriented towards starting Whoop. In the process of building Whoop, I’ve gravitated a lot towards the product and marketing, so thinking about how we can create a product that really improves people’s lives and their health, and also thinking about how we can make that a technology; that’s aspirational and something that people gravitate towards.
ATN: Please tell us about your current company and how either your role or the company came to fruition.
Ahmed: The company was really based on physiology and research. [I] ultimately founded the company at the end of 2011, my senior year, and recruited two co-founders (John Capodilupo & Aurelian Nicolae) by the time I graduated. They had very technical backgrounds: computer science, mechanical engineering. We started working out of the Harvard Innovation Lab in 2012 and really focused on building technology that could deeply understand the human body and that had never been created before.
ATN: What was your journey like to get to this point?
Ahmed: I don’t know that there was a specific, singular moment as much as it was years of being the only thing that I thought about in my free time. I tell other entrepreneurs the things that you’re thinking about in the shower or before you fall asleep tend to be things that you care a lot about. For me, that was certainly building Whoop.
I became an entrepreneur before I even knew what an entrepreneur was. I was just deeply obsessed with this problem [not understanding everything about one’s body] around understanding the human body. The problem being you didn’t know what you were doing to your body, you didn’t understand everything about it. I thought that should change and I thought a lot of antiquated medical technology should be in a much easier to use form, [along with] measuring your body continuously.
ATN: What was your first job?
Ahmed: My first part-time job was being a caddy where you carry golf clubs for people who are playing [golf]. Technically, my first full-time job was being the CEO of Whoop.
ATN: What motivates you?
Ahmed: A lot of what I look forward to every day is the product that we build and the people I get to build it with. In terms of the product, it’s a product that has been proven to help individuals improve their health; that’s obviously deeply inspiring to have people using a technology that you’ve helped create that’s making them healthier, happier, or fitter.
In terms of the people I get to work with every day at Whoop, it’s a very diverse group of people, [a] very technical group of people. People with deep expertise in a lot of different areas. That, for me, is exhilarating because I get to work with a lot of different folks from different backgrounds and, in turn, it helps me understand what it really takes to unlock human performance.
ATN: What are some of your daily habits?
Ahmed: I try to wake up at roughly the same time every morning. I get out of bed. I take a very cold shower. I like cold showers because they naturally make you happy and they force you to think about breathing properly. I get dressed and then I immediately meditate for 20 minutes. This is something I’ve done every single morning for over eight years now. Transcendental meditation. I generally recommend any type of meditation or mindfulness to people. I think learning how to breathe, learning how to listen to your thoughts is pretty critical for really anyone’s success. Depending on the morning I’ll either then work out with a trainer or I will be in the office right away.
I eat three meals every day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don’t really eat any snacks throughout the day. I drink an enormous amount of water. Really more water than anyone I know. I drink coffee in the morning and try not to drink coffee again after 2 p.m. At the end of the day, if I hadn’t exercised in the morning I’ll exercise in the evening. Before bed, I have a few habits related to sleep — very cold bedroom, very dark bedroom. I wear blue-light-blocking glasses about an hour before sleep. Blue-light-blocking glasses naturally help you fall asleep and also allow you to look at screen devices which, as an entrepreneur, I can’t help but seem to be doing late in the evening.
ATN: Where do you accomplish your best work?
Ahmed: In my office. I like working out of my office. I also like being around people and I think it’s something that’s been completely overlooked during COVID-19 and this movement to Zoom and this question of are people ever going to go back to their office. When you’re in an environment with hard-working people driving towards the same mission it can really create an energy and a feeling of enthusiasm and accomplishment together that you really can’t replicate over a computer screen alone at home.
ATN: What makes a good CEO?
Ahmed: I think you have to set a very clear vision. You have to stay incredibly focused in pursuit of that vision. You have to find and recruit phenomenal people and then most importantly you have to empower those people and listen to them. If you can do all those things, you can build a really exhilarating organization and accomplish a lot of goals.
ATN: Where do you see the future of fitness going?
Ahmed: I’m optimistic in the sense that I believe that the health and fitness of humans will improve and improve somewhat dramatically over the next decade. I think that wearable technology, and in particular Whoop, has the potential to diagnose outcomes before they occur. A lot of the challenges with our healthcare system is that it’s curative versus preventive. Curative being something bad [has] happened, let’s figure it out. Preventative being how do we stop the bad thing from happening. When you can shift curative costs to being preventative costs you can make the whole system better. Whoop has the potential to shift curative costs to being preventative costs.
Candace Cordelia is a Pennsylvania-based journalist and on-camera broadcaster/host, with a reporting background in wrestling, entertainment, and lifestyle. Her reporting work has been featured on websites and in publications such as Bustle, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, New York Daily News, am New York, ABC News, Yahoo!, Good Morning America, Madame Noire, Sister 2 Sister, etonline.com, Diva Dirt and The Everyday Fan. Her favorite workout influencers include Chloe Ting, Cassey Ho, Pamela Reif and Mary Braun. She still can’t stand burpees and Rebbl Dark Chocolate Immunity Elixir is one of her favorite post-workout protein sips. You can follow Candace on Twitter @CandaceCordelia and on Instagram @thatgirlcandace16.