​Whoop co-founder: ‘Wearables have been plagued with snake oil’

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Whoop has been a staple of the wearable tech scene since it launched its first wearable in 2015, and a cult hit among hardcore fitness fans.

But you’re more likely to see the Whoop Strap 3.0 on the wrists of LeBron James, PGA Tour golfers such as Rory McIlroy and pretty much every NFL player than your friends and relatives. That’s because Whoop has predominantly been aimed at elite and performance athletes, and the company has signed deals with some major sports stars, franchises and leagues.

But things are changing. After making its name in elite sport, the company is branching out to more to the general consumers. But how will this change its ethos, and what new products will we see?

We caught up with John Capodilupo, co-founder and CTO of Whoop, to get the inside track.

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Plagued by snake oil

John Capodilupo, co-founder and CTO of Whoop

John Capodilupo, co-founder and CTO of Whoop

“I think wearables that have plagued with a lot of snake oil and false promises for a long time, and it’s up to us as a company to establish that we did the homework we did the research and that Whoop works.”

John Capodilupo certainly doesn’t pull his punches, and it’s clear that Whoop is doing its homework when it comes to its metrics.

Even two years after the launch of the Whoop Strap 3.0, the company is still working hard on training its sleep algorithms. In the past month, Capodilupo revealed the company has run over 600 human sleep trials to help make marginal gains to its tracking.

“At first wearables were all about tracking your workout, and I think now it’s about tracking your downtime, and your recovery time. Sleep is the biggest component of that and that’s an area that we really want to dominate”

The Whoop Strap is underpinned by its readiness score, which assesses how well-rested athletes are after training. Aside from tracking the workout itself, Whoop looks at your sleep, your vitals, heart rate variability and other metrics to see how you recover. And Capodilupo believes that’s the next focus of wearable tech.

“It’s a philosophy we’ve had since day one. We want to be grounded in scientific validity and scientific research. We’re not going to rest until it’s 100% and replaces the gold standard, that’s our goal.”

Taking inspiration from Nike

PGA Golfer Justin Thomas with Whoop bicep strap

PGA Golfer Justin Thomas with Whoop bicep strap

While Whoop has been a cult hit among CrossFitters, functional fitness types and other high-performance athletes, we asked if Whoop needed to broaden its appeal.

“We take inspiration from Nike in their approach right they started off as the best running shoes for professional runners – but then developed every day, every man, every woman products.”

And it isn’t just athletes that Whoop has worked with – and the company has studied the recovery and readiness of trauma surgeons.

“They do 36 hours of surgery, they’re the athletes of their field, but we start there and start understanding the physiological demands there and then start, you know, brought into the market that way.”

And that makes Capodilupo believe Whoop can help everyone:

“Everybody sleeps, and everyone wants to feel better and perform better whatever they do. And we really want Whoop to be that platform.”

Building a Whoop for everyone

Whoop Strap 3.0

Whoop Strap 3.0

The Whoop Strap itself is radically different from other smartwatches and wearables, as it doesn’t have a screen. It quietly tracks your vitals, and the app – which is accessed via a subscription – does all the analysis.

It’s different to the likes of Fitbit and Apple, because the Whoop Strap 3.0 is free but with a substantial $25 per month subscription. The Whoop Strap 2.0 cost $500 – so this isn’t for everybody. We asked if the cost of a subscription would put off the general person, and whether a cheaper tier system with stripped back features could be the answer:

“That’s kind of how we think about it entirely. I don’t know about tiers and the pricing structure and stuff like that, but the feature set and the value. How does this analysis apply to different groups of people?”

But wouldn’t general users want the kind of visual feedback of smartwatches and fitness trackers? Will there ever be a Whoop with a screen? Capodilupo doesn’t think so:

“We don’t want to be a smartwatch. There’s a lot of great smartwatch makers, but they have to make sacrifices. Battery technologies only advanced so much.”

“There’s no magic. The more sensors and the more data that you want to capture, you have to make trade offs. Over time there could there be a screen version of Whoop with very limited functionality, maybe, but it’s definitely not something that that occupies a lot of our thought right now,” Capodilupo said.

New sensor tech

Whoop focuses on recovery and readiness

Whoop focuses on recovery and readiness

But that doesn’t mean that Whoop is looking to simplify. And there are plenty of sensors and applications it’s looking to add to future devices.

But Capodilupo talked down some of the sensors appearing on the latest smartwatches, such as blood oxygen via an SpO2 sensor that landed on the Apple Watch Series 6.

“Pulse oxygen is interesting, but maybe less interesting than most people think. Most people will be 94%+ pulse ox unless they have COVID-19 or are training at altitude,” he said.

But Capodilupo did say that oxygen levels could lead to the detection of muscular injuries:

“A similar idea is something called muscle oxygenation, that can give an idea of muscular strains and stuff like that.”

Like pretty much every company we’ve spoken to, he says that non-invasive blood glucose tracking is a focus – although the difficulties mean it’s not something that we’ll see any time soon.

“Being able to capture things blood glucose would be an amazing feat for humanity. I don’t think that’s near term, but something we’re definitely looking at,” he said.

So while today you might see LeBron James and Michael Phelps sporting a Whoop Strap, it seems likely it could be battling for the attention of mere mortals like us – just without the snake oil.

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