INTERVIEW WITH WOO SPORTS CEO AND FOUNDER LEO KOENIG – CHANGING THE WAY WE JUMP!

WOO SPORTS – CHANGING THE WAY WE JUMP

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In this article I profile WOO sports, a kiteboarding tech start up out of Boston.  WOO has developed a kiteboarding performance tracker that captures session stats on the fly and an app platform that allows kiteboarders to connect and compete with one another on a local and global scale.

I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with WOO sports CEO and founder Leo Koenig. It’s not everyday there is a kiteboarding tech start-up, so I was excited to get a glimpse in to Leo’s journey from initial idea to successful startup focusing on entrepreneurship and kiteboarding.

Be sure to check out the interview at the end of the article as Leo provides a ton of value, inspiration and a unique perspective on business, kiteboarding, and life.


I believe kiteboarding and entrepreneurship share a lot of commonalities. In both, you constantly need to get out of your comfort zone. You take risks. You are adventurous and do things differently.

~ LEO KOENIG, CEO WOO sports


GET IN THE GAME

 

When you think about most sports, there are ways to easily quantify your experience.  How many goals did you score? Did you win or lose? What was your time? Judges scores? Number of aces? And so on….  Competition is what drives people to play and athletes pushing their limits ultimately pushes a sport to new heights.

Regarding kiteboarding, there has been a lack of statistics and competition due to a lack of tooling and because of this, analyzing performance has been left to spectators, fellow kiters and yours truly.

This type of eye-witness account leaves a lot of room for interpretation and after session squabbling, “Bill said I jumped 5m , I think I jumped 10m, and Andy said I barely got off the water!!”  Being able to know what you actually jumped is great but knowing that your skill is improving is of greater value to you in the long run.

To get the most out of our experience and become better at what we do, it is essential to embrace the relationship between how we feel we did and the raw data behind the experience.

WOO sports, a kiteboarding tech startup has developed the hardware and software platform that is gamifying the sport of kiteboarding.  With session stats now in hand (jump height, hang time, landing force) and a platform for like-minded individuals to congregate, the gamification of kiteboarding has arrived, and where there is game there will be players!

WOO SPORTS

WOO sports is changing the way we think about jumping, riding and connecting.  The company led by Leo Koenig, CEO and founder has assembled a diversified team of kiteboarders from United States, Netherlands, France and South Africa.  Truly a company for kiters by kiters.

WOO is pushing the boundaries of kiteboarding from an individual sport to a global game and doing so with good intentions and style.  One of their missions is to get people off of their couches and back playing action sports, whether it be kiteboarding, snowboarding, skateboarding or any other action sport.


“As long as we have happy customers, we’re happy. But if one day we can say that we drove X amount of people to spend Y amount of time outside, being active and doing what they love instead of in front of their TV screen, that’s when we meet our own definition of being a successful business”.

~ LEO KOENIG, CEO WOO sports


WOO has developed a wearable performance tracker for kiteboarders and the ability to capture data that was previously left in the surf.  A board is an extension of your body when out on the water and this is where the Woo sensor is placed.  The device is a shock proof, waterproof, corrosion-resistant, 9 axis motion sensor that stores important session data such as total number of jumps,  jump height, air time and landing force for analyzing and competing worldwide.

 

After a session you pair the device wirelessly to your phone to display all the data captured from your session on the WOO app.  Once the data is revealed you can compete against amateurs to pros alike, from Toronto to Cape Town.  Products like this are sure to change the way we think about kiteboarding, connecting and competing.

  


RIGHT OF PASSAGE

The majority of kiters will eventually have a WOO strapped to their board because every kiteboarder loves to jump.  I can still remember the first legit jump I completed and how excited I was about it – I must have completed another hundred that session just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

Jumping is a right of passage and the foundation for a ton of tricks thereafter, and ultimately, brings us back to the roots of the sport.  Kiteboarders are always striving to jump higher for longer and now we have the technology to capture those moments in time.

There is no mistaking when a rider is setting up a jump.  As a kiter you can spot it a mile away and your eyes are drawn and fixated in anticipation of the moment they are ejected towards the sky.  Although jumping is a rush for the rider it is also the wow factor that is kiteboarding – it can grab and hold spectators attention for hours.  Jumping is deep-rooted in kiteboarding culture, so much so, there is a competition dedicated to it, Red Bull King of the Air, where WOO was the official height tracker used for the competition.


If you don’t do something you love, you already lost.

~ LEO KOENIG, CEO WOO sports


WHAT GETS MEASURED GETS MANAGED

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With the power of our jumping stats now readily available, we have the means to set a goal and track it.  Although topping the leader-board and jumping the highest may be the ultimate goal for some – the means by which you get there can positively impact all aspects of your riding and lifestyle.  Maybe it will motivate you to add a few more gym days, improve your diet or practice until you master the jump takeoff.   If the WOO can drive you to take action, it’s sure to be a game changer.

One valuable aspect of WOO’s platform, in my opinion, comes in the form of putting yourself out there for everyone to see and compete with.  This type of social accountability is sure to keep you pushing for the next level.  Competition with others is great, but ultimately competition with self propels you to new heights.

Until recently the kiteboarding community was fragmented with local forums and meeting places online to share thoughts, opinions and critique, but no central hub where you could connect and compete with kiteboarder’s from everywhere  – Woo has changed that.  The WOO platform is a central hub for the global kiteboarding community, offering focused connection, competition and passion in one place.

With companies and innovation leaders like WOO sports pushing the boundaries of kiteboarding and advocating for healthier lifestyles the sport is surely headed in the right direction.

As mentioned earlier, I had the chance to conduct an interview with Leo Koenig CEO and founder of WOO sports.  I got the chance to see what it takes to go from kiteboarder to kitetrapaneur. Leo’s candid and insightful answers deliver value on many levels, so here we go!



 INTERVIEW WITH LEO KOENIG 

DAN:  Can you take us back before WOO was started to give us a sense of how the idea/WOO team came to life?

LEO: Very organic in fact. We’re all kiteboarders, and have a knack for technology as well. So when after every session, there are 20 riders claiming to have the biggest boost, you start thinking that in today’s age, with all the technology around, we should be able to measure this. So we started tinkering around with some off the shelf hardware and found that it’s doable, and components aren’t too expensive. What really hit a nerve, though, was when we thought about how much time people spend playing games in front of TV screens and mobile devices. The average american spends about 9hrs per week! What if we could take everything that makes those games so fun and addictive, and bring it into the real world of action sports? What if we could subsequently drive people off of their couches and back onto the streets, slopes and oceans? That’s when, in the summer of 2013, we decided to quit our jobs and start Woo Sports.

DAN:  The WOO team is truly global, what is the biggest benefit of having such a diverse team? 

LEO:  In large parts, it’s a cultural thing. Having people from all over the place keeps you curious and open minded. It brings a lot of different perspectives, and if you manage to pick the best of all of them, good ideas come to fruition. Beyond that, it’s really our passion for kiteboarding and technology that unites us, and I feel like the physical distance makes that bond even stronger.

DAN:  During the early stages of the company was there a moment that stands out in your mind where you realized you were on to something amazing?

LEO:  It’s a good question. No doubt did we always believe that we’re onto something amazing, but it’s easy to fall in love with your own product. We did notice early on how much what we built pushes ourselves, and changed kiteboarding for us, but I think it really hit home when we received a letter from a customer in the UK. He described in detail how Woo literally changed his life. This, together with tons of other feedback from customers, really made us think that this is here to stay. When you see the genuine excitement in people’s faces, even if it’s just them nailing a new personal best, you know that this product goes deep.

DAN:  What was the biggest challenge your team faced integrating hardware and software technology with a dynamic sport like kiteboarding?

LEO:  For one, there is always hardware. Building a piece of technology that has to survive in salt water, sand, sun, and impact, and building it reliably in large quantities, is really tough. We saw many kickstarter campaigns fail to deliver anything at all. When you have a few perfect prototypes and think you are three months away from shipping (“now we just have to build it”), that’s where the really hard part starts. Many call it the manufacturing valley of death. We’ve had our fair share of troubles as well, but we made it through after all. The second challenge was to build an accurate device. We can’t afford the inaccuracies e.g. a FitBit has ­ if 0.01% of the more than one million jumps logged thus far were outliers, e.g. measuring 100+ ft, we’d have 100 bad jumps on our leaderboard, and our whole concept would be pointless. Keep in mind that we’re working with consumer grade sensors, and we’re in a very variable environment. You ride in waves, chop, flat water. Sometimes people ride over rocks, do board offs, lose their board mid air. Those are all things that can easily throw off your algorithm if not properly tested.

DAN:  Do you think being kiteboarders gave the WOO team an edge when it came to being entrepreneurs?

LEO:  No doubt. I believe kiteboarding and entrepreneurship share a lot of commonalities. In both, you constantly need to get out of your comfort zone. You take risks. You are adventurous and do things differently. Those are all traits that we believe make great entrepreneurs. Besides, kiteboarding is the perfect activity to clear your mind after a stressful day, and relax a little. So it’s the perfect balance to the stressful day to day life of working in a startup.

DAN:  Can you give some advice to kiteboarders out there that may want to combine their passion with entrepreneurship? 

LEO:  Really the most important thing is to just do it, and don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is part of the process, and if treated right, always comes with really important and valuable lessons. And never fall for the belief that a stable job offers any kind of security. If you don’t do something you love, you already lost. You’re much better off taking a leap of faith and doing something you love, chances are you’ll be damn good at it. And be wary of any feedback you get from the outside world, very often, they are intimidated by you making a bold choice, and hence advise you against it.

DAN:  Were there any fears you were faced with as entrepreneurs, personally or as a team, if so how did you overcome them?

LEO:  Always. Startups are always an up and down, one day seems like the best day of your life, and the next day you feel like you will die. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. There are a few curve balls thrown your way every single day. And if you look at the history of any iconic startup or founder ­ Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos ­ they all were very close to failing. Some of them even did. It’s scary, without a doubt, but a good dose of perspective always helps levelling things off. Traveling always helps me to put things in perspective, after all, what we deal with are all just first world problems. Stay true to your values and to who you are, and you’ll always have that true north that guides you through the tough times and keeps you even keeled.

DAN:  Can you give us your number one tip for boosting higher?

LEO:  The number one mistake riders make when boosting is edge control. A good edge and pop before takeoff are crucial to a high jump. A small board can help hold the edge even a tad stronger. So I think working on pop and edging skills is the key to boosting high.

DAN:  How will the WOO sensor and software platform change the way kiteboarders ride?

LEO:  Imagine you’d be playing baseball purely for the sake of swinging the bat. There would be no games, no innings, no score, no singles/doubles/home runs, no league, no world series. It would be utterly boring for those doing it (and for those spectating). That’s essentially where kiteboarding is right now. It is an exciting activity to do in itself, but if we can add all those competitive elements, and everything that makes games so entertaining ­ badges, levels, trophies, challenges etc. ­ we believe that kiteboarding will change as an industry. Right now, our focus is on height, so for now you’ll see tons of people focusing on boosting, but who knows what the future holds.

DAN:  What can a kiteboarder expect when they buy a WOO?

LEO:  An easy to use product, a lot of fun and banter on the beach, and excellent customer service should anything go wrong.

DAN:  What has it been like to partner with professional kiteboarders and in particular (fellow Canadian) sam medysky?

LEO:  It’s always great. You get to know them through magazines and videos, but when you meet every single one of them, you see that there are very unique characters behind them, and most of them are actually really down to earth people. ​It’s great to get their feedback and also get a little infected by their passion for the sport, and get inspired by their determination to make the decision to live a not so ordinary life.

DAN:  Can the WOO team describe their ideal kiteboarding session? where? with whom? what conditions?

LEO:  Cape Town, South Africa. The Cape Doctor (local name for the southeasterly winds, sideshore) in full force with 40+ knots winds, clean 6­8ft waves rolling in in 15s periods. Boosting heaven, megaloop heaven. The perfect setup to build speed and load up the edge in the flats between the wave, and then boost off of a perfect kicker just before it’s about to break. No surprise that the top three on our global leaderboard all set their records in Cape Town.

DAN:  I think it’s amazing that WOO is an advocate for getting people away from their couches and out actually performing action sports, How does the WOO product help with this cause?

LEO:  Imagine you hold the lead on your local spot leaderboard, and a buddy rubs his session in his face, having knocked you off the #1 spot. Or your rivaling team just topped your team in accumulated height. That afternoon, while you’re tired and tempted to just chill on the couch, you’d be eager to grab your board, get out there, and win back that #1 spot or show the other team how it’s done.

DAN:  How does WOO differentiate itself from the competition in the space? 

LEO:  All competitors are seen as such because they have a similar device. For us, the device is just the enabler to build an awesome and engaged community, and fun games around it. So our focus is much more on software and gamification, simply measuring jumps is not that exciting. Of course, we hope that our authentic brand and customer service also distinguishes us from competitors.

DAN:  I’m sure there is fierce competition amongst the WOO team, who holds the record for highest jump? best wipeout?

LEO:  Highest jump is (and always will be) Patrick, our Zimbabwean gazelle. We’ve been trying to crack the code since day one, but for some reason, he always jumps at least a meter or two higher than the rest of us. He is currently at 20.0m, but I know it’s only a matter of time until he keeps climbing. Best wipeout is probably myself. I sometimes use a 123cm 2005 North Jaime Pro (I call it the Whippersnapper). It’s easy to catch an edge on it, and one gusty day, I did just that and got lofted by a gust. I was in a deadspin and did 5 rotations before smacking into the water, unaware that my kite was about to crash in the water as well. I got the wind knocked out of me and broke a rib, but that’s all part of the fun 🙂

DAN:  What has it meant to your company to be the official height tracker used for the Red bull king of the air competition?

LEO:  It’s of course a great validation of our product, and to us, it felt like we are “official”. Especially in 2015, when we launched our product, it got us a ton of exposure and awareness. We are a completely new product category in kiteboarding, so it takes a lot of effort to educate the market on what WOO actually is, and I think the KOTA helped us tremendously.

DAN:  How do you define success for WOO sports?

LEO:  As long as we have happy customers, we’re happy. But if one day we can say that we drove X amount of people to spend Y amount of time outside, being active and doing what they love instead of in front of their TV screen, that’s when we meet our own definition of being a successful business. Too many businesses nowadays are focused on nothing but making money, and I think that’s not right. Ironically, those who focus on solving a real problem and doing something meaningful are those who are financially successful as well, in parts because they have the passion and resilience to pull through tough times.

I would like to thank Eric Fernandez from WOO sports for setting up the interview and also a big thank you to Leo for taking the time to do the interview.  Leo’s answers have provided great insight into his company and an interesting perspective on combining your passion with entrepreneurship and business.

session complete….

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