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As Apple Takes Lead in Wearables, Whoop Grabs $25M to Expand

Xconomy Boston — 

Whoop took a different approach to try and break into the crowded wearable device market: Start by winning over professional athletes, then gradually expand sales to a wider array of consumers.

The Boston-based startup, which unveiled its biometrics-monitoring wristbands two-and-a-half years ago, has had success with the first goal. Now, it says it’s making progress with the second.

“We’re finding a lot of people who seem to buy into this mission of unlocking human performance,” says Whoop co-founder and CEO Will Ahmed. He declined to share sales figures, but he says demand from professional and non-professional athletes is growing.

His company plans to invest in technology development and ramp up its sales and marketing efforts—including making an international push—with the help of a new $25 million investment announced today. Whoop has also hired former Puma chief marketing officer Antonio Bertone as its chief marketing officer. Bertone was already a member of Whoop’s board of directors.

The Series C funding round brings Whoop’s total venture capital haul to $50 million, Ahmed says.

The round was led by UAE71 Capital, an investment firm based in the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed says. Other contributors to the round include the National Football League Players Association, Two Sigma Ventures, Accomplice, NextView Ventures, and a group of high-profile individuals. Among them: former National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern; Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey; Russell Okung, offensive tackle for the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers; Mike Novogratz, CEO of Galaxy Digital; and Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the MIT Media Lab and One Laptop Per Child.

Whoop’s latest investment comes as demand for wearable devices continues to grow, albeit at a slower pace. Wearable device makers—led by Apple and its smartwatch—shipped 115.4 million products worldwide last year, up 10 percent from the previous year, according to research released last week by International Data Corporation (IDC). But that growth rate fell short of 2016, when global wearable shipments were 27 percent higher than 2015 levels, IDC said.

A notable storyline in 2017 was the shrinking group of competitors in the wearables industry. Jawbone, one of the sector’s better-funded startups, reportedly began liquidating its assets last summer, while Intel and Adidas reportedly shuttered their wearable device divisions. Meanwhile, other wearable makers are expanding. Fitbit, for example, acquired Cambridge, MA-based Twine Health—which sells software that helps patients collaborate with caregivers and health coaches—to boost its health and wellness programs for employers, insurers, and hospital systems.

Whoop is betting its narrower focus—both in terms of its target customers and its products—will help it grab a larger share of the market.

“Whoop is really focused today on a higher end of the market that is more focused on performance,” Ahmed says.

The six-year-old Harvard University spinout sells a $500 wrist-worn strap (pictured above) that measures certain biometrics 24 hours a day and is intended to help optimize elite athletes’ training regimens, reduce injuries, and boost performance. It tracks heart rate, looking at things like variations between beats, even while asleep; ambient temperature and the body’s response to the environment; motion; and sleep patterns, among other things. It transmits data to an online database for analysis of things like the level of strain on the body and how well the body is recovering from it, as well as how much quality sleep the person is getting versus how much sleep the body needs to adequately recharge.

Whoop’s goal is to help users uncover “secrets your body is trying to tell you,” Ahmed says.

One thing Whoop’s device doesn’t do is tell time. Negroponte, the Whoop investor who has joined the startup’s board with the latest investment, says it was a wise move not to make another smartwatch.

“There are so many ways to tell time and it is truly a fashion (and fickle) business,” Negroponte writes in an e-mail to Xconomy. “It is tempting to engage in it, but Whoop would be well advised not to.”

Professional athletes across several sports are strapping on Whoop’s product to try and give themselves an edge, leading some sports leagues to adjust their rules. Last year, Major League Baseball said players could wear Whoop devices during games. Ahmed says his company’s product is also one of six devices the NBA allows players to wear during practices—but not yet during games. That hasn’t stopped some players, like Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, from hiding the Whoop under a sweatband during contests, ESPN reported last year. Asked about that mini-controversy, Ahmed says he viewed it as a positive because it demonstrates that players see value in Whoop’s devices and the data they produce.

“I think the nature of good technology is to be a step ahead of the market,” Ahmed says. “A lot of the professional sports leagues I think weren’t prepared for this idea of athletes wearing technology 24/7.”

It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though, given advances in technology and a growing emphasis on data analytics in pro sports—look at recent champions like the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

Meanwhile, Whoop is starting to see more demand from non-professional athletes, Ahmed says. They include runners, cyclists, triathletes, and other fitness enthusiasts, as well as high school athletes, he says.

Negroponte says another promising market for Whoop is … Next Page »

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