Six observations by a startup that just got funded.
I am proud and humbled to share news of Zone7’s funding. This round has been lead by Resolute Ventures, with UpWest Labs following through their earlier investment. We are also fortunate to onboard other incredible investors like PLG Ventures, Dave Pell, Amicus Capital and athletes Jordi Cruyff and Kristaps Porzingis.
Our motivation in founding Zone7 has been centered at the potential to positively affect the lives of many people, from elite athletes to anyone trying to stay in shape. Being data geeks, we are also highly motivated to solve a REALLY HARD PROBLEM: creating an AI that understands the balance between reaching your maximum potential and avoiding injuries.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, co-founding a startup is the closest I’ve been to having a psychotic breakdown. Everything is moving so much faster than usual, the good parts and the not-so-good ones. Ultimately, there is less time to digest and take everything in, and you need to learn how to learn fast.
But the psychosis hasn’t arrived just yet and instead I’m experiencing tremendous excitement and curiosity. The journey of Zone7 began 18 months ago with the goal of preventing sports injuries by applying AI to the gigantic amount of data that athletes collect.
Like every other startup out there, we are making a thousand decisions every day and the simple reality is that some of them are good and others are very bad. As with Eastern philosophy, the good and the bad are inseparable. We’ve got a long way ahead, but the mileage so far confirms that pride and frustration coexist and that people you go a journey with will provide support and a butt-kicking all at the same time.
Here are six observations from our journey so far:
1 — Feedback from REAL users
We are getting the product in front of real coaches, athletic trainers and sports scientists in some of the world’s top sports organizations. Some of these people provide really helpful feedback and continue to use Zone7 every day. We are grateful to them. For me as a founder, building confidence in my judgement about the market, customers and strategy is a tough process. Meeting and learning from customers has been the best way to fuel and accelerate this learning .
2 — An INCREDIBLE team.
Can’t say how proud I am of this. Absolutely super talented individuals who are coming together into a formidable team. Coming into the office in the morning and sitting next to people I am truly inspired by is one of the most fulfilling experiences so far.
3 — Live and be immersed in the target market
Heading to the US with the guidance of the incredible Gil and Shuly from UpWest Labs was one of our best decisions we made. Just like a sword is forged from a thousand hammer blows, a product is forged by dissecting and exploring many ideas and learning from many mistakes. Being close to your customers, speaking to them daily, being immersed in their culture is the best thing you can do to accelerate the learning and forging.
4— Forging a partnership with people we like and trust
We are incredibly fortunately to forge a partnership with the incredible team at Resolute Ventures, and then seeing it grow with the addition of Dave Pell, Amicus Capital, PLG Ventures, Kristaps Porzingis, Jordi Cruyff and a few special others. Sure, these people invested in the company, but they also connected with our vision and with us as human beings. What does that “connection” mean? It’s a bond built on trust and respect. It means they want Zone7 to succeed not only because they have a financial up-side, but because they want US to succeed, and they want our vision to fulfill its full potential.
5— More help from the “dream team”.
Sorry for the cliche, but “dream team” is the best description I can think of. We meet dozens of people every month who want to help and I am really proud of having an incredible team of advisors and mentors join the extended team. Their commitment to the success of Zone7 is proving to be invaluable. In Japanese culture, this is referred to as Senpai (先輩), an older brother who can provide guidance and most importantly, shine a light on your blindspots. We are grateful for their role in this journey.
6 — MISTAKES
We also making a lot of mistakes. Every day. Sometimes repeating the same mistake more than once. From some of these mistakes, valuable lessons are learned. If I have to pick, I’d focus on this:
Stay focused on figuring out two things: what works for your customers, and what your blind spots are. The hardest thing for me was to put my sales ego aside and let customers use the product for free for longer than I planned.
Looking ahead there is a lot more ground to cover. Soccer remains our strongest sport and we are making strides in other sports. Funding is a really important milestone but in many ways, it is simply a bridge that successful companies pass through. Once crossed, the ‘real’ work can begin: to build a business that makes a positive impact on people’s health and fitness.
As we continue this journey, I want to take this opportunity and be grateful for the incredible support received from my team, investors, customers, advisors, family and friends. And a special thanks to my incredible co-founder who deserves a lot more credit than he feels comfortable accepting.