In this episode, Susan Sly talks to former sports scientist Dr. Erik Korem about his revolutionary approach for optimizing health and wellness – one that uses data from wearable devices to provide tailored advice! Unlock the power of personalized fitness with their inspiring discussion on how tech can be used to achieve peak performance goals.
-Dr. Erik Korem
Topics covered in the interview
Tools for Entrepreneurs
Dr. Erik Korem’s Bio
Fueled by a deep-rooted desire to help others live a more fulfilled and healthy life, Dr. Erik Korem is an applied performance scientist that leaves every person or place he interacts with better than he found it. During the nearly 20 years he spent working with establishments like the NFL, NCAA, Nike, and U.S. Dept of Defense, it’s easy to see he didn’t let a single day go to waste.
Similarly, as a Presidential Leadership Scholar that holds a doctorate in exercise science with a research emphasis on sleep and stress resilience, he’s leveraged his education and platform to provide others with tangible health insights by writing for media outlets like Inc and conducting impactful interviews with notable experts and athletes on his podcast The BluePrint
While Erik’s relentless pursuit of high performance has come with its fair share of obstacles, it was also preparing him for his biggest challenge to date; *entrepreneurship*He became the Founder and CEO of [AIM7](https://www.aim7.com/) in 2020, pouring his expertise into an app that analyzes users’ data and provides custom recommendations for enhancing the mind, body, and recovery process. Leveraging the science of adaptive capacity, Erik and his team are unlocking a new level of human performance for anyone with a wearable device — so they can be their best without burning out.
Follow Dr. Erik Korem
Susan Sly 00:02
This is Raw and Real Entrepreneurship, the show that brings the no nonsense truth of what is required to start, grow and scale your business. I am your host, Susan sly.
Susan Sly 00:17
Well, what is up, Raw and Real entrepreneurs wherever you are in the world, I hope you're having an amazing day. And you're here because you have a business or thinking of starting a business. You are maybe in between businesses. Either way you want the raw and real truth about what it takes to grow and scale a business. And my guest today is absolutely going to bring that. In fact, we were having such a deep conversation about burnout and stress and fundraising that I was thinking in my mind, oh, we should have started recording the show. But we are going to record the show now and we will revisit it but my guest today is fueled, I love this, by a deeper desire to help others live a more fulfilled and healthy life. He is an applied performance scientist that leaves every person or place he interacts with better than he founded. During the nearly 20 years he spent working with establishments like the NFL, NCAA, Nike and the US Department of Defense, it's easy to see that he didn't let a single day go to waste or a single second, I will say, after our conversation. He is a presidential leadership scholar that holds a doctorate in exercise science with emphasis on research on sleep and stress resilience, which we're going to talk about. And I will say that he has a Vanguard opinion about stress, which we're going to unpack today, which is amazing. He's leveraged his education and platform to provide others with tangible Health Insights by writing for media outlets, like Inc, which I read, and conducting impactful interviews with notable experts and athletes on his podcast, The Blueprint. He is the founder and CEO of Aim7 and, which I've been poring over the website and it's absolutely amazing. So my guest today is none other than the one and only Dr. Eric Komen. Eric, thank you for being on Raw and Real Entrepreneurship.
Erik Korem 02:17
Thank you so much for having me. It's a wonderful intro. I almost feel embarrassed. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to chat with you do today.
Susan Sly 02:25
Well, let's not, let's not think about embarrassment. But let's think about oh my gosh, we were having, I gotta have to pick up the conversation. So for the listeners, we're gonna jump right in. So Eric, is founding this company during the pandemic. And we were talking about in Jordan Scott's interview, if you, founder of Cobble and there's, I have this whole sense that people who were founding companies during the pandemic, it's going to be you know, the companies we talk about 10 years from now like Uber, Instagram, all of these Airbnb were all founded during the recession. And you know, you're sitting there during the pandemic, it's like, oh, this is a good time to found a tech company. So what were you thinking brother? Like, how did this come to be?
Erik Korem 03:13
Yeah, so my career in sports was marked by kind of two phases. One, I started as kind of as performance coach in college pro sport, and I had an opportunity to work with Olympic athletes for quite a while. And around 2010, there was this pivot. I went to Australia to learn about the emerging field of sport science and athlete wearables. They were tracking athletes in game and using this data, they would connect, they'd have these little devices on the athletes, and they connect to GPS satellites and heart rate monitors, and they could identify and really, they could quantify what was happening on the field. And then they could use that to reverse engineer training programs and all this type of stuff. So I was at Florida State University at the time, convinced our head coach to let us start doing this. This was completely out of the blue, right? And we're kind of duct taping these devices to the pads of the players, I ended up having to hire a former NASA propulsion engineer to help us, you know, organize all this telemetry data. But we had a big problem. We had all this data and no actionable insight. And that's when it hit me like, data without insight is completely useless. And it took us about a year to be able to turn that data into recommendations to improve our training, to improve the way that we were practicing, and even some of the medical components of treating athletes. We had an 88% reduction in injury in one year. Our team went on to win a championship. And as you can imagine, the NFL got interested. They flew in, like what's going on here? And this led to a proliferation of wearable data and devices and opened a billion dollar market in the US for this. So I became a sports scientist and my career kind of took off in that direction. Well, in 2019, I got really curious, I'm like, Huh, you got all these devices. This is like Apple watches on people's wrist. And it's just data. You know, there's like 100 million people that wear wearable devices. And it's just data. That device didn't tell you what to do with it. Like great, sleeping six hours. Now what? So I wanted to know, okay, can we turn this into personalized health and wellness solutions? So we, I'm an academic, so we did a bunch of research and like, what do people want? This is 2019, late 2019. The number one response we got from people, this was interesting. If my wearable could give me more energy, then that would be the win. And I started thinking about it. You know, energy market was Starbucks and it makes total sense. So we ran a pilot, not only could we could predict somebody's energy level, we could predict their energy and mood state two days in advance. So I was in this thing called the Presidential Scholars Program, the CEO Mark Hadar wrote me a check. I was like, You need to go build this company. He's like, I want to be on your board. So call it late 2020, November 2020, I left my career, moved my family back to Texas to build Aim7. So, you know, we're turning wearable technology day into an actionable recommendations for your mind, body and recovery. So the pandemic was just this period of when there was this pause and the silence and we'd already started this project, I can really suss out and go, Okay, what do I think the future is going to be like? I started pattern matching what I saw in sports, and I'm like, the next iteration is there's tons of data, all these devices, people, we're going to want to know how to use it. And so that's what we're leaning into. We're hardware agnostic. We're the data intelligence layer that makes it all useful.
Susan Sly 06:42
Well, firstly, because you're hardware agnostic, that means the valuation at Aim7 is much higher. And so that's, so boys and girls around the world, we're not going to have a hardware discussion. But that, this is where Eric and I are cut from the same cloth in many ways, because that, he's not, what that essentially means to a lay person or a non technical person, is you can integrate with an Apple watch or a Garmin watch. And I have both, because I'm weird, but you know, as a
Erik Korem 07:15
You're a former triathlete, right? It makes total sense you use Garmin.
Susan Sly 07:20
I have different watches for different things. Yes. And then the predictive piece with the data is massive. So we're seeing like Dave Asprey was on the show. I listen to a lot of Ben Greenfield, we're hearing this term, Eric biohacking. And so I get to go back in the time machine, you might not know this. So I put myself through university as a certified personal trainer, group exercise instructor, while I was coding, and I graduated '92. So after a foray into federal law enforcement, I was like, No, I'm not going to do this. And I went, like all in exercise science. So back in those days, it was all textbooks. So I'm reading like, the stuff coming out of University of Toronto with Tudor Bompa, and we're doing like protein periodization. And like all of these, like, trying to figure out how to hack workouts. But the problem was with that, is that it was like, Oh, if it works on this group, it'll work on an individual. And the whole thing with what you're doing is you're taking that and saying, no. What works for Eric? What works for Susan? Because there are a multitude of data inputs, that we're going to design this and that's where we're going. It's customized. The tech, the AI, the ML is used to customize the experience. I'm trying to be calm about your tech. So let me ask you just a bit, I need to
Erik Korem 08:50
I'm smiling ear to ear because I've never heard somebody articulate, you said periodization. I just want to interject here for a second. One of the things that we demonstrated, Dr. Chris Morris, who's on my team in 2015, is we actually, he actually coined this term, fluid periodization. And what that means is this, let's say for the average person, you go to the gym, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you do weights and two days a week you get on the elliptical, right? Just because it's written down doesn't mean your body's able to adapt to that stressor at that time, because think about life. There's all these stressors, money, finances, relationships, and it's sucking what we call adaptive reserves. Kids, I got three of them, right.
Susan Sly 09:30
Yeah, we talked, we had like eight combined.
Erik Korem 09:33
Yeah. What we found was if you adjust the type, intensity, how hard it is, and duration based off of how your body's adapting to stress, you get significantly better results. Like we found 150 to 500% more improvement. And so that's what we're doing. We can give you the precise type, intensity and duration based off of things you like to do. And so that, this has never been made possible before but we started on this in 2015. And now we're turning in technology. But yeah, like, there's things that the elite athletes use, and they have all these data scientists poring over it. And even then it's a very arduous task. But now with machine learning and different ways of turning, you know, creating better decision flows, you can start delivering this customization to not one but to tens of millions.
Susan Sly 10:26
Yes, and the, like, there's so many, like Buzz terms for the, I don't even want to say uninformed, but the uneducated, right? So, you know, protein periodization was a big thing. And then epigenetics is like, you know, people are, Susan stopped talking about health. But this was like decades of my life, right? But the, you know, the whole concept of telomeres and telomerase, and you know what, this aging clock and all of this stuff, but at the end of the day, everything, one of the reasons, and we turn away 90% of guests that apply to the show, but one of the reasons Eric is in the 10% is because this is such an important conversation for everyone to understand whether you're an entrepreneur, or this technology that Eric's created is not for your, you don't have to be an athlete because every day, yes, every day is an athletic event. And it doesn't matter, your age, your genetics, I don't care, I can take 10 people who might have the certain genes for cancer, the most stressed out people, they're going to get the cancer. And that's why I'm so excited about your technology.I need to calm down, I'm too excited.
Erik Korem 11:45
If you're an entrepreneur, you're a high performer. And you're taking on a tremendous amount of stress. And what you need to do, as we talked about this before, is you need to build the capacity for more so that you can take on more with less cost. Less physical costs, because, you know, I'll tell you a story. You and I were talking about this. So you know, I've been in the NFL playoffs. I've been, I've trained Olympic gold medalist and World Championships where like you train for four years for a 25 second event like, that stress. When I started my company, I launched an MVP, right? I'm following the playbook, right? It was a text messaging service version of this, we'd suck in the day, a date, I literally text message them to test the idea. Something happened in the text messaging, pipeline broke. And to me, being in sports, when it was Sunday or Saturday, you were judged in front of the whole United States, right? So they're watching the Houston Texans versus the New York Giants, like you're gonna get judged in the media. So I took everything that seriously. And I remember when that broke, I'm going on a walk around my neighborhood, and I literally, like doubled over, I'm about to throw up. And I literally had a panic attack. And for the software engineers, like dude, first of all, you're gonna have to grow much thicker skin because things are gonna break like Apple breaks, right? Like, okay, okay. But I realized, like, Hey, I had learned to take on stress in a specific domain. And people talk about mental toughness, you know, you have to develop specific toughness for different things. And it comes through inoculation of stress. And I'm like, Okay, what are the tools that I need now as an entrepreneur, so that I can thrive under this situation? So part of the product that we develop was like, how do I build psychological resilience or what we call mental fitness, so that I don't let these situations hijack my emotions, and I can harness my attention, regulate stress and be in the moment what you need, as a parent, you need as an entrepreneur, you need as a good friend, right? And then when life comes, and it's going to come, you're either going into a storm or had now one, you can then thrive under that environment. So this is not something that I am immune to. I felt it in a very personal way. And it's guided and steered part of like how we built this.
Susan Sly 14:09
And that, that MVP, so I know you listened to Jordan's interview, and one of the big things I evangelize is you don't have to learn how to write code to be a tech founder. So here you are an exercise scientist. And I'm laughing about FSU because if I, you know, University of Florida versus Florida State, like people think there were big rivalries. Oh, that is a big rivalry, right there.
Erik Korem 14:36
Some serious hatred there.
Susan Sly 14:38
Yeah, there is. And one of my friends is a professor at the rival school. Anyway, but you know, thinking about that MVP, so you get a check handed to you. So how did you get that built? Or do you secretly code in Python at night? Or Wha, How did that happen?
Erik Korem 14:57
I tried to learn how to code in Python during the pandemic. This is before I even like, decided to go full in. And I'm like that's, it would take too much time to upskill myself to a point where my zone of genius is building the rules architecture, what we call the decision intelligence layer. And so I found somebody to help do the basic MVP of like, okay, we use this text messaging pipeline to this very simple questionnaire that somebody would take, and then we pull in their data. And that's been part of the struggle too, is this getting those top notch engineers. It's just like sports. If you have an awesome quarterback, guess what, you're probably going to have a chance to win the Super Bowl, if you don't have amazing engineers, good luck. And I'm coming, I'm out in Silicon Valley, I have no experience with going out, like, where do I find these people. They're like unicorns. It took a while. I got a funny story, you just research. I was working on sucking data in from the Apple Watch. And Apple doesn't give you that data in a very clean structure. And so I found the original paper that validated the sleep algorithm, the first version, called the author, he's at the buyers Institute at Stanford, I said, Alright, I need an engineer that can help me do this. He said, Oh, I got the guy for you, former music teacher turned coder who don't work for them. He's now our front end engineer. That led me to XYZ. Now I got a crashing back engineer. And so backend engineer and, and then there's data science folks. And so it's just, I just had to go out and learn how to recruit great talent. And luckily, I've been doing that, as you know, as a coaching staff, now I'm just trying to sell a different vision, and go find people that fit our culture, what we're trying to build, and then put them in the right seats, so they can do what they're born to do. And I enjoy that. I enjoy being the head coach and being like, Okay, we're gonna create a great culture, we're gonna have a mate, you know, we're not going to just put core values on a wall, we're actually going to walk these things out and treat each other in a way that's like that, honors people, and then go find the best at what they do, they are passionate about this, get them in the right seat and let them fly. And so now we're starting to get those teammates on the bus and it's, I really enjoy it. It's fun.
Susan Sly 17:22
It is fun. I love that you mentioned that about the talent, because that is a, that is something that stops people in it. It comes down to an abundant mindset. And like you said, being a great coach, knowing how to talent scout, like, even at Radius, some of our best employees are people we knew in our personal lives. And you know, our head of data engineering was best friends with one of our co founders, my our, our VP of sales, oor head of Global Business Dev, there are friends of mine that I met out there are doing talks on AI, right? And these people that come in, and our head of front end, he formerly worked at GoDaddy, he was one of the founders, he brought in another engineer who's now the customer success engineer for this, you know, huge deployer we're doing and, and it's fun. And I think the other thing, like just being raw and real. It's so weird for me even as a woman and a female founder, because I grew up raised by a single dad, always playing sports my whole life. On Sundays, we watched a ton of football. So I kind of operate like, everyone we're on a football team, and I come in the office and I'm like, said, can I hug you? And he's like, Okay, right. I'm a hugger. And, and for some people, especially different cultures, or whatever, it's so weird. And I've had to sort of navigate. Eric, as in, you know, maybe you've had this too, like as a founder at a growing team, where eventually the team's going beyond this group of friends. And now there are people coming in who don't know you, and don't maybe relate as well. Like, have you had to deal with that yet?
Erik Korem 19:04
No, I mean, we are early stage C, so we're about to roll out. And so we have like an alpha with like, 350 people use that to build a private beta, which we're about to roll out literally February 1. I mean, it's happening right now. We have a waiting list about 2000 people. I love it. You're in. You are in. Don't even worry about, you're in. But I will say this like, you have to pattern match, right? So what do I look for? Okay, when I was in a large organization, you know, you have the coaches then you have the support staff and then it kind of branches out. Or any large organization you read enough. It's the same thing. If you don't have really strong core values, if you don't have tenants away, people are going to treat each other if you don't talk about this and it's a very, it's part of your DNA. Then those you know you have your first 25, 30 hires and then when they start making hires, they're not gonna be hiring off the same quote playbook, right? And so I'm doing everything I can this year, it's like a big emphasis for me is one of my big five goals is to have weekly touchpoints on these core values, our guiding principles, what our mission is, what our vision and like, you got to do it over and over and over again. So when that data scientist is hiring, the person that's going to be underneath them, that they know what to go look for. And so it's part of who we are as an organization. I haven't gotten there yet, but I'm trying to think about in two or three years, what that's going to be like, and are we putting the right people in place and I'm, right now I'm just, we have a small team, but they're mighty. And I just, I love being around them. You know what I'm saying? And I think we got the right DNA right now for that.