Startup Spotlight: HumonMay 8th 2015
We speak here with Alessandro Babini – Co-founder and CEO & Daniel Wiese – Co-founder and CTO of Humon, creators of the first thigh-worn wearable that measures oxygen levels in the muscle in real-time and without a single drop of blood to help athletes understand their bodies and capabilities. Through the interview, we find out why ‘listen to your customers’ is both the best AND worst advice they’ve received along the way.
Humon has built the first thigh-worn wearable that non-invasively measures the way your muscles use oxygen in real time. While existing technologies like Fitbit that measure heart rate are useful for leisure and recreational athletes, there is limited value that an athlete can draw from such devices to improve their game. Athletes or consumers looking to understand where their body’s limit is and optimize their training are forced to go through an invasive, expensive and time-consuming lactic acid threshold test. “Lactic-acid threshold” refers to the point beyond which sustained effort isn’t possible as a result of a deficit of oxygen in the muscle (translation: How hard you can push your body without tiring out) and is the gold standard metric in endurance training. Humon’s technology uses an optical sensor to determine how the blood within an athlete’s muscle changes color, thus providing information about the oxygen saturation in the muscle. The sensor works in real time, on any skin type, skin color, fat level and is completely non-invasive.
With the Humon wearable, athletes, both professional and amateur, can now optimize performance by simply wearing the comfortable band around the thigh while they train. Humon provides them valuable feedback, helping them regulate intensity, know when and how hard to push themselves, understand how to warm-up and optimize recovery. All these actionable insights are provided in real-time during training, so athletes can optimize performance day after day like never before. Humon can literally help make the world better athletes.
GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did Humon get started?
Humon started as a market research project at MIT Sloan where the premise was that technology and biology would intersect to create something amazing to help consumers understand more about our body. It seemed crazy that when you wake up in the morning and drive to work, you know more about your car and what to do to keep it running its best, than you do your own body. As a result, the market research was structured around a single question that we asked more than 300 people from different markets (Military, ICU Patient, Elderly, Children, Athletes, etc.):
“What do you need to know about your body today that would change your life?” We received a lot of different answers and had a hard time finding a clear use case behind them, or a problem we could really build a game changing company around solving. Until we started speaking to athletes and endurance athletes. To that same question they all answered “my lactic acid threshold”. This is not what we do today, but it is the underlying problem that we solve. (Ie: Helping athletes understand how hard they can push themselves but without exceeding the limits of their body)
GH: How did you build your team?
Dan and I met at MIT Sloan and quickly realised we had a similar vision for the world of the future and how we wanted to contribute to this world. 6 month after partnering together we brought on 3 amazing people with diverse skill set to build the product. This team is what made Humon possible today.
GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?
This Humon blog post explains the Humon philosophy. I recommend reading it on Medium.
GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
In September 2015 we were selected to be part of the Battlefield at TechCrunch Disprupt in SF. This required us to have a live demo of our product. We worked day and night the weeks prior to the conference to make everything worked but on the day of the event, our live demo failed. We then learnt that dropbox’s live demo at the same conference many years back (when they were still a startup) also failed. I guess it means that we’re on a good track!
GH: What did you learn from your first customers?
We’re building a thigh worn wearable (because we measure what is happening in the muscle directly) which is quite uncommon and we were scared it would not be comfortable. It turned out to be the least of our worries and all our users told us they didn’t even notice it when they were training.
GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?
Infinite help through the MIT Networks, Greenhorn Connect, and successful Boston based entrepreneurs.
GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
More influencers. Boston is a great city for startups. It has the best talent coming out of the best universities, infinite sources of money, and a great network of people helping each other. However many startups leave Boston for the west coast.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
Best: Listen to your users – Everything we do is built for them and with them
Worst: Listen to your users – You have to make sure not to loose focus early on by trying to add too many features and satisfying all needs.
Shipping our alpha prototypes to early testers and having some of them run the Boston marathon with it was very rewarding. Many people put a lot of hard work and passion to make this happen and it felt great to see users deriving value from our product.
GH: What does the future hold for Humon?
The human body hasn’t changed much in the past 100 year and is not going to going to change much in the next 100. Yet runners have been running longer, swimmers swimming faster and team becoming better. At Humon we are enabling the next generation of athletes to be more than their legacy by allowing them to optimize their body in real time and for the first time.