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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Whoop CEO Will Ahmed: ‘I became an entrepreneur before I even knew what an entrepreneur was’

This story is part of the Behind the Desk series where CNBC Make It gets personal with successful business executives to find out everything from how they got to where they are to what makes them get out of bed in the morning to their daily routines.

Will Ahmed has come a long way as an entrepreneur and CEO since launching Whoop with some college buddies in 2012.

"I think I was naturally inclined toward entrepreneurship, but I became an entrepreneur before I even knew what an entrepreneur was," Ahmed, now 31, tells CNBC Make It.

Whoop — a membership service that says it "collects physiological data 24/7 to provide the most accurate and granular understanding of your body" via a wearable and an app — has also grown drastically. The Boston-based company has partnerships with the PGA, MLB and the NFL Players Association as the official wearable for its athletes. It has raised more than $200 million to date from investors including former Super Bowl MVPs Patrick Mahomes and Eli Manning, for a $1.2 billion valuation.

Whoop has raised more than $200 million to date, valuing the company at $1.2 billion.Source: WHOOP

But creating a business, let alone a billion-dollar "unicorn," wasn't Ahmed's initial goal. At first, he just wanted to solve a problem: As a busy government and economics major and captain of Harvard's squash team, he was training too much and burning himself out.

"I would get to be one of the fittest guys on the team, but then I would also kind of collapse," says Ahmed. "So I got interested in, what could I measure about my body to prevent this?"

Will Ahmed playing squash at Harvard.Source: WHOOP

Ahmed began to research what he was doing wrong, and it turned into an obsession.

"I read something like 500 medical papers while I was in school, and I wrote a paper myself on how to continuously understand the human body," he says. "That research ultimately became the business plan for Whoop."

Here, Ahmed talks to CNBC Make It about the obsession that led to Whoop, his biggest mistake and why he loves cold showers and meditation.

On being an entrepreneur: 'I became very obsessed with solving a problem that I faced'

I became an entrepreneur … because I became very obsessed with solving a problem that I faced personally in my life. I kept thinking about this problem of not understanding your body, not knowing enough information about the human body.

I cared more about solving a problem than I did about starting a company, although it turns out starting a company was the way to do it. [My research] ultimately became a need to build technology to solve that problem.

Through all the difficulties of building the business in the last eight or nine years, I think if you can always go back to trying to be obsessed deeply with a problem, that can help pull you through.

There was never a financial motivation for me, it wasn't about driving revenue or market size. It was really this obsession with, can you improve people's health and how can you do that? I think that has gotten us pretty far.

On his biggest mistake: Only 'compare yourself to yourself'

There's a mistake that young entrepreneurs make — really entrepreneurs of any age — and I certainly made it. It's that when you are first getting started, you compare yourself to these heroic entrepreneurs, the Steve Jobs, the Elon Musks and the Jack Dorseys of the world.

You say to yourself, 'Gosh, I can't even hire this one person and here they are, launching rockets or whatever else they are doing.' Like, I'm just not on that caliber.

It's actually a very unhelpful point of view. When they were at your stage, [who's] to say that they necessarily knew all that much more than you did, right? You have to grow into the role.

The process of growing is really focusing on yourself, improving your skills, and you just keep getting a little better every day. Then you wake up 10 years later and you are running a billion-dollar company.

I think it's actually very doable for a large number of people, but I think you have to be incredibly focused on how you are developing. I think it is very self-critical to know what the areas are that you aren't developing fast enough in and what the areas are that you need people around you to complement your skills.

On his routine: Cold showers are 'this one small thing you have to overcome every day'

When I wake up in the morning, I take a cold shower. I like cold showers because it's like this one small thing you have to overcome every day. It really gives you a real rush and makes you happy. I do it for two to five minutes probably.

Then I get dressed and I do Transcendental Meditation. I meditate for 20 minutes every morning before I get my coffee and ideally before I look at my phone. I would say that it's probably the single most important thing I learned in my life. It allows you to really examine what are the things that are on your mind and what are the things that are sort of drifting in the subconscious but are affecting your decision-making. I started doing it about six years ago.

I eat three meals a day. I really don't snack. I try to have caffeine in the morning but very little caffeine in the afternoon because it starts to affect your sleep later on. And I try to exercise five days a week.

I've got a whole routine before bed, where I wear these blue light-blocking glasses about an hour before bed. I have a really dark bedroom and I wear a sleep mask on top of that to make sure I'm blocking out any light.

On his childhood: 'My dad is an Egyptian immigrant'

I grew up on Long Island [in New York]. I played a bunch of sports. I was an only child, so I liked being with friends and teammates through various activities.

My dad is an Egyptian immigrant. I think that was helpful for me as well to see someone come to this country with very little and over time, rise the ranks in finance. My mom is an American and a great writer. My dad was much more street smart and my mom was much more book smart.

I think one thing that may have foreshadowed my interest in the [health-tech] space was I always had a general interest in technology. I had one of the first iPods in my sixth grade class or something. I had one of the first Palm Pilots when I was 11 or 12 years old.

I generally always believed that the computer was evolving from living on your desk to your lap to in your pocket to on your body and then over time even in your body.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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