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4 Vital Lessons This Tech Entrepreneur Learned To Build a $4 Billion Company How Will Ahmed, the 34-year-old founder of WHOOP, outmaneuvered Nike, Google, and Fitbit in the wearable tech war.

By Jon Bier

Key Takeaways

  • Will Ahmed took his company from underdog to top dog in the wearable tech game.
  • His success came from borrowing strategies from his main competitors, like Nike.
  • He credits gratitude as a key factor in building the right mindset.
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When Will Ahmed launched his wearable tech company WHOOP, the odds of success were not in his favor. The iconic company Nike had just entered the space with its own wearable product, FuelBand. How could Ahmed's startup possibly compete with an international powerhouse whose name literally comes from the Greek goddess of victory?

It turns out quite well. Nike discontinued the FuelBand in 2014, while WHOOP became a $4 billion company. How did Ahmed slay the swoosh—not to mention other competitors in the space, such as Microsoft, Google, Fitbit, and Jawbone? He credits his success to a combination of a well-defined strategy and a healthy dose of naivete.

"I had an idea for a product that I thought should exist in the world. And it didn't make sense to me why that product didn't exist. I thought it should be there," he said on my podcast One day with Jon Bier.

Here are four key takeaways from our lively conversation.

Learn from the greats

Ironically, Ahmed's strategy for WHOOP took a page out of Nike's playbook of old. Back in the days of Air Jordans and "Bo Knows," Nike had "a deep obsession with creating a shoe that could make athletes run faster," recalls Ahmed. However, Nike didn't use the same strategy for FuelBand, which it raced out to market without consulting athletes.

"If I were Nike, I would have [asked] how do we start at the tip of the pyramid? We need this to be something LeBron wears, Serena wears, and Tiger wears. Then we're going to tell that story and bring it to the masses," he says. They just skipped that whole step… They didn't validate it with their athletes."

Conversely, Ahmed did extensive market research before his launch, giving him an advantage over competitors.

Related: The Extraordinary Career of Nike Founder Phil Knight - Biography

Make technology the servant, not the master

Sometimes, you want a product that whispers instead of shouts. Ahmed rejects the idea that wearables should be a constant companion, always vying for our attention.

"Technology should improve your life, not invade it," he says.

That's why WHOOP quietly collects data without demanding the wearer's constant engagement.

"We wanted to collect this information in the background and then say the right things at the right moments," he says. "There's a certain principle behind that, which is to have the product disappear in the background on your behalf."

Don't fear failure— but don't idealize it, either

Ahmed believes that the fear of failure has killed many great ideas before they've had a chance to become a reality. But he also thinks that in today's tech culture, "failure has been romanticized as sort of an appropriate end state. There are a lot of these weird phrases in the technology industry, like, 'test, iterate, fail.'"

Instead of focusing on our failures, he says we should embrace our successes.

In building a WHOOP, there were a number of moments where we were on the razor's edge of failure, and what it took to overcome those moments was a profound level of focus, pain management, overcoming stress," Ahmed recalls. "I have a lot of pride in that. I feel a connection to that younger self and the team around me that was able to pull through that darkness when the company almost failed."

Related: 10 Lessons About Failure That Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

Lean into gratitude

Ahmed says that many entrepreneurs chase dopamine by setting goals and reaching them. The problem is that success never feels as good as we think it will, so we keep moving the goalposts until we're numb to any real happiness.

His solution is to inject some gratitude into his life.

"I know this will sound a little woo-woo to some people, but gratitude releases serotonin. That's another way to make yourself feel happy," he says. "Gratitude is appreciating where you are, and the team you're with, and that is the sort of happiness unlock to the hard-driving entrepreneur."

How does he practice gratitude? "I meditate first thing in the morning, and as part of that, I actively think about things I'm grateful for," he says. "I also have a journaling practice where I write down three things I'm grateful for."

This can be as simple as his morning cup of coffee, a loving look from his wife, or maybe even beating out Nike in 2014.

Related: Why Gratitude Makes Leaders More Effective

Jon Bier

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Founder and Chief Executive of Jack Taylor PR

Jon Bier is the founder and chief executive of Jack Taylor PR, a boutique public relations agency with offices in Brooklyn and Venice Beach.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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