With data just at the tip of our fingertips, great innovations abound to take us closer to our potential. Founder and CEO of Zoptic, Brad Paz, builds innovative sports technologies that optimize training for the use of amateur sports athletes. In this episode, Brad tells us how this idea came about and was conceived. He shares the process of how it captures metrics and videos of the athlete’s performance in a dynamic environment and delivers actionable insights to coaches. More on his entrepreneurial journey, Brad then imparts great wisdom on building products that are not only for today but also for the ever-evolving technologies of tomorrow. Don’t miss out on this insightful conversation fit not only for the athletes and coaches out there but also for those budding entrepreneurs.
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We’re incredibly fortunate to have Brad Paz. He's the Founder and CEO of Zoptic, which builds innovative sports technologies that autonomously capture metrics and videos of the athletes while they're in the field. Brad, thanks for taking the time to come on the show.
Thank you. I was happy to be invited here. I look forward to our conversation.
Tell us about your company and what it does.
We build technology that captures a carbon copy of the athlete's performance in a dynamic environment, indoor and outdoor, and delivers actionable insight into the performance coaches or coaching staff. Ultimately, what we want to do is optimize training for the use of amateur sports athletes.
I think about what little I was involved in coaching. I was small, slow and unathletic as a kid. I would be the wrong guy to teach any ball sports, but I can remember working with my daughter in swimming. What you're trying to do is help them be better and you have no metric to come from. Let's say that I was out on the soccer field with my kids and I wanted to help them. How do you field this technology? What does it do?
The athlete wears a small tag. It's about 80 grams. It's collecting all of the nonvital metrics on the athlete. Your traditional speed, distance, things of that nature, but also looking at the number of accelerations, number of decelerations. The sports science has not reached the youth and amateur market yet. This type of technology is used in professional sports. I'm sure someone like LeBron James has all of the statistics that anyone could imagine. We're trying to bring it down to the youth and amateur levels to be able to help those athletes improve their performance. It’s safely doing it in an optimal way and that needs to come from a performance coach. We're not like a watch or a band that will tell you what day you're having. We want to deliver that insight, that objective data to the performance coach because he or she knows and understands how to use that data to help the athlete get better.
Is this like a solo application or if you had an entire team, would it capture all?
It is a team product. That's what we're focused on and making sure that all of the athletes on the field have one of our wearable tags on. When we look at that, there are a couple of different applications that we run into in the market. From a coaching perspective, there are three things that they look at or three things that they would review. There's a tactical analysis, the X’s and O’s. There's your statistical analysis, so assists, pass, things of that nature. There's the third one, which would be analytics more around the body. What's the body doing? How much exertion is the body having? Zoptic focuses on the analytics and the tactical side. We don't look at the statistical side. There are quite a few software applications that will allow you to do that.
What strikes me about this is going like how did you get down this path to develop this technology?
It started with my kids. I have three kids: 10, 11 and 26. My oldest one was playing basketball for a high school in Denver. I was the dad trying to film the games. I learned quickly that I was not good at videography. The other part that was more of emotional ties, I wasn't present for a game. That was frustrating to me. We started the business in 2015 and we started out as a consumer product. You're going to be a parent. After he has the tag, you dock your mobile phone. You press play and you sit back and the phone's going to follow your athlete. We did that for several months. There was a significant amount of feedback. The margins are slim on a consumer product and in manufacturing demand. It is difficult to monetize it. In 2018, we had the fortune of meeting with the D1 universities and talking with their coaches and athletic directors. We found that there was a need for this application, not only at the collegiate level but all the way to the competitive and elite high school levels.
I think about the field of vision from a coach, if you've got multiple players on the field, it would be challenging to try to take and offer appropriate feedback. Either you've got a top performer that could get tweaked a little and you've got the junior performer that has potential but needs more help. Let's say that you've got a soccer team on the field with the product, it's attached to every player. Can you then later segregate each player based on that?
[caption id="attachment_5059" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Innovative Sports Technologies: It's important that we not only build a product that is good today but also for what the future is bringing because technology moves so fast.[/caption]
You can look at an individual person. Let's say one of the examples you run into is a return to play. Someone's injured, whether it's a knee, something of that nature. A couple of other coaches we talked about, they would want to know how many decelerations that athlete is having to try and get them back to where they were in a safe environment. It's hard to know because these kids want to play. What stress is happening to the knee on the recovery? There are a lot of different applications that we can take this, not only from the individual level but from the team perspective as well.
You've gone from the dad with the round mark around your eyes from the lens of the video camera, which I can relate to. The experience of watching a game to video cameras is not the same as being there and being able to capture it all. You've got this idea to start developing the technology and it morphed to what you have now. You guys have this in the field, correct?
We have a working prototype. We want to go through a product market fit because we want to get it in the hands of the elite and high-performance coaches that we've been talking to. We’re negotiating two other agreements.
For those people, when you're talking to them, there's a pain point that they have or they wouldn't have agreed. What do you think the overarching pain point is from those coaches when they're looking for the solution from your product?
These coaches that we talked to, they care about the athletes. They want to do what's best for the athlete. If you look in the olden days, you will push someone not to drink water. It'd be like you were a wimp if you went to get a drink of water, at least when I was in high school. It's amazing that a lot of these coaches philosophically have the same approach, but they have slight nuances as far as what's important to them. One coach may say, “How many starts and stops is my athlete having? How many decelerations are my kids having?” They understand that there is a sports science opportunity to help their athletes.
It's not affordable in that space. It's something where they would embrace it. They would embrace the technology, but you definitely don't want to present yourself that you're going to teach them something new. That will come because over time as we're collecting data and taking it into our machine learning to make understanding of any trends or patterns or things. Those are the things that still haven't been uncovered at this level. I acknowledge it's probably been looked at the pros, but that tells you something.
I think about though at the pro level of information. Those athletes have been coached for many years at the highest level perhaps. You look at the recreational athlete or a high school athlete or middle school athlete. Maybe they could aspire to be there, but if you get injured along the way, we were talking about this. You were talking about deceleration and knee injuries. Wouldn't it be interesting to know that if you had N number of decelerations in a period of time that the likelihood of a knee injury was increased by some percentage, that's unacceptable. The coach goes, “We're going to take and pull that kid out.” There's a timeframe of rest or rehab before you put him on the field again. If you knew that data and I would imagine in your datasets as you capture, the trends would start to exhibit. What are you hearing from the coach with it in the field? What are they thinking? Are there any a-has that they're getting?
They're excited about the product. When you look at the pro level to increase their level by 1% is huge because they're the best in the world. It's difficult for the performance coach to take them up to the next level. Not to say it can't be done. A lot of that is more of safety management. We're looking at this stuff. Let's keep them on the court, on the field because that's where the money comes from. When you go down to the high school and collegiate level, the opportunity to truly advance human performance is what's exciting because you take your second-string guard. This performance coach is now able to work with this athlete. The incremental advances that they can incorporate into that athlete is what's exciting because they don't need to move them 1%. They can move them 20% so that opportunity does exist, but it will take some time.
For any of the high schools or any of the collegiate teams that are going in the recruiting world or they're trying to take and attract an athlete, it would be interesting to be able to say, “Not only are we good at playing the sport, but we're also extremely good at developing our players. Here are the techniques.” I'm trying to visualize what this looks like. There's the tag that fits on the athlete. What about the device that collects this information? Is that in proximity to the field?
We have two versions of our product. One would be a hardwire so you put it into the infrastructure. The other one is a temporary mobile unit that's wireless. That's what our prototype is now. Instead of having somebody have to fly in to see our system, we can take it to them. We've been fortunate enough to take it quite a few places in the Denver Metro area to be able to let them get their hands on it and understand it because the core is there. We want to refine our apps so that it's user-friendly.
You started this company and you've had an interesting journey. We were talking about potential advice that you might have for somebody else that's considering. It's an annoyed dad that's going to come out with a product that will help his children. What advice might you have?
[bctt tweet="There is no overnight success. It takes a lot of consistent effort." via="no"]
I'm a solo nontechnical founder. I would probably recommend getting somebody to go and get another cofounder. There are pros and cons. You’ve got another person to make sure it can approve things. It's nice because you also have another person when there's a capital call. There are two sides to it. That's important. Establishing or building a network, that's been huge for me. The introductions that are made whether it be part of our team or a prospective client. I'm fortunate that the network that I have has been good to me because I couldn't do this alone.
For you, in your day-to-day, when you're working within the company, what does your day look like? What does your week look like? You're testing it in the field, getting acceptance and you'll go to fundraise at some point. What does your journey look like?
Every day is a bit different. I do my best to make sure that I have appointments scheduled out on a regular basis. I'm always talking about and engaged with the market. It’s understanding the competition that's out there. What's new? It's important that we not only build a product that is good now, but you have to leave room for what the future is bringing because technology moves fast. I spend a lot of time looking at, “Is there someone out there that we could partner with? Is there a good fit?” I would say that every day is a little different.
Let's say I'm a coach. I'm going like, “That sounds intriguing to me.” What type of dialogue would I need to have as a coach with you to be able to field test your product?
Depending on if you're talking to a college or a high school, there are typically layers. It depends on who the audience is because sometimes that performance coach will need to go to the athletic director or maybe they have a sports science department. A lot of times, we try from more of the bottom-up approach because we've had conversations with athletic directors where it’s like, “It's great. I want this. This is going to help us.” What all these organizations are looking for is a competitive advantage to recruit and develop. Those are the two things that everybody wants at almost all levels.
If we start with the athletic director and he or she comes in and loves it and you don't get the buy-in of the people who are using it. We've focused on trying to go to the bottom of, “Here's what it is.” We have a pilot program. They're an affordable pilot program for people to help us in our product market fit of the program. It's a little different from each coach and it takes time because they're protective of their craft, which I respect, but they're also protective of their kids. We make sure that they understand we're going to be filming, we're going to be tracking these metrics. We're keeping this all-in house until we established a firm agreement, then we'll work through what happened.
You've mentioned more than once the product market fit. What images or thoughts go through your mind when you talk about product market fit?
Ultimately, our system, we want to make it a pure experience. What I mean by that is coaches don't have a lot of time to set up a bunch of stuff. They don't have time. We want to understand what the easiest way for us to incorporate this into your world now without you having to do a ton of different things is? It also lends to the players as well. The players, most of them are probably fine or accustomed to putting a little tag in a vest or a belt, but we have to keep it a pure experience. At any point in time, if you've seen Bill Belichick where he throws that Surface Pro tablet down on TV? That's what we're trying to stay away from. Beyond that, if you look at the setup, the actual deployment of the system, but on the backend, what is that user experience? The coaches aren't going to be carrying around a laptop. They might have their cell phone.
You've got the coach's perspective. When you talk to the players that have gone through this, what are you hearing from the players?
[caption id="attachment_5060" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Innovative Sports Technologies: At the end of the day, you have to figure out how do you monetize and build a business to execute.[/caption]
The players are excited to be able to get this information. It creates a layer of transparency for them to see where they are in order to have that data, to be able to understand how I can get better? Maybe it's a situation where a dad believes his son or daughter should be playing more. The coach can pull out the workload. Here's the workload that your son or daughter is giving me during practice. I can't start them and I need some more. It's exciting where this can go.
That sounded like a gap analysis to me. Let's say we roll the clock forward a number of years. The body of data that's at hand and the second-order thinking from the machine learning and you go, “This is an optimal workload. For this particular skilled position, this is what we see. These are the speed requirements.” It would be interesting to know the raw speed versus start-stop speed. Are you good on the first three steps or not? You're good elsewhere, but you suck on the first three steps. You go, “We need to take and have you trained on how to take and get off the line.”
There are people that know how to use that. I don't claim to know how to use that, but I want to give that information to the coaches.
I think about that development. For you, the journey is not without its potholes. What do you do to keep focused, upbeat and go into the fray every day?
I try to fill up my calendar with productive things because things aren't always going to go the way you plan. You have to learn how to get back up every time you get knocked down. I'm getting good at that. It's also having hope and understanding that at the end of the day what your mission is. That's to help athletes. I'm not a performance coach so I can’t help them that way, but I want to help families. It's probably a better one because I know the emotions of a parent when my son or daughter loses and when they win. For me, it's about my family. When I get down and out and making sure this goes. The shareholders who have given me capital and allowed me to do this, that's a big driver for me. It’s probably those two things.
For you as this entrepreneur staying positive, what is your daily schedule? When do you get up and when do you call it good?
I get up around 4:30, 4:45 in the morning because I'm able to go to the gym. Nobody needs me between 5:00 and 6:00 AM. I get home and help my wife with the kids, get out the door and things of that nature. I have a couple of different offices that I work out in Denver. It's nice because I can get ahead of the traffic as well. Either be north or south. Typically, I'll review LinkedIn. I've got the Google Alerts to see what else is going on in the market, to try and get the juices flowing. I start looking for appointments. Whether it be a school or performance coach, an investor so I spend some time on that. I've been starting to do more writing on LinkedIn because that's helpful to try to build the story around what we're trying to do and who we're trying to do it for. Usually, after lunch, I try to have my appointments in the morning but in the afternoon, 2 or 3 appointments, maybe pick up the phone. It’s staying active. Not just active to be active, but things that are going to produce value, which you don't always get that.
Faith and activity, getting to the gym, you don't see overnight success there. It takes a lot of consistent effort. Over the past few years, you had a certain belief or protocol that you might've had in the company when you started. You look at the beliefs and protocols that you put in place to guide your company. What might be one of those beliefs or protocols that you put in place that says, “I'm glad I did that. It helped me move forward.” What is it that you might have put in place that helps?
I brought in the head of engineering. To me, that's helped because it's helped offload a lot of the technical work because the engineer speaks, I'm way better at it than I was a few years ago. Bringing in some personnel to help me has been helpful to me. There's a number of things that take the time that you're not going to read in a book. That you're going to have to sometimes learn the hard way. Going back to our previous question is to be prepared to do that. Bill Gates, I’m assuming that they're good at what they do. They do a broad number of things. Most people, it takes a lot of time because you can have the greatest idea ever, but at the end of the day you have to figure out how do you monetize it? How do you build a business? There are a lot of people that don't understand. We get a lot of feedback like, “This is a great idea.” I am always open. This is a great idea, but I have to go back and figure out how does it make business sense? That's something that I've started to learn over the last few years.
[bctt tweet="A perfect practice makes a better outcome than just practice." via="no"]
You're a book consumer. I am too. As far as books about business, has there been a book or two that you've read that changed how you thought about your business or how you approach certain tasks in your business?
One of my favorites is Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. I had a fortune of going to one of his Pitch Academies in 2016. There was a lot that I drew out of that I still use now. His personality is a little different than mine. I'm a little more reserved. He's great at what he does, but I have to figure out how to take those pieces and incorporate it into who I am. That would be one book. He's got the latest one out called Flip The Script. That's another book that I enjoy. I try to read as many books as I can and incorporate what fits my personality because I am who I am.
As we think about the pursuit of investors and trying to take and help advance the effort. When you have an individual that decides to become an investor in your company, what do you think the key tipping point is for that person to decide to place funds with your company?
It’s usually time. In my experience with the investors that have come to us, it takes time for them to get to know you and to trust you and to like you. It comes down to time. I believe we have a great story. We have the economics behind it, but the investors are savvy. They understand that this is a risk.
Do you think they see the same or can they see your vision?
I do. Most of them, probably all of them have kids and they've had that emotion that I have. They're not all frustrations. My kids win some games.
This will sound rather trite and for the kids. Did they win or not? I said, “Did you do the best you could do? If you did the best you could do and you still didn't win, that's fine. Maybe it's your personal best. You still didn't win, but you could take and build off your personal best.” For me, my passion was always, can I take and provide an insider frame of the mental mindset that will allow them to take in and look at their efforts? If you don't train, you're not going to get the results. Perfect practice makes a better outcome than just practice. The frustrations of the parent trying to help their children.
Youth sports have changed much. I grew up in a small town in Nebraska in the ‘80s, early ‘90s. We would go to the park and that's where we would get better. It's not like that now. You have to sign up for a club or a league. You spent a significant amount of time and money on camps. If we can make that efficient since that's our world now, I'm all for it.
When people talk to you, and you're the CEO of your company, what do you think the biggest misconception that people have about what that means or what you do?
Maybe that I have all the answers. I'll be the first to admit that there are things that I don't know especially on the sports science side. We’re going to be hiring a sports scientist to lead and head that. I would say that the assumption that a CEO knows everything.
It’s easy to say, “I don't know, but I'll find out. Give me a minute.” As you look into the next couple of years, what do you see the progression toward widespread acceptance of your company's product?
[caption id="attachment_5061" align="alignleft" width="200"] Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal[/caption]
In general, we're starting to see more of the sports technology get into the youth and amateur space. Our differentiators are going back to those three components. It has to be accurate. You don't want junk data. What are you going to do with junk data? It has to be accurate, user-friendly to the coach, to the athlete, and it has to deliver that actionable insight. The adoption of it, for us what we're doing here in Colorado is identifying those organizations that we're close to so that if there's a problem with our pilots that we can get to it. We have some interest in other states and we're not opposed to that. It's making sure that we can, in this product market fit, deliver that high quality of service. It'll take a little bit of time to fully hit the ground running. One thing that we see a lot here in Colorado and it's already hit the coast is the AI-enabled cameras. They'll put them up in the gym. It'll try and follow. That's a different sports technology more on the entertainment side. Figuring out some real stories of success is going to be important for us to expand our presence.
How long has your prototype been in the field?
It hasn’t been long. I'd say a few months.
I think about field positioning. If you have intelligence on another team and you go, “That person needs to be five feet to the left instead of where they are,” speed requirement or whatever tendencies. I'm a data guy. I get all geeked out on edge, how can you develop the edge, and trying to purpose is a good idea. I have quizzed you for a long time. For the coaches, if they have an interest, how do they find you on social media?
For the audience that has children in sports, I would encourage you to take in and follow this development and visit the website. If you're interested in it, reach out to Brad and see maybe how you can help your kids become all the athlete that they can be. Brad, I appreciate you coming down for the episode and much luck and success in your future.
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