​Zepp CEO on answering 'so what?' and learning from Fitbit and Jawbone

Jason Fass tells us the story of growing from start up to sports giant in three years
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Imagine taking your startup from a garage operation to a worldwide sports player in just three years. In 2012, Jason Fass and his wife were hand-printing labels to post sensors out to their first customers. Now in 2015, the company is shipping over 1,000 Zepp sensors every day, and is about to sign deals with major golf brands to integrate technology into their clubs.

"I worked at Apple for several years where I ran MacBook Pro product marketing and management," Fass told Wareable, from his office in Silicon Valley.

Essential reading: Zepp golf review

"It was then I started looking at wearables and realised that no-one was using the sensor technology for sports and athletes. Activity tracking yes, but not necessarily helping athletes get better."

This exploration led to Fass meeting Robin Han, who had already started Zepp to create a golf wearable.

I said that I didn't really know much about building a wearable he said 'neither do I'

"When he and I met and I said that I didn't really know much about building a wearable he said 'neither do I.'

"We talked about building a sensor platform and building technology about helping people get better at the sports they loved.

"The market is huge with millions of people who are passionate about sports, and that was really exciting. Golf is a market that's ready for this type of tech, people love the data and love gadgets in golf".


Growing steady

"We have got several hundred thousand customers now and are adding a thousand a day. And about 90 employees, and we're looking at adding some new sports soon," Fass told us.

"At some point in the future, every piece of equipment will be digitally connected. And we have some partnerships with major equipment manufacturers that will be powered with Zepp, and you will see kit coming to market that has our sensors inside."

But what is it about Zepp that's led to this roaring success? While there has been an explosion of wearable devices in sports, few start ups can claim such numbers, in such a short space of time.

Essential reading: Best golf GPS watches and swing analysers

We're able to take on thousands of data points per second and show you the results in under a second. That piece is really important

"One of the things is the ability to take in data from so many sensors, and process it as fast as we do. So we're able to take on thousands of data points per second and show you the results in under a second. That piece is really important, and especially when it comes to learning a new skill where repetition is important," Fass explained.

But in sports tech, it's not about what data you can show, it's how meaningful it is. All to often we at Wareable have criticised sports devices for being big on data, but weak on actionable information on making you a better player. And as you might imagine, that's something Fass has obsessed over.

"We go the extra mile to show people data that's meaningful, and they can take action on. A lot of companies that compete with us just show you a number and hope you can figure it out. And that's the difference."


'So what' and learning from Jawbone

"One of the things that came up time and time again was a basic question from the customer: 'So what? Now what do I do now?'

"I was at Jawbone and did product management for the UP band, prior to Zepp. And one of the things I realised was, while it was cool we could track sleep, people didn't know what to do with it," Fass revealed.

Jawbone, Fitbit and Nike weren't answering the 'so what' question as well as they could

"I remember having conversations where my wristband would say I needed more sleep – but I knew that, I had a three year old at the time. So I had a lot of discussions about 'so what'.

"And at Zepp we started talking about that being a real problem. And Jawbone, Fitbit and Nike weren't answering the 'so what' question as well as they could. And that became one of our fundamental beliefs."

So from a man who worked on the development of the fitness trackers we know and love, are there any wearables that can give you real insights into your sleep?

"There are shallow answers: go to bed earlier, get more exercises, less caffeine, whatever. But why am I tossing and turning at 3am? I'm not sure there's the product out there that has nailed that question yet."


Zepp: Designed for your coach

With any coaching wearable comes the inevitable question. Can it replace the personal trainer or professional? Fass is unequivocal: Zepp is designed for your coach, not to replace them.

"We never talk about replacing a coach. We talk about a tool that's used in your lessons to make the coaching better. We never say 'you don't need to see your coach anymore.'

"We have a forum of coaches on Facebook, and we don't pay them and they use the product in their lessons. Some sell it or even rent it out at their clubs, and they'll say for an extra $10 you can hit with the Zepp and then they'll look at your data."


So what's next for Zepp? While there are no plans beyond the announcements planned for later this year, Fass knows that there are sensors coming which can do an even better job for sports fans.

"The consumer electronics industry is all about the next thing, and with 100% certainty in the future there will be better smaller sensors that will enable us to collect better data. That's a safe assumption," he said.

The million dollar question, of course, is Fass a scratch golfer now from the power of Zepp? Seemingly, it's not a miracle worker:

"Before Zepp, I was not a golfer at all. Now I am an average to poor golfer – my handicap is not the best. Somewhere in the 20s or high teens. It gets better with a couple of beers."


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