EP #521: Wearables and the evolution of the pro athlete – with GestureLogic CEO Len MacEachern

We are running out of wearable real-estate. Wrists, ankles, nose, eyes, head. Most of us will probably wear something – one thing – not a lot of things at the same time. Unless you are an experiment, you will more than likely find a wearable that measures what you are interested in and wear that one. These wearables may be about behaviour change or health measurement or, in the case of this episode, athletic improvement.

Most athletes are in the business of improvement. They’ve invented technologies that make their equipment as light as air, they’ve crammed their frames into slick suits that reduce friction and drag, they’ve invented diets that optimize energy exertion for race days, they’ve streamlined much of the bulk and are now leaning to wearables to help with technique.

Len MacEachern is building just such a thing – called Leo. The device follows another emerging trend around wearables – that is the “not-always-on” type (that’s a technical term I invented btw). Leo is meant as a training aid for learning the optimum use of your muscle to make sure you avoid injury. It is worn around your leg and the amount of data it spews out is incredible and incredibly valuable.

This is the story of Leo, Ottawa-based parent company GestureLogic, and the huge (HUGE) opportunity in targeted, temporary wearable tech. Eyes open folks, this stuff just keeps getting cooler.

Enjoy!



Key takeaways from this episode. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip

1. Why is GestureLogic better than the rest of the devices on the market? 2:38
2. Why build this product? 6:10
3. What was the motivation to start the company? 10:40
4. Why this isn’t “jumping on a trend” 17:00
5. How did you start the company? 18:50
6. The challenge of building a hardware, software AND cloud company 21:30
7. How the cloud helps move into predictive injuries 22:30
8. How did you decide to focus on predictive injuries? 25:15
9. How does your product increase performance? 28:20
10. The evolution of the professional athlete 31:20
11. How much is the product? 35:35
12. Why name it Leo? 36:45
13. How do you market Leo? 38:20
14. Does location matter when building a company like this? 40:14
15. What has inspired you through your journey? 41:20

Audio

Raw Transcript

Rob: This show is brought to you brought to you by our sponsor bitHeads; they are a staple in the tech community I come from and have done incredible work over the past 18 years with some of the largest brands in the world, including ‘The Simpsons: Tapped Out’, Box, Optimum Payments, The New York Times, among many, many, many others. All told, they’ve built over 500 solutions from enterprise to entertainment. I’m proud to have them as a part of Untether.tv. Please support us by supporting them; go to bitHeads.com.
Hello, everybody. Welcome to Untether.tv; I’m your host and founder Rob Woodbridge. Today, this very day, what you’re about to listen to is amazing. Why? Because it’s another Canadian company. Not just a Canadian company, but a company from my hometown, Ottawa, in a very unique space for this city. Without further ado, I’m going to get into this. We’re going to be talking to Len Maceachern, who is the cofounder, the president and the CEO, chief bottle washer; everything you can imagine that goes into a start up. The company’s name is GestureLogic; they’re developing an incredible, wearable fitness technology, which you all know that, love this stuff; that directly monitors muscle and other anatomic activity.

Their technology … they’re pleading with us to not use these devices because their technology actually measures true muscle output. We will ask him about what that means. This is what they consider the next generation of wearable fitness technology. Len himself is, as I said, the everything for this company. He’s got a good team that’s a growing team. He’s also an associate professor at Carlton University, which I actually went to Carlton University for one year in the journalism program, way, way, way, long, long time ago. As I said, he is from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; my hometown, which is where we caught up with him right now. Len, thank you for coming on to Untether.tv and sharing this great story about GestureLogic; your first project, I guess it’s your first product, Leo.

Len: That’s right. Rob, that was an amazing introduction. Thank you very much.

Rob: I didn’t mess it up. That, folks, was one take, except for the take before.

Len: A single take.

Rob: A single take.

Len: After the 10th take. We have to be honest.

Rob: The 11th is always … the 13th is the best, usually what I find. It’s good humor.

Len: For people watching this, it’s Friday the 13th, so forgive us.

Rob: It is. There’s going to be stuff that happens; I’m pretty sure of it. Tell me what you mean by ‘true muscle output’. Why is your product better than this thing that I’m wearing on my wrist?

Len: First of all, let’s not identify that thing because that thing is still useful. It’s not a horrible device.

Rob: It’s not.

Len: I don’t know what that thing …

Rob: Unless it leaves a rash on your arm.

Len: You might have just identified it. It’s a motivational product; it gets you off the couch, it counts steps, or it counts some sort of motion. It has a little chip inside of it called accelerometer, and that little chip detects when your wrist moves. It doesn’t help you very much when you’re doing pull-ups, pushups, or cycling, though because your wrist is fairly stationary relative to your body.

Rob: I just took a sip of my coffee; that must have … considered as a step in the right direction.

Len: Exactly. It’s motivational product. Our product is also a motivational product, but it goes well beyond what that product can do. The reason is, it actually measures signals that your body produces, which sounds very science fiction-y, but it’s true. When you contract a muscle, you actually produce tiny voltages. Just to ballpark it, those voltages are on the order of one millionth of your wall voltage, let’s say. Nevertheless, you can still detect them. Once you detect them, you can process them and do all kind of amazing things with the signals.

Rob: What it does ultimately … on your website, it talks about it measures muscle intensity, muscle fatigue; something that I have a hard time with, which is muscle coordination; hydration. It does … it basically analyses your technique it looks at how efficient you are in using your … I don’t know; how efficient your muscle is being used. Also, it measures the buildup of lactic acid or the depletion of lactic acid.

Len: That’s right.

Rob: Holy cow.

Len: It sounds like a ‘Star Trek’ tricorder.

Rob: No kidding.

Len: Actually, the mechanisms we’re using are based in science that’s decades old. We didn’t invent the fundamental science here; we’re consumerizing it. In the case of lactic acid measurement for example, we’re measure something called an EMG signal; it’s an electromyographical signal. That’s the signal that your muscles produce when they contract. If you take that signal and you process it, you look at the frequencies within the signal and the amplitude over time of that signal; you can get a pretty good estimation of where you’re sitting with respect to your lactic acid thresholds; whether you’re in a recovery mode or approaching the lactic acid threshold or not. That’s an example.
As far as fiber contractions go; the more that you contract the muscle, the more fibers are contracted, the stronger the signal, so we can give you an estimate of how strongly you’re contracting the muscle over the course of your exercise. Hydration; we do that very similar to what your body fat scale does. We inject a very, very low current signal into the body; sounds scary. If you use a body fat analyzer, you’re doing the same thing. From that, we can get a measurement called bioimpedance, and from that, we can get your hydration level. We also have an accelerometer onboard on our product. From that, we can get stride and gate analysis. We can tell if you’re pedaling efficiently, if you’re running efficiently. We can do things that all the current-generation activity trackers do, like count steps, of course. On top of this, we have the rich biosignal data that we’re collecting and processing.

Rob: It sounds too good to be true. This is a band-like product, right? It’s not something that I wear on my wrist. I wear it up on my thigh, for example. Is that the place where I would wear this?

Len: Yeah. I guess we should describe what this product looks like.

Rob: I jumped right into the whole technology, which is what we do anyways.

Len: This is the technology and the description of processing signals; that’s how it does it, but let’s talk a little bit about why we’re doing this. Out of the gate, we’re going after cyclists and runners as our first customers. If you think about cycling and running, you use your legs a lot.

Rob: Some of us do.

Len: It makes sense. I you think about current-generation activity trackers, they’re focused on the wrist. They call that wrist real estate. Realistically, people are running out of wrist real estate; you have your watch, perhaps shortly you’ll have your smart watch which will have a built-in activity tracker of the type that we’re accustomed to now. There’s not too much you can buy to track other portions of the body. We’re looking at the thigh out of the gate. You can imagine …

Rob: Why the thigh? I know Nike has their run tracker that goes on the shoe, or in the shoe. Is there … when you were trying to figure out where to put this, what went into that decision?

Len: If you think about the prime movers in your body for any sport, you’re looking at your quadriceps, you’re looking at your glutes, you’re looking at your hamstrings; those are your big muscles for virtually any sport. That’s when we went after the thigh.

Rob: Including the sport of sitting.

Len: We can see this product being used to motivate people not to sit so much.

Rob: By electric current, is that what … Get up, get up.

Len: Future product. I’ll write that down, actually. The thigh muscles make a lot of sense; there’s a rich collection of muscles in the leg, different distributions of fiber types. In case your viewers aren’t aware, you actually have several types of muscle fiber. Some of those fibers, they’re called Type I, they’re used for endurance. Others are used for rapid, powerful motions; those are your Type II fibers. Depending on the exact muscle in the leg that you’re looking at, you have more of Type II and less of Type I, and vice versa. You get a lot of information just by monitoring specific muscles in the leg, as well.

Rob: That’s based on the sport you do; sprinters and long-distant runners would have different makeup of fiber?

Len: This is where it gets really interesting: When you focus on a particular sport, your muscle morphology changes over time. You can actually turn your Type II fibers, your power fibers, into Type I, your endurance fibers. It even gets crazier as you age. Once you hit about age 40, you naturally start to convert your power fibers into Type I fibers, endurance fibers.

Rob: Yes, because it gets harder after 40; trust me.

Len: That’s why you see a lot of endurance athletes that do very, very well are in their 40s and 50s. They have a high percentage of Type I fibers.

Rob: That’s so cool. I had no idea about that. See, you can learn stuff here; at least I do anyways. Maybe you don’t, Len. You’re going to be board as hell.

Len: No, I’m learning as I go with this company. It’s amazing. We’ve grown the team. We have people onboard … we have one consultant onboard, she has two PhDs; she has a PhD in human kenesiology and one human neurophysiology. She’s leading our testing on lactic acid; working on the protocol for that, developing the algorithms to tell you what your lactic acid is based on EMG measurements. We have a biochemistry intern; he’s just getting into his Masters. He talks like a PhD.
My background is electrical engineering, so this is a new field for me, of course, biochemistry; but I’m picking it up, as are all of us. We have a machine intelligence expert; his PhD was on human motion analysis, using machine intelligence techniques. He’s developing the algorithms to do activity recognition, which is a whole other subject. It’s incredible.

Rob: How does … there’s so many questions around that; the team make up, the stuff that you’re trying to bite off and build inside of this product. We’re going to talk about this as much as we can in the time we have; even this hardware/software. The data comes from the hardware that you wrap around your leg and the software resides on the smartphone which then computates and analyses what it is that’s going on in the thing on your leg. I want to talk a little bit about that.
First, take one step back. What made you decide? You’re not from this field. What makes you decide to look at this and think … was it that the stuff out there is not adequate? What was it that triggered … that made you move into this and start GestureLogic?

Len: This goes back quite a few years. I wasn’t always the handsome devil before you now; I was a pretty hefty guy. I was tipping the scales around 300 pounds.

Rob: How tall are you?

Len: 5’11”.

Rob: What was that? Was that just inactivity, that you were just a brain as opposed to a brawn?

Len: That’s what a PhD can do to a body.

Rob: It does.

Len: I remember staying … pulling all-nighters and drinking Mountain Dew all night. It catches up to you. Then my daughter was born; I decided to get healthy. That was back in 2006. I went from … when I got serious about it, I was probably 257 pounds, I remember. I started tracking everything, using Polar heart rate monitor at the time, tracking calories. Being an engineer, I made a spreadsheet and I had everything figured out. It worked very well. I could track day-to-day what I expect to lose, and week-to-week. I did it; I lost 140 pounds in a very short time, about 6 or 7 …

Rob: What was that? That was a combination of … sorry, 6 or 7 months you lost that.

Len: 6 or 7 months, yeah.

Rob: Was that a combination of you actually exercising and diet? What went into that? I’m just fascinated.

Len: I did a very low-calorie diet.

Rob: How low?

Len: 1200 to 1700 calories a day. Some people say that’s not healthy. When you have 100 pounds of fat to loose, your body can easily give you those calories from its fat storage. I didn’t have any problems. People who watched this, they thought I was melting, and I felt like I was melting. I literally was changing pants sizes every time I turned around.
It was great. I lost the weight, got very healthy. My cardio was amazing. I could run. I could get up in the morning and run for 90 minutes at a stretch, no problem at all. The problem was I got a little bit too light, I found, and I decided to lift weights. When I started lifting weights, I realized the calorie-counting wasn’t working anymore; I could never tell which way my weight was going. I didn’t know if I was putting muscle on or if it was fat because I started eating more, of course, to try to put some weight on. I took a look around and I was looking for some product that would measure muscle, and that’s when I got into electromyography. That was about 2007 or so.

At that time, the type of product out there are for clinicians and researchers. You’re looking at products … the most fundamental product is about $5000. Realistically, you’re looking at $15,000 and up for these products because they’re sold to university researchers and clinicians.

Rob: You see those things where people are … nodes are attached to every muscle on somebody’s body or they’re running on a treadmill with an oxygen tube in their mouth to measure all this stuff. Is that the kind of machine we’re talking about?

Len: No, that would be typically for VO2 max measurements, or lactic acid measurements. This type of machine, if you’ve ever gone for something called a nerve conduction study …

Rob: No. Should I? Is it fun? Doesn’t sound like fun.

Len: No, I’ve gone for two so far. They zap you and they measure the nerve conduction velocity, and they check neuropathies and so on. That’s more along the lines of the type of machines I’m talking about. Major sports teams will use these machines. Bicycle fitters will actually use these machines to help optimize the fit of your cycle if you’re very high-end. There is [inaudible: 14:22] technology has been out there, just not at the consumer level. Not too many people are going to rush out and buy a $15,000 piece of equipment with software that they can’t comprehend by the way. The software is … you’d have to be a PhD in kinesiology sometimes to use the software. That’s where the germ of the idea came from.

Rob: You wanted to emulate that but in a consumer version.

Len: First, I was just fascinated with the concept of measuring muscle activity. We built some circuits at Carlton and we did that; display muscle …

Rob: Were you the guinea pig there? Did you strap yourself into something that sent a current through your body?

Len: We don’t send a current through the body to measure the body’s signals; it’s a passive sensor actually. Your body produces the voltage and you pick it up.

Rob: It’s the other way around.

Len: The challenges are to get a low-noise circuit that can accept these very, very small voltages and amplify them up so that you can see them; that was Stage 1. Stage 2 was figuring out what to do with those signals. We did all kinds of interesting things; we’d control slideshows with the signals, for example. We actually mounted the electrodes on … let’s say your wrists, on your forearm actually; then you could wave your hand around and change a slide. I had some project students who did that for their final year project presentation; they were changing slideshow by changing the EMG signals.

Rob: Was it like a ‘Minority Report’ technology where you could move things around or you could … it took a current and it [inaudible: 15:55]? What was the goal there? Did you think that this could be used for something, or was this just testing?

Len: That sort of thing can be used for human computer interfaces, for sure. My interest was still fitness and the people that were attracted to the product were also interested in fitness. At that time, of course, it wasn’t a product, it was a project. Over time, we realized wearable technology is certainly taking off.
A huge component of why that’s happening is the availability of smartphones. When you think about it, a smartphone is the equivalent of a super computer from a few years back. It’s got billions of dollars worth of research invested into it. It has a display; it has a magnificent processor inside of it, it can handle some significant signal processing. Here, we have this little super computer in our pockets; what can we do with it? One thing to do with it is to interface it with data collection hardware. The wearable tech is really the data collection hardware and the smartphone is the little computer doing something intelligent with that.

Rob: I wanted to bring up the history of what you guys were doing here, simply for one reason. A lot of people that I interview, and come to me and ask me about the interviews that I’ve done, they say, “This is just a trend and people are getting on this bandwagon of wearable technology because it seems cool right now.” I wanted to demonstrate that you’ve been thinking about this since 2006. You started implementing in 2007. This is based on your own experience that has lead you here. Here we are, 2014, 7 or 8 years after the idea popped into your head, or the start of the idea, where you’re starting to implement that. I think that that is more indicative, or more … probably indicative of the industry today. This has been gestating for this long; to be able to wait for the technology like these, or the components that you put into the device that you’re going to wear on your leg, to actually get them to the point where they’re actually doable so that you can carry this around with you and use it, and have enough portable computing power to be able to do it. Do you think that’s … that’s probably accurate, isn’t it, that this is just the right time; 8 years after you thought of the idea?

Len: I don’t know if exactly 8 years is the right time. You’re right in everything you said. Also, wearable technology is just a small sliver of a bigger vision, which is the internet of things. The internet of things is going to be huge; it’s going to keep expanding throughout our entire lifetime.

Rob: I think it’s amazing. It’s incredible. Now that you’ve … you flash forward: You’re a professor at Carlton University. When did this really become … when was Gesture Logic born, shall we say? When did you take this role … take the founder role, the CEO role, and run with the company?

Len: It was August last year; that’s when we incorporated. We’ve been working on it steady since 2012, I guess. I did this as a 4th Year project with some students and they did very, very well; we won all kinds of awards across Ontario. Then there was a true angel who donated $40,000 to us to attempt to commercialize the project into a product. He really got us started. We went through Carlton University’s Lead to Win program; that’s for budding entrepreneurs. They critique your business plan, they get you to give pitches. If you get through the program, you get a so-called Green Card, and then you actually get a little bit of seed money as well to startup. That’s how we got going.

Rob: It’s funny though. This is a resource that’s fairly unique to the community in Ottawa, because Tony Bailetti runs Lead to Win out of Carlton University. He brings in seasoned veterans from the technology and the business industry that we have in Ottawa; he brings those guys in to sit in front of you, and you defend your business, don’t you?

Len: It was … when I look back, it’s a little bit hilarious. The first presentation we gave, now that I understand everything a little bit better, it had a science fair feel to it; it was very academic, very science fair-ish, and we just didn’t have that mindset. I can tell you, we’ve learned very quickly what it takes. Now when we give a pitch or a presentation, it’s business-focused. Of course the science is there, but the business is there as well.

Rob: It has to be. Thinking back even at the angel, $40,000; did you think that was a lot of money back then, like ‘We can do this’? In hindsight, what do you think of $40,000 now when you’ve got a team? How big’s your team, 15 people?

Len: We have 11 fulltime people, paid. We have 5 interns now, also paid through grants. Grants, by the way, have been very helpful to us and very helpful to these people as well because they’re getting good experience.

Rob: In a cool industry that Ottawa does not have a lot of, so that’s why I’m so excited about it. That $40,000, if you think back to it, it might have seemed like the launching point, but a couple years later, that $40,000, not enough to get a product out the door of this stature.

Len: No, $40,000 doesn’t last us very long now. Even back then we recognized. I’ve done hardware design before. This is a hardware/software company, so hardware design can get very expensive, actually.

Rob: Talk about that dichotomy; the split between hardware and software because it is two companies. I talk a lot with wearable companies; it is two companies that you’re talking about. You’re talking about building a hardware product, manufacturing and designing a hardware product. Now that you’ve done that, it’s collecting data points. You need a piece of software and that’s a different business. How do you balance that?

Len: It’s even worse. It’s more like 3 companies. We have the hardware, which is what goes on the body; that’s the wearable tech portion. We have the software, that includes communications between that product that goes on your body and the smartphone, includes the the embedded software running within the band in this case, and also the software that’s running on the smartphone; the app. By the way, it’s not just smartphones, it could be a smart watch, Google Glass, a PC, and so on. We have it running on different platforms already.
Something we haven’t discussed yet, which is probably the most interesting part of this entire product and company, is what’s happening in the Cloud server. All of this data is actually going to be used to crowd source fitness; that’s what we like to call it.

Rob: Explain that.

Len: Let me tell you through a story. Imagine we have 10,000 people and they’re all training for a marathon, so we’re collecting biosignals from those 10,000 people. Over the course of the training period, some of them will get injured. Many injuries, especially for cycling and running, they’re overuse injuries or they’re improper-technique injuries; bad form-type injuries. Imagine we had a certain percentage of that population that had shin splints, patella pain, or hamstring pulls. The question is, ‘Can we go back in time and look at their biosignals leading up to those injuries and look for commonalities in precipitating signals?’ In other words, could we detect that you’re on the collision course with an injury? The answer to that is, yes.

Rob: Amazing.

Len: Some of it is common sense. If you’re running down hill on your toes 7 days a week on concrete, you’re going to do something; you’ll probably have knee pains or shin splints. We can actually detect you running down hill with high impact and landing on whatever part of your foot, either the mid-sole, toe, or the heel. Leo is sitting there monitoring all these 10,000 people. Leo can actually detect a gait imbalance, so we can ask you if you have an injury. Otherwise, you could self-report it. Then Leo goes back 2, 3, 4 weeks, however many weeks of data he has, and look for these precipitating factors and build a statistical analysis data set. Based on those population statistics, he can get a pretty good guess of what’s going to happen to you if you continue training in the same way.
All of this is to say that is our third company. Leo and the Cloud collecting biosignal data, analyzing it, and the machine intelligence required for that. We’re a hardware company, a software company, but also a software company in the terms of big data, data collection, and machine intelligence. We’re building our machine intelligence group now. Like I said, we have this amazing PhD in this area. I know that we interviewed another person this morning who should be coming onboard, and we’ll continue growing that aspect of the business.

Rob: That’s amazing. A lot of conversation around big data, and I talk about big data in terms of we’re spoiling big data. Big data doesn’t mean anything unless you have a clear idea of what it is that you want to extract from that big data and display. How did you guys … as you’re going through this with Leo, how is it that you decide this? Is it you think, “Now we’ve got this strapped onto the leg, let’s figure out what we can do with this data that we’re collecting,” and you start focusing immediately on preventative injury? Was that a hard thing to decide on or is that a logical thing?

Len: No. You have to know me better to understand. I’m a magnet for injury. This product is self preservation for me.

Rob: It’s basically your Kevlar; that’s what you’re building.

Len: Yes. I’ve had … let’s say I’ve been to the physiotherapist too many times, mostly through my own ignorance in some cases. You learn as you go; but overdoing it and improper technique. I’ve had muscle pulls, I’ve had … you name it, I’ve had it.

Rob: Everything.

Len: Everything, yeah. Most of them could have been prevented. Once you learn what you’re doing wrong, you don’t repeat it. We’re looking to help people prevent recurring injuries like shin splints. You probably know people who go running. They start the season, and after a few weeks, they have to stop because their shins are killing them. What are they doing wrong?

Rob: They’re running, that’s the problem. They should just stop running.

Len: They’re probably running under the wrong conditions and not doing the proper stretches beforehand, and things like this, or just overuse. We can never stop an accident, but we can stop injuries that are caused by the person to themselves.

Rob: I think that that’s one of the things. I go to the gym, and my theory about going to the gym is I’m going to go there and I’m going to spend an hour there. My goal is to go and find the heaviest weights. I’m a lunkhead; go and find the heaviest weights you can possibly find and lift it as many times as you can possibly lift them. Then I go home feeling good about myself. There’s a point in time when I was younger where that was the appropriate way to lift weights. When I would hurt myself, I’d be like, “I just work through it.” I’d strengthen the muscles around that pain, and then I would build up that muscle and I’d continue. Now that I’m 44, I start to think a little bit differently about the way that my body is telling me to say, “Dude, stop. Take today off. Don’t go into the gym. We’re telling you, these are alarm signals going off. Don’t take the Advil. Just don’t go into the gym today.”
You start to appreciate as you get older, just like you did in your business world, where you think it was a science fair presentation, your first presentation. You mature over to that point where now you’re talking about the business aspects. It’s the same thing with physical fitness. You often, when you’re younger, ignore those signs to your detriment. I think that what you’re trying to do is just bring those … illuminate the athlete to the potential that if they continue down this path, there is going to be injury, because you have all of this data behind you that supports that.

Len: What’s interesting is that depending on the person we talk to, they fixate on Leo’s ability to prevent injury. Typically, those are people 35 and up, who tend to hurt themselves, or they fixate on Leo’s ability to increase their performance.

Rob: He does both.

Len: He does both.

Rob: How does he help that? How does he increase my performance?

Len: Let me give you an example from cycling. Those people who are watching, who are cyclists, they probably know that they have to push with the quads and pull with the hamstrings to get an efficient stroke. That’s why people clip into their peddles, so that they can pull. It turns out that you actually want to push and pull at essentially the same time. That sounds impossible.

Rob: I’m trying to visualize this.

Len: There’s a certain point in the pedal stroke where you can push with the quads and pull with the hamstrings at essentially the same time. I went into the gym and I was wearing Leo, and I measured my quadriceps and hamstring activation over a few pedal strokes. I thought I was doing great. I could see a definite quadricep activation, or contraction, and then hamstring contractions. They went in cycles: There was quad then ham, quad then ham. Then I had a local triathlete come in; he’s a 20-year veteran of doing triathlons; measured him and looked at the wave forms. I said, “We must have did something wrong. I’ll have to measure you again.” Measured him again, same thing. Measured many other triathletes and high-end athletes since then; same thing. These people are able to contract both sets of muscles at the same time at the appropriate time. That gives them high efficiency.
I also talked to the triathletes. I said, “Why …” especially triathletes. They tend to pull with their hamstrings more than they push with their quads. I asked them why. The answer is simple, but at the same time, brilliant. They prefer to pull with the hamstrings and use that muscle, utilize the glycogen or the energy stores within the muscle for that 180km bike ride. When they jump off that cycle and they start to run, their quads are fresh. They’re using their quads more when they run; very calculated.

In any case, Leo can help you by monitoring those muscle sets and ensuring that you’re using the quads at the appropriate time with the appropriate pull strength … the hamstrings at the appropriate times with the appropriate pull strength verses the quads. That’s just a simple example.

Rob: It’s amazing, though. Do you think that … this is done on purpose by these elite athletes. Do they know that they’re doing this; this is planned?

Len: It’s planned, but they didn’t have an appreciation for how good they are at it until they could see the waveforms of the signals. We had one athlete, when he saw the waveforms and it really clicked with him what we were doing at that point; he instantly volunteered to us his Vilitron Cycling Training System. This is an $8000 piece of gear. He’s donated that to us while we develop the product. That’s how much he’s …

Rob: He’s amazed by it.

Len: He’s anxious for us to get it to market.

Rob: I think that that has a lot to do with the evolution of the athlete. We’ve seen this from the early days of professional athletes and what they wore. When you start to see the old … I’m from the ’70s, I was born in the ’70s anyway and a product of the ’80s. I watch all these Olympic Games and the elite athletes that go through the summer and winter Olympic Games. What they used to wear clothes-wise when they were competing doesn’t look anything like what they wear today. I think getting to the point is that when you watch the evolution of the athlete, it started off with the performance-enhancing drugs, which was prevalent in the ’70s and ’80s until they cracked down on it; until Ben Johnson got caught. Great Canadian, Ben Johnson. Performance- enhancing drugs disappeared and then they started getting into this super Lycra, the spandex suits where you were just shaving off fractions of a second because no body hair could get exposed to slow you down.
You see the swimmers now with those suits that are just inhumane, where they’re just jammed up in it; the same with cyclists. Now that they’ve basically gone down to bare skin and no friction, now I think that we’re emerging into this technology realm, which is ‘What’s going on inside my body; how do I create efficiencies in my muscles?’ which is the coolest thing, so that exactly that: ‘I’ve done my cycle and my quads aren’t tired for my marathon that I have to run right now.’ Is that a good, fair assessment of the continuum for these elite athletes?

Len: Sure, but we can actually go back to the ’70s and look what Polar did with heart rate training. Polar did something similar to what we’re doing: They took an ECG machine, or EKG machine, out of the clinician’s office and they strapped it onto the human. They made it mobile. They had to go through an educational phase with the population and they had to teach people the value of heart rate training. I think everybody now accepts that heart rate training is important.
We’re doing a very similar thing: We’re taking a device out of the clinician’s office, we’re making it mobile, and making it useful for the average Joe, but also the high-end athletes. In the same way that you use heart rate as an indicator of health, from heart rate and heart rate variability, you can get a good guesstimate of your VO2 max and other important metrics of ability. We can do the same thing with an EMG signal.

Rob: I love this. I just can’t get it out of my mind is that I want this. I can just picture the elite athlete, now instead of strapped up with diodes and tubes into a big machine on a treadmill running in a lab, I’ve got something like Leo around my leg, I’ve got some kind of monitor around my wrist, and I’ve got my heart rate monitor around my heart. These are all training tools for elite athletes, but not just elite guys. They are for the average guy like me as well. We talked about this, the idea of signals. At some point, there’s got to be something that tells me that I’ve got clogged arteries and stop running at this moment or else you’re going to keel over and have a heart attack. In fact, get in a cab and take yourself to the hospital. Are we at that point?

Len: We’re not at that point yet. One interesting thing that you mentioned is wearing Leo and also a heart rate monitor around your chest. Leo can actually measure your heart rate at your thigh.

Rob: Just because it’s a big muscle?

Len: Your heart signal, the ECG signal, actually propagates all throughout your body. Normally to get a true ECG waveform, you need 7 or 12 leads and it has to be taken cross-body and so on. We’re getting a heart at the thigh; we’ve actually filed for a patent on this technique. We’re able to extract the heart rate from the EMG signal itself. Very cool technology we came up with as part of our R&D process.

Rob: Was it by accident or was it on purpose?

Len: It was definitely on purpose. We’ve talked to runners especially; they don’t like wearing the heart rate monitors. They slide down your body, the next thing you know, they’re down around your ankles. We’re [inaudible: 00:3528] …

Rob: Wait, I’m dead. What? I’m dead. No heart … bad joke. This sounds like the ideal product, especially for elite athletes, for weekend warriors, for guys like me. I don’t run a lot. I don’t run great distances, but in my 40s, I’ve started to do this recently because of heart health. I’ve got some questions around how you’re going to do this with a small team, Ottawa, Ontario. Do you have an idea how much this product’s going to cost when it goes to market?

Len: Sure. Actually, we’re going to market very soon on Indiegogo.

Rob: Sweet.

Len: It’s a crowd sourcing platform. That … it’s looking like [inaudible: 36:11] week of June. Introductory price, which will be a fraction of the retail price; we’re looking at $179 or $180 at the start of the campaign; that’s our early bird special and then it’ll ramp up throughout the campaign. It’s probably going to come into retail around $250, around that price.

Rob: How do you … go ahead.

Len: We want to make this a mass consumer item. We don’t want to price it so it’s only for elite athletes.

Rob: I think that that’s a good price point. I think that you’re in that right spot, especially for the value that it provides. How do you market this? First of all, the name; you named it Leo for a reason.

Len: We’ve personified the device. If you look at other devices out there like Fitbit, Fuelband, all sorts of devices, they have sporty-sounding names. We actually hired a great marketing firm out of Toronto, Immersion Media. They convinced us, ‘Why don’t you make this a personified device?’ We started thinking about it. That makes a lot of sense, because that’s the direction we want the device to take anyway.
The name Leo is not related to my name. They pitched it to us as we’re a company based on fundamental solid science. They looked through history and they saw Leonardo da Vinci, also a visionary of fundamental science. The name Leo was proposed and it stuck very quickly.

Rob: I just find it odd saying that I’m wearing Leo. I’m just putting the Leo around my leg. Is there going to be a …

Len: Leo’s the whole system. Leo is the intelligence. We have our tag line as ‘Fitness Intelligence’. Intelligence meaning two things: Meaning acquisition of knowledge and use of that knowledge, but also meaning signal-gathering and reporting, almost like military intelligence. We have that fitness intelligence aspect to Leo. Leo sits in the Cloud, on your smartphone, and within the band. He’s everywhere.

Rob: Got t love it. He’s the all-seeing being, Leo.

Len: He is the Oracle of Exercise.

Rob: Oracle of Exercise. That’s how this is going to be. I got to write that down. This is the name of the episode. What … talk about the … how are you going to market this? Indiegogo is one thing, and you’re going to kick the crap out of Indiegogo. You’re going to be able to … this is something that is going to be in demand because it’s such a great product, and there’s a good enough market that will buy this at that price point. How are you going to market this? How do you get this into other people’s homes that aren’t connected to Indiegogo? It’s a big challenge.

Len: Very interesting challenge, but we have one thing in our favor. Cyclists and runners are extremely sociable, and a lot of the products they buy are found out about through word-of-mouth, actually. A lot of the marketing will be organic. Another interesting fact is that over 75% of cyclists get their information from blogs. We’ve already made significant outreach to bloggers all across North America. Right now, I believe we access to 4 million readers of blogs in North America. Of course, those bloggers would be reporting upon our company and our product, and our progress as we grow as a company. That’s one of the prime ways we’ll get the illumination on the product.

Rob: It’s a sound strategy and you don’t have to go spend billions of dollars on advertising to get this into people’s hands.

Len: The other interesting thing is that … I shouldn’t … I was going to say surprising, but it’s actually not surprising. A lot of these high-tech riders are very much into sports; they’re actually athletes. You might think of computer geeks as sitting on their chair all day, but most of these guys are very active and they take a great interest in products like Leo, especially when they see the benefit. [inaudible: 40:07] attention from some high-end publications. I’ll leave the exact publications for when they publish, but you’ll see us out there for sure.

Rob: My last question here, it’s really … why Ottawa? I know that you live here, but is being here … does it matter where you are when you’re building a company like this?

Len: It matters. Ottawa has its challenges, that’s for sure; nobody would deny that. There is not too much in the Ottawa area to look to in terms of business-to-consumer companies. There are a few and those few that are here have been successful. Maybe I’ll just say, “Why not Ottawa?”

Rob: That’s a good answer. To me, that’s a great answer. It shows that that’s … it shows that this world that is … is a level playing field to be able to take a product like this to market; it doesn’t matter if you’re in Ottawa or Silicon Valley. Hopefully you stay in the city because it …

Len: We had some concerns about finding the talent and those concerns evaporated very quickly.

Rob: Good. Len, if there was a …

Len: The talent is …

Rob: The talent is very good in Ottawa. I know there’s a slight delay in what we’re talking about here, so we’re overlapping each other. If there was … aside from what you’re building right now, what’s the inspiration? What’s inspired you that you’ve seen out there in the marketplace, in a book, or on television; the things that keep you going, the thing that inspires you as an entrepreneur?

Len: That’s a tough question. I can’t even answer that question on this phone.

Rob: Why not? Come on. Is there a service out there that you thought, “Holy cow, I wish I invented that”? As you were going through the ideation or the gestation of Gesture Logic, was there something that … I got to know; what was the catalyst for you to do this? Not that the product was cool, because a lot of people sit there and think, “I got this great idea” and it stays as an idea. Something had to have triggered for you that this is something that you wanted to build.

Len: I’ve always wanted to do a startup. I believed that good technology shouldn’t remain in academia, it should be brought outside. If you want to know a company, for example, that I look up to, it would definitely be Apple. I think that they’re a great company, an innovative company. They’ve put a high emphasis on design. One of our first hires was an industrial designer; she’s been marvelous. She guided everything from the band design, to the user interface, the user experience. It’ll all flow together and it’s because we’ve taken good design into account from day one. I can tell that that was influenced by Apple.

Rob: That wasn’t that hard, was it?

Len: No.

Rob: You found something there. I think that a good design makes it great. We talked before we did this episode and we talked about the makeup of your team. You talk about the data scientists and the engineers that you need, but you’ve also got this layer of social that you’ve created to help you in marketing. You understand these great pieces that are required. It’s not just about engineering, it is about design and it is about social. I think that … how much do you think you’ve matured as a businessperson since you started this company?

Len: It’s impossible to calculate, because when you start at zero and you go to something, it’s infinite.

Rob: I’ll give that. Where can people find out a little bit more information about what you’re up to?

Len: We have a corporate website, that’s GestureLogic.com. I think most people would be more interested in the product website for Leo; that’s at LeoHelps.com. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram if you do a search for #LeoHelps.

Rob: Perfect. LeoHelps.com, that’s exactly how it sounds, or GestureLogic.com. You can find out more information about these guys. Look for them on Indiegogo when they launch, which will be imminent. Go to Indiegogo.com and do a search for it. Do you think it’ll be under Leo Helps?

Len: It’s under Leo Helps most likely.

Rob: LeoHelps. Go and take a look at that. Of course, you can always reach out to them; there’s links all over the website to ask questions. Do us and do them a favor: Just go and actually pre-order this product if you are in fact an athlete, a runner, or a biker. When you do, just … if you can flip Len a note and say, “I heard about you through Untether.tv,” that’d be the greatest thing ever for me anyways, even if it’s just one or two products.

Len: I love to hear from people.

Rob: Please. Can they get in touch with you directly, just from the website?

Len: Yes, of course.

Rob: Perfect. We have been speaking with fellow Ottawan, that is Ottawa, Ontario Canada; Len McKeckeran, who is the president and CEO of a company called GestureLogic; their first project’s coming out, it’s called Leo at LeoHelps.com. Len, I can’t thank you enough for doing this. I’m so impressed. I’ve learned a ton. Thank you for actually answering every question that I had and then some; shows your patience with me and I appreciate you being on Untether.tv. Thanks for your time.

Len: Thanks a million Rob. By the way, you’ll be Number 1 on our beta list, beta testers.

Rob: I can’t wait. I got to come … I’m going to get a tour of the lab. I’m in the same city; we got to do this. Definitely, I’ll be there, and I’ll be sorely disappointed by my ability to run. You’ll see momentarily.

Len: No, we’ll put you on a training cycle.

Rob: Oh, my God.

Len: We’ll put you through the Tour de France course.

Rob: Nice. I’ll film that as I keel over. It’ll be the last thing that I do. Listen folks, you out there listening and watching, if you made it this far into the episode, I know that you love me, you really love me. Thank you for coming back and thank you for being a part of Untether.tv. If you have a moment, where ever you got this podcast, whether that’s iTunes, Stitcher, Sound Cloud, or from whereever, there’s got to be a rating system there. If you’ve enjoyed this, give this a rating of 5 stars or great. If you don’t like it, reach out to me at rob@untether.tv. You can unsubscribe from everything if you don’t like it. If you made it this far, I know that you found some value. Thank you for sticking around. Len, thank you for doing this. We will see you all next time on Untether.tv. Thanks Len.

Len: Thank you.


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About Len MacEachern
Len MacEachern Wearable electronics, analog integrated circuit design; RF and mixed-signal circuits; biomedical circuits and sensors; opto-electronics and laser modelling; expert witness; engineering professor; consultant.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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