WHOOP Case Study: Exercising Great Judgment

Ben Foster May 24 2021

The following is adapted from Build What Matters.

WHOOP was an advisory client for years prior to Ben joining the company as Chief Product Officer in 2020. Founded in late 2011, the company produces a higher-end wearable device and mobile app for tracking overall health. Will Ahmed, Founder and CEO, had a unique customer-focused vision based on a paper he wrote while he was a student at Harvard University titled “The Feedback Tool: Measuring Intensity, Recovery, and Sleep.” His thesis was that properly understanding any one of these physiological statuses requires measuring all of them. Thus, heart rate and other metrics need to be tracked continuously.

In the early days, WHOOP had several technical challenges to overcome. How do you craft a device comfortable enough to wear 24/7? How do you accurately capture micro-fluctuations in heart rate, which is a critical factor in recovery? How do you charge a device without removing it from your wrist? Faced with daunting hurdles and complexity, outside experts recommended WHOOP use data from other instruments instead, such as chest straps, which at the time offered greater precision but were uncomfortable to wear. Rather than pivot to what was easier, the team pressed on and ultimately built the best on-wrist heart rate tracking device available.

According to Will,

Staying very committed to that initial vision was the key to our success. If you want to introduce something to the market that’s truly novel or ‘breakthrough,’ you need to have a strong point of view, which may even feel contrary to popular conjecture. I always remind our team of this. We want to have conviction about what the world should look like for our customers when the product is being used successfully.

In other situations, though, WHOOP correctly pivoted based on market feedback. For instance, the high costs of the precision instrumentation embedded in the device made the product too expensive for consumers. WHOOP responded by switching to a monthly subscription model, resulting in much higher demand and an enviable growth rate.

How did WHOOP know when to remain steadfast and when to pivot? Referring back to the customer-focused vision was the key to making these difficult judgment calls. The company was willing and able to flex to match consumer preferences; how and when customers paid for the product was never an important part of the customer journey. In contrast, abandoning their own hardware investments would have necessitated pulling data from third-party devices, none of which were designed for continuous wear. Doing so would have broken the connection between sleep, recovery, and strain, which is foundational to the superior customer experience Will imagined when he founded the company.

Of course, choosing how to respond to market feedback or observed product usage isn’t strictly binary. The WHOOP customer journey vision also included collecting user input about daily behaviors and then showing users how their behaviors affected their body, but the initial in-app questionnaires had low adoption. While it was tempting to remove the feature and invest in other parts of the experience instead, the team knew to dig deeper by conducting user interviews. They learned that many customers found the questions immaterial, so the product team replaced the static questionnaire with a new feature called “WHOOP Journal,” which allows users to choose the questions they find most personally relevant. Adoption skyrocketed, and now WHOOP is uniquely able to report back to users how their behaviors (such as drinking alcohol) and circumstances (such as being sick) affect their performance.

Will said it better than we could.

If you don’t listen to your customers, you’re going to miss the important feedback you need to make a great product, but if you listen to customers too bluntly, you may lose sight of what the purpose of your product actually is.

Being able to separate the two illustrates the value of producing—and committing to—a rock solid customer journey vision.

Are you trying to create a strong customer journey vision? Click here to get our free step-by-step guide to crafting a compelling vision for your product.

Written by Ben Foster

Ben is a co-founder of Prodify and Principal Product Advisor / Coach. In his career, he has been the Chief Product Officer at WHOOP and GoCanvas, the VP of Product & Design at Opower (which went public in 2014) and previously worked for Marty Cagan at eBay.

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