Episode 31 - Ben Tripodi

December 12, 2018 22 min read

Episode 31 - Ben Tripodi

  

  

In this episode, we are joined by Ben Tripodi, the Founder and CEO of Lumin Sports Technology which was founded in March 2018. The company collects, organizes and displays athletic data for better decision making for sporting organisations who want to improve athletic health and performance.

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In this episode we cover: 

  • Ben’s extensive work background and how he transitioned from being an athlete to working in the field of athletic performance.
  • He tells us more about the 2 apps that can be used by athletes for data visualisation and how both work together to collect and provide meaningful data for faster and better decision making.
  • The power of what the Fila App can track and do for improving athlete performance.
  • Ben tells us more about his consulting work with Cycle Australia.

Links


      Transcript:

      FELICITY:

      This is episode 31. Welcome to the All Torque podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I'm your host, Felicity Dales, managing director of Body Torque.

      I have here today, Ben Tripodi, the CEO and founder of Lumins Sports Technology, which is for sporting organisations who want to improve athletic health and performance. Lumins Sports Technology collects, organises and displays athletic data so the most informed decisions can be made. Unlike traditional off-the-shelf solutions, Lumins Sports Technology inherently understands professional and amateur sports, health science and data analytics to offer solutions that solve unique performance problems.

      Welcome, Ben.

      BEN:

      Hello, thanks for having me.

      FELICITY:

      Hi. You're welcome. Your background started as an athlete for Fuse Multisport Racing Team, from 2011 to '16, while studying a bachelor of health science, human nutrition at Flinders University, a director at Finch Composites high-performance carbon fibre cycling wheels for three years, a cofounder and product development of Recoverite Proprietary Limited for two years, that does technically advanced sports garments to aid in recovery and athletic performance, managing director of MIK Health, the next generation of athlete management systems and performance tools, and now as the CEO of Lumins Sports Technology founded this year in March.

      Tell us, Ben, how did you transition from being an athlete to working in the health industry with very innovative companies all around athletic performance?

      BEN:

      Yeah, it's a bit of a mouthful. It's kind of been a bit like that. It's been all over the shop, the last probably ten years of my life. Yeah, it's a really unique journey. When I was probably 16, I started taking triathlon pretty seriously. I was still at school, and wanted to be a professional triathlete and race Hawaii and make lots of money and all that. So, I pushed pretty seriously. I got to race all around Australia and overseas a bit as well, as under-19. But I was never really that good. I was always a hard worker, I was always fortunate that I had a lot of good support around me and a bunch of really good people to train with. And I was lucky enough to join a few multi-sport teams pretty early on and when they were getting started, they were trying to build under-23 pro-team. And they were successful in doing that. And I was the tag on. I probably wasn't good enough to be in it, but I always scraped through.

      So, although I was trying to pursue triathlon, I always knew it was probably never going to be my end goal and I always was in love with businesses at that time. I was always torn between, especially finishing up my schooling, whether I go into a business degree, or whether I go into more of a health degree, where it was either get into business full-time or try to learn as much as I can about sport so I can become a better athlete.

      And that one sentence there is probably what's got me to this point today and probably is the real decision driver for a lot of things that I've done, is, how do I create better product so I can go faster or how do I learn more about nutrition to go faster? So, it's probably, I started university, I started a health science degree focusing on sports nutrition and the sole aim of that was to become a dietitian in the end. And I didn't end up doing that over the course of my journey at university, but that was really the end goal is I thought actually I'll become a sports dietitian, I'll go work at a pro-team, pro-cycling team and I'll do that for the rest of my life. And probably my first year at university, I was training full-time still, and I was probably training about 38 hours a week in triathlons. Yeah, so I was..

      FELICITY:

      Oh wow. Full-time job.

      BEN:

      It was certainly a full-time job and I was really serious about it and I thought I'm still going to devote everything to triathlon and do university whenever I can. And I ended up actually going part-time at uni to account for the triathlon training. But at the same time, I was really interested in business and I thought it was an opportunity to essentially pay for my triathlon with my own sports business.

      One of the things I really wanted at the time was some new wheels, some new race wheels. And so I thought, actually I could go out and buy a five grand pair of wheels or I could spend a bit more money, start a wheel business and import components from Switzerland, from Germany and from China and I could start building these myself and hopefully I'll sell enough to essentially pay for..

      FELICITY:

      For your own.

      BEN:

      ... for my racing. That was the theory behind my first business, which was Finch Wheels. And I took out a loan from the bank and I was pretty young, I wasn't earning much money. It was actually a pretty big risk. And it kind of failed horribly after about a year and a half, I had a whole bunch of quality control issues and I had to end up using my own money to pay a whole bunch of people back and return a bunch of different wheel sets. But it was a massive learning curve and it was my first intro into the sports technology business. It kind of really taught me okay, well, actually it's not just because you've got a product doesn't mean you can sell and doesn't mean it's better than everyone else's, there's actually a fair bit in this and you need a lot of skilled people working with you and quality's incredibly important and what's your difference in the market? That was probably still to this day, my biggest learning curve and probably the thing I'm most..

      FELICITY:

      Some great lessons to learn.

      BEN:

      Yeah, definitely. And that led me into, at the same time, I was doing that. As you can see, I've got plenty of ideas and I used to jump around a fair bit.

      And Recoverite was probably another pretty significant part of my life in the early days. I had a mate who I used to run with, and it was actually his idea to create these garments where essentially to improve recovery, he had ice packs and heat packs. And if you strategically place them in pockets on a pair of compression pants, that you can improve recovery. And at the time, I was actually doing a major project at university on recovery for athletes and using compression and heat and ice, and so I was like, "Yeah, I'll come help." And we started that together. And we built, probably over two years, I was product developing there with Abel, my partner, and we were really getting involved in how do we make these compression pants better than anything else in the market and how do we apply this hot-and-cold compression as well?

      That was probably another big learning curve in not, that wasn't about sales, this role, this was about okay, well, how do you build something that's actually going to solve an issue? How do you improve athletic performance? And I'm no longer involved in that business anymore, but they're actually doing really well and selling all over the country and even the world.

      That was another thing as well, where it was kind of, you obviously know a bit about, from your health science degree. Listen, there's a fair bit in that, you've got some knowledge, you've got some business knowledge as well and those two businesses started to mould where I was really going, and that's when I was kind of towards the end of my degree in health science and nutrition, and I was kind of tossing up what I really want to do. I was probably not really that interested in becoming a dietitian anymore, and I probably parked those ambitions of further study to become a dietitian.

      At the same time, at Flinders University, I got the opportunity to work with their engineering team which essentially allowed me to revamp what Finch Wheels was initially and start Finch Concepts which was essentially exactly what I wanted to achieve under Finch Wheels. But our vision was to create essentially the world's fastest disc brake wheel set. And the idea was that the braking surface on a lot of carbon wheels at the time still wasn't that great. Especially in the heat.

      And we knew that the UCI was tossing up whether disc brakes was going to be in over the next probably five years, and we were still pretty early. And we thought, hang on, we could probably jump ahead of the curve here and really build something that is going to be the product of the future rather than try to develop normal calipered brake wheels. We thought, actually, well, disc brake wheels is the future, let's make disc brake wheels as fast as possible. How can we allow them to perform better in cross-winds and in straight lines? And we figured that time trial bikes were going to start riding with disc brakes which turns out they now are. And so that was our real goal and we had two engineers working with us. And we had some manufacturers in Adelaide who agreed to help us as well.

      And that was a pretty big project, that was probably my first insight into, okay, this is a pretty serious business now, it's not you just trying to do something on your own or with someone else, a lot of skilled people needed to be involved. And it was way outside my capacity to develop them. That was my first intro into, this sports technology business is really hard. And you look at a company like Zipp or Specialised or any kind of bike company, and you go, "There is a lot of money going into R&D. And half the reason why their products are so expensive is not because the material cost, it's all the R&D costs that goes into it over 10 years beforehand." And that was a real eye-opener for me, and I was kind of, this probably isn't going to fly, we couldn't drum up enough cash to really get any wheels into production. But at the same time, we came up with some incredible IP and some incredible designs which is actually being used now in, not exactly our IP, but similar IP to what we were developing is now kind of..

      FELICITY:

      Come to market has it?

      BEN:

      Yeah, so Zipp, I think I forgot what model they had there, their brand new model with their dimple and that kind of whale-tail edge, that I think they call it. It was kind of along the same lines that we were developing. I was immensely proud of what we did at Finch Concepts and I think I was certainly not regretful about not pursuing that, because I think we never would have been able to get to the scale that we wanted to. But it was one of those things, just to really confirm that actually we can do quite a bit from Adelaide and from Australia, and if you've got the right people around you, then you can certainly achieve a lot. So that was kind of a real stamp of approval for me.

      And at the end of finishing that up, I actually finished my degree at the same time and I worked as a nutritionist for a health tech start-up out of Sydney for about six months. And I realised that I wasn't really that interested in helping people lose weight and helping people eat healthier when they weren't really trying to help themselves. And I thought, it's not really what I want to do.

      So I left that and joined a company called Made in Katana which became MIK Health. That was a creative tech agency where they were actually working with multiple different brands and companies in the music space, they work with Spotify, they were working with all the major production companies like Warner Music and that sort of thing. They're actually an incredible company and I worked as basically a project manager there. And I started to really develop, I was there for about three years, and I really was able to develop my understanding of what software can do. But also understand that the front-end design and the creative element and they were really hot on, basically don't ever deliver something that looks ugly or isn't a good experience for the user.

      And I think to this day, that was probably one of the things that I'm really thankful for is it gave me the understanding of actually, you need to make things that the user wants to use. And it doesn't matter if it's the most complicated product going around, it's actually a skillset in its own right to make the complicated simple. And it's a lot harder to do that than it is to make something look complicated.

      FELICITY:

      Absolutely.

      BEN:

      And that was, for me, that was like, "Wow, this is really cool." Because I probably didn't appreciate that. And I didn't really appreciate what developers could do, what really good software developers could do. I assumed that all developers were the same. I quickly realised that actually, just like in anything really, in sport, in any business, actually there's a whole variance of skillsets and skill levels and not everyone can do the same thing. And I think being naïve wasn't really developing myself. I just thought, “Oh yeah, any developer can do this”. But I really understood the world a bit more. I learnt a lot more about technology and where it could be useful. And at Made in Katana and MIK Health, I really focused on the health side of that business and the sports side and had the opportunity to work with some pretty big pharmaceutical companies where we helped them more of their internal process, we started an e-commerce business with them for Pharmacy Australia, I think it is, essentially trying to really help this health industry move into the tech age, essentially.

      And that's where I first started working with Team Dimension Data. That's when I first met them and we did some work with them initially and that's where my relationship built with them. I left MIK Health and Made in Katana probably towards the end of last year and just wanted to take a bit of a break and really see where I wanted to go. And during that time, I just starting doing some consulting work for a couple other companies, and the opportunity came up to start Lumin Sports. And the rest is history. So yeah.

      FELICITY:

      Awesome. So, you've just finished a successful week in Cape Town, delivering the latest performance solutions to Team Dimension Data, and they're a founding partner, on their annual training camp. This will be the first UCI team to be using the new Phila app and the data visualisation solution known as ARC that you've developed. That's super-exciting, Ben, let's talk about that.

      BEN:

      Yeah, so this year's been absolutely crazy. I think you mentioned, so Team Dimension Data, I have a very strong relationship with the owner there and with the team, and I was doing some consulting work for them during my time off. They developed some products, which I've been helping them with, and they essentially said, "Well, actually, can you commercialise this for us?" And I said, "Sure." So, some of the work that we were doing for them previously, we took under the Lumin banner, we built them out further and we decided that we were going to start selling these to the rest of pro-cycling and to the rest of other sports and that sort of thing.

      So we developed two products, one called Phila and one called ARC, and essentially Phila is an athlete-facing app, which the idea is is that we can track the rider in this case, but any athlete's health and wellness, in less than 30 seconds every day. And we pushed that to our ARC platform, which essentially pulls that health and wellness data in with data from Garmin watches, from GPS monitors, from power metres, from HRV monitors, essentially any data source that has been collected on that athlete. We pull that all into our platform called ARC, and we visualise that in a really meaningful way and really allow better decisions to be made quicker.

      And coming back to my creative agency background is that the idea is that there's so much data, and you can make that very complicated and some of our competitors, which have been around for a little while, kind of made this platform really complicated and they're not very user friendly.

      FELICITY:

      User friendly.

      BEN:

      And we thought, well actually, let's actually put some effort into this, and say, "We understand we've got all this data and we could just chuck it on a screen and I'm sure it would look confusing and it would look cool and it would look like we're doing heaps of work, but that's not the way to do it." So, we really focused on creating a really meaningful display where we only show the important data. And that's kind of really where we've pushed our products and we've had huge, huge traction on that and people love it.

      So yeah, we got invited to the team training camp with Team Dimension Data in Cape Town a couple weeks ago. And yeah, it was great. We know the team pretty well, and it was a good chance to, first time I've been to Cape Town, first time I've been with the team, essentially our sole purpose was to start rolling out these products to Team Dimension Data. We'd just kind of finished version one, and they'd been using and testing it for a little while, but it was a good opportunity for them to say, let's start 2019 season with all their new riders and new sponsors, and go, "Cool, this is the platform you're going to be using from now into the future. And it's only going to get better every month from now on in."

      Yeah, so that was a fantastic experience. We got to hang out with the team for a week and go for lots of bike rides and lots of runs, and it was great weather. But we also got to learn a lot about how they actually use our technology in-house.

      FELICITY:

      Which is really good feedback.

      BEN:

      It is good, I think I mentioned to you earlier, you've got so many different cultures in a pro-cycling team that you can lose context when you're talking on WhatsApp, on Skype, emails, and it's really good to just sit down with them, people you've been talking to via emails for a year or two, you actually get to meet face-to-face. It's really good, I think, and I think you have that in every aspect of relationships is when you actually get to meet them face-to-face, the benefits of those relationships moving forward is dramatically increased.

      FELICITY:

      Absolutely.

      BEN:

      Yeah, so that was really important for us.

      FELICITY:

      With the athlete-facing app that you mentioned and you talked about that that tracks health and wellness, what does that actually mean? Can you give us an example of what that actually translates to for an athlete?

      BEN:

      Yeah, certainly. So, our Phila app is essentially, in its most simplest form, it's a questionnaire or a survey that the athletes complete daily. We've got a fair bit of smarts in the back-end, so the athlete, all they see is a questionnaire, and they have sliders, and they just go slide through how they're feeling, stress, their soreness, their sleep, their fatigue, if they have any injury concerns or if they're ill. How serious are those sicknesses, is it enough to stop them training or can they still train today?

      And the idea is that that information gets sent to the doctors, and if they can't train or if it's serious enough, the doctors will intervene and say, "Okay, well, look we've noticed you've come back and you said you're injured or this has been hurting for too long, we need you to see someone." Or if it's really for them to be able to track to say if the athlete's saying they've got a snotty nose for the next, they've been saying that for the last two weeks, the doctor might come in to say, "Hey, you should probably take a week off training this week because this might turn into the flu." Or, "It's looking like it's becoming a sinus infection."

      And so it's really tracking their health data which seems really easy and seems like something that seems pretty common sense, but no real professional team has the ability to monitor those little symptoms over time and to intervene when you need to. I think a lot of professional teams will come to a clubroom so the doctors can see them or there's a conversation, but in a pro-cycling team, everyone's remote and so the cyclists never really talk to their doctors. They might see them once a year at the training camp, that's probably the last time they see them.

      FELICITY:

      Right.

      BEN:

      So it's really important to gather that qualitative..

      FELICITY:

      Information.

      BEN:

      .. data, yeah. On the athlete every day, so that the coaches and the doctors can have those conversations. And that was the main aspect of it and the other aspect is we track their location, don't hide it behind the scenes, and the reason we do that is again, half the time, you don't know where they're located. So, the manager just wanted to know which country they were in. So that was hugely important.

      Then tracking, if they're in this country today and this country tomorrow, how's the flight time and the distance travelled going to affect their performance? The idea is that we track enough data over time, we can start saying, "Well, we notice when he flew from here to here to here, he had a horrible performance that week and he ended up getting a cold for two weeks after that." And so it's about tracking all this data on the athlete and so over time, we can start making assumptions going, "Well, if we're really serious about performance and improving, he shouldn't be flying this much. We suggest he should probably live in this place if he’s, for three months while he's racing all around in Europe." Rather than travelling.

      We also track their sleep and how much sleep they're getting as well. That's also important because you can generally see some pretty good trends between sleep and sickness and also travel as well, because don't tend to sleep as much when you travel.

      FELICITY:

      Right. And what about diet? Do you track that?

      BEN:

      We don't currently, no. It's one thing we're starting to move to, especially with my background, it's something that you think, should probably be in already. But it's one thing that's kind of, the athletes are really, especially in cycling, the athletes are really good at diet. They take a lot of personal responsibility for that. And I think unlike any other sports, I know some other team sports we work with, they're a little bit more, players a little bit more lazy, they take for granted the skills from their dietitian they have basically daily at hand, whereas I think the cyclists from a young age, have been so hell bent on being lean, knowing that if they want to climb fast, they have to lose weight.

      Look, to be fair, it's probably not a healthy obsession to have, but I think that's over time, they've really been ingrained with a good knowledge of good food and diet that they.. From my experience, there hasn't really been a need for us to really get involved in.

      FELICITY:

      It's interesting, I've noticed that say my body responds differently or I notice what my body responds to or doesn't in a better way or not such a better way. So I'm really into food, I have to say, and I was riding with a well-known footballer last week and he actually commented with an interview afterwards that the AFL aren't as switched on as cyclists. So that was really an interesting comment. Yeah, he's an AFL athlete and also rides, and he did notice that. So that was quite interesting, so I think we are a lot more switched with the sport that we do, just because of the what's required, the power required to do what we do.

      BEN:

      I think also as well, I think everyone knows when you've hit the wall or you've bonked, it's not a good feeling. I'm sure most people have experienced that at some stage in their cycling career. And I think in AFL, it's probably not as long, you probably never going to.. I think eating is always going to perhaps improve your performance, but it's not going to allow you to get home when you're absolutely struggling. And I think people take that pretty seriously when you're out on a bike two hours from home and you’re starving.

      FELICITY:

      That's right, true story.

      BEN:

      I think you learn pretty quickly after that.

      FELICITY:

      Absolutely. Did you test the app on yourself before, being a former athlete, Ben? I assume that you were trialling it?

      BEN:

      Yeah, one of the things, since I've stopped training, I still keep pretty active. In fact, I haven't actually ridden my bike for 12 months now and I'm trying to do some last-minute Ks before the Tour Down Under in Adelaide in January. But since I've stepped away from more of the serious trainer, I stay out of a lot of, I'll use the app but I probably don't use it as much as I probably should in terms of in a context. I've started to again now that we've got some more products and I'm trying to put myself back into the athlete mindset. But yeah, I probably don't do it enough. But certainly when I first started looking at the Phila app and creating that, I was still training pretty full-on in terms of the early days of development, yeah, it was definitely a key aspect of it.

      And I think that's why we were able to build such good rapport with the teams and initially was that we were athletes and we understood this world. We also had the technology to build these things but we could talk to their doctors, we could talk to their coach, we could talk to their riders and understand exactly what they wanted. And then we were able to convey that into a product.

      FELICITY:

      You're also doing some consulting work for other sporting teams such as Team BNC Triathlon and also with Cycling Australia, with their Olympic program, your software partners for their Olympic track team. Can you tell us more about that program?

      BEN:

      Yeah, in the last probably nine months, we've grown quite dramatically. We always wanted to keep pushing Phila and ARC, our two products, but we always knew there was a need for this kind of custom consulting.

      Team BNC, FIFA Sports, which is pro-triathlon teams, more about, probably not as much performance technology for them, rather than more general consulting and helping them with sponsorship and helping them with improvements in how they can use software better.

      But Cycling Australia's a really cool one and it's one that we've built a really good relationship with. We work really closely with their tech team, they've got a couple of people that work in Cycling Australia that really focus on bringing new products in-house, how do you get the best performance with new technology? It's really interesting. Cycling Australia's basically just an incredible machine which I think there with the rivalry between British Cycling, US Cycling, New Zealand Cycling, Cycling Australia is unreal. It's really competitive and the Government, I think, is really supportive of Cycling Australia and its ambitions to be the best. And we are very, very successful at that. So, it's a really cool environment to be a part of and we help them a lot on the track with transferring a lot of data that they're collecting on the athletes and we try to visualise that data for the coaches in near real-time. Yeah, so we get to hang out at track with the athletes and try to hopefully make the coaches' lives a little bit easier. With our sort of work, it's always ongoing and it's one of those things that probably never finishes.

      FELICITY:

      Do you think that'll translate to the road team and perhaps mountain bike as well or will it just stay there for the moment on the track team?

      BEN:

      Yeah, I think at the moment, post down the track, the track teams probably gets a little bit more attention than the other two. I think that's because it's probably it's more of a, what's the word, a static environment in that the athletes aren't really a part of any other team. Whereas a lot of the road cyclists, they're obviously part of pro-teams and hard to get their time, and they're probably already looked after in their professional environment. Whereas the track guys, they ride for Australia and that's basically it. And it's a lot better environment to test new technology in as well when you know Australians aren't going to change.

      FELICITY:

      Yes. Yes, you did mention earlier that for instance, you're working with Team and you did say their team manager was Aussie and we talk about the pot of cultures in teams, and that's the thing, that you do have that communication possibility of an issue, really, isn't there, so it's great to be able to work with, well, they're all the layers that you have to take into consideration, really isn't it? Like with all the different members of a team?

      BEN:

      It is, it is. It's also funny with Cycling Australia, half of them are from the U.K. Half of British Cycling is from Australia. So basically, whoever wins the last Olympics, they just swap over teams basically. Everyone just gets poached.

      But no, it's really interesting. We also work with one AFL team here as well, and they're obviously all Australian and they all see each other every day and it's a really completely different environment to a professional team, a professional cycling team where you have maybe ten different cultures, everyone speaks different languages. Most can speak English, but there's still quite a few that don't. And it's absolutely unbelievable to watch this, yeah, this culture, just the mix of people just all come together to achieve one purpose that which is to win bike races. But it's really interesting to try to navigate that.

      But yeah, it's been fascinating to see that, there's a lot of Australians in high performance roles in a lot of pro-cycling teams, in American football teams, and basically wherever I go, whoever I speak with, there's at least one Australian in a high-profile position in that team. And it really comes down to, and one thing I've picked up over the last few years is that Australian sports science is really ahead of the curve. It's unbelievably sophisticated, we're incredibly skilled in this area, and it probably stems from the AIS doing a really good job over the last, probably 20 years, just developing these university degrees, pushing new products out there, new technology and I'm hoping they can continue that from now on in, but wherever you go, especially in the U.S., they see Australians as just being an absolute pioneers in sports science.

      FELICITY:

      That's fantastic and exciting, because it just shows you that we're really ahead of the curve and that's a really illuminating, actually.

      BEN:

      I agree.

      FELICITY:

      And proud to be Aussie. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi.

      BEN:

      It's one of those things where probably traditionally, you probably tried to hide your Australian accent. But I think now, in this space, I try to put on even more.

      FELICITY:

      Yeah, accentuate it.

      BEN:

      Yeah.

      FELICITY:

      Well, I'd like to thank you for joining me today, Ben. It’s been really interesting to learn about your journey and also the product that you’ve developed with Lumins Sports in the Phila app and also the ARC. The ARC. We’ll feature your website in our show notes which iswww.luminsports.com and also you’re on LinkedIn, so if anyone wants to follow you or learn more about what you’re doing, they can find you there. And we’ll feature any other details that you’d like there as well, so people can find you.

      BEN:

      Thank you so much for the opportunity as well and look, if anyone does want to contact me please reach out on LinkedIn or even email me, which I’ll send through and..

      FELICITY:

      Awesome.

      BEN:

      Yeah, it’s been great chatting. I love chatting cycling so..

      FELICITY:

      Me too.

      BEN:

      ..any time in future please sing out.

      FELICITY:

      Thanks, Ben. Cheers!

      BEN:

      No problem at all, thanks very much.

      FELICITY:

      Thanks for listening to the All Torque podcast. We'd love it if you would leave us a rating and review on iTunes. This helps us to deliver content you want to hear about. Please take a moment to share it with your friends and family on Instagram and Facebook. I'm Felicity Dales, see you next episode for another story of inspiration and motivation on the All Torque podcast.


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