Be patient. That probably links to the earlier question around not having to win every interaction that I had. Just being patient and letting things come to you and not having to force everything straight away.
New technologies have changed the way we engage in and watch sports. Sensors, Wearable Tech, Video Assistant Referees (VAR), and Instant Replay, are examples of new technologies that have changed the way we play and watch sports. In this interview series called, “The Future of Sports; New Emerging Technologies That Are Disrupting The World Of Sports,” we are talking to sports leaders, athletes, sports tech experts, and sports equipment companies who can talk about the new technologies that are reshaping the sports world.
As a part of this interview, we had the pleasure of interviewing Laurie Malone.
Laurie Malone is the CEO and co-founder of human measurement technology company, VALD. Starting out as a lawyer, he’s since turned his competitive streak and passion for sport into a thriving technology business. He’s excited by the effect amalgamating data into one platform will have on sport and would most like to have lunch with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thanks for this opportunity. I’m Laurie Malone, CEO and co-founder of VALD.
Once upon a time, I thought I would be a very successful rugby league player, so I probably didn’t spend as much time studying as I should have.
Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I had the drive but not the talent to succeed as a rugby league player! Eventually I went to university and did a Law and Finance degree and became a reasonably successful lawyer in my own right, but I felt fairly disenfranchised by the law.
When the opportunity came to found VALD with my best mate, Sam James, it was almost too good to be true. We started VALD in 2015 and launched our first product, the NordBord, in 2016. We’ve now got well over 1,000 clients, we’ve got 110 staff, we’re in 75 different countries around the world.
“In some odd way, although I didn’t make it as an athlete, I’ve kind of come full circle and ended up in sports tech.”
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
This is an interesting question. It was actually when we first launched the NordBord, we were on the way to the Buffalo Bills and at that point we only had one other NFL client, which was the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Bills called us and said they had to cancel the meeting because they were snowed in and we wouldn’t be able to get to Buffalo. We naively thought: ‘we’re all going to four-wheel drive, we’re from Australia, we’ll just drive through the snow, it’ll be okay!’
But they were quite insistent that they were physically snowed in and we just simply couldn’t get there.
We thought they might have been pretending, like they just didn’t want to talk to us, so we were pretty disappointed. But they said that we could go to the NFL Combine and catch up with them there in a few weeks’ time, if that was of interest.
You’re never going to turn down an opportunity to meet with an NFL team, so we drove to the Combine and tried to book a hotel room. Surprise, surprise… there were no hotel rooms available at all in town, so we ended up sleeping in the car!
We had to go and meet with them the following morning. They asked us where we’d like to meet and we obviously didn’t have a hotel room, so we couldn’t offer them to come to our hotel.
We said we’d meet them at their hotel.
When we got there, we thought we’d just hire a room for a few hours and then give them the demonstration. But when we went up to the hotel concierge, they kind of laughed at us and said that the whole town was booked out by the NFL, so there was no way of us getting a room.
We were left with this really awkward situation of either having to do it in the foyer, which didn’t seem very professional or trying to do in their room, which also didn’t seem very professional.
Chris Rowe, our very first employee, went and asked the restaurant at the hotel if they had a function room. We ended up hiring the function room and taking the Buffalo Bills in and giving the demonstration in there, with all the tables kind of pushed to the side of the room.
From there, the Bills asked us if we knew anyone else in town and we said we didn’t. We ended up having six back-to-back meetings in that function room with NFL teams who all became clients of ours.
So from being turned away from Buffalo because of a snowstorm, ending up going to the Combine, sleeping in the car, getting the function room and then getting six NFL clients… for a very young Australian company, which we were at the time, to do that was probably one of the most important parts of our journey.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? ‘
In my early years, being quite competitive in nature, I wanted to win every single encounter I had. Whether I was on the sporting field or whether I was with people, I wanted to win every time I had a conversation and I wanted to walk away having won.
It wasn’t until I got a little bit older that I realised I didn’t need to win every single one. So the quote I have is: ‘you don’t need to win every interaction’.
You can just have a neutral or a negative interaction, you don’t have to win all of those.
That’s not going to apply to everybody, but certainly for me as a very young, eager individual, just calming down and saying: ‘you don’t need to win every interaction’ really helped me with building long-lasting relationships with individuals.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I can’t split these two guys, Sam James and Chris Rowe.
Sam’s our co-founder and Chris is our very first employee. All three of us are best mates and we actually started VALD when were all living together.
I get asked a few questions around what it’s like working with your two best mates. To put it into context, when I describe the three of us, we’re actually extremely symbiotic in how we work together.
I jokingly say there’s a designer, an optimist and a pessimist. Sam’s the designer, I’m the optimist and Chris is the pessimist.
In some odd way, when an idea gets floated and the optimist, the pessimist and the designer all agree that it’s a good idea… it must be a really good idea.
That still holds true today with some of the decisions we’ve made, and some of the acquisitions or hires that we’ve made. If you can get the tick from all three of us, then it’s generally a pretty good sign.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
It has to be a film. I was tossing up between Eight Mile or Catch Me If You Can.
But for me, it’s probably Eight Mile. Coming from a low socioeconomic background and being able to see the rise of Eminem go from essentially nothing in a trailer park, to being successful on a global stage… whilst I wouldn’t make many of his life decisions in other respects, that journey was one that resonated quite a lot with me.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The three are probably: determination, passion and honesty.
- Determination probably comes from never being the smartest guy in the room but being really determined to get something done. Just continuing to be determined and working at it regardless of whether or not you’re doing it efficiently or the best way.
- Anyone who’s met me or dealt with me knows pretty quickly that I’m extremely passionate about what I do. Being able to start VALD and work with my two best mates allows me this great luxury of being able to be passionate and work with people that I want to.
- Honesty is probably not in the context that most people think. Honesty is in the relationships and everything that we do together. Working with my two best mates, we’re extremely honest with each other and that can be quite challenging. Not everyone is used to having honest feedback.
Anyone who deals with me, or Sam or Chris, knows where they stand. They know we’re very honest with our feedback. I think by doing that, people respect you and respect that the feedback you give them, whilst it might be challenging at times, it comes from an honest place.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think what we’ve done at VALD is we’ve democratized technology into healthcare. We’ve taken it from being stuck at an elite sport and very expensive level and democratized it so that it’s available to anyone.
It’s not just NFL athletes or Major League Baseball athletes or NBA athletes who use it, it’s your Grandma who can use these technologies now, to help rehabilitate her after a hip surgery.
Yes, winning Super Bowls is important and helping Super Bowl winners is important to us. But also helping your Grandma — who’s had a hip surgery — being able to pick up her grandchild is equally important to us.”
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the sports technologies that most excite you at the moment? Can you explain why you are passionate about it?
I thought about this question quite a lot and there’s not actually one single piece of technology that excites me the most, but it’s actually the amalgamation of technologies that excites me.
I think in the last ten years we’ve gone through an era where single bits of technologies have all been developed and evolved to a point where we have a lot of really good single technology, or single product companies that have a piece of technology.
I think the next ten years is around: ‘how do we amalgamate all the data that’s collected by these technologies into a common platform?’ That’s the future and that’s what excites me.”
How do you think this might change the world of sports?
If we amalgamate successfully, it means the athlete or the patient or the client gets to see a version of the data and it gets shared homogenously with them alongside the coach, or the physical therapist or physio, or the strength coach or head coach, or the surgeon.
I think the amalgamation of all this data allows everybody that touches anyone in the health or performance sector to see the data in a way that’s not currently done.
As a leader in this space, I think it’s our obligation to continue to push forward that kind of agenda.”
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Data privacy as a whole is important.
For us in the musculoskeletal space, the data we’re collecting is probably not as exciting as some of the other areas adjacent to us. Psychology data, more medical data is probably where some more nefarious activity could happen.
We’re probably a bit boring in what we do, but I certainly think that data privacy and security is of the utmost importance. That’s across all of the broader healthcare landscape.
But our data is probably not as sexy to hackers as what some other data might be.”
What are the 3 things that concern you about the sports industry today? Can you explain? What can be done to address or correct those concerns?
In no particular order, I think with the rise of technology and athletes being tracked all the time with cameras and social media, I think we’ve probably started to lose a bit of empathy and humanity around our sport stars.
I think it’s important that we kind of get that back. I think pretty much everyone agrees that we watch sport for the characters and for the dramatic quotes and plays, so we just need to be careful that we’re not turning sports stars into being all the same people all acting the same way. I think we need to be very careful of that.
Secondly, there are a lot of claims from a tech perspective in relation to predictability and AI which I think we need to be careful of. It’s not so much around sport as it is around talent. We can predict many, many things but talent is reasonably unpredictable.
The number one attribute to success in any sporting team is probably talent. Then it’s just all the auxiliary things that go around talent to help win a championship.
I think without talent, you probably haven’t got anything. I think we just need to make sure we keep focusing on talent, not tech.
The third one is probably a sensitive one for me. It looks like sport is becoming accessible only to the wealthy.
I think that’s a real shame. I think sport, particularly at a grassroots and junior level should be accessible to anyone. I understand that certain sports are more expensive than others, but we need to make sure that there are as many sports as possible, as affordable as they can be.
Whether that’s got to be from a government perspective, or a governing body or federation perspective, I think we have to have a really keen focus on making sure that there aren’t haves and have-nots in relation to developmental sport.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be patient. That probably links to the earlier question around not having to win every interaction that I had. Just being patient and letting things come to you and not having to force everything straight away. When you start a company, you want to get your first client, your tenth client, your hundredth client, your thousandth client as quickly as possible. Sometimes you’ve just got to sit back and let things evolve over time.
- The second one is going to sound ironic given the first point. But it’s: go faster. Obviously be patient and go faster don’t seem to go together, but there are certain aspects along the journey where we did have successes where we should have gone faster. We should have backed ourselves and doubled-down or tripled-down in certain areas where we were a little bit too conservative.
- The third one is being okay with saying no. As an early-stage company, you kind of want to be everything to all people. You want to say ‘yes’ a lot. It probably wasn’t until we got really disciplined around saying, ‘no, that’s not us, we’re not going to be good at that. We can’t help you, try somewhere else’… that’s probably the main thing. And then from a hiring perspective, when you’re trying to hire people and you’re a small company, you’ve got to kind of puff your chest up and look like you’re somewhere they should work. We got to a point a couple of years ago where we realized that it was okay to say ‘no’ and say, ‘that person just doesn’t fit here and they’re better suited working somewhere else. And we should pick people that are going to thrive in our organization’. We wrote an internal team handbook to confirm that. So when anyone gets a contract, they also get this team handbook and if the team handbook doesn’t align with their values, they should go and get a job somewhere else. And sometimes it’s them saying ‘no’, sometimes it’s us saying ‘no’. And I think in the formative years, we probably said ‘yes’ a little bit too much.
- The fourth one is culture. You see a lot of people talk about culture and say you have to keep it the same. I always wished someone had said to me, ‘Laurie, your culture should change, but it must also stay the same’. What I mean by that is, we have these core pillars that have always been at our organization and they’ve remained throughout, but there are other parts of the culture that have had to change. What was appropriate when we had four good mates or five good mates in a room working together, wouldn’t be appropriate now. So there are six core philosophies that we have in our organization. They’ve stayed the same. We’ve tinkered with the wording, but they’ve stayed the same the whole way along. But the other parts of the culture had to change as we’ve changed as an organization. So rather than only saying ‘you’ve got to keep your culture,’ I wish someone had said ‘you’ve got to keep your culture, but it also has to change’. If they had said that we wouldn’t have fought so long to hold on to those early-day rituals, which we naturally had to move on from as we got bigger.
- And then the fifth one is that relationships last longer than revenue. So when you’re early-stage company, you really need revenue to stay alive. That’s understandable. But just being patient and putting the relationships that you build within your kind of industry ahead of the revenue that person might be able to give you, I think that’s a big one. Luckily, I think we learned that one pretty early on, so we didn’t get burned by trying to put revenue ahead of relationships.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Education is the biggest one for me. Coming from a low socioeconomic background, my Dad couldn’t read or write. So education, for me, is the most important thing.
I don’t just mean tertiary education. I mean education around mental health, eating, just general health and your physical health.
Yes, it’s great if everyone can read and go to university, but that’s not what I mean by education. I mean being a well-rounded human.
I think a lot of us don’t necessarily get that growing up and we’ve either got to learn it in our young adult lives, or we don’t learn it at all.
But that’s a big one for me — education.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Bill Belichick would be the number one. A lot of his mantras just really resonate with me.
I’ve actually got his ‘do your job’ quote on the wall in my office. That’s just to remind me — it’s not a passive-aggressive way of talking to staff — it’s to remind me to do my job every day and not to do their job.
I think that quote resonated with me because we went from an organization of 15 people, where I would do everything all the time, to the 110 people we have now.
As much as I want to jump in and do everything, I have to let others do it. My job is to make sure they’ve got the resources — the financial and human resources — to do what they need to do to succeed.
My job now is to make sure the resourcing is done correctly, not to jump in and necessarily do everything. So that’s resonated really strongly with me.
Also, there’s the fact that Bill has just had such sustained success over such a long period.
One of the fears at VALD is that we’ve done so well over the last six years, but how do you make sure that lasts for another ten years? He’s been able to reinvent himself and reinvent his team season in and season out.
So ‘how do you stay fresh and hungry?’ That would be a great question that I’d love to sit down and ask Bill over a meal.
I’d probably have a steak and a glass of red wine, but I’m not really sure what Bill likes to eat!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The only social media platform I’m on is LinkedIn, so I’d recommend looking me up on there.
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!