Will Ahmed is on a mission to “unlock human performance.” As the CEO and Founder of WHOOP, a fitness monitor that tracks your body’s strain and recovery, Ahmed believes that if we can better understand our bodies and how they behave, we can be healthier, perform better physically and even get better sleep to inevitably reduce stress.
An athlete himself, Ahmed played squash at Harvard, but began struggling with feeling run down. He started researching athletic performance and read that over 60% of athletes overtrain, which sparked a desire to see if he could develop a product that could prevent the overtraining epidemic. He read and researched over 500 medical papers and journals, partnered up with co-founder John Capalupo to develop the tech, and launched WHOOP, which measures heart rate, heart rate variability, skin conductivity, ambient temperature, and accelerometry — and then makes recommendations throughout the day to prevent exhaustion, strain and burnout.
With WHOOP now worn by professional athletes like Lebron James and Michael Phelps, as well as everyday fitness enthusiasts, Ahmed is realizing his goal of helping everyday athletes become more sleep conscious and perform better in their daily lives. In his Thrive Diary, Ahmed discusses how he combats the stress of starting a company, stays organized and his tips for getting better, sounder sleep.
Thrive Global: Starting a company can be really stressful. What are some of the tactics that have helped you de-stress?
Will Ahmed: I think for me personally, the single most important thing I’ve learned is how to meditate. I took a transcendental meditation course five years ago and I’ve been doing it every day since. I spend about 22 minutes every morning meditating. It’s been a phenomenal practice for me. I recommend it to everyone in their lives. It helps you get out of your own head for a moment and be able to look at yourself in the third person, and I’ll even find throughout the day this moment of thoughtfulness to see myself in action before I do something. It makes you less reactive to the world and in a lot of ways it makes you a little bit more patient to see what’s coming at you and to respond accordingly.
TG: Are there things that you do to stay organized?
WA: I try to go into every meeting with a purpose and be very specific about what that purpose is. Once the purpose has been met, you don’t need to have meetings drag on. So if you do have a number of meetings back to back, there’s no reason they have to be a set amount of time. I think the key is to evolve with your day.
TG: What qualities do you look for when hiring a member of your team?
WA: What I look for in every person that I work with is a high degree of intensity and a high degree of humility. What’s really interesting about that combination is they also tend to be inversely correlated. Sometimes when you have someone who is super intense, they can also be fairly arrogant. Or when you have someone who’s super humble, they can be more laid back, or not as effective. What’s really powerful about this combination is when you’re building a small company, you’ve got individuals that represent a whole department. So next week maybe we’ll have a meeting with an IOS engineer, and a marketer, and a product designer, and a firmware engineer. And they’re gonna figure out how Whoop data gets sent from a Whoop strap to an IOS phone. Each individual’s going to come into that meeting with their own point of view on how it should be done. There’s gonna be this natural collision of ideas and that’s okay. Everyone’s trying to approach it from their own point of view. But you want the best idea to come out of that — the best idea for the company. I find when you have people who are both intense and humble, you’ll have this natural collision, but you’ll also have a great brainstorm creating an idea meritocracy. And when you have an idea meritocracy, that tends to make a flatter hierarchy within your organization because people are much more comfortable challenging one another. They know that an intern or a VP can come up with the next great idea. For me, in building a business, looking for people like that has also helped create a culture that I think is a really healthy one.
TG: What is your relationship with technology?
WA: I think you want to be very conscious of your relationship with technology first and foremost. I’m aware that I use technology a lot and I try not to use it constantly. When I exercise, I try not to have a cell phone with me. 30 minutes beforeI go to bed, I’ll try not to be looking at my phone. I’ve done a lot of hacks on my iPhone to optimize it and optimize the way it communicates to me — virtually turned off all notifications and I don’t have that little constant dopamine hit that you’re getting on your screen every day. I’ll try to be very conscious about why I’m going into an app. What’s the purpose of what I’m looking at, what’s the purpose of what I’m doing on my phone?
More broadly, I am building technology, so I appreciate the fact that you can learn a lot from other people who build technology. I view technology as a positive force in my life. It’s something that I embrace, I love looking at other designs of other products and trying to learn from them. I think the most important thing is just be very conscious of how technology affects your sleep and to look at different ways to improve your sleep.
TG: From all your research, what are some ways we can get a better night’s sleep?
WA: There’s a few things that you can do to really improve your sleep. One is sleeping in a much colder bedroom. That’s something I’ve been doing for a long time. I like to have it as cold as 65 or 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Most rooms aren’t dark enough, so you want to start by trying to have the room be as dark as possible. I’ll also wear an eye mask when I go to bed —they’ll block out most of the natural light in your room. I also like to wear blue light blocking glasses for about 30 minutes to an hour before I go to bed. If you’re someone who takes red eyes, blue light blocking glasses are amazing, you can wear them two to three hours when you’re on your way to the airport and they’ll block all the blue light that’s triggering your brain and triggering your eyes and as a result they actually make you sleepier in a natural way.
TG: Do you have a quote or a mantra that helps you thrive?
WA: “Every man has two lives and the second one begins when he realizes he only has one.” That hit me over the head as a great point of view and it really makes you think about when that moment in time is going to be for you. When is that moment when you realize you’ve got one shot at this and all the behaviors, all the lifestyle decisions, everything that you’re doing is affecting your only shot at life. You want to optimize the moment, you want to be the best version of yourself.