When it comes to Digital Transformation in sports and work, go big or go home.
Travis McDonough has always been looking for a competitive edge. As an amateur athlete “on the small side,” he sought other ways—exercise, nutrition, strategy—to get ahead.
Today McDonough is the of CEO of Kinduct, a provider of cloud-based software that analyzes data from wearables, electronic medical records, computer vision solutions, and more to assess and make recommendations about physical human performance. Kinduct provides 100 professional sports organizations, including the five major sports leagues in North America, with intelligence to make decisions about their athletes and training programs.
Digital Fills a Gap
A chiropractor by training, McDonough owned and operated a network of sports rehabilitation clinics, where he found that patients retained only a fraction of what they were instructed to do through text or conversation. “As we treated athletes, we realized there was a gaping hole in the industry for technology [to fill],” he says.
McDonough first launched a company to create 3D videos designed to help his athlete patients better understand their injuries and the resulting therapy. The videos, delivered by text or e-mail, would illustrate what happens inside the human body when it experiences whiplash, for example.
“We quickly realized we couldn’t just be a content company and push information without understanding more about the athlete,” he says. Athletes and their trainers collected a massive amount of individual health and performance data that was available to be tapped from electronic medical records, wearable devices, and computer vision-based tracking systems that measure and record information such as how fast an athlete is running or jumping. “We needed to be agnostic and aggressive consumers of all kinds of data sources in order to push more targeted programs to our clients,” he says. So McDonough recruited his brother’s brother-in-law (vice president of product, Dave Anderson) to develop software to make sense of it all.
Innovate a Better Athlete
The software is suited for healthcare and military applications: the Canadian Armed Forces uses it to deliver exercise, wellness, and nutrition programs to its troops. But McDonough knew that the world of professional sports would provide his most eager customers.
“The sports world is willing to embrace innovation more quickly than other markets, like healthcare, that are slower-moving. And that’s where our passion lives. Many of us are sports fanatics and have been athletes,” says McDonough of the company’s 70 employees. Kinduct’s first customers were National Hockey League (NHL) teams, followed in short order by the National Basketball Association (NBA).
For its professional sports clients, Kinduct has uncovered more than 100 novel correlations. Most are closely guarded secrets, but several have become public. The company found, for example, that when a basketball player’s sleep falls below a certain threshold, there is a strong correlation with reduced free throw percentages two days later. That discovery led one NBA team (McDonough won’t say which) to focus on getting players to bed on time and making travel schedule changes to enable the requisite rest.
Kinduct software also found correlations for hockey teams. It demonstrated to a leading hockey team that better grip strength was likely to lead to harder and faster shots on goal. Moreover, when the system ingested three years of historical computer vision information, it found that a player’s ability to slow down dramatically affects the chances of soft tissue injuries, which are costly to professional sports teams and athletes. The software can send an alert when it spots a trend that could predict the possibility of such an injury.
We’re in this to go big. That means carrying a burn rate, hiring aggressively, and investing in research.
The software “will never replace the experts in the trenches,” says McDonough. “But we are able to arm coaches and trainers with the intelligence necessary to make more informed decisions. Technology will never replace the power of a good relationship.”
Think a Few Plays Ahead
Kinduct is based in McDonough’s hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, which boasts five universities, strong government subsidies, a low cost of living, and, for Kinducts’s predominantly U.S.-based customers, a favorable currency exchange rate. Despite these advantages, Halifax isn’t widely known for its digital innovators. “We’ve got a huge chip on our shoulder,” says McDonough. “We want to prove that we’re just as capable of becoming a global success as companies elsewhere,” such as Silicon Valley or London.
Nevertheless, McDonough spends significant time in Silicon Valley meeting with investors and looking at potential U.S. expansion (Kinduct closed a US$9 million Series A investment led by Intel Capital in October). “There’s a huge benefit to growing in Nova Scotia,” he says, “but we also need to be in the epicenter of the tech space.”
McDonough has big ideas for Kinduct’s future, thanks to the explosion of health- and fitness-tracking devices. “We can pull all the data in and, when we see a negative pattern, provide the user with the exact roadmap they need to follow to improve their condition or performance,” he says. “That’s equally as useful to a professional football player or an Olympic athlete as it is to someone recovering from a knee replacement or living with type 2 diabetes.”
Kinduct has 16 projects underway to measure the impact of the platform in helping individuals manage conditions like peripheral vascular disease and cognitive decline. “We want to show how the platform can empower and engage patients,” says McDonough.
Go Big or Go Home
Meanwhile, however, McDonough intends “to dominate the sports space. That is our bubble wrap of credibility, and we can leverage that to do other things.”
Focus was never a strong suit for McDonough, who struggled with dyslexia and ADD as a kid. “Thank God for sport, which helped to channel my energy,” he says. But that wandering mind, he says, has also been an asset. “Like a lot of ADD sufferers, I have a lot of imagination,” he says. For balance, he’s hired a leadership team that keeps him grounded, and he has assembled a board of experienced business and technology leaders. “They have the institutional knowledge in how to scale,” he says.
McDonough is blunt: right now, he’d rather be innovative than profitable. “We’re in this to go big. That means carrying a burn rate, hiring aggressively, and investing in research,” he says. “We’re lucky enough to be in locker rooms with these teams and close to some of the best in the business in terms of medicine and training and data science. That’s helping us to produce our future roadmap.”
By Stephanie Overby originally published on January 16, 2017 by D!gitalist Magazine