Data will not help you if you can’t see it when you need it. For Dan Eisenhardt—a competitive swimmer for more than a decade, beginning as a 9-year-old in his native Denmark—the data he needed in the water, what he could never know in the water, was his splits.
His event was the 1,500-meter freestyle, the longest slog in the sport, a near-mile of grinding exertion divided into 15 laps of 100 meters apiece. As with every distance sport, pacing is all; lag your target time on the first two laps and you may never catch up, but accidentally beat it and you’ll load your tissue with lactic acid, doom your endgame.
How fast was his last lap? How did it compare to his usual pace? His coach up on the pool deck could know, his parents in the stands could know. But Eisenhardt, at war in the water, could only guess.
The rigors of engineering school eventually forced Eisenhardt to stop racing. He worked for a while as a management consultant. But later, during business school, while he was spending an exchange semester at the University of British Columbia, the problem nagged at him again. For a project in an entrepreneurship class, he pitched a business plan: data-enabled goggles for swimmers like his former self. He teamed up with some other students, and they soon concluded they had the wrong sport.
Swim goggles were too small to support a screen, plus the athletes were too few in number—and too unaccustomed to shelling out for expensive gear. Close at hand in wintry Canada, though, was a better idea. In January 2008, after a year or so of tinkering, four of the classmates founded Recon Instruments.
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