Baruch ter Wal is vice-president of marketing and user experience at Performance Lab, which has 18 staff.

Can you tell me about the technology Performance Lab has come up with?

Right now the reports you get from fitness wearables are what we call 'one-dimensional' - how many steps you took, what your heart rate is and so on. What we're finding though is people are starting to experience data overload from all this reporting, and don't know what to actually do with all these numbers.

Our ARDA Coaching Engine combines these sensor measurements, figures out what's actually going on, and gives you meaningful advice that's relevant to your goal. So, for example, the software might say 'you're putting too much effort into climbing this hill. If you ease up it will be better for your endurance training'.

Where did the idea behind the company come from?


The co-founders, Jon Ackland and Kerri McMaster, were running the first commercial sports lab in the world. Being Kiwis, their athletes were spread all over the world, and they had to figure out how to coach them from a distance.

They gathered 20 years of data linking sensor readings to performance. And now all of a sudden the sorts of gadgets pro athletes were using are available on everyone's wrist and phone, so all that insight can turn into an opportunity to create a mass consumer product.

Where is the company at in terms of commercialising its technology? Who are your customers and what markets are you in?

Performance Lab is not trying to sell direct to end-users; we're selling our ARDA Coaching Engine to companies that already have large fitness-oriented customer bases. They all want to offer 'actual coaching' to their users, and with our technology they can do that.

This year ARDA will appear on smartphones, smart eyewear, fitness trackers and indoor fitness equipment. We've sold our first licences, including to household brand names, but they want to keep it quiet until they are closer to launch.

How have you made those connections with customers?

One thing that opened doors for us is that our external investment has come from Intel Capital. That stamp of credibility has certainly helped. And Performance Lab also has credibility in the market because of the 20-plus years it has spent working in athletic circles.

North America is the earliest adopter of all of these technologies, and because of the business-to-business nature of our sales process we work quite closely with our customers for an extended period to get them to market. Our CEO is based in Silicon Valley, and he runs the North American sales operation out of there.


Wearable tech is a relatively young industry. What have been some of the challenges of working in a nascent field like this?

Actually wearable tech is a really old field for us; we've been working with heart rate monitors for almost 30 years. So in a sense we've got a big head start, and what we've learned about making wearable data relevant to users has become really valuable knowledge.

What's next for the company, and ultimately what's the vision for what you'd like to see it become?

The end goal is to be the trusted digital adviser for physical activity. I say 'trusted' because that's the key, and it's really hard. Think about whether you would trust your fridge to order food without consulting you - it needs to know your calendar, who else might be coming to stay, their various preferences and so on. Just reordering stuff when it runs out doesn't work - if you're going on holiday for instance.

In the same way an activity coach needs to know your goals, your schedule, if you get sick, how fast you've been improving, whether it's hot today, how steep the hills are and so many other variables.

And then it needs to tailor advice to these totally unique circumstances. We are the closest of anyone in the industry to this goal, but we need to keep running to get there. What's exciting is that we are actually really, really close.