Everyone here at Zwift is into cycling to some degree, but one of the most passionate is our CEO, Eric Min. After making it to the Olympic camp and having a very successful amateur career, he knew he wanted to keep his ties to the cycling community even as he moved into the business world. Since then, he has sponsored a U23 and UCI pro tour team, which has trained some major pros and had some serious success.
This week, we sat down to ask about why Zwift is so important to him and what kind of impact he thinks it will make on the indoor cycling world.
Z: When did you get into cycling? What got you interested?
EM: I was seven when I first rode a bicycle but that came to a sudden end when my family decided to relocate to NYC. It wasn't until I moved to the suburbs seven years later that I rediscovered cycling. Travis Millman, one of my oldest friends, introduced me to proper cycling. I remember he had a Kotobuki touring bike, Bell helmet, and leather gloves. He was preparing for his first AYH bike tour. I was fascinated with cycling and was instantly hooked, but I wanted more, so I joined a local racing club and started to take up the sport more seriously. I was attracted to all the cycling gear but it was the sense of community, camaraderie and competitiveness that led me to fall in love with cycling.
Z: What was your best moment on the bike?
EM: I'm not sure if I can point to any best moment on the bike, but I really enjoyed the friendly competition during training or social rides. These were perhaps more entertaining than racing. It allowed me to have fun without the pressure of performing. Some of my best early memories of cycling were Tuesday night training at SUNY Purchase. The course reminds me of Zwift Island. We rode around a three-mile circuit, and on each lap we would sprint for the line. On a good night, we had 20 riders show up. I won my fair share of sprints and all the kudos that came with it. Sometimes guest pros would join us for our workouts, and it was good to be reminded of just how fast they are. I looked forward to that Tuesday night ride all week long! It was the staple of my training.
Z: When did you start riding indoors? Why?
EM: I started riding indoors when I was 15 years old. Back then, I rode in all weather conditions except when the roads were covered in snow or torrential rain. On these days, I trained on rollers, or on a turbo trainer. It was a mind-numbing experience, but if you cared about maintaining your fitness over the winter or leading up to an important event, you had to supplement your training with some indoor riding. I never looked forward to these sessions because they were never social or fun, but they were extremely effective when it came to training.
Z: Where did the idea for Zwift come from?
EM: My partner Alarik Myrin and I had co-founded Sakonnet Technology. That worked out pretty well for us so we thought, "why not start the next venture together?" Alarik is probably one of the smartest people I know. He's the technologist (not me) and often the voice of reason. We were looking at different industries, but it seemed all the great ideas were already taken! The turning point was when my older brother Ji, a private equity professional, advised me to stick to what I know best. Alarik had been encouraging me to take a hard look at cycling since I was so passionate about the sport. But whatever we decided to start together, it had to be consumer focused with the technology at the core of it and the business had to scale.
Because of family commitments and work, I struggled to get outside on the bike, so I was doing the bulk of my riding indoors. For me, it was either ride indoors or not exercise at all. It had dawned on me that the indoor cyclist was being underserved and that the indoor experience hadn't really changed all these years. It still wasn't fun or social! Then I had a moment of eureka. What if we could take something that was historically mind numbing and turn it into entertainment? What if we could take advantage of video game technology, social networks, and friendly competition, and package that experience for the indoor cyclist? The idea was appealing for me as a consumer, so I started to talk to my closest friends. Most thought the idea had potential, but I wasn't sure if the market could support this as a real business. I convinced Scott Barger, a friend and a cyclist ( and now a co-founder) to join me on an exploratory journey to determine if this idea was worthy of a startup. We travelled through the US and Europe to speak to industry professionals about whether this concept would add value to their existing business but equally, we wanted to know if anyone else was already working on a similar project. The concept was well received and it turned out that no one had imagined the solution the way we did. This gave us confidence to move forward with the project. We were planning to build the platform with video game technology and in our search for our senior game developer, we found Jon Mayfield (thank you, Google). As a hobby, he had been working on a virtual reality software for the indoor cyclist. We were so impressed with Jon and what he had built in his spare time. It helped us to visualize the experience we wanted to create. It didn't take long to convince Jon to join us as a founding member of Zwift. The rest is history.
Z: How did you decide on the name Zwift?
EM: We had a little help from a very Clever Creative agency in developing our brand identity. It was a process that took about six weeks, but our main goal was to create something fun that we could own. In the end, we're happy with Zwift. It embodies motion and fun, and that's what we're all about.
Z: Where do you see Zwift going?
EM: Zwift is an entertainment company catering to the cyclist. We're initially targeting the competitive and cycling enthusiast, but we believe there is an enormous opportunity to reinvent the home gym concept for the broader market. Zwift is ideal for the time crunched consumer. Our plan is to deliver different forms of content or entertainment programs to engage and motivate the indoor cyclist. Manufacturers produce 100M bicycle annually. There is no denying that consumers enjoy riding their bicycles.
Z: What keeps you turning the pedals today?
EM: We all have busy lives, but we should all make time for regular exercise. Most people can find 45-60 minutes in their day to exercise, and it's certainly easier to do that if it can be delivered in a highly engaging, social, and entertaining way. Exercise can be addictive. We want to be in the business of feeding that addiction in order to encourage healthy living. If we succeed, we'll have made the world a slightly better place.
If you see Eric on Zwift island, you'll find that he's still on the top of the leaderboards. Don't be afraid to challenge him to a sprint; he's still a racer at heart.