FitTech Insider

Phil Southerland: "Using glucose as a proxy for better health is a new space in sports performance."

Phil Southerland is the founder and CEO of Supersapiens – the world's first direct-to-consumer energy management ecosystem for athletes. Meet our expert as he speaks about himself, his company, and his market vision. 

Supersapiens is the brainchild of Founder and CEO, Phil Southerland. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at seven months old, doctors told his mother he would either be blind or dead by the age of 25.

Supersapiens provides athletes with live-streaming glucose data, actionable insights and empowers athletes to train smarter, maintain peak performance and optimize for overall health. Supersapiens launched to the public in September 2020 and began shipping to consumers in select European markets in December 2020.

Phil Southerland about Phil Southerland

How would you describe your perfect working day? 
Any day where I get to be with my family, work with my team, and get a bike ride in is my perfect working day. At Supersapiens, we are a sports company, and at the end of the day, that means we are an exercise company. As we preach to the world the value of exercise and getting more active, we need to practice what we preach as a company.

My wife and boys are critically important to me, and I really enjoy our time together. My kids do not care that I’m a CEO, they just think of me as Dad. For me, that is crucially important. 

My second priority is exercise. Sometimes when I’m about to go out for a bike ride, my oldest son says, “Daddy, don’t go ride; you are leaving again.” I remind him that I need to exercise to be healthy and if I exercise now, I am a better father, which allows me to be with my kids for years and years to come. This means one day I'll get to be a grandfather. 

And then, my third priority is work. To be honest, the work is fun. The people I get to talk with daily, the partnerships we are entering, and the science we are forging are all truly an honor to be a part of.

Name three things you think you and your company have in common. 
  1. Aiming to make the impossible a reality,
  2. Always being a challenger
  3. Being stubbornly ambitious. 

What aspect of your work did you think completely differently about 12 months ago? 
Challenges are now fun. If you do something easy, then what’s the point? A year ago, we didn’t know if we had a business. We launched in the middle of a pandemic when all events were canceled, and it was a difficult time to raise capital.

So we shifted our mentality to embrace the challenges and see them as opportunities to get better. There is no shortage of challenges in the startup world and adjusting how we approached them into something more empowering excites me from a leadership standpoint.

Everyone faces the symbolic headwind at some point in the day, week, month, and year — so learning how to navigate that headwind and use it to your advantage is a key discipline that we are working to impart within our entire organization.

What was your biggest wrong assumption about the job that you are doing? 
I thought it would be easier to onboard our consumers. We’ve always known that education was important, but in hindsight, I think we vastly under-planned or didn’t anticipate quite the robustness our education plans needed to be.

We saw that consumers didn’t understand how to utilize glucose during training or off-hours with recovery and sleep. We know that we are the experts in glucose, and we fundamentally believe that glucose is a proxy for performance, but we needed to get that to the consumer.

So we revamped how we share this knowledge. We have since launched Supersapiens University, which kicked off in April 2021 and brought in some of the top experts in the world to help train coaches. We are currently working with our first 25 coaches — a real who’s who in the sports world — and we are already on track for our next edition.

Eventually, we will take these courses and automate them into the education section to more effectively share this knowledge with the world.

"This is a new space in the world of sports performance and in the health of the world: using glucose as a proxy for better health."

If we don’t effectively share our knowledge, we are losing an opportunity to help people. Supersapiens is very mission-focused. We know we have a tremendous opportunity to change the health and performance of the world, but it is more than that — we feel we have a great responsibility to do so. And the only way to do that is to help one consumer at a time and empower them to achieve their goals.

It provides athletes with live-streaming glucose data, actionable insights and empowers athletes to train smarter, maintain peak performance and optimize for overall health. (Source: Supersapiens)

Phil Southerland about his company

a) The three most important decisions you will make for your company in the next year?
  1. I have been fortunate to have some excellent mentors throughout my career. As a leadership team, we have made the decision not to worry about dilution. Instead, we focus on the primary objectives and what it will take to get there and select the correct partners that will help us achieve this target.
  2. From where I sit, where the capital comes from is arguably the single most important decision I make. When you take on capital, you are taking on a partner. I believe it is imperative to be selective of who you want to be in business today and five and ten years from now.
  3. From a company standpoint, we must continue to build. We have so many opportunities and new ideas that we can chase, but we are hyper-focused on creating the discipline to question it: If it is driving towards an objective over the next three months, six months,12 months, then is it worth the distraction? One of my roles is ensuring that the team maintains the discipline of saying no to things that have a greater opportunity cost than the value they could bring.

What headline would you like to read about your company at the end of 2022 in your favorite publication?
“Supersapiens was the fastest startup to reach unicorn status,” but to be honest, my focus is further out than next year. 

I’d instead look to 2023 or 2024 and here is what I’d like to see: “Supersapiens Science Has Driven A New Quantifiable Understanding Around the Value of Exercise” in the New York Times.

"It would be accompanied by a story highlighting that there are smart bikes or stationary bikes in every school in America, so that kids can learn the discipline of exercise at a young age. From a mission standpoint, that is something I aim to achieve in the next five years."

Based on which trends are you currently developing which innovations?
45% of Americans wake up every day negatively thinking about weight. There is a stigma out there — people look at obese people and think they are lazy. Obese people look at thinner people and say: “That’s not me” – but we are all people.

Fitness doesn’t come overnight, and it is a work in process. It is a journey. As we say in cycling: “It never gets easier, you just go faster.” So, we have to help people take the first step.

Trends show the world is getting unhealthier. We know that a cure for cancer would provide a 3 percent increase in life expectancy for humanity. If we were to solve for obesity, there would be an 18 percent increase in life expectancy for the human race. With that in mind, we must get people exercising.

While exercise is a billion-dollar drug that never gets prescribed, it goes beyond that. When you are exercising consistently, you’re more likely to choose better foods so that you feel better when exercising, which together leads to better sleep.

When I ride a bike, my head is better, and the stress goes away. And I think that is one of the things that most people don’t understand, one of the true benefits of exercise and activity is the mental health improvements it provides.

"Founder and CEO of WHOOP Will Ahmed started paying his employees $100 at the end of every month when they average 85% of their personal sleep need or more. I loved that idea and thought about how I could implement something similar to a sports/exercise company. For our company, if you exercise 22 days or more a month, I’ll give you an extra $100 at the end of the month."

I believe that encouraging my employees to exercise empowers them to be more productive, have better mental health, and have a better future for themselves and their families.

What new (or updated) business model for your company might we be talking about in one year?
Let’s discuss that one next year!

Phil Southerland about market trends

What do you know about the specific target groups you are currently developing new products for? And what data (facts, figures) illustrates these insights?
I recognize that when you go out for a Saturday group ride with 100 people and have success out there, it reframes your mindset for the rest of the weekend. But if it goes wrong and you are left on the side of the road because you couldn’t keep up due to some fueling mistake, it also reshapes your mentality for the weekend. It forces a mental connection between exercise and can cause a positive or negative connection.

At Supersapiens, we are focused on helping athletes achieve their goals and have more positive experiences. Current data shows that 55% of people who exercise for more than one hour are under-fueled. That’s a tremendous opportunity to make a difference and through Supersapiens to help improve that experience.

It is our core belief at Supersapiens that every human is an athlete. While we have numerous Olympic hopefuls preparing for Tokyo with our ecosystem (and we are honored and privileged to help them work towards their goals), we are equally as excited to help the person who has been on the couch for years and let them health go by the wayside. We know they want to be the best version of themselves; they just may need some tools to help them get there. We want to empower them to take the first walk around the block and set a goal for themselves.

Supersapiens powered by the Abbott Libre Sense [a glucose sport biosensor, ed.] can have a massive impact on that person — it can improve their physical health, which helps with mental health and their overall wellbeing.

I know that we still have a lot to learn, but we’ve had a few major victories in this space. This is what guides my thinking over the next five years — and having a truly positive impact on society.

What is the most underestimated trend in your current market at the moment?Why?

I think that there are some exceptionally unfairly stigmatized groups in society: 90% of habits are learned by the time you are eight years old. So if you grew up in a home where your parents weren’t exercising, and there was a lot of junk food around, it takes a lot to undo those learnings.

I feel those people get unjustly blamed for where they are, and we have to help society in that way. We must empower people to know that it isn’t their fault and provide them with tools to help them achieve a target.

Until now, people haven’t had visibility to know if specific foods help them reach their goals. With Supersapiens, we can help people see how certain foods impact them and how exercise affects their glucose levels.

I believe that life is all about balance. Some people may say: "Don’t drink a coke or have a margarita." As a kid diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was only seven months old, I lived a childhood being told all the things I could not do. Instead of listening, I adjusted. And I believe that's the same approach: if you want a coke or a cookie, great—go exercise before or after. You must earn it.

I don’t believe in telling anyone to give things up—I just ask what they need to do to enjoy those foods or drinks, so that there are no negative short or long-term consequences to their overall health and wellbeing.

How will the target market for your product look like in 2026?
Five years from now, I see the whole world utilizing the Supersapiens ecosystem. I see an Abbott Libre Sense on people’s arms as a symbol that you care about yourself, your health, and your performance.

We are creating a tribe, a movement, to get the world exercising daily to help people set and achieve a goal. As an athlete, I know if I don’t have a goal, then it is a lot easier to skip a ride. If I am working towards something, it creates the mental discipline to make the dietary adjustments and exercise commitments to achieve that goal.

"Five years from now, I hope that we are helping empower the world to set a regular physical activity goal and take the first steps (and hopefully many more) down a path towards a healthy society."

Phil Southerland about the FitTech Summit network

Which personality from the global FitTech scene would you like to meet for lunch? Why?
Andreas Gall — CIO/CTO RedBull

What three questions would you ask them? Why?
1. What mistakes he made along the way were the most valuable.
2. What is the vision to continue creating all the RedBull athletes? They are icons from so many different sports. I want to know the genesis behind that idea.
3. What was the team that you needed to truly provide world-class support for athletes, like you have done at RedBull? I see that team of athletes and scientists as the global leaders in sport and would like to build a similar ecosystem.

What three questions would you like them to ask you?
  1. How can we work together to empower more athletes to see that “RedBull gives you wings”
  2. How to believe they can chase and achieve incredible goals.

Phil Southerland was one of the speakers at the talk "Data to the people: Using biosensors for body insights"  at FitTech Summit 2021 on May 27. For a chance to watch the talk recording in full, click here.