Tell us a bit about you and your venture! What was your inspiration for creating REP.ai?
REP.ai is a software diagnostic platform that employs movement-aware artificial intelligence to help athletes, patients and clinicians better prevent and rehabilitate physical injuries.
My inspiration was quite non-intuitive: I was searching for ways to democratize athletic training and coaching. I discovered this area of computer vision (i.e., pose estimation) that was at the cusp of flourishing — and jumped in and soon discovered I could mitigate a lot of human suffering with this technology.
How did your education in kinesiology influence your venture?
In some ways a lot and others very little. I benefited the most from personal connections and understanding how to navigate government and other sources of non-dilutive funding. My research area doesn’t meaningfully overlap with REP, but the critical thinking skills and general scientific approach to innovation has helped me immensely.
Very few startups are first-mover innovators. Did you have major competitors when you started?
We have major competitors at every juncture of our business. In the end, however, we’re betting that we can grow a significant market within the healthcare space. We have competitors who are trying to do this, but none have succeeded. I honesty don’t worry about competitors at this stage (although I’m aware of them). If anything, I study related companies to learn from their success and mistakes.
What were your biggest hurdles in building REP.ai?
We have a grand vision — but it’s hard to build a minimum viable product for what we want. Thus we had to raise a bit of money without much to show. Getting out of the chicken and egg problem is so, so tough for young AI companies, especially if the founders are from low-income families/contexts (as we were).
If you’re a founder from a low income family please feel free to email me — I have some good will to pass on (email@example.com).
Who is an entrepreneur you look up to most?
I learn a bit from everyone, but probably Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel the most.
What influenced you to take the leap into entrepreneurship?
It’s deeply and densely intertwined with who I am at all levels. I’ve always been a builder — my family always knew I’d end up innovating and building things. Luckily, I’m also pretty good at recruiting a team of ultimate bad-asses and motivating them to move mountains.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Being ruthlessly resourceful. Having a deep ability to self-reflect and detect bullshit. Possessing an unrelenting passion to build.
Did you ever deal with contention from anyone around you (eg. family) concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it?
You need food and a place to sleep while building your company. It’s hard to navigate part-time work that can let you be an entrepreneur. This is why most entrepreneurs are young kids that leech from their rich parents. I’ve had to find basic living resources while building this company — and I’ve sacrificed family and personal relationships to do this. My family has never tried to change my mind — mainly because they know doing so would be futile — I was born for this.
Who would you most like to have dinner with?
My mother’s father — he died when he was 17 in a fishing accident in rural Nova Scotia. My mother was only months old, and so never had a chance to meet him. Of course, on the day of this hypothetical dinner, I would invite my mother to take my place.
What do you think is the most important innovation of your lifetime thus far?
Fast and efficient gene-editing technology like CRISPR will probably mitigate the most human suffering. If we have a major breakthrough that delivers low cost, clean, and accessible energy, we will have a real opportunity to quickly and meaningfully relieve human suffering at scale.
Follow Shea’s journey on Twitter.