Zepp Labs Gets Into the Swing of Things, with Fresh $15 Million

zepp imagesSports tech startup Zepp Labs, a three-year-old, 35-person startup in Los Gatos, Calif., is capitalizing on athletes’ desire to ace the competition. Specifically, the company is tracking athletes’ batting, golf, and tennis swings via its one-inch-square, 3D motion sensors, units that can capture 1,000 data points per second and transmit the visualized information to users’ iOS or Android devices in real time.

It’s a big market, says cofounder and CEO Jason Fass, who sees athletes of all skill levels – and interests — as potential customers for the lightweight sensing units, which are mounted directly on bats, clubs, and rackets. Zepp is really “building a platform that we can take into other sports,” he says.

Retailers see the possibility. Apple and Verizon are among others that sell Zepp’s $150 sports sensors. VCs are biting, too. This morning, the company is announcing a $15 million Series B round led by GGV Capital, financing that brings Zepp’s total funding to $20 million.

Yesterday, I chatted with cofounder Jason Fass – formerly a director of product manager at both Jawbone and Apple – about how he’ll use the new funding, as well as who his earliest adopters are.

Where did this idea come from?

Originally, we had the idea to build a game controller like a Nintendo Wii, but we looked at what was happening in wearables and we realized no one was really doing this for sports and athletes and that the technology we were building could be insanely accurate.

The company has said some pro athletes, like Giants infielder Pablo Sandoval, use the sensor. Where are you seeing the most pick-up, in professional sports leagues, youth leagues?

Golf and baseball are among the most mature in customers’ desire for data. Golf is growing rapidly, especially with a lot of early adopter tech folks. We’re also now seeing a lot of interest in the baseball community because there’s just nothing like this. We get emails every day from Little League coaches and batting camps; we’ve also been approached by a number of Major League Baseball teams. People are excited because the technology gives them a perspective on their swing that they couldn’t get before.

Interesting about kids’ baseball; I’d wonder about making kids overthink their swing.

There’s definitely an element of analysis by paralysis, but it’s hard to go from a Little Leaguer to the Major League, so players and coaches and parents are really looking for ways to help kids improve. We see parents all the time who are like, “He’s the best on the team but we want to keep him moving forward.” They used to describe his swing to him; now he can see it for himself on his iPod or Android Touch.

What did you learn at Apple and Jawbone that you’re applying to this startup?

One of the biggest things I learned at Apple [were the benefits of focusing] so intently on product. So we focus a lot on product. From a sales and go-to-market and channel perspective, Jawbone has just done a fantastic job. I’m applying those lessons here, too.

What are you planning to do with your new funding?

Ultimately, we think every ball, bat, racket, and shoe will be digitally connected and that there’s an opportunity for a company to own that sports technology space in a way that no one owns right now. It sounds lofty, but that’s our goal.

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