Lewis Wu guides COROS’ steady rise
By Henry Howard
As a self-proclaimed “numbers guy” and runner-climber-adventurer, Lewis Wu is perfectly positioned at the helm of COROS Global.
“I love hiking and going out for multiple day climbing trips. I love climbing as well. Initially I didn't like running at all,” admits Wu, who says he actually bought a Garmin with a gift card he received before joining COROS. “I don't deny that I'm more of a numbers guy or data guy, so seeing that motivated me a little bit. And then gradually I got into this, and then I feel it was fun. It was very exciting.”
Before becoming CEO of COROS in early 2018, Wu led the North American business of China-based TP-Link, the world’s largest manufacturer of consumer Internet routers.
“The experience at TP-Link was really fun, but I wanted something really tying in with a brand because every single business has its own style in a certain industry, which can inspire people every day. That's the first thing that intrigued me about COROS. And I find that a watch is something you consider as apparel, as an accessory, and as something you wear every day, you want to show it to your friends and that story.”
Many endurance athletes long for a career that fuels their passion for their sport.
“The watch business is definitely more fun,” he says. “And it happened to be tied in with my ambition as an athlete or as a runner as well. It was a perfect match. We truly believe we can create something even better than what we have, than what current the market has. That's how we decided to go forward.”
Part of an athlete’s life
Even before I tried COROS and later became an ambassador, I reviewed three different brands for an independent review website. None of those three major brands came close to COROS’ battery life, ease of use and reliable syncing. Those are my talking points, what does Wu like to highlight?
He says it comes down to being part of an athlete’s overall life. It’s a limited market, but COROS needs to do an impressive job in the athletic market before being able to serve a larger audience.
“We had to really find a unique spot for the start of a new company,” he explains. “The watch is a tool on your wrist for every minute and the users are probably having more interactions with our product more than anything else when they train. That’s why you want the most accurate, reliable tool but it has to be easy to use. That's why we are really engaged with the community because we enjoy seeing people using the watch.”
COROS stands out for its battery life, a frequent deciding factor for endurance athletes. Wu recommends that shoppers carefully review how brands indicate how long a battery charge will last.
“The battery life is one of the easiest things that people can understand,” he says. “But people are so used to brands goosing their number so that's not realistic. Some brands just prefer to use a term ‘up to.’ A battery life up to three hours.”
As an example, Wu says a lab test may result in 35 hours. But COROS would promote it as 30 hours.
“It's just different in our ideal lab condition,” he explains. “There are so many variants in the real user case, they may turn on the backlight more often than you're supposed to. Or you turn on a navigation or you're seeing notifications, they all drain battery. So we want to put a number that most people will be able to achieve. And this is the philosophy we have gone through from the beginning to the end of all the business decisions that we made. As we want an over-deliver on what we commit to.”
Simple yet effective
It’s part of the overall strategy to just keep it simple for the user.
“Simplicity is a big thing in our product design,” Wu says. “And it's not easy. You can keep yourself simple when you only have a few things, but when you have a million things in your house, how do you keep them organized?”
Wu and his team consider how athletes will use the watch along with other options. For example, many athletes listen to music, podcasts or audio books during their workouts. Some people have asked for music control on the watch. Wu explains that when runners are listening to music, they must already have a headphone.
“Every single headphone has some sort of control. You can pause, start next track, volume up, volume down. Why would you bother to control that on your watch when you just have a finger to do it right here?”
Another request is for live tracking, which COROS has not made a priority.
“Honestly, it's not a watch feature; it's a phone app feature,” Wu says. “There are plenty of options available on the market where you can download from the app store for tracking. We know there is value in it, but it's in the lower priority because now you can find your alternatives elsewhere.”
COROS recently launched EvoLab, a sports science platform that gives athletes personalized fitness, fatigue and performance evaluations.
EvoLab goes back to the company mission,” Wu says. “We really want to enable users or athletes to be able to train more effectively. Number one thing for a watch, the most fundamental thing, is you have to be accurate.”
After spending a couple of years on ensuring accuracy of the watches, COROS launched its first in May 2018. The next goal was to provide feedback to users.
That's the next level,” he says. “The watch can track and tell you that you have a 150 average heart rate on this route. Great. What does it mean? Or you did 50 miles last week. What does it mean?”
That’s what EvoLab handles.
“Previously it was users feeding information to our system,” Wu says. “Now we're feeding information back to you. It's going to take the value of the whole product to the next level. We know there are options available on the market, but we don't think any of those are at the level of perfection that we would like to see. So we decided to do this by ourselves.”
The two main goals: reliable accuracy and simplicity of use.
“Other fitness assessment systems just pretended to make people happy,” he says. “Everybody will be excited when they see their number go up. You're more fit right now. You are in a better performance zone. Some people won’t be happy when you tell them you're not doing great today. There are brands that just prefer to get people happier, by giving some positive numbers. Well, that's not realistic. Your VO2 max is not supposed to change every day or even every week, right? You're going to keep going for months until you see any improvement.”
To get that precision, the COROS team needed to incorporate lots of data to get good results with variables such as elevation gain and running power, which is planned for future development.
When it comes to ease of use, the team knew that its audience would not necessarily be numbers geeks like Wu.
“Simplicity and easy to use are always important for product design,” he says. “Because we are not just creating products for professional athletes. We are not the product for those who have received high education or understand sport science. We want whoever just bought their first watch, getting into all the fancy running data, is able to understand the data.”
Wrist-based heart rate monitors are not advised because they are prone to errors. How did COROS overcome this obstacle?
“That's one of the big things we tried to avoid in designing EvoLab,” Wu says. “The system will be able to filter out your bad heart rate data. When heart rate doesn't seem to match your running level, the system would not consider this. That's why sometimes it requires more runs to be able to deliver accurate data.”
The system is designed to understand its athlete.
“Once your personal system is established, the system actually considers more of your pace zone versus the heart rate zone to give you feedback,” he says. “Pace zone is pretty accurate. We never had an issue. But it’s always recommended to wear a heart-rate strap for the best data.”
Wu recommends starting out with road runs to build the data for your EvoLab profile.
“People may think, if I'm a cyclist or a climber, or even if I'm a trail runner, that it doesn't make sense for them,” he says. “For me, I do climbing, I do trail running, I do road running as well. They all work. The role of road running here is really to establish your initial data. So the system knows how fit you are as an athlete overall by a road run. And once it's done, you do whatever you want. Our system will give you feedback on the recovery, the base fitness, your load impact and fatigue, everything.”
And for those who favor those other sports, an occasional road run will be a good comparison tool.
“Then the system will keep learning the progress of your fitness from your latest road run,’ he says. “It's not like this is only useful for road running. It's useful for everything, but road running is how the system uses it to identify how you're getting better.”
EvoLab will be available to all COROS users sometime in June.
Growing amid a pandemic
The last 18 months or so have been challenging for everyone. Running an international business that relies on consumers getting outside and exercising when trails were closed early in the pandemic, coupled with shipping delays, posed a significant challenge.
Wu admits they were “a little bit nervous” when the pandemic began to spread rapidly in the spring of 2020. COROS had inventory ready. They had a business planning set. But uncertainty filled the air.
“All of a sudden every single person was not sure,” he recounts from his daughter’s bedroom/his makeshift office. “Consumers were not sure if they should buy. Retailers were not sure when their store would be open again. And we're not sure if we can achieve what we put together. There were certain budgets and forecasts put in place. But we recovered pretty quick. At the very beginning of a pandemic, we realized things has to be shifted to online quickly. We were forced to cancel all the physical in-person events, where we invited our athletes to share the experiences.”
COROS relies a lot on customer loyalty and athletes sharing their love of the technology.
“The good news is running is still among the few things that people can still do,” he says, as restrictions were starting to lift in the United States. “We've seen users doing their backyard ultra where they run like 24 hours. I think there's a user from Malaysia who did 48 hours indoor. Crazy numbers. That was shockingly impressive.”
Yet it’s been a time of growth for COROS.
“I'll say the business could have been better or maybe a lot better, but the reality is the company is still having super strong growth over the past 18 months,” Wu says. “Year over year, we've been doubling or tripling our business. We are a younger brand, so growth is expected. But it’s also because of the amazing team that COROS has.”
Wu is thankful for the early adopters and the customers who provide feedback.
“Our growth is definitely related to the amazing community that we're in, and we enjoy having this relationship,” he says. “As an athlete myself I keep training, and keep making sure the product is useful, and up to the expectation in the field, not just on paper. Our users have given us tremendous, useful feedback that helped us to build something even better.”
On the personal side, Wu continues to pursue his own athletic goals. He ran his first marathon in April.
“I was doing more ultra trail running. I never really trained for a road run for a marathon,” he says. “But I went to a full training block for EvoLab testing as well. I did it and it was fun.”
COROS is well positioned to come out of the pandemic strong. Wu says EvoLab is the first in a series of new products and features.
“I just couldn't believe that our team was able to have the EvoLab plan executed amid the pandemic,” he says. “They're just really good. If I'm not working for COROS and just a consumer, I'll be amazed for those products. So stay tuned, we'll be excited to share when it's ready.”
Name: Lewis Wu
Hometown: Linhai, China
Number of years running: Five years since I completed my first 10K run.
How many miles a week do you typically run: 40-60 miles depending on the seasonality.
Point of pride: My 80K race in 2019 in my hometown, and the fact that I can mix running and climbing for my athletic goals during the years.
Favorite race distance: 50K to 80K.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: No preference.
Favorite piece of gear: My COROS watches!
Who inspires you: I am inspired by many COROS users. They are not professional athletes, but they keep doing amazing things. I just want to be one of them, too.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I have a very mixed playlist but no real favorites.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Explore our own perfection in the best way we can.
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Strava: https://www.strava.com/athletes/20304513
• Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lewiswu_/?hl=en
• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lewis-wu-920577a8/