#129: Sarah McDevitt, Head of Mind Tech at Hyperice

Today, I’m joined by Sarah McDevitt, founder of Core and Head of Mind Technologies at Hyperice.

Core is a handheld device that teaches different meditation and breathwork techniques via vibration, syncing with audio from the Core app. Providing guidance to personalized mindfulness practices and mental/physical recovery, Core was acquired by Hyperice in July 2021.

In this episode, we talk about the intersection of mindfulness and technology. Sarah explains her motivation for starting Core and how she developed the handheld meditation trainer. We also discuss the future of high-performance wellness.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Core’s approach to solving their customers’ biggest pain points
  • How Core went from concept to a successful product launch
  • Tips for navigating a merger with another company
  • Sarah’s strategies for expanding Core into B2B markets

Links & Resources

Sarah McDevitt’s Links

Episode Transcript

This is a machine-generated transcript. Please excuse any errors.

[00:00:00] Sarah:
Whether your goal is to get down on the floor and play with your grandkids, or your goal is to be like Patrick Mahomes and win the Superbowl, those are of equal value and we want to help you achieve that.

You may need muscle recovery. You may need heat on your back. You may need mental wellness support. Whatever you need, we want to be able to provide that.

[00:00:28] Joe:
Welcome back to the Fitt Insider podcast. I’m your host, Joe Vennare.

Today I’m joined by Sarah McDevitt, founder of Core, and Head of Mind Technology at Hyperice.

In this episode we talk about the intersection of mindfulness and technology. Sarah explains her motivation for starting Core and how she developed the handheld meditation trainer. We also discuss the future of high performance wellness.

Let’s get into it.

Hi, Sarah. Welcome to Fitt Insider. Thanks for joining us.

[00:00:50] Sarah:
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

[00:00:52] Joe:
Yeah. Looking forward to it.

Just to kick things off, can you introduce yourself and tell us about Core?

[00:00:58] Sarah:
I’m Sarah McDevitt, founder of Core. We were acquired in 2021 by Hyperice, and I now lead the Mind Technology division of Hyperice.

Core is the easiest way to stick to a habit of meditation and breath training. We have a device that you hold in your hands. It guides different techniques via vibration synced with audio from our app.

You get all the guidance you need, but in a much more tangible way to learn these practices. It also tracks biofeedback. You can see how your body is responding to these different mental practices, and track your progress along the way.

[00:01:40] Joe:
Yeah, I think it’s really cool when you think of how the mindfulness and meditation space has evolved.

I’m someone who’s tried pretty much everything. I think the idea of sitting down with your thoughts and trying to find that kind of quiet is amazing, but I’ve never really found anything that I could stick with because it’s like, “Is this working? Am I doing anything? Is anything happening?” which I guess is kind of the point.

But when you think of Core and the experience, how did you come up with the idea, and how did it take shape into this connected mindfulness device?

[00:02:23] Sarah:
Well, first of all, you’re, exactly not alone in that. The two things that we heard constantly when we were just setting out with the company, to kind of invent this was how do I know if I’m doing it right? Or how do I know if it’s working?

And it’s just too freaking hard to focus. You know, it’s easy to say, you know, it’s easy to talk about what meditation is.

It’s easy to say. You know, sit there, but if you actually do it, it’s so difficult. And, we just, you know, recognized from the beginning that, kind of, you know, audio in your ear just may not be enough to help us stick with it. I certainly found that when I was first introduced to meditation. and so we really wanted to take like an approach that combined tradition, ancient traditions, combined the science and research behind meditation and mindful.

Combined innovate a new technology, and what we were hearing from users and really create something that, that really helps people stick with it. That’s like the number one goal of Core, because consistency is the primary factor in reaping the benefits of meditation. So, I, my background is in software.

I started my career at Microsoft and, was a college basketball player. And so kind of took a, had kind of a fitness approach. You know, to everything. And I always liked really, and still do really kind of like physical sports. I love basketball. I love boxing. And the concept of strength in all those sports is like tough it out.

Go hard. and it wasn’t until maybe five, six years into my, you know, regular working life, that I started to experience anxiety, really acutely and, and kind of for the first time that I recognized it in myself. and it came on very suddenly. I didn’t understand it. And suddenly it was something that I couldn’t just like go to the gym and push through.

I, I knew I had to approach this in a totally different way. and I had never been taught anything about meditation and someone introduced it to me at the time. And, something about it really clicked for me, but it also just opened up this whole world. Like maybe it was kind of my engineering brain being like, what is this?

Like, is this, you know, BS? Like I had that skeptical approach that a lot of people have. And so I went to grad school to research, you know, what’s actually happening in. Brains and bodies. when we talk about mental health conditions and what’s actually happening when we talk about breath training and meditation practices, and is there an intersection where if we get ourselves and so many more people to be doing these really effective practices, you know, what can we really change about the world and about how we, how we kind of do mental wellness in our society?

[00:05:14] Joe:
Yeah, I think I was going to ask about your background and how you came to this. And I think that’s that explanation of going through that. I also come from like a sports and fitness background and I think about. Basically, I apply it to everything that I do, right. In terms of like work and work ethic and discipline and all these things, but finding how to do that in terms of, I don’t know whether it’s mindfulness or emotional fitness and resilience, it’s like, it’s a totally different world, even though it’s like, you know, all these principles and practices and how to do it, it’s like, you still can’t quite get there.

[00:05:51] Sarah:
Totally.

[00:05:52] Joe:
When you were experiencing a newer kind of going through the process yourself, how did you go from, you know, recognizing the benefits? You said you studied the kind of science of it in the ancient practices to like, oh, we need a product, like a tangible, like holding your hand, and the vibration and all those kinds of aspects that go beyond what mindfulness had previously and meditation had been.

[00:06:15] Sarah:
Yeah, well, I was very fortunate to get to go to grad school to study this. And it was actually a master’s in education. At Stanford that I, that was kind of the route. I took to be able to research what I wanted to research about mental wellness. But while I was there, I was actually working on it in the context of high schools and trying to bring these practices in a practical, effective way, for teachers and their students in high school classrooms.

And so the original designs, like they were coming up with the idea for having this tangible device that you could hold guide things in a more. You know, kinesthetic way, really came from working with a whole bunch of fidgety 16 year olds in a crazy high school classroom. and once I started to work with the kids on this idea, actually, I was like, wait, this is really helping me.

I need this. And everyone I could possibly talk to, you know, it turns out we’re not that different than our teenage selves. We’re all, you know, doing a million things at once. We’re all fidgety. And it’s just extremely helpful to have something physical to anchor this mysterious practice. and then the biofeedback came into play, partly because I think of this kind of athlete background for me, I just was so much more in tune to physical health.

It’s something that I think for most people feels easier to understand. We’ve had a lot. Biofeedback and tracking and innovation in a fitness space for longer than we’ve had for mental wellness. and some of the things that really stood out to me in the research was just how connected our mind is to our body, through our nervous system.

And so once I started learning about, you know, the actual impact of, stress over years and years and years to our heart health or our physical health. Like that started scaring me and I’m like, wait, these are so deeply connected. Can we, can we bring that up? Can we start tracking that, you know, through these practices so that we can really more tightly understand the connection between mind and body?

And so the biofeedback is not. To help us, learn, understand, see very concretely that connection. but it’s also to, to help answer that question that we all have when we sit down to meditate of like, this is actually doing anything. so it it’s really, you know, we give a lot of confidence to people in the app that even if you sat there during a meditation, you thought your mind was everywhere.

Your body responded in a positive way. And so that can help people keep coming back, and kind of keep up the practice. even if they’re not feeling the subjective benefits.

[00:08:57] Joe:
Yeah, I think it makes a ton of sense to have that feedback and knowing, and being able to see how you’re doing over time. going from kind of moving from. To the present day, having that background and story as you’re building it. And then taking that and saying like, Hey, how do we design this and launch it and get it out into the world.

Was that like, how did you even start that process in terms of thinking about producing hardware, the software development that goes into it, and of course, Getting it in the hands of somebody, you know, as it comes into development to see like, Hey, is it working? How is it working? And so on.

[00:09:38] Sarah:
Yeah, we spent a lot of. In R and D we, we have a very user centered design approach. And so we, we ran a beta. We ran, actually a couple of betas to make sure that a people were sticking with it with Cory. Like our entire goal is to just help you stick with the, an effective practice. And, so we iterated and developed and redesigned until we were really achieving, that ultimate goal, which has been kind of the.

Most successful anchor point of this product since we launched a couple of years ago, people stick with Core meditate with it, about three or four times as much per month on average, then just an app alone and stick with it for far longer. So that was kind of. The ultimate goal. We know that’s going to be the best thing for getting the benefits.

And then in terms of getting it out there, I mean, we launched right before the pandemic hit and we are an experiential product. Like you feel it. And you’re like, oh my God, I need this. If we can get it in your hands, we want it to develop a lot of community around mental wellness, really normalize it.

You know, bring people together. And so we actually launched with the meditation studio to do that, which was like super cool space, cool music, like just make meditation. Cool. You know? And, and then the pandemic hit and we’re like, Well, close that down, you know, transition to being purely digital as, you know, everyone had to adjust.

And so, you know, I think the biggest kind of keys about how we’ve approached. This is again, just trying to, break meditation and breath training down into. really practical, like these are just effective practices that we can all implement in 3, 5, 10 minutes a day. and just try to, you know, continue to break down, the mystery of the practice.

And now with Hyperice of course Hyperice has, you know, amazing global reach, just the best leagues and athlete partnerships in the world. and so we’re able to really get the reach that we’ve always wanted, with.

[00:11:47] Joe:
Yeah, I wanted to, you mentioned at the top, the Hyperice had acquired the company for you. That, you know, there’s a couple of different scenarios. Typically when a company is getting acquired, they’re out raising funding in the kind of deal comes together. They’re specifically looking for strategic partnerships and some cases that the growth is kind of off the charts.

And they’re disrupting a market such that like somebody comes and seeks them out. how did that relationship come together? And, and I guess, what does that mean for.

[00:12:15] Sarah:
So we were, it was the summer of 2021. we did get connected through an investor that we were talking to and, who was already an investor in Hyperice and the investors just like, Hey, I think you guys should talk. And you know, I’d had a, as a basketball player, I’d had a hyper volt massage gun.

And, it wasn’t until I really talked with Jim Heathrow, CEO of Hyperice and really heard everything Hyperice is doing that. I was like, Hmm, this is, you know, our mission has always been to make effective mental wellness practices, a foundation of daily life. And so, the best way to achieve that mission is the route I’m going to take.

As opposed to sort of, you know, I think. Founders. And I’m not saying this is wrong, but are attached to building the business independently. and one of the things that I really liked about, going down that route of joining Hyperice was in the space of fitness, sports, recovery. I think hyper ice was.

Really kind of the first year is really kind of the first to put a lot of weight behind the statement that your mind health is just as important and even required. You know, if you’re going to pursue your physical health and fitness as well. and so I really loved kind of the decisiveness of Hyperice to make that bold statement.

It’s the statement we’ve always stood by. and so it became like a very fast. Holy crap. Yeah. Like, let’s go, let’s build this together. Mind and body like that.

[00:13:53] Joe:
It was cool to see it come together. I know Jim pretty well, and I had talked to him a few years ago, actually on the podcast at this point. And even then he was, you know, I was asking him about other verticals and what he thinks about continuous. And he’s like, look, we’re going to do stuff around mindfulness.

We’re going to push into mental wellness. And, you know, I think at the time, I don’t know if a lot of people were able to make the connection of how or what that would look like. I mean, obviously there’s the element of sports and like mental toughness and resilience and how those two things play together and it be.

You know, visualization has been a part of the kind of athlete mindset forever. so seeing that come to fruition, when, he sent me a note and he was like, Hey, this is, this is going to be getting done. be on the lookout. It was really cool to see how their brand is evolving with that. kind of curious to see how you think about it.

They are very much geared towards and like rooted in sports, right? Like athlete partnerships, league partnerships, the brand is kind of. I want to say aggressive, but it’s like intense. It’s like sports oriented. Right?

How do you think about Core, like maintaining the brand and identity and maybe appeal separate, but like related to how do they fit together?

I guess is the easy way of asking.

[00:15:12] Sarah:
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, ice launched, a big brand refresh, kind of while the acquisition was happening or right after it. And it was, it was, it is such a perfect fit because Hybris has that DNA, like you said, of

Like elite, you know, athletic performance, but as a high performance wellness brand, It really is like the new kind of brand Anthem is do what you love more, which is such a fit from how we started course like any goal you have, whether it’s winning a championship, getting a PR in a race, or just getting out of bed in the morning and getting outside.

Any goal you have has equal value to us, and we want to help you achieve that personal goal. And so for us, we have really deep empathy to kind of the ups and downs of the mental health journey that every single one of us is on throughout our life, whether you’ve ever been diagnosed with something or not.

You know, we’re all on this up and down road. so the evolution I think of Hyperice is to continue to say like, if your goal is to get down on the floor and play with your grandkids or your goal is like, you. know, Patrick, Mahomes like when championship, win Superbowl, those are of equal value and we want to help you achieve that.

And you may need muscle recovery. You may need heat on your back, or you may need mental wellness support, you know, whatever you need. We want to be able to provide that for you.

[00:16:39] Joe:
Yeah, I think with that mission, maybe talk about your new role, the, the head of mine technologies, what that means and how, like, what role you play in continuing to like develop this to I’m sure.

See what the emphasis is going to be from that perspective of like, Hey, how do we not only continue to make Core successful, but think about what are the other ways. High-performance wellness and mindfulness really, you know, continues to bloom within Hyperice.

[00:17:11] Sarah:
Well, first of all, it’s like the most fun job and it just got created basically for me. So, it’s pretty sweet basically. you know what mine tech kind of means to us. Yeah. the mental and emotional health that we’ve always been working on, but also just kind of the, the insides, right? So like what can biofeedback do?

Not only for mental wellness, but throughout all of our products. I think the unique thing about Hyperice as a business, which, you know, Core just has fits so perfectly into is we have a diverse product family. Like we have a lot of products. They can help you, you know, kind of approach recovery from a lot of different angles.

And we have quite a bit more to build, like we’re at the baby steps on innovation in all these areas and especially on the software side. And so, you know, Core has a connected app. We have some pretty great kind of algorithms and content around mental wellness. but as head of mine, tech, we’re sort of taking a look at how can we.

This diverse product family, which, you know, more and more devices are getting connected via Bluetooth, et cetera. How can we, take that vision of really personalizing recovery through mind and body for each user? How can we take that forward across the entire product line?

[00:18:31] Joe:
Yeah, I think there’s a ton of opportunity. It’s it is very early in the evolution of this space. When you think about it, you kind of mentioned like the biofeedback aspect of it more and more breathwork is now emerging as a category unto itself. we started to see obviously like the crossover.

Into sleep and sleep tracking and kind of sleep optimization. Is there any particular category or even maybe approach that you’re excited about or have said, like, we really identified as wanting to have an offering in that area?

[00:19:08] Sarah:
Great question. There are so many categories that mindfulness, meditation and breath training approach. That’s honestly. Kind of a challenge for us. Cause when you start a startup, everyone’s advice is like, you know, be very focused, start with one thing, don’t be everything to everyone. And we’re like, but it affects sleep.

It affects your eating habits. You know, it affects fitness, it affects all these things. So that has been a challenge actually to make sure we stay focused. but I think one of the things that I’m pretty excited about. so our bio-feedback, takes electrocardiogram ECG readings during every session.

So we have medical grade ECG in the product from that we’re primarily looking at heart rate variability, HRV, and from the beginning, like several years ago, when we set out on this, we said, you know, HRV is going to become the next big consumer. and I think that’s kind of coming to fruition. I mean, we have woop, we have Ouraring, we have Core all of these things, track HRV and apply them to sort of different specific circumstances.

Whether that’s focused on sleep, you know, for us, we’re focused on how that helps you bring awareness to mental wellness practices. but HRV I think is such a cool metric and it’s so meaningful. And so the more. innovation that we have around HRV, I think, from all of these companies, honestly, and from Core, I think is gonna really move the space forward for consumers.

I do think it’s, it’s still the next big consumer health metric.

[00:20:44] Joe:
Yeah, I agree. And obviously we’re seeing it everywhere in terms of the companies you mentioned. With that like, One thing I’ve thought about, and I’m not sure that maybe you have a better perspective and answer than I do is like, there’s still this level of education for the kind of average person of like, what do we do with it?

Like we’re measuring it. There are some ways that. A couple of those companies, you mentioned and Core as well, like doing a great job of like, interpreting, like what we can learn from this and what to do about it and kind of hone it and optimize it But how are you thinking about like that education piece as it relates to like, this is what it means.

And now that we know like, and are able to quantify it like, this is how we’re able to integrate it into everyday life in a meaningful way.

[00:21:32] Sarah:
Absolutely. That is the challenge. And that’s why we think of these other companies doing HRV as kind of like the more of us doing it kind of lifts all boats because for it to be valuable, we need people to really understand it. So the way that we think of it within kind of the mind tech space is, HRV is, is a great.

Way to think about resilience, to stress and building resilience, distress. So from a mindset perspective and from Core, you’re never going to remove all stress from your life. Right. And that’s not the goal. mainly because it’s impossible, we would, if we could. but really, you know, practices like meditation and breath.

Our about building up proactively, your resilience to stress in the future. And so then if you kind of build these muscles, essentially, when that significantly stressful thing happens in your life, or you’re in that tough time, you’re more. To, you know, get through it in a healthy way. and HRV is, is so cool because we can kind of use it as a measure of that resilience to stress.

So that the higher the HIV, the better is sort of the general statement. You’re only compared against yourself. Like everyone’s very different, but, as you build up that HRV and build up that resilience to stress, and you’re able to track it over time. if we can detect, you know, kind of a sudden dip in HRV, we know that something has happened to put your, body into a, stressed or strained state before you might even detect it yourself.

And for strength, athletes or endurance athletes, that’s often associated with over-training. but it applies to, you know, me as a recreational weekend athlete now, it applies to everyone in daily life. Like if your nervous system or your, your body is overstrained, whether, because of lack of sleep, because of stressors going on in your life.

Your HRV we’ll flag that for you. And so, that’s a big part of the education and it’s also a big part of why technology can be valuable in this space, because it does take a lot of that, data, innovation to be able to flag that accurately.

[00:23:50] Joe:
That’s really insightful the way that you described it that way and this like the mind tech aspect of this and what the, what even the evolution of this space could potentially look like, because I had previously thought of it. And I think there are some companies and devices that maybe approach it this way, but as like a connected mindfulness, which in that way seems like a contradiction, right?

Because like, if you’re, if you’re doing like the meditation mindfulness practice, As it was traditionally done. Like even for me using my phone to do it as like a it’s it’s like a little weird, right? It’s like, I’m trying to get away from it, but I’m like using my phone to do it. But when you think of it, in terms of like the biofeedback and the insights, and being able to track these things and early detection or red flags and, and, understanding them, it.

Kind of puts it. Perspective on it. Is there, did you get pushback around that? Like this tech and mindfulness and maybe these things not mixing and

I guess, how did you approach that?

[00:24:52] Sarah:
Great question. We, so part of the reason that we have the physical device and it is like you said, As to the fund, we do our content through the phone. But when you’re actually in the experience, like you, you kind of open the app, set things up, you could, then hydrophone under your bed, you know, like you can separate from that screen and just hold the cord. and just like what you talked about, there’s so much value that we can get from the biofeedback for self-awareness, which of course is a huge part of mindfulness. So we think of the biofeedback as sort of like assisting self-awareness. so we wanted to have that tech enabled that. But still have this dedicated device that does kind of separate you from your screen, where emails are, where your, you know, stressful notifications are.

You know, Recommend, you kind of keep it somewhere. You’ll see it. And it’s designed for that. So it’s on your office desk or on the nightstand next to your bed or in your living room. so that you see this physical object and the only association you have with that object is picking it up and having this really soothing meditation, as opposed to starting from the phone where we of course have all these other associations.

[00:26:06] Joe:
Yeah, that makes sense. And then a last thing on the kind of product side, maybe, to the extent that you can share it at this point, I guess, To all these other opportunities and potential devices that we’ve seen, like headbands that are tracking sleep and brain activity and different developments with like sensors in the bed, on the mattress, integrated into that.

Also like, even the idea of like a wearable, whether that’s, you know, the pulse oximetry or whatever it’s called, that folks were on their finger doing some of the biofeedback. is it a hardware play as you think about how the kind of offering develops? Is it more through the app? or can you, can you, can you not say.

[00:26:58] Sarah:
It is definitely both. We think of it as a really like one system, like a very full stack experience. The hardware serves the content for sure. You know, with the vibration sinked, with the. And all of our software and algorithms and app really serves the experience of the hardware. So we think of it as very interconnected, which means we’re also, designing more on the hardware side and more on the software and content side simultaneously.

And certainly more biofeedback capabilities is included in that. but we’re also just, you know, super focused on the mission. not only education, but getting mental wellness practices and kind of a culture of mental wellness support into all of the organizations and sort of institutional systems that we can, because I think the pandemic in a tiny silver lining of the last two years, everyone has been through has really helped people see.

We all have to be taken care of our mental wellness. and so one of the things that we’re kicking off right now is, working on kind of an, an Alliance of really forward-thinking companies that are. Going above and beyond for their employees, mental wellness. that’s just one aspect. Like we’re definitely, we have a lot of, professional teams that are implementing Core programs.

We’re looking at schools like all these institutions that we can really cement mental wellness practices in, You know, I know a lot of really cool leaders and forward-thinking leaders listen to this podcast. And, so this is something that we’re kicking off now to really bring kind of a coalition of these types of leaders together, who, are interested in, you know, kind of, we will lead the way and sort of what leaders can implement in their company to support the mental wellness of their employees.

But we’re looking to bring, you know, kind of 50 of the most progressive. companies and leaders together, around the mental wellness of our workforce.

[00:29:04] Joe:
It’s a huge opportunity. You know, we’ve seen not only just like the corporate wellness space, but then like the B2B channel, as it relates to like a lot of different companies in the digital health. Fitness kind of pushing in there, but starting to have a meaningful conversation from the place of performance and high performance about resilience and mental fitness and wellness and my technology, I think that’s super smart.

And a lot of folks will be, very interested in having that conversation. as we kind of get toward the end of the conversation and, and potentially wrap up, I wanted to think about. Within now that Core being part of hyper ice, obviously hyper ice has acquired companies in the past, Norma tech being one of them, recover X is another one.

When you think about the, you know, what your kind of benchmarks are, what your not only kind of responsible for, to the team and the broader company, is there anything. On the roadmap this year, that you’re, you look at and think, Hey, if we do this, it will be a success. Or these are the kind of the milestones that I’m thinking about that we want to continue to make progress towards, or there’s the first part of this year or through the year, that you’re, you’re excited about or have kind of thought about as like being critical to that overall mission.

[00:30:24] Sarah:
Number one is getting Core into as many hands as possible, of course. And that’s, you know, not only from a business growth perspective, but also. Just from an efficacy perspective, an impact perspective, which brings me to my number two, which is really quantifying the impact And efficacy. Of course. So we’re doing that through some of these, corporate wellness, alliances. So, you know, compared to just an app, we’re really able to track. The effects on a large group, say of employees in a much more in-depth way. And so we can look at impact on stress. We can look at a number of things, over time as say, an entire company, you know, adopts using Core, in their culture.

So we’re looking at those case studies to really research the impact of Core as well as with academic institutions to really hone in on. Core as kind of a modality for meditation and breath training research.

[00:31:21] Joe:
Very cool. Yeah.

I think tying back to that corporate wellness opportunity and this kind of alliance will be interesting. I’ll certainly be following along to see how that comes together.

So, whether it’s a consumer who wants to get their hands on the product, or maybe someone who’s interested in this alliance that you’re talking about and these visionary leaders, where would you point them? How do they learn?

[00:31:47] Sarah:
Yeah. SMcDevitt@Hyperice.com. I’ll give you my, my email.

To buy Core, we’re at Hyperice.com, and we are all over LinkedIn. Message me on LinkedIn. Jim and I already have some of the biggest companies in on this alliance, so message us on LinkedIn or send me an email.

[00:32:11] Joe:
Awesome.

Sarah, thanks so much for joining us today. I’m really excited to share this conversation. Thanks for making time to be here.

[00:32:16] Sarah:
For sure. Thank you so much for having me.