Chapel, class visits, and squash highlight WHOOP CEO Will Ahmed’s return to Millville
BY KRISTIN DUISBERG
It’s been nearly 14 years since Will Ahmed graduated from St. Paul’s School as a member of the Form of 2008, and almost four since he was back for his 10th reunion in 2018. And yet even before he spent the day on grounds on Monday, Jan. 31, Ahmed was already in one sense a presence on the SPS campus — he’s the CEO and co-founder of WHOOP, and his company’s digital fitness trackers can be found on the wrists of students, faculty, and staff alike. For members of the SPS community, Ahmed’s daylong visit was a chance to hear not only about the origins and ascendance of WHOOP in the performance wearables marketplace but also to learn more about its inventor’s time in Millville and the lessons he took from it. For Ahmed, the experience was a chance to fulfill a long-held aspiration to deliver a Chapel talk and revisit a place he still describes as “magical.”
“There’s a very welcoming energy on this campus, which is easy to take for granted, but also easy to recognize when you’re exposed to it for the first time in a while — the fact that everyone says hello, that everyone smiles on the path,” he said.
During his Chapel talk, Ahmed urged students to take advantage of the diverse opportunities at the School by trying new things and spoke of three seemingly disparate SPS experiences that ultimately played a part in the development of his product and his company: art class, writing class, and squash. A sport he took up at SPS and went on to captain his Fifth and Sixth Form years, squash was his pathway to Harvard, which recruited him for its Division I team. A writing class he took as a Fifth Former sparked the confidence in college to write his own paper about human physiology after struggling with the effects of overtraining and reading some 500 medical papers on the subject. And while he laughingly described art as his “worst grade” his Third Form year, the knowledge of typography, graphic design, and Photoshop he gained through that class resurfaced in the design of the WHOOP device many years later. “So I encourage you to try new things,” he said. “You’d be surprised by what shapes your life.”
Following Chapel and a visit to Ohrstrom Library, Ahmed, who was accompanied by his wife, Leily, spoke to two anatomy and physiology classes taught by Dr. Theresa Gerardo-Gettens P’07,’11. Students peppered Ahmed with questions about WHOOP that ranged from its application for mental as well as physical health to the privacy of the data it collects to the challenges of starting a company. “To tell you the truth, when I decided to start a company right out of college, I kind of felt like a loser,” Ahmed admitted. “Most of the people I knew were going into investment banking or consulting, and that felt like the thing you were supposed to do. No matter how much I believed in what I was doing, starting up a company felt like a huge risk.”
That risk had begun as an attempt to answer a personal question, as Ahmed, then a top-ranked squash player for the Harvard team, sought to understand how he could optimize his fitness and avoid the trap of overtraining. Convinced that the hours he was spending resting and recovering were as important as the ones he spent training, he set about developing a first-of-its-kind fitness tracker that would monitor not just exertion, as the heart rate monitors already on the market did, but also recovery, particularly sleep. Launched in 2012 with two Harvard classmates, Boston-based WHOOP has in the past decade grown into a 700-employee company with a $3.6 billion valuation, and its fitness tracker is the preferred device of multiple professional sports teams and leagues. Among the household names who use the device to measure the way they train, recover, and sleep are Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, professional golfer Rory McIlroy, and swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.
“If you’d told me Sixth Form year that I would be where I am now, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Ahmed noted during his Chapel remarks.
Ahmed finished his visit to SPS with a trip to the McLane Squash Courts, where he practiced with members of both the boys and girls varsity teams, taking on the top-seeded players from each squad. Reflecting on the day, he noted that the trip to Millville had been one he’d wanted to make happen for some time, and the experience had lived up to his expectations.
“It’s been an amazing time,” he said. “The campus is still as beautiful as I remember it.”
In 2020, WHOOP partnered with the SPS community to determine if access to biometric data would influence students’ sleep habits. Discover what they found out here: