Kyle Boddy is the founder of Driveline Baseball Enterprises, where he also leads the research and development group, overseeing physical prototyping and machine learning initiatives to further athletic development of athletes. A former engineer and data scientist at tech companies like Microsoft, Kyle’s method of approaching athletic development is very data-driven. Driveline Baseball Enterprises features a full 21-camera motion capture laboratory with surface EMG sensors and EEG headsets to measure not only muscle contribution but perception-action as it pertains to vision.
How did the concept for Driveline Baseball come about?
I was coaching Little League when I was twenty-three years old, and wanted to take a scientific approach to actually developing players and keeping them healthy. I read Moneyball and the lesson I took out of it wasn’t a quantitative operations one, but rather how can we use science, math, and technology to get players better rather than use those tools to sort them like cattle.
Apparently, this was a really revolutionary idea, because literally no one online I could find was doing this. So I decided to buck the trend and do it myself.
How was the first year in business?
We lost money for four years. I funded it entirely out of my own pocket with my paychecks as a software developer for various startups and Microsoft.
What was your marketing strategy?
Build the best mousetrap and then tell people it was the best mousetrap. I don’t believe in selling something before building it. I think that is what has caused a lot of the problems in society today with diminished expectations and people not taking longshots in business. It’s all short-term, validated, “lean” thinking, and frankly, I think it’s absurd.
People want all the upside with none of the downside, and what they don’t realize is that the downside gets shuffled to consumers and the public when you ship crap products, make fake promises, and so forth in the name of iterating rapidly rather than just sitting down and building a very seriously quality product with no guarantees that it’s going to work.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Basically not at all. I was publishing 50+ blog articles a year and training athletes while collecting data, uploading videos, and so forth. Sales were sideways, but my online presence was growing. When I had my crowd, the people who believed in me, I started to sell services and products online. Then it started taking off.
How do you define success?
I’ve been a millionaire from other ventures and dead broke shortly thereafter, so it’s not money. It’s the fact I get to go into work every day and almost always love the challenge set forth. It’s providing good salaries and benefits to 27 employees who also love their job (most of the time, anyway).
It’s creating something, not incrementing something.
Being someone who is going from zero to one (to steal Peter Thiel’s concept) rather than one to a hundred makes me extremely happy, and I think America could use more people who think vertically rather than horizontally.
What is the key to success?
Stubbornness and dogged determination, and the willingness to do something in the face of adversity. The fine line between genius insight and stubborn moron is a tough one to walk, but one every great first-mover figured out how to navigate.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It’s a tie between a) investing in training your people is the best money you can spend on your business, and that b) taking on debt/raising money unless it is absolutely necessary is incredibly stupid. You are almost never actually constrained by money; you are just conditioned to believe you are by Silicon Valley and popular media.
What are some quotes that you live by?
Two out of three of these are vinyl-printed to the walls of the R&D lab at Driveline Baseball, and the third is well-known around here as I say it all the time:
“In retrospect I realize that in almost everything that [Feynman and I] worked on together, we were both amateurs. In digital physics, neural networks, even parallel computing, we never really knew what we were doing. But the things that we studied were so new that no one else knew exactly what they were doing either. It was amateurs who made the progress.” – W. Daniel Hillis
“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” – Richard Feynman
“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” – Horace Mann
What are some of your favorite books?
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
High Output Management by Andy Grove
Masters of Doom by David Kushner
Super Crunchers by Ian Ayers
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
Also, a collection of technical interviews by John Carmack that I printed out and consider to be one of the best technical/entrepreneurial reads I’ve ever experienced.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
When my wife was pregnant with our second child and we were operating on a shoestring budget in a house we just bought in Seattle and probably couldn’t realistically afford. She put me on a deadline to make the company succeed because we had bills piling up and no savings at all. I promised to get a real job and fold my company if I didn’t make it work by then, which was a few months out.
Ironically enough, this was also one of the best days I had as an entrepreneur. The elite entrepreneurs and creators in the world, when faced with adversity, simply double down and get hyper-realistic. There are numerous stories about Elon Musk plunging all of his money into both Tesla and SpaceX, both failing, with a crumbling marriage in the background, and he simply sacrifices his health/personal life and keeps his head down and works twice as hard. I see that kind of determination in some of the most successful people I know – a very successful journalist and author I know is that way, as is an Executive Director of a non-profit company, and the CEO of Driveline Baseball. My partner, Mike Rathwell, is that way, too. It’s not common.
Most people fold, become emotional wrecks, and make terrible short-term decisions to feel good/get them out of the local hell they are in. It’s only natural. The very best gain is an unreal type of tunnel vision and work actually becomes easier for them in times of great hardship, because there are no other options.
I like to think I can get into those modes when required – not that I enjoy it, mind you…
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I honestly don’t know. I think it is because I have dealt with adversity from a young age and the fact that I have been working since I was 15 years old, employed full-time since I was 17, and had to work through high school and college while balancing a life filled with adversity and undiagnosed mental health issues.
My past is full of much tougher events than running a lifestyle business that I enjoy, so I’ve been conditioned to deal with hardship in my life, with the lesson I learned from my blue-collar upbringing is that you can simply outwork most people and outrun most bad situations if you just keep laying bricks, one at a time.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Be very realistic about whether you are ready to outwork people. Listening to Gary Vaynerchuk and Tony Robbins podcasts may get you inspired to work, and their message is great, but very, very few people have the drive like Gary does, to constantly put in work no matter what.
Success is not based on what you will do – every business owner, successful or not, works hard. It is based largely on what you won’t do. What will you sacrifice to be successful in business? Will you put your family second at times? You will need to at some point, I promise you that. If you and your partner are not okay with this, get a job and have a fun side gig. Growing a business is not for the above-average, work ethic embodied American. It’s for the people who could rightfully be considered insane at times in their life.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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