Stephen Smith founded sports technology company Kitman Labs in 2012 to enable professional and elite sports teams to help reduce injury risk and increase player availability.
Prior to founding Kitman Labs, Stephen was senior injury rehabilitation and conditioning coach with Leinster Rugby for six years.
Kitman Labs was founded in Dublin in October 2012, where its headquarters remain. Built by sports practitioners and data and sport scientists, Kitman Labs understands there is a better way to leverage the data available to sports coaches and staff.
Based around its Athlete Optimisation System, it enables teams to optimise athlete health and performance while reducing injury risk and increasing overall performance potential.
Kitman Labs opened its first US office in Menlo Park, California, in 2014 and is building its presence with US professional and collegiate level sports teams. In less than four years, it is now working with more than 40 teams across 15 leagues in four continents. Notable clients include the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Pistons, Seattle Sounders, the Irish Rugby Football Union, South African Rugby Football Union, Everton FC, Norwich City FC, Bath Rugby and Gloucester Rugby.
What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
I was working at Leinster Rugby and wanted to reduce our injuries and keep our athletes on the field winning games. I was frustrated by our inability to make accurate and informed decisions using the masses of data we had and felt that by combining and understanding this data, we could solve a global problem.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
As a start-up, your back is against the wall from day one. We have competed with billion dollar companies such as SAP and IBM in this space from the outset – companies with resources and finances that are multiples of what we have had, yet we have outperformed them from the beginning.
What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
Our first customers were the IRFU. Following a short-term one-year deal, they re-signed for another year and added their provincial sides. At the end of this, they re-signed last year for three years, adding their provincial academies and all national teams. This was an incredible step forward for us .
What was the worst piece of advice your received when starting out?
The worst advice was that we should just focus on one sport and be really great at it. This would have been a huge mistake as we would not have understood how to solve a global problem.
What is the hardest thing you have done in business?
Building a team that gels and puts the company’s needs first. I have been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a great team who all have a burning desire for our company to be the best and succeed.
What is your biggest luxury?
Time with my family.
Favourite business book?
Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership. Given my background in sport I love this book for the comparisons and lessons it draws from sport to business. Building a culture that puts the needs of the team first is my ultimate goal and this book epitomises that.