It’s not easy to start a business in rowing. Just ask Steven Webster, CEO of asensei, about the challenges he’s already faced in re-framing investor mindset around his company’s growth trajectory. When pitching his idea to funds, Steven takes a slightly different approach to describing the long-term aims. “I wanted to articulate our company as more than just the topline,” he explained. “So I started telling investors that in Paris or LA, I wanted to see an Olympic athlete climb the podium and thank asensei for introducing them to their chosen sport”.
It might not tally with the brazen financial promises of bullish thought-leaders but asensei are clearly onto something – they raised another $2.2m this year to drive further expansion of their product.
Ground Zero for the connected fitness brand has been rowing. Early in the project, Steven realised that indoor rowing was a critically under-coached sport that, contrary to popular opinion, relied heavily on the form of an athlete. “I was speaking to a number of rowing coaches and former Olympians and the feedback kept coming – good form is free speed” he said. It’s a turn of phrase that captures the benefit of scaling access to world-class coaching and has led to asensei collaborating with some of the most revered rowing personalities in the world, including two-times Olympic champion Eric Murray of New Zealand.
asensei’s motion capture technology and guided training plans allow budding athletes to join forces with the very best that rowing can offer in an attempt to improve their erg scores. The technology is applicable to most leading rowing machine brands and is a plug-and-play add-on for use in your home, allowing you to share in the wisdom of those who have won everything this sport has to offer. Steven’s favourite riposte is that asensei are democratizing access to world-class coaching and having coaches and advisors including the likes of Eric Murray is perhaps the clearest example of this.
And it is this intimate interaction with Olympians and rowing royalty that led Steven to Murray Oliver. That and a healthy dose of serendipity. Although not from a traditional rowing background – the asensei CEO spent his formative years in the dojo as opposed to on the water – Steven has been around enough rowers to know what a good two-kilometre ergo score looks like. Whilst scrolling through Facebook in California where he now lives, he noticed a number posted by a former classmate of his still living in his hometown of Kirkcaldy, whose son had taken up rowing. Intrigued, he reached out to discover more.
It soon became apparent that 15-year-old Murray Oliver, standing at 6 foot 5 inches, was no ordinary kid. Post lockdown #1, he had been fortunate enough to step onto a rowing machine at a CrossFit workout in front of a trainer who recognized his immense potential talent. “Everyone was pretty amazed as I was already beating my Dad on the rower,” he remembered. “The coach approached my Dad after the session, saying he should get me out in a boat because the power was clearly there”.
Murray decided to enter the Scottish Indoor Championships, off the back of two isolated training sessions with a PT, in the U-16s category. “I didn’t know what to expect as I’d only done one two-kilometre session before and that was pretty horrible,” he said. “But then I got started and pretty much immediately it came up that I was in first. 500m in, I was about 25m ahead and then it just stayed there”.
Murray won the race in 6:35, which is the same score that prompted Steven to reach out to the Oliver family. Recognising the immense potential that Murray had, Steven offered him the chance to join the ‘Recommit’ program (one of Eric Murray’s training plans) where benchmarking is constant, and feedback is looped throughout.
“The Recommit program really helped me,” explained Murray. “I did the Scottish indoors without any real technique – I was just basically yanking the handle. The asensei program broke the stroke down and explained each component. Having Eric Murray driving you on and motivating you was also a huge bonus, especially on a cold winter’s night when you don’t really want to be on an ergo”.
Murray committed to asensei and the guided program and careful instruction from world-class tutors paid off almost immediately – he won the 6-minute time trial at the British Rowing Indoor Championships before taking seven seconds off his 2km time at the Canadian Indoor Championships a few weeks later. The benefits of asensei can’t just be captured in cold hard data though – there is an aspirational aspect to the program, driven by the voice of Eric and others who have summitted in the sport and are now helping to inspire the next generation of Olympians.
After impressing on the ergo, Murray’s appetite for rowing was building and he decided to approach British Rowing about their World Class Start program in the hope that one day he could emulate Helen Glover, an athlete his family admired greatly (like Helen, Murray’s Mum also applied for him). After a couple of initial discussions and a few physiological tests, Murray was accepted into the program and has now been mainlined into the talent identification system that has nurtured and developed so many of our Olympic and World Championship gold medalists in the past.
Would any of this of been possible without asensei? Murray had the physical gifts and had been exposed to rowing to the extent that he was aware of his talent. Steven and asensei honed that, took the raw power and developed within Murray a desire to embrace the sport and step on to the next level. Inspired by the voice of Eric and the clear improvements he was seeing in his own numbers, Murray is now on a journey through rowing, catalyzed by asensei, that could end in the holy grail – a podium place on Olympic waters.
Check out the BRVC and get your free training plan: https://asensei.com/pages/brvc
Download the FREE TRIAL of the asensei app: https://apps.apple.com/app/asensei/id1335539383
Writer: Tom Morgan
This article was written and published by Junior Rowing News and is shared with permission.