Interview with Delta Trainer CEO and co-founder Matt Spettel

Matt Spettel, born and raised in New Hampshire, has been fascinated with automation and robotics technology from a very early age. Eager to build, Matt started to code when he was 12 in order to develop his own video game and went on to become heavily involved in FIRST Robotics, music, and strength training by the time he was 17. During his senior year of high school, Matt turned his AP Chemistry project into his first startup, ChemiCube: a device that automated tedious measurements, titrations, and dilutions. After enrolling in Carnegie Mellon to study electrical engineering and computer science, Matt started to travel the country to compete in hackathons (events where you build a new and innovative product in 24 hours), and by the end of his sophomore year, his team “Carnegie’s Lemons” was crowned a global champion at the Facebook Global Hackathon Finals. Also during his sophomore year, Matt launched his second startup, InvenTower: a system for makerspaces and retail stores that uses IOT lights to let customers “search” for what they are looking for in real life. During the summer of 2018, Matt worked for DEKA R&D as a control systems engineer and ultimately founded his most recent startup, DeltaTrainer, with his coworker and childhood friend Gabe Madonna. In the winter of 2019, Matt graduated from Carnegie Mellon and went full time on DeltaTrainer, working to bring wearable motion analysis tech into the world of fitness and personal training!

Matt Spettel, Co-founder and CEO

1. What is Delta Trainer?
DeltaTrainer is a high-tech remote personal training service! We use our patented motion analysis technology (that runs on smartwatches like the Apple Watch) to automatically detect your sets, difficulty, pacing, range of motion, and form while you’re working out. All of this data gets sent back to one of our elite trainers who works with you on a daily basis to personalize your routine and keep you motivated! We strongly believe that the future of fitness will revolve around 1-on-1 human interaction enabled by AI technology.

2. How did you come up with the idea?
During the summer of 2018 after my sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon, I was working a robotics engineering internship at DEKA Research and Development with one of my childhood best friends, Gabe Madonna. Gabe was studying machine learning at MIT and happens to be the guy who first introduced me to strength training back in 2015. Every day during lunch we would throw around a bunch of random ideas for ideas that we wanted to work on. By the middle of the summer, I was pretty obsessed with thinking of a “good” startup idea that managed to align one of my passions, a novel technology, and greater market trends. Despite my best efforts, I could not FORCE myself to think of this idea 🙂 One day while I was driving to work, the idea to use the motion data from wearables and machine learning to automatically track my strength training workouts popped into my head. I immediately started texting Gabe about the idea and we both fell in love with it – we’ve been grinding to make it a reality ever since! 

3. What was your journey to get to where you are today?
When I first thought of the idea to track workouts with wearables and machine learning, Gabe and I grabbed a bunch of hobby electronics kits and within a few hours had inertial sensors taped to every part of our bodies and were logging our first reps and testing our first tracking models in my basement. For the next 6 months (the fall semester of our Junior years) I worked to build the actual hardware of the wearable device and Gabe continued to develop the tracking software.
In January of 2019, I got to meet with one of my biggest role models: Matt Rogers, CMU alum and founder of Nest. We sat down to chat at a coffee shop in Silicon Valley – contrary to what I expected from a consumer electronics founder, he told me that building our own hardware was the worst way we could bring our tech to market, and that we should just use the dominant wearable platform: the Apple Watch. Not wanting to ignore the advice of a billionaire, we pivoted the company to build an iOS + watchOS app a few days later. Almost immediately, investors started looking at us with serious interest and we started winning a bunch of university business competitions. Right as we finished our Junior years at CMU/MIT, Matt Rogers and Carnegie Mellon invested in our company and we took on our first institutional capital from Incite Ventures.
We spent the entire summer of 2019 in Silicon Valley with the help of the Carnegie Mellon Venture Bridge program. Gabe and I both worked 100+ hours every week for the entire summer and we got an extremely bare bones product into the hands of our first beta users! The tracking was terrible and the app crashed every 30 seconds but we couldn’t be more proud of what we had created. As testing continued and we talked to our users religiously, we learned another big lesson: just tracking workouts doesn’t actually make people more fit/healthy. We realized that in order to really impact someone’s fitness, we needed to tell them what to do and provide them with enough motivation and support to actually do it. After many pivots and experiments, we landed on remote personal training as the best way to accomplish this. With our tracking technology as the eyes and ears of the trainers, we could offer what used to be a $1000/mo experience for just $100/mo.
Going back to school after that summer was tough, but we both managed to finish our degrees in just one more semester. A few weeks after I graduated in December of 2019 we raised another round of capital and finally launched our training service publicly! Since then, we’ve been obsessed with growing our user base and improving our tracking technology. We expanded our tech from just rep counting to difficulty estimation and form classification and collected hundreds of thousands of sets of training data!

4. How did coronavirus impact your company and what lessons would you take from it?
Overall, the quarantine was a good period of growth for us. As you could imagine, the demand for remote fitness services skyrocketed. We saw dozens of gyms around us that were struggling to stay alive and decided to launch a business-to-business(B2B) model of our product to help out. We created white-labeled versions of our app and platform for a bunch of small to medium sized gyms – they did the training, we just provided the tech! My biggest takeaway would definitely be that in times of crisis, flexibility in terms of business model and target customer can get you a big leg up on the competition!  

5. What is the future of Delta Trainer and how has the coronavirus changed the fitness industry?
We have some very exciting partnerships in the works with some big companies you may have heard of 🙂 
We are currently running a ton of experiments around marketing for user acquisition and hope to continue to grow at our current rate!
The coronavirus has made even the most old-school of gyms and trainers consider investment in remote training and digital fitness technology. Gyms now know that everything can change in a heartbeat and that they will have to adapt to survive the next decade. 

Founding team of Delta Trainer

6. What advice would you give to young budding entrepreneurs?
Never give up – cliche I know, but I cannot stress the importance of taking every criticism as an opportunity to learn, adapt, and grow.
Work on something you are passionate about. Imagine yourself working on your idea for 80+ hours a week for the next 5-7 years – is that what you want to do with your life?
Always talk to your customers for feedback and prioritize building an awesome product over everything else – winning competitions, raising money, etc. can be very distracting and do accomplish anything on their own. 

We would like to thank Matt for speaking with us.

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