In the first of a new series on startups in sport, Conor Heffernan caught up with the team at Kitman Labs to gain an insight into their extraordinary work.
Injuries don’t just cost teams victories they cost them money.
Last year it’s estimated that across Major League Baseball, teams spent $665 million on salaries of injured players and their replacements. NBA teams spent almost $358 million, with the LA Lakers spending $44 million alone.
Across the pond in England, the story isn’t much better. A recent report carried out by Towers Watson estimated that Premier League football teams paid over £100 million in salaries in the 2013/14 season to injured players. This is to say nothing of the medical costs of treating the players and signing short-term replacements.
Professional clubs are beginning to worry. Players are now earning more money than ever before. Games are faster and more physical. Losing a player through injury is costly business in more ways than one. Developers and backroom teams have taken notice.
Earlier today we sat down with Stephen Smith, Co-Founder and of Kitman Labs, an Irish software company attempting to take on the issue of injuries in sport.
So who are Kitman Labs and What do they do?
Put simply, Kitman Labs provide an athlete management platform for professional sports teams. The idea is to give professional teams a platform to collect all of the data they use from every different avenue from medical to management and performance. The data is aggregated, predictive analytics are added and the backroom staff of a club is given a simple, easy to understand report on each player’s possibility of getting injured. If a coach knows a player is on the road to injury, they can take steps to save the player, save the team and importantly for the club, save the budget.
Of course, a certain learning process is needed for Kitman Labs to get to know the players, their fitness levels and body mechanics. Information can be provided in as little as a week but in six to eight weeks the real magic happens. Then, insightful, unique reports can be provided to the backroom staff. The goal is to provide the backroom staff of a team with as much information as possible so they can be well informed about each player. Kitman Labs works in the background to allow backroom staff work with the players as much as possible.
So who are the people behind Kitman Labs?
Kitman Labs was founded in November 2012 by Iarfhlaith Kelly and Stephen Smith. Stephen has spent countless years as a member of the backroom staff at Leinster. He possesses a wealth of knowledge in dealing with sports injuries. Iarfhlaith provides the much needed technical side to round out the team. So far it’s proved a to be a winning combination.
The inspiration for Kitman Labs comes in part from Stephen’s career. Stephen spent seven years as part of Leinster’s backroom staff and it’s fair to say he saw his fair share of injuries whilst there. In his bid to understand why Leinster players were picking up knocks, Stephen trawled through countless hours of individual datasets looking for the answer.
It was laborious work and often resulted in Stephen spending more time in front of his computer than with the players, something he never envisioned. Thus, Kitman Labs was born from the desire to help backroom staff break away from their desks and spend more time with the players.
Beginnings and Growth
The road from the concept to the actual product was not an easy one. Kitman Labs were one of the first companies to attempt a software product that was so encompassing. As such the learning curve was steep. There were a lot of days, weekends and nights dedicated to this product.
In their first year Kitman were fortunate enough to obtain funding from the Enterprise Ireland CSF fund. The budget was limited but greatly welcomed. Stephen and Iarlaith utilised every cent and by October 2013 they had closed a further €475K round of seed funding.
Since 2013, matters have only improved. More recently Kitman managed to secure the investment of John Malloy, the man who turned a €3m investment in PayPal into hundreds of millions of Euro. Luckily for Kitman, Malloy happens to be a massive rugby fan and through a conversation with Leinster and Irish Number 8, Jamie Heaslip, Malloy was introduced to Kitman Labs.
Malloy brought Kitman Labs to meet the rest of his partners in Silicon Valley and in the end led Kitman’s Series A round of Investment to reach $4million.
The Leinster connection was important to Kitman in more ways than one. Apart from Jamie Heaslip’s helping hand, the Boys in Blue were the first team to try out the Kitman software, thus helping Kitman reach out to other teams. Within a few months of working with Leinster, Kitman Labs had been signed up by the IRFU and Everton FC.
As of 2013, the product is fully functional and within a year of operating, the software has been rolled out to teams in Asia, Europe and the USA. Three continents in just about a year. The growth has been incredible and well deserved given the work ethic of everyone behind the Labs. Stephen and his team haven’t been succesful at every turn, but every failed bid is used by Kitman to further refine and tweak the product.
At no point have Kitman Labs ‘finished’ their software. Retweaks and re-modelling are part of a commitment to ensure the product is up to date, relevant and useful. It’s no surprise that Kitman have grown. The software is now used in Rugby, Soccer, Baseball and Basketball.
Expanding the Team
Kitman recently made a splash at this year’s Web Summit when they finished their presentation by asking interested engineers to apply to work with Kitman. Getting the right people on board is something that Stephen and Iarfhlaith are adamant about. The goal is to get the right people, with the right knowledge and the right personality.
As such the team at Kitman Labs is growing but perhaps not as fast as Stephen would like. Nevertheless Kitman remains on the hunt for people with a passion for sports and technology.
You can check out the latest vacancies below:
What does success mean for Kitman Labs?
Kitman aims to be the number one choice in sports software. They want to be the gold standard platform that other people and companies want to build their products on top of. The goal is to become a company that has changed sport for the better, a company that has improved player welfare and a company that has brought about a new era of sports and technology.
The software is constantly being refined. No two teams and no two humans are the same. The aim is to create a model for each player and each team. It’s an ambitious goal but one the staff of Kitman Labs have taken on. The ramifications for the future of sport are untold.
Is anyone else out there?
Kitman are the leaders in this field of software. There are a lot of different companies out there collecting data on one particular niche but what makes Kitman Labs different is that they aggregate the data from as many of these datasets as possible to create a wide all-encompassing overview of what’s actually happening to the players.
It’s akin to looking at the forest and not the trees. So far it’s proven successful and there’s no reason to doubt this success won’t continue into the future. Kitman Labs could be about to chance the face of sport as we know it.
You can find out more about Kitman Labs from their website listed below
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena