How Stephen Owusu launched JaxJox, his smart home gym startup – The Business Journals

Stephen Owusu came to the Pacific Northwest through pure luck. He launched his home gym company JaxJox in 2016 and needed warehouse space after briefly moving to New York City. He found warehouse space in Tacoma and ended up calling the Seattle area home.
“I flew down to have a look at (the space) and just fell in love with the place and never looked back,” said Owusu, the co-founder and CEO of Redmond-based JaxJox. “It was literally that simple.”
Now steering the 6-year-old company, Owusu and JaxJox face the challenge of carving out business in a space that already includes big-name companies like Peloton, NordicTrack and Tonal. The company’s home gym features an adjustable kettlebell and dumbbells, a vibrating foam roller and a rotating touch screen that can track data and provide coach-led workouts.
JaxJox got a major boost in May when four-time Olympic gold medal sprinter Michael Johnson, the only male athlete to win both the 200- and 400-meter dashes at the same Olympics, joined the company’s advisory board. Former NFL tight end Vernon Davis invested in the company in June.
The Business Journal spoke with Owusu about his background, the company’s plan and his love of Formula One racing.
Co-founder and CEO of JaxJox
Age: 44
Hometown: Welwyn Garden City, England
Current residence: Bellevue
Education: Bachelor’s degree from the University of London
Interests outside of work, beyond racing and music: Hiking, reading, volunteering, mentoring. “I’m a lifetime Arsenal football (soccer) fan.”
5 a.m.: Wake up, check email and respond to urgent needs, followed by breakfast.
6 a.m.: Work out with JaxJox for 20 to 30 minutes.
7 a.m.: Sit down at my desk and conduct daily check-ins.
Workday: Respond to emails and review strategy, optimization plans and daily performance reports. Pretty much nonstop work all day.
Lunch: Take a walk outside when it’s nice out for lunch.
Family time: Visit with wife and my three kids after work and have dinner.
After dinner: Call with factory in China at night when needed. Try to go to sleep by midnight.
What kind of data does JaxJox provide to users? The primary data is your reps, your sets, your volume. How much power you are generating, which is unique to us because you can’t work that out if you are just working out. And then there is the secondary data, which is where we combine the primary data and use your personal metrics like age, height, what have you, to then run our analytical data points to help you make better decisions. We use that to recommend what your next workout should be or if you should take a rest.
How did your background prepare you to create this company? My background is in computer engineering and electronics. In the U.K., I used to work for a company called Tesco where I ran a fitness category.
How did you come up with the idea? What became very clear to me was the options were you go out to a gym, or you pop into your local Walmart, Target or Amazon and you pick up a couple of weights, and literally you’re on your own. I remember there was a moment where Bluetooth 2.0 came out, and I felt the technology had gotten to the stage where we could include the Bluetooth technology into these products.
How did you connect with Michael Johnson? We connected through a mutual friend who knew of him and showed him JaxJox. He fell in love with it immediately. We started talking and we managed to do a deal with him to bring him to join the advisory board at JaxJox. With his background in performance, as we think about insights and how we use the data to help people make better decisions, it’s something he was passionate about.
How do you plan to compete with the likes of Peloton and NordicTrack? The end state is going to be a place where you have JaxJox in a hotel, in a gym and also at home. But the unique part is the data. You can connect this device wherever you are, and you’ll be able to connect all that data and have the same experience.
Still, it’s a crowded space. Free weights are about 90% of strength training that people do, and we are the only company that has the technology to be able to track free weights and have that connected strength offering. Although it feels a little bit crowded, I think we are very unique because we are not another bike. We are not competing with Peloton. A Peloton customer can also be a JaxJox customer. A Tonal customer can also be a JaxJox customer.
There is obviously a lot of software talent in the Seattle area, but how is it finding talent in the area to build a hardware product? Very challenging, especially as you put your finger on the pulse there when it comes to hardware and firmware. And the little that exists, you’re fighting with giants.
How do you compete with the giants? It’s the product. People love what we are trying to do in the world. They love the product. They can see that we are doing something that is very unique. One thing that has stuck with me is people will tell me they want to be part of something meaningful versus being in a big company and optimizing around a button.
What is your favorite workout to do with JaxJox? The JaxJox 360 workout, which is a 45-minute workout. It has strength, cardio and recovery all in one workout. So if I’m taking the 360 and doing it three or four times a week, I’m good.
What is one thing your employees don’t know about you? I was also a musician growing up. I would write songs and perform and what have you.
Any other interests outside of work? Big racing, Formula One fan. I never miss a race. I’ll cancel a meeting to not miss a race.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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