Eric Min once had ambitions to be an Olympic cyclist. Today he is determined to realise a dream of taking his virtual cycling game Zwift all the way to being an accredited Olympic sport.
Technology → Sport
Financial Services and Investment Banking
His story is a remarkable illustration of the power of combining a constant life passion with a willingness to transition across business sectors and embrace new technologies.
As a teenager in New York, Min was a seriously competitive cyclist. “We all had the same dream which was that we wanted to be full time bike racers,” he says. It was only when he reached the US Olympic training camp and underwent tests that he realised his life would have to take a different path. “What I found out was that I didn’t have the natural talent to recover day after day,” he tells SRI. “That’s when the wake up call came to me and said ‘Okay, I need to switch gears.’”
Coming from a “very, very traditional, first generation immigrant family”, Min was conscious that his cycling obsession had caused his parents some concern. He determined to study ferociously and began a new career in commodities trading for JP Morgan. There, he and a partner began hatching a plan to build a cloud-based trading platform.
The innovation led to Min co-founding Sakkonet Technology, creating technology solutions for wholesale energy markets. During his 15 years as CEO, he oversaw a global business with operations in New York, Rio de Janeiro and London, where he became based.
He never lost his love of cycling but his new environment meant he had to ride indoors. “If it’s wet, I’m not even gonna go outside. I don’t have the time to clean the bike.” But it was the tedium of indoor cycling that gave him the idea for taking the technology learning he had acquired in commodities and using it to bring a virtual experience to one of the world’s most popular sports.
“That’s when the wake up call came to me and said ‘Okay, I need to switch gears’”
The result was Zwift. In five years, more than 1.6 million riders have registered for the platform and together they have logged more than 800 million miles of cycling. “When you get onto Zwift you can belong to a community, and you can belong to a club or racing team, and you can compete at all levels,” says Min, Zwift’s Co-Founder and CEO.
Zwift members can measure their performances having virtual experiences of riding some of the world’s most challenging courses, including those used by UCI Road World Championships as well as the incredibly immersive fantasy roads on Zwift’s very own Watopia Island. This year they can compete in one of Zwift’s national championships which will serve as qualifying races for the first UCI Cycling Esports World Championships taking place in December.
Min has secured $170m in backing for Zwift and has big ambitions. “What we want to be is a sport, an activity slash sport where we’re no different from (when) you watch Wimbledon and want to play tennis,” he says.
Zwift’s mission statement is “to make more people, more active, more often” and Min says it aims to be “a complete fitness platform where esports is just another strand of all that”.
His sights are set on taking Zwift’s accessible esports model all the way to the Olympics. “I think they are trying to figure out how esports fits into the Olympics,” he says. “I’d like to think we’re probably the closest thing that they can really comprehend and accept.”