3 June 2021
Charles Burr and Jerry Krylov are the founders of Manchester based Corner. They've created wearable sports tracking devices designed to be used with their online boxing fitness classes available through their app.
Their technology tracks your punches, work rate, power and speed and places you in a live leaderboard, pushing you to work harder.
Interview with Jerry Krylov.
How did you get started with Corner?
The technology we use is a spin off from Charlie’s original idea from university which looked at the rehabilitation of animals. Take for example an alligator that’s had surgery, when they released it back into the wild they wanted to use a motion tracker to show the results. From then it moved to boxing as Charlie’s an avid boxing enthusiast and we could use the censors to track different types of punches.
I got involved by helping with the product design, marketing, packaging and at first it was just for fun. We both had really good job offers but we decided to take a chance on Corner and here we are. We did it to see a project come into reality. Obviously when you have investor’s money you have to make a successful business but for us it was about the challenge. How do you take something from zero into the real world? How do you make a hardware product happen? How do you raise money? How the hell do you find a manufacturer? How do you prove your idea? How do you make a prototype that works and doesn’t set somebody’s arm on fire? Then you realise that you’re liable for that if you do! How do you manage distribution? What about app design? What about making it work on two different platforms? And now you have a server with everyone’s data on it. How do you find your product’s marketplace, from professionals to amateurs to people stuck at home during lockdown? How do you design all of that? Not to mention running a team. It’s tough but the important thing is that you learn, you can’t pay for experience like this.
Am I remembering correctly that years ago I saw you guys on Dragons’ Den? Was there some sort of issue?
We were on the show and there was an issue with our intellectual property. It’s really interesting when you go into Dragons’ Den, there were certain things we just didn’t feel comfortable talking about on TV. We own all of our IP now but at that point we couldn’t really say that. Also the way the Dragons ask questions, it’s quite funny the way they cut it. We were there for about an hour but they cut it into a five minute segment. We would answer a question, say for example about turnover, then back that up with reasoning about what we’ve been focusing on but they would cut you off before you could say it, like ‘thanks very much but we don’t want to hear the reasons behind it’. If you’re not interested in hearing the background to my answer then you’ll just make assumptions that aren’t true.
It’s a TV program so they edit it to suit their narrative. We were in the lift on set but it’s not actually a lift it’s just a corridor and the numbers are made to look like they’re going down. When we came out of the interview, which I thought had gone fine, I said, ‘it feels like it should be going up’ but on the program when it went out it’s cut in such a way that it sounds like, ‘I feel like giving up’.
We were so busy with investors in the lead up to the show that I did the packaging design the night before. I printed it all off and put it together but unfortunately it was rushed and one of the panels had been stuck the wrong way around. Deborah Meaden picks up the box and says, ‘It looks like you’ve spent two weeks doing this’. I was thinking great, I’ll take two weeks.
Did you feel like ultimately it was a positive experience?
Yes, by the time we went on it we had actually already raised the majority of our round. I can’t remember exactly but it was somewhere around £390k and we had raised something like £340k through venture capitalists and a couple of angel investors. The main objective of going on the show wasn’t really to close investment it was more about marketing and exposure. Finalising the last bit of investment isn’t the difficult part, the initial part of fundraising is the biggest challenge
What’s been the most challenging part of your journey?
Probably that first investment raise. It’s such a complex thing to describe. What’s your valuation? What are you worth? To different investors your worth is different. In the UK, in the US, they’re different market places. When you’re trying to raise investment and only have a prototype an investor might say, ‘Have you proven the product?’ But we can’t do that because we only have a prototype. ‘Well how much traction have you got? How many customers’ do you have?’ But we need money to be able to advertise and get the product out there. How do we survive the next month? Should I get another job to pay my rent? It’s all tied in to the investment raise.
How can you do a great job when you’re under so much pressure? Then when someone does offer you money perhaps it’s not quite enough, they undervalue you or they need you to jump through a bunch of milestones. Do you take their money or hold off for a little bit longer? I have no money, I can’t pay rent. At one point I was sleeping on a blow up mattress on a friend’s floor. Charlie and I worked crazy hours. Looking back I don’t know how it was physically possible for us to do what we did.
What are you most proud of so far?
We’ve really built a lot with our first round of investment. We were responsible for the data for the AIBA World Championship of Boxing which is the step before you enter the Olympics. We put trackers on the boxers which is a big deal because they’re very strict about what goes in boxing gloves. We were officially approved to do that which was an incredible feat, a huge achievement. We’ve built systems which are used across about 50 gyms globally with live leaderboards for participants and people love that. Now we also have an on demand platform for individuals. We built a whole ecosystem with videos you can play on your phone or your TV. I’m very proud of all that.
What’s the ambition?
The goal of our second round of investment is to grow the company and make sure that whatever we’re doing we’re doing it well. We’re not just looking for small improvements here and there, we want to do things ten times better - marketing, sales, exposure. We’ve started to look at brand partnerships and Manchester has some great people based here, there are some really great collaborations we can do and have fun. We want to get local people to come along to our classes and participate with our trainers who can then work with them to improve their skills and get a fun workout.
We’re focussed on an overall experience. It’s about getting fit but if you want to know more about technique, or how to wrap your hands, anything, we want to have content there that shows you how to properly understand boxing. Some of our trainers are ex pros or are experienced in Muay Thai, people with amazing knowledge and we want to share that with you while we get you fit.
It feels like boxing right now has never been more popular, particularly with celebrity YouTubers fighting and the likes of Anthony Joshua being so popular.
I agree with you. It’s beginning the bridge a gap and bringing boxing to the YouTube generation, it’s more accessible. I’ve been into so many boxing gyms and the people are always so nice but they can seem intimidating places from the outside. Maybe someone who starts with our app and really enjoys it goes on that journey and ends up in a boxing gym, we would love that. Boxing can be fun, you don’t necessarily need to get punched in the face to get a really great workout.
Members can participate in unlimited online classes for £10 per month through the Corner app. The Corner wearable trackers are available from their website for £105.
Watch their appearance on Dragons' Den here
Interview and photography by Christian at Blossom.
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