Ulrich Dempfle

327: Revolutionizing the Health and Fitness Industry

This week’s conversation is with Ulrich Dempfle, the CEO & Co-Founder of CAROL.

Ulrich graduated in mechanical engineering from Germany’s leading tech university and after working with Europe’s top automotive manufacturers, moved to London where he pioneered AI healthcare initiatives, optimizing operational efficiency for the National Health Service.

A BBC documentary on reduced exertion high-intensity training (REHIT) made Ulrich realize there was massive potential for a new groundbreaking form of cardio.

The problem? REHIT was only possible in a lab setting.

So, Ulrich co-founded CAROL and partnered with the world’s leading exercise researchers to take REHIT out of the lab. 40 prototypes later, the world’s first and only REHIT exercise bike was launched.

I’ve always been intrigued by cutting edge products and innovative tools that help people enhance their lives and explore their potential – that’s one of the reasons I’ve been so excited about our partnership with CAROL and was so excited to sit down with Ulrich.

And, just a reminder to our community if you find yourself wanting a CAROL bike, Ulrich is hooking us up with a free membership for life! Head to carolbike.com and use code FINDINGMASTERY at checkout.

“Exercise is quite similar to nutrition or diet – it’s really no good having something that you can stick to for just a couple of weeks or a couple of months or so. You really need to have something that fits sustainably into your life.”

In This Episode:

Ulrich’s upbringing

So I actually grew up in a family of scientists and academics. And if I look around me, still, I’m a little I would almost say the black sheep, because I’m at heart more an engineer, so slightly more practical, but I’ve got that kind of scientific knack basically with the family upbringing. But really what was my dream, was always just to build something, ideally, something you can sit on. And as a child and teenager, I was really clear that I wanted to one day design a car or a plane. And so I studied mechanical engineering and followed that path. And at some point, it dawned to me that people don’t actually necessarily design a whole car or plane. It’s more than thousands of engineers, many thousands of engineers actually work together and any one of them could design the left door, ash tray in the back. And so that was too narrow for me.

How his mind works

People around me, which I sometimes disagree with, sometimes I accept it, have told me that I was a workaholic and I can be quite single-track-minded and focused and very much dive into a subject or take up a task and just pursue it as much as I can. And I think sometimes there are moments where less is more or less would be and where it’s difficult for me to balance things more. So I’m not a very balanced character, I couldn’t say that. If I look back over the years, I think, yes, I achieved quite good balance, but it’s more some years one thing really intensively and then another period, other things very intensively. So I hope when I look back in, I don’t know, 40 years or 50 years or something like that, that I feel that I had actually a balanced and fulfilled life. But at any one moment, I can be quite focused.

Take inventory of your slain dragons

I think quite often of a coach I had quite early on in my career, he shared this concept of your inventory of slain dragons. But I try to teach my kids or one of them who still has to build his resilience. But I tell him, “Look, you’ve been through all these situations and you’ve mastered them and you came out on top and that should give you confidence that you’ll get through the next challenge as well.” So, yeah, I agree. Resilience is something you build, it’s not something you’re born with.

Step by step

I can lift myself out and think about what’s our strategy and what’s our vision, but I’m more driven by perfection and the detail and thinking through… So it’s more incrementally making things better and better and better and perfecting them. Obviously, I’ve learned that you need to have a bigger vision but it is not the first thing that comes to mind. It’s more: we take one step at a time, making it better and better to achieve, and to have a really cool product and a meaningful product.

Running a startup is not always glamorous

So running a startup, running a young company, growing company, what you hear and read of it can be quite sexy and fascinating. And so it might appear as a really glamorous career choice, but I would caution everybody that it is actually quite hard. And the Mark Zuckerbergs, the Elon Musks, and so on, they’re obviously fantastic. but for each one of those, there must be thousands and thousands of failed startups. And people who have maybe a good idea, but couldn’t do it. And so that’s what I call a survivor bias. You only see the ones who made it to the top and that makes it very glamorous and very desirable. But actually, the process is not easy, it’s quite hard.

How Ulrich was introduced to REHIT (Reduced exertion, high-intensity interval training)

Exercise is one of the most powerful interventions and it’s great. It doesn’t cost a lot, no side effects, only catch is, people don’t do it. So that’s the only issue. And when you ask people why they don’t do it, they say they don’t have time. And that’s where chance basically helped us. And this goes all the way back to 2012. So there was a show on the BBC, on live television in the UK that showcased the science and the benefits of REHIT. So that it was very short, very effective and almost so easy that you don’t even sweat. And that was a love at first sight moment and a lucky coincidence. And literally the very next day, I went to an equipment store, fitness equipment store and bought myself an exercise bike that I thought was most suitable for that type of exercise, for REHIT. But to my great disappointment, when I tried it at home, it was nothing like what they had claimed on television.

The initial problem with REHIT

In the lab, they used special equipment, it’s some $15k – $20k bike that’s actually operated by a second person to perform these REHIT exercises. So that’s very short, two 20 second sprints that are performed at exactly the right resistance and you have this lab technician operate the bike for you. And if you have that, then yes, it actually works and it’s quite similar to what they’ve shown on television. And so there we were, we had in some ways, a problem, that we worked with people with health conditions and couldn’t get them to exercise. And we had brilliant academic research, which others have developed. So we’re building on ideas and concepts from others who’ve done great work in that field. But there was no practical solution, there was no consumer solution, there was no easy way for us to do it.

The benefits from the CAROL bike

In terms of cardiorespiratory fitness, there are multiple and also studies conducted with our specific bikes that have shown that you can improve your cardiorespiratory fitness in eight weeks by, on average, 12%. And so to put that into a context, so cardio respiratory fitness measured by VO2 max, that is one of, if not the most, important physiological markers. And a 12% improvement of such a fundamental physiological marker is a big deal. It’s not subtle at all.

Making time for what matters

Here’s the thing, VO2 max improves very quickly if you do this, sadly it also fades again, if you don’t do it. So the training effect… You lose it again in a number of weeks. And that makes exercise actually quite similar to nutrition or diet, it’s really no good having something that you can stick to for a couple of weeks or a couple of months or so. You really need to have something that fits sustainably into your life. And so if you’re a busy person, if you find it hard to find two to three hours per week for cardio, it’s no good having something fancy or flashy that gives you motivation for some time, but you can’t just can’t fit it into your lifestyle, into your life.

Who can ride the CAROL bike?

We have a really broad range of users and we have some professional athletes and younger people in their absolute prime. The bulk of our users are more in the 40 to 60 bracket and above. Our oldest was late 70’s up to 80. But it becomes low figures. So the bulk is in the 40 to 60 and then… Mind you, so my mom, for example, she’s 78 and she’s at the other end of the leaderboard, if you looked for her, but she’s one of our most consistent users. So she uses the bike every other day, very religiously and tells me how good it is for her. She has some mobility issues, unfortunately she developed that a few years ago and can’t do much other sport, but she can do the bike and she absolutely attributes to CAROL that she can maintain, given her circumstances, a good level of cardiorespiratory fitness with the bike. And she does the REHIT every other day. And so she’s one of our prime test users. Every time we have a new feature, I’ll let her try it first and because she’s so regular, I can see whether everything is working or not.

Spread the word

We do think we have actually really something that could shift the dial. So we have to spread the word further and we still have some growing to do, but our aspiration is really that we want to shift the dial and help more people to lead healthier lives. And we believe we have something that could actually make a difference for many people.

What’s next for CAROL?

I can’t say too much because we’re about to draft some patents on that, but there are other parameters of the workout that one can play with, to not only basically get optimal performance and optimal results, but… A huge root component is obviously how you feel afterwards and then leading to it, adherence. And there will be original research involved, but ideally, I would like to take this further from basically taking one parameter, like optimizing resistance for peak performance, to optimizing everything we can… Like playing around with more parameters to get the optimal, emotional response and therefore optimal adherence.

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