My guest today is Ed Baker, a wildly successful entrepreneur who started multiple companies before rising to become the Head of International Growth at Facebook, and later VP of Product and Growth at Uber.
A former collegiate runner during his time at Harvard, Ed recently left Silicon Valley, moved back to Boston, and decided to turn himself into a world-class triathlete.
Ed and I discuss the various lessons he learned about growth, management, and startup prosperity while working for Mark Zuckerberg and Travis Kalanick during his time at Facebook and Uber. We then switch gears and focus on his newfound athletic career, including what his diet and training regimen look like, the insights he’s gained from using WHOOP, and how he’s remarkably been able to win triathlons and compete on an elite level at 40 years old.
We’re thrilled to have Ed as a member of our board at WHOOP, and his story of transitioning from the startup world to becoming a pro-level athlete is a fascinating one.
3:40 - Collegiate Athlete. “I found that I was the least productive academically in the weeks between the seasons when I wasn’t running.”
4:43 - Starting First Company while he was still at Harvard. “It was called Date Site, kind of like Tinder with email addresses.”
5:29 - Friend.ly in 2008. “We called it a social question and answer site, but it was really another dating site in disguise. We grew to about 25 million registered users and then we sold the company to Facebook.” Ed and Will discuss potential drawbacks of rapid growth. “We spent a lot of our time just trying to scale the site and keep up with all the traffic, and that gave us fewer resources to actually do some core product improvements.”
7:43 - Advice for Founding a Company. “I feel like most great companies were not started with the founder intending to start a company, but more like they’re trying to solve a problem that they care about solving. … Know that there are going to be tons of ups and downs every day.”
9:13 - Facebook. “While I was there we hit the 1-billion monthly active user milestone. I remember Zuck said that day it was the most proud day of his life.”
10:47 - Growth. “When you have an amazing product, it’s a whole lot easier to grow.”
11:28 - Uber. “I felt like I could have a bigger impact joining an earlier stage company.” When Ed first started there it was around 200 people. “In the early days, the first thing we had to figure out was ‘What’s our north-star metric?’” They concluded it was weekly trips, which included the number of riders and drivers. “The bottleneck to our growth was more on the supply side (drivers) than on the demand side (riders).”
15:14 - Managing People. “Hire people that know how to do things I don’t know how to do, and do everything in my power to make them as successful as possible. … Empower your leaders to run their teams and not micro manage.”
17:34 - Mark Zuckerberg. “He had this ability to remember everything that was said in any meeting we ever had with him. It showed he was really listening.”
20:53 - “The Jam Pad” with Travis Kalanick. They would hang out at his apartment in San Francisco with a bunch of entrepreneurs and brainstorm startup ideas. “There were so many barriers along the way that he would constantly get through one after the other.”
22:34 - New Path. “In 2017 I decided to leave Uber, move back to Boston. I decided to get back into shape, my wife calls it my mid-life crisis,” as he approached 40 years old.
24:36 - Prioritize Sleep Over Exercise. “There were weeks were I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I felt like exercising on 5 hours of sleep wouldn’t help, it was better to spend that extra hour sleeping than exercising.”
24:55 - Becoming an Ironman Triathlete. “I told my coach, Matt Dixon at Purple Patch Fitness, I wanted to do an Ironman within a year.”
27:10 - Week of Training. “I’ll get up to about 20 hours of training per week, split across the 3 sports, swimming, biking and running.” Ed may do six 1-hour swims and at least one 5-hour ride per week. “As I get older I try to limit the amount of pounding on my joints,” so he spends the least amount of time running. Dr. Bob Arnot told us the same thing.
29:59 - WHOOP Insights. “It definitely is making me sleep more than I was before. Time in bed does not equal sleep, it’s obvious but it’s something I never really thought about.”
31:21 - Avoiding Overtraining. “A lot of Ironman triathletes will overdo the training. My coach is actually known as ‘the recovery coach.’”
32:29 - Highest WHOOP Strain? “20.5 for a week straight” during a training camp. “That week I was mostly yellow, maybe a couple of reds. I’ve found one recovery day is usually enough to bounce me back in the green.”
33:40 - Optimizing Recovery & Sleep. “I get most of what I know from you guys.” Ed makes an effort to get to sleep immediately after putting his kids to bed. “I try not to drink too much water right before bed,” so he doesn’t wake up to use the bathroom. He also believes heavy training increases his core temp, so he puts on extra AC.
35:38 - Nutrition. “Overall I just eat a lot,” a benefit for many endurance athletes is not counting calories. “I like to make protein shakes after my hard workouts.”
38:52 - Daily Schedule. “I’ll do swim, breakfast, some other workout, lunch, and then another workout.” Ed typically does 2-3 workouts per day, including strength training for injury prevention.
39:53 - Active Recovery. “If you need to take an easier day, it’s actually better I think to do a little bit of easy exercise than nothing at all, just to get the blood flowing. A majority of the workouts I do are recovery sessions.” If he can watch Neflix and enjoy it while on his indoor trainer, “For me that’s active recovery. I want to make sure my heart rate doesn’t go above 140 beats per minute.”
42:28 - Stretching & Yoga. These days Ed prefers more active stretching than the static stretching he did in college as a runner. “Yoga I find is also a pretty good way to loosen up.” He enjoys Jasyoga for athletes.
44:40 - Athletic Highlight. “My first Ironman race. … I won it, I think I had the benefit of having never done one before, I wasn’t as afraid as I should’ve been.” He’d only been training as a triathlete for 6 months. “I’d never worked out for 9 hours straight in my life before.”
46:52 - What is an Ironman? “Swim, bike, run, in that order. The swim is 2.4 miles, the bike is 112 miles, and the run is 26.2 miles, a full marathon.”
47:52 - Pre-Race Routine. “I’ll do some running and swimming the morning before the race. A 10 or 15-minute run, and at the starting line hop in the water and swim for 15 minutes.”
48:55 - In-Race Fueling. Ed likes to eat rice cakes every hour on the bike. “Some with egg, some with peanut butter, banana and honey.” He’s recently introduced caffeine during races.
49:42 - Caffeine. “I find it does help with training. That cup of coffee will give me that extra little boost to keep me going. … I try not to drink caffeine past noon.”
52:18 - Serious Accident. “Broke 4 bones, my collar bone, 2 ribs … that was a bit of a wake up call for me.”
55:23 - Positives from Injury? An old nagging hip pain is now gone after taking time off. Additionally, Ed’s broken arm now has better swimming form from using less energy with it while recovering.
57:13 - Meditation, Visualization & Focus. “I do enjoy listening to Headspace sometimes.” How does he deal with the pain while racing an Ironman? “I really look at the numbers and focus more on the metrics” of his power meter, that allows him to stay locked in.
1:00:33 - Recovery Techniques. “I do like to use the foam roller. Not much else.”
1:01:13 - Going Pro? Ed could become eligible for prize money, but “I’ve just turned 40 years old and I’m not sure many people go pro at age 40. There are not a whole lot of reasons to go pro if you can have fun as an amateur.”
1:02:41 - Working with WHOOP. One he started using it, “it was just really addictive.”
Photo credit: Katie Busick