Interview with Aleksandr Simonyan, Founder and CEO of Immensus
“Using computer vision technologies for mobile applications is the future. And that definitely has a very huge potential to improve the performance of users to help them achieve their fitness goals. And certainly, home fitness training will be democratized in many ways.”
This episode Aleksandr Simonyan, Founder and CEO of Immensus joins HyeTech Minds to talk about his startup journey and share his perspectives on how technology is changing fitness industry and impact on users’ fitness performance.
After doing boxing for more than 10 years, Aleksandr has developed a passion towards data science. Combining his two passions towards boxing and technology, he launched Immensus, an an AI-based fitness application for different sports that uses computer vision to detect users’ movement, analyze mistakes and suggest ways of improvement.
Aleksandr is the Founder and CEO of Immensus. Alexandre is a Machine Learning engineer and entrepreneur with strong expertise in data science, computer vision, product management, and innovation creation. Alexandre also gives lectures on the areas of Data Science, Machine Learning, Python Programming, at upgrade.
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Narine: Hey Alexsandre. Welcome to HyeTech Minds. How are you doing here in Yerevan?
Alexandre: All night. Thank you very much for inviting me. I am great. Thank you very much.
Narine: I’m doing well. Thank you. I wonder if you could first start with just telling us who you are? And what do you do now?
Alexandre: I’m the founder and CEO of Immensus, an AI-based fitness application that uses computer vision to detect and analyze the errors of users.
Narine: I know you are also a boxer. Can you talk a little bit about how you went from being a boxer to being a startup founder?
Alexandre: Sure. So boxing is my favorite sport. I have doing boxing for more than 10 years. But once I came to university and I started doing some internships, I decided to deep dive into the data. And so I developed two passions. For me, the first one was boxing, and the other one was data. So certainly, I gave up boxing, but I became a data scientist. I came, I ended up working in PicsArt and the impact of PicsArt, I leverage my skills, both in data science in data analysis in computer vision. And after that, I decided to launch my own company. I decided to combine my passion for sports and data science. So that’s how Immensus idea took place.
Narine: It’s really exciting to talk to founders who successfully combine their passion and profession to launch a business. But I want to dive deep into Immenus ‘s story. Really take us back to the very beginning of your startup journey. What sparks this idea?
Alexandre: I would say the idea of creating a technology that can detect and evaluate how correct we do things emerged a very long time ago. I wouldn’t say that the concept of the mobile application was divided a long time ago. But once I deep dive into computer vision, I understood that there are already some solutions, like conventional new networks that are very powerful, and can detect and analyze very complex movements. So I decided to integrate this approach into the sport. And as I proved later, it was feasible and it was successful.
Narine: Talking about Immensus, can you unpack what it is about and how it works?
Alexandre: So current mobile applications are very powerful. Now they have a very high-resolution camera. And the camera can catch the movements in very high frames per second, generally 60 frames per second. So we use our front camera in our smartphones, and then we put on our smartphone, we go back and our algorithm catches the key point on your body. When you’re already in a boxing stance, there is an angle between your shoulder between your elbow, and this angle is very distinct. Once the camera sees which angle is on, the application starts. Once the application starts working, a user throws various punches, and the model detects and classifies those punches, whether it’s straight punches, who gets up or calls, whether you punch with left hand or right hand and the dented gives you feedback, how correct your punch was, we are also implementing a speech recognition system right now. So when the user will punch, our system will classify the speed as well. And once the session is over, just when the user takes his phone he sees all his statistics and all his suggestions. And as a result, a training plan for him is developed which is based on his arrows which are placed on his current performance. So the user can understand what he’s doing and what he’s doing great. And as a result, he understands how we can improve.
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Alexandre: Yes, exactly. Well, no, we are going to expand. Boxing is our first solution. I would say boxing is the most difficult sport because departures in boxing can be very very fast. Right now we are developing the same solution for fitness. There will be various exercises at first. But later we are planning to add more sophisticated movements from current standings from yoga and combine this all in one application so that the user can have the freedom to choose and how he can transition from one sport to another. We are planning to increment this. First, as I already said, fitness will be the first because it has the biggest user base at yoga, we will add a guy Hispanics, and yeah, continue its exports.
Narine: By the way, Is it going to be paid?
Alexandre: All right now we have only the test version, it’s free. But once we launch our full, fully functional application, it will have freemium features, some of the features will be free, and others will be paid.
Narine: Alexandre, you said that Immensus’s first solution focuses on boxing. I’m curious to know who your ideal customer is. Should you be a professional boxer to use this app?
Alexandre: Our ideal user is someone who wants to support us but does not have time to go to the gym. Because many young people do want to, they like sports but they do not have time. They work a lot. And doing very short exercise at home is not perfect, because, in most of the cases, people do not see their results. And they’re doing it wrong. But by using our application, they can adjust things, they can understand their mistakes, and they will have motivation, the most important thing because they can evaluate their own progress for application.
Narine: Valid point. It’s really difficult to find time to go to the gym. This is specifically a huge issue in the United States. We spend so much time on the road, commuting from work to home, it takes sometimes 2-3 hours. So no time for exercise. But also, is creating that motivation very important?
Alexandre: Yes. I have quantitative and qualitative data that suggests that lack of time, and lack of motivation is the biggest factor. It does not allow people to train. And I believe through images we can solve it.
Narine: I’m glad you talked about motivation. I personally think it’s very important to have fitness motivation. But at the same time, all cool technology solutions make it so much fun to work out.
There’s so much happening in the fitness space right now and in the land of technology. I’m curious to know if technology really helps people be healthier. Can we say that technology motivated us to do exercise?
Alexandre: Yes, exactly. I am very confident that technology does help us. The problem is how to utilize the technology curriculum. Because if we do understand how we can use them efficiently, in which case, we will use it. Otherwise, many people do not know how to use technology correctly. I mean, we spend a lot of time on the Internet, on our phones, but we have to increase the utility of it. And that’s why Immensus has also solved this problem because, in essence, it is the kind of application that will help people stay healthy and fit.
Narine: What technology solutions do you offer to users that are unique? How exactly do you collect data and what type of data you need? I’m sure you collect a lot of data on user experience – let’s say punches
Alexandre: As far as I was a boxer and I do have many connections in the boxing field. I utilize this connection to generate the data. So people show their own shadow boxing. And then they sent it directly to me. Once I uploaded this data to cloud AI we created it with our team. From our capital, we created the data annotation. We labeled our data, we captured the frames, which have the clearest punches with the most distinct technique. And that’s based on this data, we trained our conversational neural network model. And as a result, we use this data to make predictions on unseen data.
Narine: What about data privacy? From the user perspective, it’s concerning how much data all those mobile apps collect about our personal lives.
For example, I quitted a lot of apps, because they ask for so much information, data, and I’m not sure who gets them, where this data goes.
In this sense, How do you use your member’s data? How can you ensure your users that you use their data appropriately?
Alexandre: Thank you for the question because it’s a very important point and we’ve thought about this a lot. How we solve this is that we do not gather user video, we do not gather it, the whole process is taking place in real-time. So once the user downloads our application, it downloads our model. And then users can use our applications even offline. When a user makes punches, the whole process takes place on his local phone. So we do not have access to his video. If a user wants to share our data with him, we just send him a pop-up notification. And if he agrees, we can access his statistics. How many times he entered our applications, and based on that, we increase the accuracy of our predictions. But it entirely depends on the user. If he wants, he will do it if he doesn’t want to.
Narine: What about measuring results. With all those fitness apps, you want to be able to measure your success. What are some of the metrics you use to measure user’s success?
Alexandre: So regarding boxing, every punch is evaluated on a 100% scale. And there are many metrics. And we already defined the system of metrics. So we give you the comprehensive score. For example, you score in 50% of all users. And your aggregated score is 60 points out of 100. We define a path, which is especially suitable for you based on your individual goal, and your own performance. And we track how you progress when we make your suggestions based on our suggestions to try and your competitive score increases. So for example, if you punch, we measure but you punch in about 20% quicker than it was before. And that’s definitely a success for you. Or you punch like 100 punches in one minute. Now you can patch 150 punches in one minute, that’s a 50% increase in performance. And that so is just elements of the matrix. In the end, besides your individual aspects, you also receive a comprehensive score. And that’s why you can see how you train and how you progress.
Narine: That really seems fun.
Alexsandr, you’ll agree that mobile fitness apps have also taken the world by storm, and with lockdowns around the world due to the pandemic, many people have turned to these apps to make the most of their time at home. Nowadays there are hundreds of fitness apps available covering almost any aspect of fitness and health you can think of.
Alexandre: Yes, yes, exactly.
Narine: Again, today it’s tough to be a user. So many apps to pick from. What is unique about Immensus? How do you stand out in today’s hyper-competitive market?
Alexandre: That’s a great question. You know, their whole fitness app industry is very, very interesting. And also they’re very big. There are many, many huge players. And we’ve thought about how we can differentiate ourselves. Once we began conducting market research it was identified that there is a gap in huge fitness applications between functionality and user experience. You know, they are very strong fitness applications such as Freeletics. My Fitness Pal, which is very huge, has an excellent user experience. And they are other fitness applications that do have a component. But the problem with them is that they do not have a good user experience. So we decided to combine both functionality and user experience and feel those again. And that’s how we differentiate ourselves.
Narine: Alexandre, what do you think home fitness will look like in 5 – 10 years? What is the future going to look like for the fitness world?
Alexandre: Oh, that’s a great question. I believe definitely using computer vision technologies for mobile applications is the future. And that definitely has a very huge potential to improve the performance of users to help them achieve their goals. But I believe in the more distant future, I definitely think that there will be much more comprehensive statistics. I believe there will be machine learning models that can even measure the frequency of our breathing, the heart rate of the heartbeat of our blood pressure. And I believe these suggestions And training plans will be much more personalized. And as a result is much more efficient. Much more fee variables will be taken into account before making a suggestion. And I believe in the future, I believe it will be entirely dependent on mobile applications. We do not use that we do not need any heavy equipment. Because already there is a study that suggests that training without equipment can be as efficient as training with equipment. And certainly, home fitness training will be democratized. In many ways.
Narine: As a fitness enthusiast, I’m really excited about what comes next.
Alexandre: I’m also hoping to contribute to this.
Narine: Super. In reality startups like Immensus distributing the industry
Alexander, you founded Immensus in Armenia, it’s Armenian based startup. So in recent years, the Armenian startup ecosystem is exceptionally growing. But also, there are a lot of challenges still to overcome. In this sense, what do you think? What are some of the key challenges and obstacles for you, as an entrepreneur, as a founder?
Alexandre: Well, I would say, there are many obstacles. And the most important of them, I believe, is that if I do add them, we do not have access to the international market, really. I mean, we have to build a great product first. But you know, there is a problem. Because in order to build a great product, you need to engage people, you need to engage in investments. And that’s a problem for us. We are mainly restricted here. For example, when I started my own company, certainly, we do have great engineers, but we certainly have to look beyond just backends, beyond just traditional machine learning, I began to engage people abroad. And as far as I did have connections, I was fortunate enough to bring the brightest scientist to my team, he was from Russia. And I believe if we create this connection system in Armenia so that we can exchange our networks, exchange opportunities, that will help a lot. Also, I believe access to investments, access to international venture funds will help us a lot. Because even though there are many examples of Armenian startups, like why are great investments abroad, they basically acquire in round days, or in the late seed stage. But we also need to acquire, like, a decent amount of money in early-stage seed or pre-seed investment. And that’s definitely a problem. We definitely do have great bright minds in Armenia. But basically, we are all engineers. And we are currently looking for project managers abroad, we are looking for marketing specialists abroad because they do interact with the USA market. And our target market is the USA. And I believe by bringing those professionals or by just connecting us with those professionals, will help us tremendously.
Narine: Absolutely. Armenia is too small for market acquisitions. Armenian startups need to be prepared to sell their product/service internationally. Everywhere startups are fighting to survive in today’s crowded market.
Alexandre: Yes I agree with you. Exactly.
Narine: Continuing this conversation about investments. That’s very important to increase foreign investment flow to the Armenian startup ecosystem. What do you think about how Armenia can stimulate investment relationships with the Diaspora in a way leading to an increase in investments from the Diaspora?
Alexandre: That’s a great question. I believe the most important solution will be to create evidence. I believe we should be much closer to startup founders in Armenia and also Diaspora in the USA or in other countries. Just to exchange ideas. If we build something great, we believe we are building something great, we should definitely and immediately exchange it with other people in our meetings. And by doing so we can interact. And by interaction, we will certainly achieve our goals, create great products, attract investments, and solve user problems. In that case, I will say, SmartGateVC helps us personally a lot because they provided me with great connections. But there are still many, many founders in Armenia, which I do know personally, but they do not have connections. Many of them just give up their ideas, even though they seem great to me because they do not know how to attract investments. They don’t do not know how to find people. And that’s definitely a problem. We do not utilize it, I believe our potential is full.
Narine: This is such an interesting perspective to expand idea exchanges and networking between tech communities in Armenia and the USA. From your perspective, how do you see this networking building?
Alexandre: I believe there are many ways for us to create connections. Through the Internet, we can arrange online meetings with investors, or with people who know investors in Armenia or in the US, and startup founders in Armenia, we can present our ideas as we present in other places. And we can always keep in touch. I believe that always keeping in touch is a crucial point. And not just in meetings, I believe through various groups like in LinkedIn or in Facebook, we always have to keep in touch. I will. I believe it will solve our problem tremendously. And also, I believe, we, as the founders, have to take responsibility. Because once I have some technological progress, I also need to share my ideas. I need to share my demo versus my prototypes. And if I know new people with whom I can share it, I will definitely do it.
Narine: You fairly noticed that many founders are hesitant to share their ideas fearing that someone will steal it.
Alexandre: We definitely do not want to share it publicly. But we do want to share it with people we know. And with whom we can obviously trust.
Narine: Alexandre thanks for a great conversation and thank you for your insights. This is a very important conversation to have. And I’m always interested in sharing ideas on how we can expand the investment landscape in Armenia. I’m curious about what comes next for Immensus and wishing good luck with all initiatives.
Alexandre: Thank you very much Narine jan for inviting me.
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