When Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, 44, created his first form-fitting performance undershirt back in 1995, he couldn’t believe how obvious the opportunity was.
“I was like, why has no one else done this? It makes so much sense!” he says. Recently, the former University of Maryland football player had another one of those moments. As everyone was obsessing about fitness-tracking wearables and apps, he says, he realized no one was doing much to help users understand and act on all their data. “I thought, imagine if I could actually solve people’s health and fitness problems.”
So the self-made billionaire went out and bought three of the leading fitness- and diet-tracking apps—MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, and the Copenhagen-based Endomondo; integrated them into Under Armour; and this year started an aggressive push to release new “Connected Fitness” products—including a wrist-strap fitness tracker, an Internet-connected scale, connected running shoes, and a new app called UA Record that’s like a central clearing house for all your fitness and wellness data—that deliver on his dream.
And though Plank’s still just getting started transforming Under Armour, the U.S.’s second-largest sportswear maker, into a tech company, he already has 170 million users across his apps—“the world’s largest fitness community,” he boasts— and mountains of data about their fitness habits. That means he knows when a customer needs a new pair of shoes, what kind of shoes might work best for him, and even whether he needs to drop a few pounds.
Plank, who in the company’s early days was its one-man focus group, still works out like an elite athlete. He runs three times a week, he lifts, he cycles—and, of course, he tracks everything with his apps. He built a mammoth gym on the ground floor of his waterfront Baltimore headquarters, and hired world-class trainers so his employees can keep up with him.
“Winning is a part of our culture,” he says. “It’s who we are.”