According to competitive golf standards, Jeehae Lee only tried this sport as an amateur, played for the boys’ team at the Phillips Academy Andover and took part in several American Junior Golf Associations. At Yale, she entered the women’s team as a freshman, left for two seasons to focus on academics, and rejoined the college squad as a senior in 2006. By the way, Yale won Ivy League titles in both seasons that she was on the team.
Lee turned pro and played on the Futures Tour in 2007 and 2008. She played well enough at Q-School to earn her LPGA Tour card for the 2009 season on her first try and in the same senior year as Michelle Wie. Lee played on the tour until 2011 before joining IMG and representing Wie on their business and charitable initiatives.
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In the fall of 2013, Lee visited Wharton, where she earned an MBA that promoted her to leadership positions at Topgolf. She stayed with the company for five years, becoming the director of business development and growth for the Toptracer brand.
When she was debating whether or not to start her own sports company, she heard from a former Yale teammate, Stephanie Wei, about an idea for a technology startup that could provide golfers with 3D motion capture data only with a smartphone . Lee joined what became Sports box AI as co-founder and CEO.
About getting started with AI Sportsbox. . .
Last year I was still at TopGolf. I was just about to leave the company and wanted to start my own thing. And one of my former teammates at Yale actually got in touch and said, ‘Hey, I am [working] for this interesting company, AI Thinktank, and my father went to school with one of the founders. They have computer vision technology and AI and want to use them for sport. ”
My eyes just rolled back so far thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve heard that so many times.’ But then I actually got to know her; You are incredibly intelligent and successful at using AI for various commercial applications, so it was a trustworthy group and wonderful people. And so I started advising them one day a week, and by November I was pretty convinced that the right team and the right people were behind it and the right technology, and we formed SportsBox together out of the AI think tank.
What makes this technology different from others it had seen. . .
The technology itself is – obviously, I must be biased – rightly incredible. It’s like magic. It turns a 2D video into full 3D information that renders an avatar that you can see from multiple angles. And there are many solutions that use pose estimation tools; many of them license something someone else built or use an open source system like PoseNet or OpenPose. These are 2D estimation tools that other people use, and we know exactly how accurate they are, and it just wasn’t good enough.
So we built everything in-house. And instead of a 17 key point model that is typical of a 2D pose estimation tool, we have a 39 key point model that allows us to track every joint and body segment in really detailed 3D rendering precisely.
Go to AI Sportsbox’s release plans. . .
We have 100 coaches who have early access to the product. We wanted to really tight the customer service management and make sure they weren’t lost. And we get feedback from them. It’s been around for a couple of weeks, on both Android and iOS. And we tried to limit it to professors who know what they are doing with 3D data because not all of them have that knowledge base or background.
We intend to do this in conjunction with the dissemination of this information to larger and larger groups, while also training the market so that more teachers are familiar with this type of information. We didn’t want to send it into the wild without the educational component – we have to bring the market with us. That’s what we’re doing right now.
About using AI to personalize recommendations for users. . .
Absolutely. Within the next six to nine months we will have a consumer version of this where a golfer of any level can get an analysis and the AI coaching module can recommend a few tips and drill content that are relevant to them. Another part of the strategy of communicating this to the trainers first is that we can use some of this data early on to train the AI recommendation engine. So we’re not just saying blindly, ‘Hey, your backswing shoulder turn is out of the reach of a typical tour player. Do that.’ This is useless information in my opinion. We need to understand what the data is saying.
When I say data, it’s not just our swing data, but personal data as well. How tall are you? What problems could you have? How long are your arms All of this data plus the result data so we can also measure the result of where the ball went and what the club is doing. When you put all of this together, ultimately we can say, ‘Hey, that type of swing motion or that type of biomechanical information is highly correlated to this type of outcome for this type of person.’ We want to build this kind of coping mechanism, not just “Hey, this is Tiger Woods’ swing, good luck.”
Whether she had access to motion capture during her LPGA tour days. . .
None, honestly. Back then it was very video-based. It’s fun to think about the technology back then, and I took classes in some of the best institutions out there, the most elite coaches who had access to the best technology at the time. But I am thinking about a lesson; You literally took out a camera – like a real video camera on a tripod – set it up, recorded the video, and we went into a video room, an editing room, where you put that in a machine.
They looked at it, put in a CD player – and I thought that was so cool – they basically put the lesson on a CD drive and gave me the CD as a parting gift. And I thought it was so advanced. I mean, [only] 10, 12 years ago. The iPhone was revolutionary for coaching in my opinion. With the advent of the iPhone, teaching changed forever.
What she wanted she knew about her swing as a player. . .
I’ll give you a super-nerdy answer regarding SportsBox – and that won’t make sense to anyone who isn’t a golfer – but I’ve been trying to quote “flat swing,” my downswing, for the longest time. I have a tendency to walk a path from the outside in. I did this artificially to make my club shaft flatter, I did this artificially by bending sideways, onto my right side. So if on the way down you can imagine the shaft sinking deeper in a video if you just lean to the right, but that actually puts me in a really bad position to attack the ball.
And that’s real, by the way. SportsBox tells you what that side bend number is, and I know what range to aim for on the swing. And I noticed that this crazy side curve doesn’t put me in a good position on the downswing. Anyway, I wish I knew because I feel like I’ve lost a lot of strength and swing defensively while playing.
How SportsBox changed their own game. . .
I’m swinging it about five miles an hour faster now, at my age. I don’t even practice regularly. I play a maximum of nine holes a week and swing it on the range for five minutes before that round, but I know things about my swing that I feel I am armed with the right knowledge. So I swing less defensively and can swing more freely, which means I can swing faster – I hit the ball longer than when playing. It doesn’t always go straight, but I’ve found something beautiful in my swing that allows me to swing faster, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.
About reforming the sports sponsorship market with technology. . .
The LPGA is the longest running professional women’s sports organization and one of the most visible and successful organizations, and I had an LPGA Tour card – that’s full status – and I lost money. I couldn’t even make a living.
One way to supplement your income is company outings and of course sponsorship if you can find a sponsor. I saw the sports industry and sports marketing industry in such a way that the sponsorship market was so antiquated and a bit broken in the sense that only the top 0.01% of the market is served among athletes and talent and the rest is just in the wild hover. And while they are of great value to anyone, no sane agent will ever spend time on a $ 10,000 deal.
So I thought, ‘Hey, there has to be a technology-enabled platform, let’s call it Airbnb for sponsoring the longtail of the talent market.’ So I had a sideline at business school where I just called my LPGA Tour friends to organize small trips that entertain 10 customers instead of hosting a golf event alone on a fancy golf course pair each of the foursome with a professional. And for about $ 5,000 – not even that crazy on a budget.
I did it manually for literally six months and made $ 100,000. I thought to myself, ‘Okay, we have to put it on a platform and enable it with technology.’ I just didn’t have the time, tech, or resources to do it. So I came to TopGolf after business school and five years later I just had an idea that I really wanted to work on.
About the lessons she learned at TopGolf. . .
At TopGolf I learned a lot about how to create a community around the brand. I think they are masters at that. If you wear a Top Golf logo at an airport, people will come up to you and tell you about their great experiences at TopGolf – as they have to tell you, and they will even pull out their membership card. They say, ‘Look, I have this card!’
They have really built a passionate following around their brand, but I think the biggest takeaway from my TopGolf experience was how to lead and manage a team. I had some really great bosses there who showed me how not just to build a product that people like, but how to really build a business and build a team.
About working at Michelle Wie. . .
She is an incredible athlete. I literally saw her do two holes in one in one round. Just ridiculous things in golf that I personally would never have dared dream of. Getting so close to seeing the game in its purest and highest form was always something I considered a privilege.
But on the business side, I always recommend to kids who are thinking about sports after college or who want to quit their gamer career and move into the business world that agencies are actually a really great place to start because you are at the center of creating value the sports industry. You need to put together deals with different stakeholders. In sport you have to bring rights holders, media people and sponsors together in such a way that added value is created for everyone.
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