Get Ready, Get Set, Get Fit with Kemtai, Your Virtual Trainer

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By Vincent Ferguson. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Mike Telem is the co-founder of Kemtai, a digital home fitness company using AI and computer vision to provide a virtual gym with real-time precise feedback. He is a serial entrepreneur with extensive experience in building and marketing digital products. Mike lives in Israel with his wife and their two teenage sons. He has a Black Belt in martial arts and is a master swimmer. I am pleased to have Mike Telem on my Six Weeks to Fitness Podcast. Mike, how are you?

Mike Telem:

I'm very good. Thanks. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Vincent Ferguson:

Oh, it's my pleasure to have you on the show. Before we talk about Kemtai, Mike, tell my listeners a little more about you. Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?

Mike Telem:

I grew up in Israel. I'm almost 45 years old, and had a pretty regular and good life here in Israel. I actually moved to the United States for a couple of years when I was in eighth and ninth grade. That was a very nice experience. I lived in New York, so I'm still a Giants fan and follow U.S. sports quite closely, whether it's the NFL now and the NBA a little bit earlier. Then I came back, I studied high school in Israel. Served in the army, as most of us do, and studied psychology in the university.

Vincent Ferguson:

Excellent. What part of Israel do you live in?

Mike Telem:

I live in the central part, close to Tel Aviv, for those of you that know it. My town is called Giv'at Shmuel. Very nice place, about 15 to 20 minutes from the beach. Now the pools are actually closed, but we can still swim in the Mediterranean and the weather in Israel is quite comfortable for swimmers because we hardly get any winter here. Maybe just two or three months.

Vincent Ferguson:

Sounds nice. Well, I'm in New York and right now it's kind of cold and rainy, so we can appreciate the sunny weather you guys have in Israel right about now. Were you interested in fitness as a child? If so, were there any role models in your life that inspired you?

Mike Telem:

Yes. I loved fitness and as a child, I would obviously just call it sports. I played a lot of group sports around school and very early on, started doing competitive sports. I think I was five when I started practicing martial arts and judo specifically at that point.

Mike Telem:

That was together with my grandfather, who's probably that ideal person that I was always looking up to. He was also a Black Belt and we even managed towards ... He was getting older obviously, but we were able to practice a few times together as Black Belts at the same time. That was a very exciting and very emotional time. I also played soccer on a team in my town, and I played professional squash. I was actually the Israeli junior champion at squash. You could say that I was very much into sports.

Mike Telem:

There were a few years where I did all three of these things at the same time. I'm not sure how exactly, but I love doing sports since I was young. At a later age, obviously you start looking at it slightly differently from the fitness perspective, from the health perspective. Maybe you don't do the same things because of your body or because you don't want to go crazy, because if I do judo or play soccer, I might do things that I shouldn't do because you get excited. I definitely love sports and fitness very, very much.

Vincent Ferguson:

When did the entrepreneurial bug hit you?

Mike Telem:

That's an interesting question because as I was getting into high tech, which was kind of a fluke or a mistake, I was never interested in high tech. I didn't like computers, especially when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. I got into it because there were a lot of job openings and I thought, "Well, there's a limit to how many years I should be a waiter." Even though I was a pretty good waiter, but I decided that there are some opportunities there.

Mike Telem:

Even while I was in high tech and the whole startup concept and culture started in Israel following a little bit what happened in Silicon Valley and all the success stories, I always used to say it's better to have a good job, a steady job. I don't necessarily see myself opening up a startup. But after a few years in the market gaining experience, you start to see things that could be better, that could be done differently. I was lucky enough to have my best friends from high school also in high tech.

Mike Telem:

In 2009, without thinking about it too deeply, which is I think something good for an entrepreneur. If you think about it too much, you'll never do it because the chances are against you. The odds are against you. We decided to leave our jobs about five minutes after that 2009 financial crisis where everybody thought that the world was going down.

Mike Telem:

We decided that we're going to go after our idea, which was around personalization of websites. We went ahead and did that and that was the start of my entrepreneurship mentality I would say. Later on, I think I would look back at some of the things that I've done as I was an employee in other organizations and I guess I can see that I was always into trying new things and taking responsibility and being very committed to what I'm doing. I guess it started brewing back then.

Vincent Ferguson:

That sounds really good. Now, what are some of the pros and cons of being an entrepreneur, Mike?

Mike Telem:

Obviously one of the pros, it tends to be very interesting, very challenging in a good way. My father was an entrepreneur in a few companies as well and I saw the times that he succeeded and the times that he failed. You do get a lot of ups and downs and you need to be able to handle them. I don't mean that as it's going down, you don't care or you don't feel anxious or even concerned, but there's something inside you that tells you, "It'll come back up again if I do enough about it." But being able to take those times.

Mike Telem:

When you care about something, you feel very bad when it doesn't work well. In any business of your own, it doesn't matter if it's a restaurant or a high-tech startup, you care a lot. Then you have a lot of good times and a lot of bad times. I like to say that it's very similar to being a professional athlete I think because if you think about most professional athletes, most of the time they lose. They get to the semi-finals, they get to the finals. Maybe sometimes they don't even get there. They lose and they lose and they lose at a certain point, right?

Mike Telem:

Once in a while they win the whole thing. Even you look at the Lakers that have just won the NBA title and specifically LeBron James. Yeah. He has a lot of titles, but he lost a bunch of times. You look at people who have won gold medals in the Olympics. You'll remember that, but they also lost many times. As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to lose or not succeed a lot of times and keep on going. That's possibly one of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur. If you can do that, then you can do the rest.

Vincent Ferguson:

I think a lot of entrepreneurs who listen to this podcast would benefit from that advice. You know what I mean? Excellent.

Mike Telem:

Thank you.

Vincent Ferguson:

Now, most of your work has been, as you said, in the high-tech space. Was there an aha moment that motivated you to move into the fitness space and create Kemtai?

Mike Telem:

It was a combination between the fact that both I and my two co-founders, Mor Amitai and Naomi Keren, are very much into fitness and sports. Naomi is a Pilates instructor as a hobby, Mor loves running and working out at home. I had times where I used to work out in front of YouTube videos. The second piece of this equation is that Mor and Naomi have been dealing in computer vision for around 15 years. They actually had a previous startup that dealt with computer vision.

Mike Telem:

Now you have a group of three people that like sports, that like fitness, that know what can be done with computer vision and know what it takes to create a product, to create a company. We very quickly got to the idea of leveraging computer vision to see what you're actually doing and giving you feedback. As an amateur athlete, I've always been very aware of the importance of guidance and feedback. I always ask whatever trainer is around, "Look at what I'm doing. Tell me what I'm doing wrong. Don't tell me that I'm doing great. Just tell me what I'm doing wrong, how I can get better."

Mike Telem:

I like to get that advice, even if it's sometimes hard to follow. We thought, "Well, why can't we use computer vision to give that type of advice?" That is Kemtai.

Vincent Ferguson:

What does Kemtai actually mean? Where did the name come from?

Mike Telem:

The name itself doesn't have a specific meaning, but more of a feel. We hope that a feeling of something dynamic, an action that you can take, but also something that sounds calming and sounds connected to the whole concept of wellness. To some people, it sounds a little bit Eastern or Asian perhaps, but it doesn't have any specific meaning. We just really liked the sound of it. We spent some time looking for various names. It's actually not that easy to find a name that nobody else has used.

Mike Telem:

We were able to do that. We also always reminded ourselves that just like with children, products also make the name.

Vincent Ferguson:

True. The product, the name is very important. Now, explain, what can a user expect to experience from Kemtai and what makes it more effective than other fitness apps on the market today?

Mike Telem:

That's a great question. In terms of what makes Kemtai more effective, Kemtai actually sees you as you work out and can see if you're doing things right or wrong and can also give you a score so you understand your actual performance. As you're doing a specific exercise, let's say you're doing squats, something that everybody can relate to, Kemtai notices that your back is not straight and will tell you with audio and visual cues that you should straighten your back or that you shouldn't go so low.

Mike Telem:

As you follow the instructions, you start feeling the engagement, the connection to the technology that is helping you do the exercise in the best way possible so the workout is more effective and also more fun. The first thing that people typically get excited about is, as you just open up Kemtai and start the first workout, it scans your body and identifies all the data points in your body. Your shoulders, your elbows, your arms, your legs.

Mike Telem:

You feel that connection because as you move, you can see that Kemtai is seeing you, and you can see a visual of your skeleton on the screen. You see that Kemtai is following what you're doing and that is a very magical moment because you understand what the software has done and what it can give you.

Vincent Ferguson:

When I heard about Kemtai, I was so blown away by it. It's definitely a game changer. If I'm looking to build muscle or if I'm looking to increase my cardiovascular conditioning, can Kemtai help me with that?

Mike Telem:

Yes. Kemtai has most of the types of exercises and workouts that you would expect to find in other applications. This goes to your question about the difference as well. You'll find things like running in place and jumping jacks and other things for cardio and small or large weights or pushups or other core exercises to build your muscles. The fact that it gives you feedback, the fact that you can see if you're doing it well and how well you're doing it, means that each and every movement, each and every exercise is so much more effective.

Mike Telem:

If you want to build muscles, as we all know, doing the proper movement sometimes even more slowly and doing it correctly and seeing that you're getting a 90 and not a 70, immediately in real time, means that whether you have 10 minutes for a workout or 50 minutes, that time is so much more effective than what it would be if you were just following a video in YouTube or some other apps, or maybe riding a bike at home, which is very, very limited in terms of what you're doing and has practically zero feedback in terms of, are you doing it well?

Mike Telem:

You can practically sit on that bike and have a cup of coffee. Everything else will still continue the same.

Vincent Ferguson:

That's true. That's true. As a trainer, I'm always correcting the form of clients. As you know, technique, form is everything when it comes to performing the activities.

Mike Telem:

Yes. That is typically the most important thing. It also is very important in terms of avoiding injury, doing things the wrong way, or sometimes fooling yourself, thinking that you have improved while in fact, you're just doing more repetitions, but not in the proper way. Being able to be more effective in the same amount of time is so important. Everybody's very busy. Home fitness is great first and foremost because you don't need to spend too much time around it. You don't need to drive anywhere. Now, you can do so much more and be so much more effective in the same time period. That is very, very helpful for the users that are using Kemtai.

Vincent Ferguson:

Definitely. What do you need in order to use Kemtai? Do you need a laptop, desktop?

Mike Telem:

All you need is a laptop or a desktop, basically a computer with a camera. You don't need any special computer. You don't need to buy any $2,500 device in order to use Kemtai. Just your laptop and your browser and a decent internet connection. Your videos are not recorded, are not even saved anywhere. The system really looks at you like a human being and gives the feedback in real time. No information is being sent to the cloud about your workouts. The only thing you need is laptop and a little bit of room in your house to work out.

Mike Telem:

If you want to take it out and do it on the porch or in the garden, if there's good weather, you can do that too. It's relatively not sensitive to lighting and the space around you. It's very, very convenient and very, very easy to work out with Kemtai and also very affordable because you don't need to buy anything special.

Vincent Ferguson:

Can you also use Kemtai on mobile phones?

Mike Telem:

Not right now. We've decided not to develop Kemtai for mobile phones, because when you think about it, the user experience for something like Kemtai on a mobile phone is quite problematic. The screen is very small. You'd have to put the phone on the floor and it will be very difficult to interact with the system. If you think about it, it's similar to a Zoom session, right? That everybody's doing nowadays.

Mike Telem:

As much as you can control it, you would prefer having the Zoom session on your laptop. Yes, it can work on a phone, but it's not very convenient and you would never pick that in the first choice. Kemtai will run on mobile devices later on, probably next year, but we think that the better experience would always be on something like a laptop and later on, maybe on smart TV or on a device that's connected to a larger screen just because you can see what's going on a lot better and experience this interactive content. See exactly what the trainer is doing and follow their guidance and get the feedback and really make the most out of your workout.

Vincent Ferguson:

Awesome. How long are the exercise programs and how many exercise programs are in the app?

Mike Telem:

There are a few hundred different workouts. Some of them are 5 to 10-minute workouts with maybe just five to 10 exercises. Some of them are as long as an hour. You can do a few workouts one after the other. There are various trainers in Kemtai. These are not just Kemtai trainers, but external personal trainers can also upload their content to Kemtai and then Kemtai runs its processing and learns those movements to enable you as a user to pick a trainer of your choice. We have trainers from Japan, from Singapore, from Brazil, from New York, from Israel. From various places.

Mike Telem:

The idea is also to be a platform that enables trainers to bring forth their style of exercise, their types of workout. Just like in YouTube, you can choose, who you want to watch. In Kemtai, you can choose who would train you and you would get feedback based on their way of doing a squat. Not necessarily Mike's way of doing a squat. You can choose the trainer that you prefer.

Vincent Ferguson:

Now that again, is a game changer when it comes to personal training, because I do know some trainers who would be interested in learning about Kemtai. How do trainers get paid for their experience or their expertise?

Mike Telem:

Right now these are relatively early days with Kemtai but the idea is that trainers would get paid a percentage of the revenue that comes from people working out with their sessions. Similar to what music apps are doing, where if a lot of people subscribe and listen to your music, then you'll get a specific percentage of that. If maybe less people listen to someone else then that singer or songwriter will get a little bit less. The idea is to share a percentage of that revenue with them and also enable them to get to so many more customers.

Mike Telem:

If you're a great personal trainer, why should you be limited to the people that live around you specifically? If you're a great trainer, why not let users from around the world, work out with you? Get your type of feedback. This is really bringing you, the trainer, to life in other people's homes. If you're a very good trainer, not necessarily a celebrity, but a good trainer that provides good workouts and good feedback, a lot of people around the world using Kemtai will enjoy choosing your workouts.

Vincent Ferguson:

I like that concept completely, but you're still in the early stages of this though, as far as building this out, correct?

Mike Telem:

Yes. Because of COVID, we've launched an initial preliminary version quite early, around April. Just wanted people to enjoy it and be able to use what was available then. We're now getting close to a very substantial new version that include these workouts that I mentioned, and also studio workouts, where you can choose, for instance, Pilates for beginners or for advanced or high intensity training or yoga. Also, developing a concept we call the adaptive coach that changes the workout in the middle of the workout based on your actual performance at that moment.

Mike Telem:

If I see that something is too difficult for you, I might lower the level or the intensity in the next exercise. If I see you're doing very well, I might increase the intensity in the next exercise. This is even taking this whole concept of real-time feedback another step forward. Those things are coming out pretty soon. We would probably be announcing it in a couple of weeks. I guess you got a sneak peek here to these concepts.

Mike Telem:

We think that now in terms of having enough content, various types of workouts and exercises, the product has made a lot of progress and we're seeing users enjoy it more and work out with it on a regular basis.

Vincent Ferguson:

Do you think Kemtai will inspire more of us to actually work out at home?

Mike Telem:

I think so. Home fitness was huge before COVID. Home fitness was actually huge 30 or 40 years ago with Jane Fonda and DVDs and people buying bikes for their houses. Home fitness has always been a big market. People have always seen the advantages. What I think COVID has done, apart from a lot of bad things, is give people an opportunity to realize just how much progress was done in home fitness and the fact that in many aspects, you can do things at home today that are as good and in some aspects, even better than what you can find outside or in a gym.

Mike Telem:

For instance, Peloton is a great example. You can get a great experience, some would argue even better than a spinning class, and you can do it at the convenience of your home and even do a class with a thousand people. Kemtai provides you the experience of having a personal trainer at your home, providing real-time feedback, personalized perfectly to you. Most people can't afford that, not even once a week, not to mention a few times a week. Logistically it's typically an issue. COVID pushed people to explore home fitness and to realize what advances were made in the past five/seven years in this market.

Mike Telem:

Now they're enjoying it and I think they will continue to enjoy home fitness even after COVID ends, which I hope happens very soon. People will have a hybrid approach where maybe a couple of times a week I go to the gym, another time maybe I go outside running, a couple more times I work out at home with Kemtai or any other technology that I find interesting and relevant for me. That's what you're going to see I think in the next few years.

Vincent Ferguson:

I agree. I'm totally sold on Kemtai and I'm sure a lot of my listeners will be as well. What is the financial investment? What does it cost?

Mike Telem:

It's actually quite affordable in my opinion. It's $19 a month. You even get a discount if you take an annual subscription, you get all the workouts, all the trainers, all the exercise. You can use it as much as you want. Other people in your household can use it. I guess for a year, you would still pay less than one personal training session and you can use Kemtai as much as you want. One day you can do Pilates, the other you can do high intensity or weights, anything you want.

Vincent Ferguson:

How are you guys getting the word out about Kemtai? I know you're doing podcasts, but what other advertising and marketing are you doing?

Mike Telem:

We have some social media campaigns that you can expect, but to be honest, we really believe in word of mouth. We think that as the product is getting better and better, more people are simply going to talk about it. I can see that more and more people are getting to us via simple search in Google because someone told them about Kemtai. We're now releasing a concept that we call a challenge where I can imagine that the challenge is maybe three simple exercises, two minutes long altogether. I do the challenge and I can see that I got a 75 and I can see my rank in the global leaderboard or how I rank with my country.

Mike Telem:

I can share the challenge with you and say, "Hey, you talk a lot about fitness. Let's see how much you can get. Let's see what you're going to score in the challenge." Those are the types of things that we prefer, where people simply enjoy it and share it with others. Strategically, that is the type of marketing that we want to do. You might call it more product-oriented marketing, where I just want people to get a chance to try Kemtai. Use it and if they're happy, tell their friends about it and that's going to be enough.

Vincent Ferguson:

I agree. I think that will be enough because Kemtai is going to sell itself. I really believe that.

Mike Telem:

Well, I hope you're right. I think you're right. We still have a lot of work to make sure that you're right.

Vincent Ferguson:

Right. Exactly. Now, Mike, I run a nonprofit organization for children, right? A health organization, but can kids use the Kemtai program?

Mike Telem:

Yes. Technically, at least from a certain age Kemtai picks up the body just as well and kids can use it. It hasn't been our focus right now, just because it's important to be a little more sensitive with things that you provide kids, but we love helping these types of causes. We want more kids to be active and keep their health and get good habits from a young age. I was actually not aware that you have something like that so I would love to learn more. We would love to provide access somehow to your audience so they'll be able to work out with Kemtai free of charge, of course, and enjoy home fitness.

Vincent Ferguson:

Great, we're looking to do some stuff for the children, because all the kids are home now and childhood obesity is a major issue. That's what we're trying to combat. I will send you some information through Margie about what we do and this way, perhaps we can work together on helping children to become more healthy.

Mike Telem:

That would be wonderful.

Vincent Ferguson:

Now, where do you see Kemtai in the next five years?

Mike Telem:

I think we will make a lot of progress on the technology on additional ways of adapting the workouts to your goals and to your performance, making it more effective, but also working on making it more fun. Adding more ways of really bringing to life the different trainers and the different styles. Supporting more types or categories of workouts, whether it's Pilates and yoga already, but later on, maybe some shadowboxing and some other types. A lot of people have asked us, can we help their golf swing?

Mike Telem:

Again, technologically, it's definitely possible, but every different category takes some attention. We're hoping to cover more and more of the ... Martial arts is something that's close to heart for me obviously. I would love to train karate via the application. Again, I don't see it replacing going to the dojo and working out, but it can definitely help and increase your proficiency in those categories

Vincent Ferguson:

I can see that as well. Kemtai is definitely a game changer. I'll stand by that.

Mike Telem:

I appreciate that.

Vincent Ferguson:

How can my listeners learn more about Kemtai?

Mike Telem:

The best thing would be to go to app.kemtai.com. That's A-P-P.K-E-M-T-A-I. com and try it out. There is a sample workout. Everybody can try, see what it feels like. It's a very easy workout. You can do it in your jeans. The whole idea is to get a feel for Kemtai and then decide whether you want to try it out. There's a money-back guarantee. It's very, very easy. It's a lot of fun. Just go to app.kemtai.com or www.kemtai.com and give it a try.

Vincent Ferguson:

Excellent. Excellent. Can we follow you on social media?

Mike Telem:

Yes. You can follow Kemtai virtual fitness on Instagram. We have a Kemtai user group on Facebook. You can join and follow either one of those. Get information from us and updates, and also connect with peers that are following up and working out with Kemtai.

Vincent Ferguson:

Excellent. Mike Telem, on behalf of Body Sculpt of New York and Six Weeks to Fitness, I truly want to thank you for coming on my show today.

Mike Telem:

I appreciate. It was a pleasure. I love talking about my job and I love talking about fitness and it's been great talking to you. I appreciate you having me.

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