Jon Mayfield posted some early virtual training screenshots in our forum in April of 2012 and that has developed into Zwift. Below is a chat with Jon Mayfield about how it got started and what is happening right now.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Jon.
Jon Mayfield: No problem - I’ve been meaning to catch back up with you after the Slowtwitch Kona party.
ST: Yes, time flies when you are having fun.
Jon: No kidding. I’m glad though, as working “startup hours” would be unbearable if I wasn’t enjoying it.
ST: What is currently on your plate?
Jon: Some pretty big enhancements to Zwift. We just got the custom workout creator out and now we’ve got something bigger on the way.
ST: Any hints you can share?
Jon: We’ve got a nice quantity of riders now, so I think it’s time to add some fresh road.
ST: In mid April of 2012 you shared some screen shots on slowtwitch and received mostly positive responses. Were you surprised about the volume of feedback?
Jon: I was surprised how well slowtwitchers saw what it could be and certainly slowtwitch had the biggest response from those early shots of mine.
ST: Is it a fair statement that you continued with your day job in the gaming industry and played with the virtual cycling on the side.
Jon: Yes, I started my cycling software project in late 2010 by writing a simple 3D virtual power calculator for the Kurt Kinetic Rock and Road. This was done over my Christmas break from work, and the dozen following weekends. By late February of that very first winter I’d made progress and put together a video to show friends back then. I got a lot done in a very short time, and mostly gave up sleeping during that time. I also had a newborn baby in the house by then. Fun times.
ST: What exactly was your job before Zwift?
Jon: From 1998-2013 I worked professionally on video games doing graphics engine programming. I then spent a year at a “think tank” working on some giant robots and global 3D visualizations for the government. Then things changed.
ST: A guy named Eric Min contacted you in late 2013 after having found that thread. Did you initially think someone was busting your balls?
Jon: He wasn’t the first to contact me over the years about a partnership, but he sounded more serious than the others and we setup a phone call just to see if this was a serious opportunity or a waste of time.
ST: But it was pretty serious.
Jon: Indeed it was.
ST: Were some of the other partnership offers more just “wishful thinking?”
Jon: The other offers were more like, ‘come work for free with me and you’ll get a cut of profits, but it can only support hardware X’. Eric was the first person to approach me who got it - he saw that the software was the product, not just gimmick to help sell hardware. If he’d not come along when he did I would have gone forward with the Kickstarter I was prepping for.
ST: The presentation to Eric Min and the business development guy Scott took place in your spare bedroom.
Jon: Yes. And as I gave the demo I realized mid-way through that I was wearing my ANT+ heart rate strap and Eric and Scott could see my nervousness graphed in real time right on my 42” TV. Wish I’d kept that fit file somewhere. Back then the demo also included an Oculus VR portion, which was pretty cool.
ST: Where about was your heart rate peaking?
Jon: My resting rate was mid 40’s back then and I think I was up over 110bpm just standing there talking.
ST: Who came up with the name Zwift?
Jon: We hired some creative folks to throw tons of names at us. That one was pretty off the wall and turned out to be easy to remember, as well as unique, so we went with it.
ST: How many folks work there now?
Jon: Zwift as a whole has grown so there’s a website guy, server guys, a couple of phone guys, business guys, etc., but my team who make “the game” is four programmers and four artists.
ST: Take us back to 2010 when you bought a bike. Why a bike and what model was it?
Jon: In 2010 I was due to have a kid in a few months so my wife and I bought a house. As it turns out the house was a few hundred feet from a 30-mile long bike highway (the Santa Ana River Trail) and I could see hundreds of cyclists going by every weekend. I figured I should buy a bike and give it a try. I ended up with a Trek 7.3 FX hybrid, and 6 months and a couple thousand miles later I bought a Specialized Roubaix. The Roubaix is the red bike you might see in early shots of my software. A few years later, thanks to Slowtwitch, I got into aero testing my stuff and ended up buying a Shiv just because. Spent quite a few days playing in Golden Cheetah’s Aerolab with that.
ST: Were the folks in the bike shop decently friendly and helpful?
Jon: Aside from the owner trying to get me on a 61cm bike (Turns out I ride a 56) because he wanted to get rid of it, they were helpful and friendly.
ST: What do you ride now?
Jon: I ride a virtual Pinarello F8, Parlee, S-works Tarmac, Shiv, Cervelo S5, and a really cool glowing Zwift concept bike. In real life I have a slightly more modest garage, and I split my time between my Roubaix and my Shiv.
ST: And what is your Zwift setup at home like?
Jon: At home I actually hop on my mountain bike hooked up to a KICKR. I also have a Computrainer I ride when the kids are sleeping since it’s a bit quieter. Oh and a Cycleops Powerbeam Pro and Elite Real trainer for testing. There’s a lot of stuff on the floor and it looks like a man cave. At least now I can tell the wife that it’s for work.
ST: Talk about the “machine” you use and also what you recommend. My newer Macbook Pro is struggling.
Jon: Apple does not typically build their machines for real time 3D graphics, and although they’ve gotten faster recently, I still go with a Windows PC for my main workstation and Zwift computer. I splurged on a totally unnecessary $450 graphics card (an Nvidia GTX 980) and have been riding on Zwift at 4K Ultra HD resolution. It’s amazing.
As for recommendations, an affordable option is the Alienware Alpha. Often they can be had for under $400 and will run Zwift at full HD resolution. It has an HDMI port and can plug right into your TV.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Jon: Yeah, I often get asked “Is Zwift a game or a training tool?”. It’s an odd question because training, to me, has always been a game. Whether I was trying to optimize my CdA in aerolab, trying to best my current FTP, or trying to move up a few percent on the local Strava segment, it’s always been gamified in my mind. Zwift is a training tool that uses game mechanics and visuals to try and get the best out of you. In our structured training mode you can see a 3D glowing goal signifying the end of a hard interval, like a virtual carrot-on-a-stick. Other times if you’re just going for a ride you might see the leader boards pop up when a sprint segment comes around and feel compelled go for a new personal best. Whether the visuals are on a screen or in the real world, it doesn’t change what I’m doing - training to be a better cyclist. We’re just making it easier and more entertaining to do this inside.