Don't hold your breath: The story of Airofit and Guinness World Record holder Stig Severinsen

Did you know that it's possible for a human to hold their breath for over 20 minutes?

Stig Severinsen

From incredible feats of lifting, throwing, and pulling, humans are capable of extraordinary feats. As it turns out, Stig Severinsen is a world champion breath holder, having held his breath for over 22 minutes (and with a Guinness World Record to prove it). It turns out the time you can hold your breath can be trained, that there are world championships to compete in, and there's even a device to train your lung strength.

Airofit is a small Danish startup founded in 2016 by Christian Tullberg Poulsen, developing what it claims is "the world's first breathing trainer." Based on a medical device originally devised by AMBU, a Danish MedTech company, to help those suffering from asthma and chronic lung diseases to build strength in their lungs, the claim is that the device can improve physical performance and general wellbeing with just 5 to 10 minutes of breath training a day.

Christian Tullberg Poulsen, a classically trained singer, saw the potential to train lung strength in singers, and acquired the device and global rights, selling the device through his personal network. It was when Poulsen's son used the original AMBU device to improve his outcomes in the Nordic Swimming Championships that Poulsen hired a small team of engineers to turn the AMBU device into a commercial product, targeting the athletic performance market.

Stig Severinson, a Danish freediver, is the founder of Breatheology and author of Breatheology® - The Art of Conscious Breathing. Severinsen is regarded globally as a leading expert in the science of breathing, holding multiple Guinness World Records and a string of multiple world freediving championships. Severinsen has even trained the Danish Navy SEALs and Air Force and teaches this superhuman ability to hundreds of business leaders seeking the performance benefits of improved breathing.

Following a slow start in sales of the Airofit device, the pairing of Airofit with Breatheology's Severinsen was a natural fit. Airofit engaged Stig Severinsen in the latter half of 2019, with Severinsen and his team at Breatheology lending credibility, celebrity, and capability in terms of marketing and selling the Airofit device, in exchange for warrants equivalent to 2.5% of shares in Airofit.

And the results of Severinsen's efforts are hard to deny. Google Search statistics reveal a sharp upturn in monthly searches of the 'Airofit' keyword in September 2019, with Airofit going on to post record sales. The facts seem to point to the idea that it was Severinsen's activities through Breatheology that led to Airofit's increased visibility, and subsequent sales performance. In fact, several of Stig's team members have since moved into permanent positions at Airofit.

However, documents from the City Court of Copenhagen reveal that Airofit did not uphold its binding commitments to Stig Severinsen. As it turns out, Severinsen never got his shares.

What went wrong?

The documents paint a picture around the transfer of warrants to Severinsen. Scheduled for transfer during Airofit's AGM in May 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was claimed to be the reason Airofit had delayed the process. The documents claim that Airofit has unnecessarily delayed the transfer of the shares, eventually offering a substantially lower payment instead of the actual shares. Airofit did not uphold their original agreement.

"This was so unexpected, and I was completely shocked. This goes against everything I believe in, and the trust I had in Airofit, its management, and its board of directors", reveals Severinson.

It remains unclear whether Airofit CEO Christian Tullberg Poulsen acted alone, or under the directive of the board. The board had already ratified the transfer of shares, and it is entirely possible they have been kept in the dark. However, for a board that includes investors, lawyers, and current and former executives of Danish multinational companies Nilfisk, ECCO and Pandora, this seems unusual.

"I was also fine with Airofit benefitting from my name, even investing my own money towards making Airofit a success, along with endorsements, producing viral videos gaining millions of views, and numerous press activities. Our work has been instrumental in the recent growth of Airofit", explains Severinsen on his website.

Similar stories abound in the startup space, from the controversial ousting of Dustin Moskovitz by Mark Zuckerberg in Facebook, to Adam Neumann's underhanded dealings at WeWork. For Airofit, the decision not to uphold the original agreement calls into question the motives of the leadership.

Time will tell how this matter may forever shape customer and investor perceptions of the companies and the parties involved. Without the support of a world champion breath holder, we wonder how long Airofit can hold their breath?