March 2011. I was given a choice (not really, but I acted like it was one prior to being “offered” it) between letting go of my own established personal training business with its loyal clientele and working as a staff trainer where my skills were underutilized (confirmed recently by running into my old “boss” at a workshop where I was instructing, ironically). Since the situation was clear, I also had to think, at the time, of how I was going to provide for my family, with a baby about to celebrate his first birthday and the uncertainty of training in a down economy. First, I got involved with designing an online program for Workout Buddy X, were social networking and fitness were designed to meet, by asking or joining others in their fitness quest. But I really wanted to do something that was my own, and opening a gym, with its staff and other responsibilities was not something I saw myself getting involved with, because of the time it would take to manage people and a business on top of my clients. And I really do enjoy the interaction with my clients, especially since seeing results and progress is one of the most gratifying things in this line of work.
I’ve always had the spirit of entrepreneurship, from opening my own studio, to surveying the marketplace to release some kind of product. Whenever I had an idea I didn’t pursue, I would see it come to market at the hands of someone quicker than me, or someone who took the reins and “acted their way” rather than “thought their way” into a new business venture.
I had, at the time, two ideas. Because the first was seemingly too expensive to even prototype, I went for what was going to become the SmartFlex™ eventually.
The journey, for this post, is more important than the SmartFlex™ itself. Just to give the product its own indirect plug, all I did was take the training philosophies and concepts that my “fitness forefathers”, as I like to call them, made popular, accessible and lasting, and infused them into one device, embracing the fact that our primal behavior is to like “toys”, regardless of our age. We have this innate need to pick an object and start playing with it in a fashion that is usually not too far from its intended purpose. Hand someone a half SmartFlex™ weighted and see that person play with their leverage, feeling the weight, swinging it, gripping it, etc. I don’t like to take a lot of credit for it, other than being an overgrown child still awaiting for his superpowers to kick in through some kind of traumatic experience. Maybe getting fired and inventing this thing, but really putting all sorts of things together into one, like Tony Stark putting reactors, a repulser beam, a GPS and bluetooth-like set of gizmos into a flying exoskeleton/armor, is what I can take credit for. And it stops here. My so-called “invention” is innovative in the sense that I put Indian Clubs, Eskrima sticks, resistance bands, a weighted wand micro-loaded like a Powerblock dumbbell into one modular stick, and adapted knowledge from the greats like Gray Cook and the Functional Movement Screen as well as Athetic Body in Balance, Dr Ed Thomas’s passion for fitness History and how we used to train for motor skill, where training was towards a goal rather than the goal be training, Brett Jones’s uncanny ability to take material and make it teachable and accessible (especially with Indian Clubs), Erwan Lecorre’s work with Methode Naturelle, which I indirectly learned from Lee Saxby from Wildfitness back in 2008 (along with Dr Romanov’s Pose method of Running). Lastly, I can’t not mention Pavel Tsatsouline and his Naked Warrior principles, loaded stretching, super joints, muscular hyper irradiation training etc.
This long segue is not about this post. The aforementioned names are only there to authenticate what I’ve done with the product itself, where it comes from and where I envision it to go.
Replicating the process with intelligent trainers who get it, appreciate it, understand it is the next step.
But, word to the wise: the meat of this blog is coming now.
It starts with an idea. The idea becomes a drawing. Then a series of drawings. Simultaneously, there is simulation with the various components, separate, isolated at the time, only brought together within the context of training. Creating the concept. Then, it’s a prototype,very much like the very first IronMan suit (Mark I). We’re at Mark VII in terms of market product,but Mark VIII has already been prototyped and is in R&D, so is Mark IX (albeit ways away, so please don’t hold off on ordering your current units. It’s no different from buying your iPhone or other piece of tech.)
This stage costs a little bit of money, some nerves of steel to see if the product works and has value through field testing and objective feedback. Sometimes, you have a plan that you can’t reveal, so you must bite your lip to protect your “baby” because you can’t just think like an inventor, you have to think like a businessman, with marketing, updates/upgrades, cost of bringing to market with the minimum effective dose. It is, however, one of the most exciting stages. Like when you’re about to embark on an adventure the scale of which is climbing Mount Everest (I speculate, but I read “Into Thin Air”, using Jon Krakauer experience as my education). It is a very exciting process. A former client of mine jumped all-in to help out, essentially quitting a very lucrative career and investing all his savings (mine were depleted by then), engaging others to be as excited as himself.
Fundraising is the next phase, because, stuff needs to get paid for. Engineering, drafting, prototyping, tooling, patents, trademarks, forming a business entity, creating a vision and its content can only go so far without funds. That’s where you really put your ass on the line and with other people’s money where your mouth is. Failure is not an option. The skies darken a bit above you, because you’re not just taking a chance with your career, your family, your pathway to success in a world filled with possibilities but also free falls into the abyss should you fail. Dealing with Tony Soprano would be a relief by contrast. So, you better bring your A-game all the time!
Equity becomes your biggest debt. How long can you bootstrap it without giving up any? When do you jump in the water and produce it and sell it? What’s your integrity worth? Do you “Shake weight” your way to the bank, or do you build something with lasting value? Your main job becomes your second job. The venture is #1. Yes, after family of course. But the lines are blurred. To keep them distinct and sharp, sacrifice comes into play. Sleep, social activities, even friendships.
The latter is a difficult cost to bear. You truly find out who your friends are. You have those that support you no matter what and get it. Moral support, “how can I help?”, “hey, my friend works with this pro athlete, you should meet” is some of what you will finds. Sometimes, it’s “where can I buy one? You’ve come to my showcases, bought my CD, helped me get this job or get through that situation” and a kind action once paid forward is now paid back with “at least I can say I was an early adopter!”. Some friendships fade. The logistical inability, combined with the physical exhaustion turn you into an outcast, a pale creature of the dark. For some, it’s envy, a matter of guts, negatively rejecting their own shortcomings because the drive isn’t there to pursue their own dreams. That’s cool, man. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, and some days, I’ll be honest, I question my choices. I’m gonna turn 40 soon, my last year in my 30’s has less than a trimester left and I did nothing fun this year that wasn’t related to this project. I do all I can to be there for my family, to not miss out on my son’s first experiences: first piano recital, first pitch, first goal, first gymnastics trick. Some will “curse you” with the “you’re going to be a millionaire!” thing and that is so not what’s in my mind, when keeping the venture going, engaging others, investing more time, stretching a dollar.
Yes, the venture is about creating a product that doesn’t require me trading my time for dollars. But it’s first and foremost a gift back to everyone who’s experienced pain, loss of function and wanted to rebuild it. It’s for everyone who wants to bridge the gap between the knowledge of a strength coach and that of a physical therapist. The financial motivation is not the exciting factor. The gratification comes from organizing a workshop for trainers, lead by a hero of mine. It also comes from another hero validating my work by getting it right away. It comes from a trainer connecting me to top athletes who got the gist with a “twist & pull” of the product.
It’s a long, winding road, paved with obstacles, vultures and dangers lurking at every corner. The imbalances I strive to correct now are not physical (still got a lot of those, btw), they are about getting out of the tunnel. The light is there and the friendships gained elevate help access a whole new level of knowledge, dispensed or earned. Rubbing shoulders with giants I a not worthy of, be it in my field, or from CEO mentors who have taken me under their wing. I haven’t changed, I’d like to think. I just focused on expanding an interest of mine and gave it the attention it deserves, but my core values of Integrity, Clarity, Wisdom and Retrospect have only been reinforced.I C W R. “I see, we are”. I see we are still far from the goal, but I see we are lucky to have made the contacts, the friendships, the mistakes, the sacrifices to continue this journey.
In Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist, the young shepherd is being advised by the Alchemist to leave the Oasis and continue seeking what he was after, arguing that the “girl” who he was in love with would be there after he comes back if she cared about him, and that if she wasn’t, it wasn’t meant to be. But his path was to pursue his goal.
I urge everyone to go after their goal. And just like every adventure, if you think about it, is filled with challenges, it’s overcoming them that makes it entertaining (do you think Indiana Jones enjoy the crap he had to endure before finishing his quest?).