Hello everyone, and thank you for listening to the Alpha Hippie Podcast.
On today’s show, I have a return guest Sam Pogue. I asked Sam to be back on the show to talk about his next journey and his past couple of years of revelations from working at Onnit and what it’s been like to create one of the biggest networks of anyone in the fitness industry.
I hope you really enjoy this show. I love bringing return guests on so you could see the evolution because I’m sure you are going through things in your life and it takes time to see things evolve. I had Sam on the show when we were originally recording the show back in May of 2018, and this early 2019. So, Sam also has an evolution and he would love to share it with everyone.
I love you all, enjoy the show.
Angelo: Sam Pogue back on the show, first time return guest, how does it feel?
Sam: I think we’ve now hit our threesome, haven’t we? I got to interview you for episode 1.
Angelo: That is true. This is two times as a guest, three times totally on the show.
Sam: Perfect, now I feel even more honored. Man, I love it, I’m so excited to continually watch all the guests that you have on the show and the story you get to tell through Alpha Hippie. And then obviously just you being a supporter of me in general, and the uniqueness of what on this conversation, and to look at the lineage of how this opportunity even came out is also how you and I met. So it’s really unique now to come full circle and now look at this evolution that you’ve been such a key part in the occurrences of this opportunity happening as well as the vision to make me change and grow forward. It will be really fun to talk about.
Angelo: Yeah man, thank you so much. It’s so nice of you to say. A lot has been going on with you in the last few months, why don’t you start off with sharing—we’ll talk about what’s opportunity and what’s ahead for you, but then we’ll backtrack into how we actually got there.
Sam: Currently as of this very moment I serve as the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Onnit. Onnit is a lifestyle, supplements, fitness equipment, fitness education company for those of you who don’t know. Really what I’m focused around is business development; bringing in other organizational partners to work with my company and finding mutual wins that will allow both of us to not only gain financial success, but maybe even marketing access or community access to different environments.
Working with companies, we are a supplement company first and foremost, so bringing in partners like Gold’s Gym and EXOS as a primary partner for us to be able to deliver nutritional and supplemental products to their businesses, and at the same time being able to work with companies like UCLA and Equinox, and other gyms and other influencers in the fitness space even from the O’Hare CrossFits of the world, to the John Rusins of the world, to the CrossFit Solaces of the world. Being able to be inside and work collaboratively with other entities as well it’s something that I’m really focused on, really looking at this idea of cross-pollination and understanding that we live in a shared community, a shared environment these days.
You start looking at businesses such as Uber and Lift, and Airbnb, and we are not moving towards the Jetsons, but we are definitely moving away from this single solitary business model where it’s just us all the time, no one else we can share, versus, I think the society is leaning more towards more freedom and realizing that there are things that we can share or collaborate on and we can actually win faster or grow further because we help and leverage our relationship with other people and realize that everybody has value to offer and it’s not just us all the time by ourselves.
Mostly I travel a lot. I’m going home for Christmas on Thursday, we are on December right now, I’m not sure when this airs, but my flight on Thursday will my 66th flight this year. I did 62 flights between January and September, and then I had a couple a month ago, and I will have this one for Christmas. So a fair amount, more than a flight a week.
Angelo: It’s so crazy to think about.
Sam: Yeah, it was nuts. As I look back on it I’m like, wow- 67 flights in a year that’s more than one a week.
I did all those flights but four of the between January and September when I stopped traveling really. I was like, holy crap, that’s a hell of a cadence.
Angelo: That is.
Sam: We’ll get more into that story going forward. I travel a lot, whether it’s going out to meet with UCLA, with my partner Sailor, we are going out and doing events with EXOS, or traveling to a teacher’s seminar. I guess I should add too that I also teach education for the honor academy which is fitness education platform via Onnit. So teaching seminars to trainers or end users, people who are interested in learning more about the way that Onnit personifies our mission of fitness and how we choose to deliver that experience for people to be successful. Then the third component of my job is sports performance coaching here in the gym, here in Houston, Texas. I mostly focus around baseball and so I have the luxury and the opportunity to work with some amazing major league baseball players that I get to spend time with, and coach, and travel and go see. As a baseball fan that’s been pretty magical for me as well.
Sam: I’ve got a pretty cool job. I would argue to say that I might have the coolest job in fitness, let alone maybe one of the coolest jobs ever. One day if you are following me on social it’s at Cleveland Indians and the Yankees game having a beer but you didn’t see earlier that I was training the guys, a couple of the Indians, or maybe in in San Diego at a Mastermind with Angelo, or maybe I am meeting or speaking at a conference, whatever that might be, so a lot of really cool opportunities. To be honest, I get to do them not only as a representative of Onnit, so it’s a business expense, but I also get to do it where I get to be me.
That’s been a ton of fun and being able to teach me not only a lot of skills personally and how to grow, but also how to grow a large multi-million dollar business. It’s been fun to be able to compartmentalize and learn on both ends of the scale what I’m I getting out of all these experiences.
Angelo: Where would you say Onnit was from a revenue perspective when you got there to where it is now? Just so people could really understand. I know that you are a part of it and everything, but you were definitely a big part of all this. Where did you go?
Sam: I got to Onnit in 2014. I was the very first member of the Onnit gym when it opened up in December 1st 2014. I moved to Houston from Portland, Oregon where I was a personal trainer, and I wanted to get out of the fitness industry, so I moved to Houston, Texas. I became the first member of Onnit. When I joined on the team five months later into moving to Houston I was employee number 42. We had our main hitter supplements, we had Alpha Brain, Shroom Tech and New MOOD, and we had some food products like some protein bars. We sold through Oatmega which I’m sure you’ve heard of. But now we’ve doubled not only at our revenue but we’ve also expanded our product line into more sports performance line as well, so Creatine, Glutamine, electrolytes, whey proteins; we make our own bars now.
From that level not only have we grown from employee number 42 because we are over the 200s now, but from a product line we’ve added probably another 50, 60 ques in the last three years, and overall growth in terms of where we are in access to has changed. We are in Whole Foods nationwide, we are in Sprouts Market nationwide, we are the official nutrition partner for UCLA football, we are the official nutrition partner for EXOS. If you guys don’t know who EXOS is, they are the number one provider in sports performance. Last year’s NFL draft they did the combine prep for the 16 of the 32 first round draft picks. They perform and execute corporate wellness programs for 50% of the Fortune 100; Facebook, Intel, Google, companies like that.
We are a supporter in that program, and they support us in the product development. EXOS is actually the largest employer of dieticians in the nation. It’s cool to have them helping us formulate new products and have clear lines of driving out these products to athletes and everyday people. They’ve been around for 20 years and training some of the highest level athletes out there. So getting access to them obviously positions us really well in the market as well. It’s been really fun watching us go from this cool sexy brand that has got good Instagram following and we got a cool website, and we got a blog that we drive people to, to now watching us establish pretty key channels of distribution; Whole Foods and Sprouts alone is massive, Amazon is killing it for us.
Now from the perception side you start seeing companies like EXOS, UCLA, Gold’s Gym, and Equinox starting to jump in with us. Now the validity of who we really are, we are not just a splash in the pen anymore, for all of you who are fitness enthusiast, how many supplement companies have you seen come and go over the last 30 years, 40 years? There’s been an it, it boy or girl supplement forever, but how many of them have transcended and stayed true to being not just a brand that people are buying now but one that continues to be successful. Do you want to be Milli Vanilli or do you want to be ACDC? And that’s just building a brand, that’s just business in general.
There’s people who can capture a moment in time and make some money, but if you really want to transcend you really have to grow something that’s generational. Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing in something is a song that’s known across multiple generations if it comes on a bar; your grandpa’s going to know it, your dad’s going to know it, your kids are going to know it, you are going to know it. Just like with Onnit, we don’t just want to be today’s supplement brand we need to set ourselves up to having distribution channels and partnerships that set us up for the future as well. It’s been really fun to watch us double as an organization and be such a key part in that.
Onnit plays different rules. We went from being a supplement company, then we are in the equipment manufacturing company, and now we are in the fitness education platform, now we are in info products and blogs, so we kind of went about it the backwards way but at the same time Onnit’s got such an amazing captivating message around total human optimization that it allows us the freedom and the opportunity to touch so many different audiences under one umbrella. More often than not most brands will get in trouble going that route. Thankfully as you guys can imagine when you’ve got someone like Joe Rogan on your side pushing the supplements we are doing pretty well in that aspect. Then you start captivating all these professional athletes and teams, and these other channels of sales, now we are in a very different spot than if are just relying on us being a sexy brand that people saw for the first time.
Angelo: Along this journey of the company doubling and five times the employees like when you started there, what has been your experience of how the company has evolved in good ways and in bad ways? Obviously in growth, but just in maturity and understanding, and then also too maybe some downsides of growing that fast, and how that happens.
Sam: When you are a young company and a small company you have less resources; let’s say for all of at home who are soloprenuers or entrepreneurs, like man, if it’s just you, you are a one-man show, one-woman show you can make all the decisions you want, you can change on the fly, you can do whatever you want when you want, but you may not have the resources to do so. Or a big company, let’s say General Mills or Nike has all the resources in the world to do whatever they want but they have too many layers, it takes longer to get things done. They are not agile, there’s always processes; like I have to get approval from this team, and this team, and this team, and this person, so the execution time to market is exponentially longer.
As you can imagine, there is a fine line between no money and all the control, and all the money and no control. It’s been really fun watching us be a young scrappy 42-person company where we really don’t have any processes set up to where this is what the company says is right and this is what the company says is wrong. It’s kind of like a Wild Wild West, like let’s just see where everything goes and see what sticks. It really is throwing shit against the wall and seeing what stays there, you know what I mean? So the things that stick you are like, oh, that’s working, okay; let me stick with that for a while. And it provided us the opportunity to really look at; hey, we might want our business to go a certain way but that might not be where the market is telling us to go.
I’ll give you an example of that, especially trainers, and I use that just because how we know each other is through fitness. Let’s say you are a personal trainer, and I’m going to use my buddy Steve as an example. Steve is a 6’ power lifter. This guy squats 700 and something pounds, big goatee, massive arms, eagle tattoo in his arms and a big old tat in his calf; this dude looks intimidating as shit. His clientele as a trainer were older women, like 65 and older women. They just loved him. But Steve is a power lifter, it’s not what he is having 75 year old female client doing is putting 500 pounds on her back and making her squat up and down.
If you are only going after the market that he attaches himself to, he is probably going to go out of business because that’s not who he is resonating with his message, whereas you look up and you realized the people that are really resonating with my voice or my image or my style of coaching is actually the opposite of who I am, why is that?
Well, if you can look up and take a second and realize, oh, that’s who I’m touching, that’s my audience, that’s my brand, that’s my connection, why would you put all this money in advertising, or marketing efforts, or towards power lifters or professional athletes when that’s none of your clientele, when all your clientele are older women? Then it’s like, wait a minute, I need to put my marketing effort towards that, I still do me, but whatever reason, I don’t know why but that’s how the market is perceiving me. When we look at Onnit being so young it really allowed us the opportunity to look up and be like, holy crap, look at all the people who are finding us.
Obviously for us a big launch pad for us was Joe Rogan as an early investor being good friends with Aubrey our CEO. Then being able to watch through while Rogan we started getting really big in the USC space, then UC sells, you are starting to see this traction, Joe is wearing an Onnit t-shirt every time he does the wins for the UFC. But then we are marketing ourselves in the bio-hacker realm, how do people optimize their lives? What’s the minimum effect of dose someone can do to level themselves up? For some people that might be taking Alpha Brain, having a little bit more cognition or cognitive function, or maybe it’s MCT oil, and maybe just getting a little bit more healthy fats is going to be good for mental clarity or fat adaptation, or whatever that looks like for you. Or maybe that’s swinging a kettlebell, maybe because you want to go swing a kettlebell because it’s got Darth Vader on it so now you are maybe more into fitness.
So how do we meet people where they are at and then help provide a roadway or a pathway to success? That’s the secret sauce behind Onnit; it’s we have a little bit of something for everybody, let’s meet you where you are at, what you are doing is great, a little bit of something is better than nothing at all. If you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole we have solutions for that, but let’s just start off with a very easy thing. You don’t like eating vegetables? Cool, let’s try getting a little bit of Spirulina and Chlorella in your diet- that’s 100% more than what you were doing before, it doesn’t replace eating a healthy diet of fresh vegetables and fruits, but it’s more than you were doing. So let’s just start with that.
So you start seeing this value or the message around optimization and total human optimization, and Onnit really being the sidekick to people’s happiness or their fitness, or their work/life balance, or their relationships, whatever that might look like. Companies aren’t stupid, Whole Foods isn’t stupid, they are watching us get bigger and getting more and more traction, and the timing of someone having a conversation with the buyer of Whole Foods worked out for us to getting to Whole Foods. Automatically, Whole Foods and Walmart both sell supplements, they both sell Vitamin C; which one is more of a quality supplement?
Angelo: Whole Foods.
Sam: You think. It might even be the same manufacturer with a different label.
Angelo: Good point.
Sam: But marketing tells us that Whole Foods is a higher quality. So for us getting into Whole Foods, sure, it’s great distribution for us to be able to be inside of Whole Foods and putting in those kind of purchase orders across the country, but it’s also a shield, it’s a defense mechanism, just tell people, ‘hey, we are quality. I get that you are skeptical and you may think that it’s just another supplement promising whatever, but you know Whole Foods isn’t a brand that puts in non-quality products into their stores, so if you did question us now you are not going to’. Nothing makes you look more legit than having something for sale. So we are seeing this right now with Facebook ads.
I love targeted ads for what it’s worth. If I’m going to see an ad anyway I might as well see something I might actually like or use. Don’t put ads of feminine hygiene products in my feed because it’s not going to do anything for me, but you put something on there like really nice sheets or travel hacks, or sleeping better or fitness, or foods, you are probably going to grab my attention. It’s Zuckerberg’s whole thing, and this is not what the podcast is about, but at least I’m hearing things I want to hear or see things I want to see. These days you can see an ad for something on Instagram or Facebook and like, ‘ugh, just another product’, you may not even realize it’s a quality product but you are seeing it.
That was us for a little bit, but now it’s like, ‘oh shit, they are in a Whole Foods? Holy crap, they are the real deal, they are not playing little kid games, they are in the big boy space, because they have to have enough distribution and product etc. to be inside of Whole Foods’. I think that’s what they represent for us. The same thing with companies like EXOS and Equinox and Gold’s, they definitely provide new client acquisition opportunities but they also show the world that we are not just here to be the splash in the pen, that we are actually a legit business ready to do some damage.
That’s what those four partnerships I think really opened the door for us to do is be successful and showing our brand equity, that we are a quality brand first and foremost. That’s what’s been really fun about watching Onnit really grow and moving into an organization that’s becoming a little bit more by the book. As we start growing we start, oh, that’s a pin point; we have to hire people that aren’t just like Jack of all trades, or people that are generalists. You can only go so long before you have an accounting team, you can only go so long before you have an HR department, you can only go so long before you have a legit sales team. You can go for a while without these certain elements, but after a while you’ve got to hire someone to do it.
Now we are starting to get to the point where we are starting to—200 people, we are starting to get HR and accounting and more operations and supply chains. So that means that things get buttoned up more, because as you get bigger as a company, processes have to be set and established so that way people can effectively work across departments and not have to go back and go ‘what it, how, when, why’- you need a standard operating procedure for how people are supposed to act, that’s just how things go, right?
Sam: And it allows you to scale effectively, because if you think about the movie Office Space with the guy’s name they are trying to fire?
Sam: No, no, no, the other one, Tom. Like, “oh, so you are an engineer?” He’s like, “no, I’m not an engineer, I’m a people person”. They are like, “so you physically talk to the sales team?” He’s like, “no, my assistant does, but I relay the information from the engineers to the sales guys” “Why don’t they just go talk to…” He is like, “but I’m a people person”. So you end up getting these in-between roles, not that his role wasn’t valuable, but you are not any one particular department but you are a median between the two. I got to Onnit in Houston when I was 28, and I did so with the intention of a) getting out of the fitness industry, but b) to grow my career and get it back on track to keep up with the perception of what I thought my career was supposed to be and where I was supposed to be in my life.
For me having come from the fitness realm and reinventing myself a couple of times trying to get out of fitness, trying to find my “big kid job”, led me down this path of not being super fulfilled than where I was at, because I had to restart, so as we got into our late 20s watching some of my friends take on pretty big promotions and getting new roles and pay bumps, and watching them climb the corporate ladder I was like, ugh, it sucks; like, I’m not making that, or I don’t get to vacation like you do, or my job doesn’t allow me to do it like that, whatever that was, whatever those insecurities were. Everybody feels them, but mine were definitely financial, like I’m I making enough to keep up with my friends? And I’m I able to have the experience have the experiences because of that money?
What always got me was always the travel, like when I had friends that were like, “oh, we are going to go to Africa, then we are going to go to Belize, and then we are going to go to Hawaii”, and I’m like, “oh my god, how are you taking three vacations this year? You are the same ages like I am. I can barely even take one vacation, let alone three of them international.” I’m like, that sucks. It led me down this idea of, how do you measure or how do you value when you are doing well in life. From where I looked at it was like money plays a role, it wasn’t a standard number, but it highlighted the opportunity of what I could do with that money.
It wasn’t that I needed to make x amount of money because that’s what validated me as a man but that money is what gave me the opportunity like, shit, if I want to go to Belize I can just buy a ticket and go, I don’t have to save up, I don’t have to think about it. If I want to go do something I just go do it; that’s the freedom that I was looking for more so than I would stop from doing anything because I didn’t make x amount. Money doesn’t buy you happiness; it just buys you the opportunity to not care. I don’t have to calculate how much money I can spend on groceries when I go to Whole Foods because I make enough money that even if I spend 500 in groceries because I wanted to buy 900 Reese’s pieces cups I don’t care because I have the money to do so.
That’s what I wanted. I don’t want to get bogged down with things I don’t care about. I don’t care how much I spent; I care about me doing things that make me happy, and if that’s taking vacations with my friends, or if that’s being able to go buy a really nice steak, because I want to have steak for dinner instead of hamburger then I do that. That’s what money represented. So it was always hard being in a situation where, sure I was happy, but I still wasn’t living the life I thought I was supposed to live. Backtracking off that a little bit is, let’s look at—moving down to Houston when I accepted the job I did so taking a massive pay cut that was really hard financially.
I moved down to Texas, I didn’t have any money saved up, I didn’t plan to move, it was kind of a pretty crust decision to like, hey fuck it, I’m going to move and I need to get my life on track. If you guys listened to episode 1 that Angelo had me on it was really my buddy Nate that challenged me with the topic of what’s the highlight of your day? And I realized that I didn’t have a highlight of my day, I realized I was going through the motions. So my solution was, shit, I need to make a drastic change, move to Houston and create a drastic scenario where I’m now going to have to reinvent myself and figure it out.
I started working at Onnit which was like, okay, that’s cool, I didn’t move down here to work at Onnit, but like, let’s just see how this goes, this might be a really good opportunity to have an experience, learn some new skills and maybe I’ll find something more than I want to do. So originally I was hired on to do communications for the education system in the gym; running the trainer community, helping do business coaching, helping trainers understand how to run a better training business from raising their prices to better marketing initiatives, because I came from personal training and I did well at it, so that was the gift I could share.
But the carrot that I was dangling was, if and when or if or when Onnit ever wants to star opening up other facilities that I would be the person spearheading that project, that I would be going around opening up other new Onnit gyms if that was the route that we were going to do or not. That was like, ‘oh, that’s not going to happen’. So what I’m I really chasing down doing then? Then it was like, okay, well, let me go down this education route. Then I started getting involved more in the education team from an actual coaching standpoint and started coaching more.
Not only was I coaching more but that opened up the opportunity to me to go to conferences, and me being in conferences led me down the opportunity to start speaking at some conferences. It went from me being at a trade show booth to me standing on stage. I was like, okay, this is kind of cool. I’m gaining a lot of experience, I’m gaining a lot of new skills and looking at the world a little differently than I was, let me just keep riding this out. I don’t know where this is taking my career—I enjoy it, first and foremost, I’m making money and I’m enjoying it, so we’ll just ride that out.
Then it turned into going to the Mastermind and meeting you at the Barbell Business Mastermind and moving into an opportunity where I was able to express maybe an opportunity that I wanted to fulfill for myself. So we did the hot seat challenge, where we had 30 minutes to present our greatest challenge or our greatest opportunity in front of us. Then we had amazing people like Angelo and Aaron Hinde, and [inaudible 00:28:03] and Casey Jenks, and John Wolfe, to be able to poke holes at it. It kind of gave you a really good opportunity to figure out; is it a business? Is it a hobby? Is there something that I really want to pursue? Is it even a viable business option? From there leaving with the idea of Fitness Break Room, which is now my podcast.
I’m doing the podcast, I’m now traveling a ton sourcing deals, speaking, coaching, and I’m kind of just pressing the band with the button, I’m like, I don’t even know where this is going to lead to, I don’t know where I’m trying to go. I’m just going to keep building myself up as a personality, and building out my career equity inside of fitness from the speaker and the leadership standpoint. Through that I should be able to position myself to build the platform to launch fitness Break Room for Fitness Break Room to really take off and become my cash cow, my exit strategy, my future in fitness will be the podcast. That’s where I thought that was going.
I think it’s really important to know before I get too far is, understanding the idea of building out your platform; what opportunities are in front of you? They may not be your end goal, but is it providing you the diving board to launch from that is going to be your next evolution. We’ll talk about that more in a minute, but I wanted to put that in everybody’s ear, to thinking about platforms and how you use those to get to where you want to be.
Angelo: Let me ask you a question. I hate to cut you off, but I want to ask you this because you brought this up two times in this conversation; do you feel like it’s a generational thing to really want freedom? Do you feel like that’s our generation? I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago and I told someone freedom is my drug of choice. Do you feel like that’s something that most people experience when they get into their early 30s and mid-30s? Or is it just something generationally this is what we are really after, our age group?
Sam: I think it comes from that the market needs to find balance. I’ll say that in the aspect of this isn’t Pleasantville; we don’t live in this black and white world where mom wears the dress and is in apron necklace making dinner in a perfectly groomed house, and dad comes home and says, “honey I’m home”, and is the breadwinner and works at whatever job and he works the same job for 30 something years. Then we moved into this idea where you can create your own business or you create your own opportunities by going to college, and that opens up the door for us to study the things that we want to study, get jobs that might fulfill our passion.
But then we started moving in this like, oh, now I can cultivate a career that I really want, it wasn’t just about that because daddy was the CEO and I’m going to set out to be the CEO, I went to this college I’m going to get these opportunities. It turned into, oh I can literally cultivate my future out of thin air, install YouTube, install Facebook, install Instagram. Now you don’t even need to have a platform to launch from, you can literally create your own platform out of thin air. Before, let’s say you were watching the Cubs game and someone did something you didn’t like and you yell at your TV, “what are you doing? Why would you fill that pitch?” and you are just yelling at your TV.
Now what can you do? You can Tweet it, you can target that tweet at that analyst, at that player, “what the fuck were you doing? How dare you even do that?” Whereas before you didn’t have access to a Cubs’ player. You grew up in Chicago, you couldn’t text Ryne Sandberg “how did you babble that ball today? What the hell were you doing?” Now, if Harvey Byers makes an error you are like “bro, how hard is it to fill the ground ball? What are you doing?” and he might see it. Or because of the platform you can now position yourself as an expert, or people can like your enough opinion to want to follow you. You are a nobody, but now all of a sudden you have this following and people want to hear what you have to say or see what you do.
Now we move from, oh, I can cultivate my own career and not have to live this white picket fence lifestyle to, oh, I can create my own career out of thin air. I can have a job literally where I talk shit and do nothing and I get paid for it through affiliates or whatever that business model works on.
Sam: As we start looking at these freedoms where you can have your own destiny, now it’s like, wait, people become really resistant towards pushback or things that don’t necessarily serve them, and because you can go create your own opportunity out of thin air you have people that they just straight up don’t want to fall in line to what your mission is, I can go do it myself, and because there’s a means to do it with YouTube and Facebook and Instagram, now you are starting to see people who would rather make less money and do what they feel they are passionate about than make money and do something that doesn’t fulfill them because the goals have changed. Now our goal is to find happiness, and that stemmed through the idea of continuing education.
My parents didn’t go to college; I was the first one to go to college. I didn’t go to college for nursing or teaching, or engineering, I went to school for business, and it’s pretty kind of a Wild Wild West in that you can go to school for business and get done and like, what the hell I’m I going to do? Maybe you are an accounting major and you are like, okay, I’m going to go be an accountant. But let’s say you are a marketing major; what does that mean? What are you going to do with that? I don’t know. You don’t even learn specifics about marketing; you might learn some theory, you might learn what other people have done, but you don’t know the first thing about building a brand out necessarily.
You might think you do, Pepsi does this—homie, you are a one-man show to gym. You can’t do the same strategies as Pepsi trying to build out your brand, they have to do a whole different set of rules because they are playing the game with multiple commas in their income line, and you are hoping that there is a comma in your income line. Let’s play that game first. Through this idea of being able to have this freedom and do whatever you want the pendulum is swinging, and right now we are in a spot where everybody wants to do whatever they want and that’s turned into the whole millennial concept of they don’t want to work hard, they only get trophies, they are a lifestyle entrepreneur, or they are a—on LinkedIn the other day I saw “I’m an Instagram influencer.” I’m kind of the midline where I’m old for the millennial but I’m not quite the other generation, whatever that is, generation x.
Angelo: We are in between.
Sam: We are in between. I’m like, that’s not a thing. That’s not a job that you have. An Instagram influencer is not a job, but they make money doing it, don’t they?
0:35:00 Maybe. Maybe do. I’m like, oh my god, that’s so noxious, that’s not a real job. Sure, I’m pursuing my own passion of building out Fitness Break Room and trying to do these things by the book, but I don’t say I’m an aspiring author and a hopeful podcast host, and a serial entrepreneur. No, I have a day job. I am in business development. I am a partner, whatever it is. I don’t connect in that realm, but it’s true, you can do things out of thin air. So you have this freedom that you don’t have to do what someone else says you have to do. I don’t know if you guys bullshit with Uber drivers, because I take enough of them, I have to, but more often than it’s like, “man, I was tired of working for someone else and here I get to make my own hours, and I get to do whatever I want when I want.”
And you are like, “I guess that’s probably a good job for you then; you can make some money, you don’t have to worry about, maybe you like connecting with people but you don’t like organizational structure, so it’s like, this is a great way for you to have a service that you make money from.” On that level it’s bringing more jobs to people that wouldn’t have fit in the traditional structure. I think now we just have permission to express ourselves more, whereas in our parent’s day and age or our grandparents day age you didn’t have to like what your parents or grandparents said, but you sure as heck didn’t mouth off, not without getting a face full of fists.
Think about our grandparents; they had aspirations, they had dreams that they wanted to go do, maybe they wanted to run a soda shop, or an ice cream parlor, but their dad was a mailman so they became a mailman. They just didn’t know anything because they didn’t know to look, and it wasn’t the means to an end to change your career out of thin air. The only way to do it was to get into college and get a free ride and study something that you do want to learn.
Angelo: We are so fucking fortunate it’s crazy. It really is.
Sam: It’s crazy.
Angelo: It is really. Let me ask you this; this idea of building the platform I think it’s one of the most intelligent things that you talked about that we have this opportunity, when did you know that you were doing this in your Onnit journey, and was it ever conscious that you were doing it or it’s just something that you just were doing and it blossomed from that?
Sam: I don’t know if there is a pivotal moment where I realized everything was just building a platform except as you watch people leave—I think that’s where it really comes down; as you watch someone leave to go do something else, and you are like, what are they doing? They are not going to make it on their own. You think that your personal brand is going to transcend Onnit, or that you are going to have more resources because you are going to leave and that’s just been business sin general. Let’s take the gym industry from what it is right now. Angelo you own a gym, right?
Sam: And you don’t coach the majority of classes anymore, do you?
Sam: You used to though; you used to be the only coach.
Sam: Then you had someone that—alright, I’m going to run more operations in the management side, you are going to coach all the classes, right?
Sam: You got a young hungry kid, they come in like, ‘oh man, this is awesome’. Well, eventually they get like, “wait, it’s money; why are you taking home 60% of the cut? I’m the one coaching all the classes, I’m the one doing all the work, I’m the one that connects with all the members.” You are going, “your name is not on the door, you don’t have to find any of the money out here. You are not paying the electric bill. Sure, I might take a 60-40 split, but I’m splitting that 60 amongst a whole lot of other shit. I got to get the bathrooms cleaned, I got to pay insurance, I got to pay taxes, I got to pay your ass again, everything”. You as an owner look at things a little differently. That coach is like, “I’m going to go start up my own gym a block away.”
One of two things happens; either they are really successful, because maybe all the members love them, because they were the ones talking to all the members. They were the ones doing the coaching. So the members are like, “hey, he’s the one who has been taking care of me, I don’t even see Angelo anymore, he is out whatever, traveling to Ibiza, and getting married, doing all the shit. I don’t see his ass anymore, he doesn’t care about me. This is my money”. So they go follow that young trainer. Maybe it works, cool. The other end though is, maybe O’Hare CrossFit is really close to my work and it’s really convenient to where I live, and I actually really enjoy the gym culture because all my friends are here and I live here, so I’m going to stay here. Sure, I like that other coach, but I didn’t come here for that coach, I came here because of O’Hare CrossFits, and I like O’Hare as a culture.“
So then they don’t leave. Then that coach goes to do something else, and all of a sudden he is like, “oh fuck, no one came,” because he didn’t build the platform well enough for him to do it. Now you can look at the Steve Jobs of the world and the Phil Knights, and they were able to build these companies out of nothing.
But more often than not most new companies or most new organizations are stemmed from there was a pinpoint in the industry, or this company wasn’t fulfilling the market all the way so they came out and started that. For example Nike makes shoes but so does Payless, so we don’t even have to argue that Payless shoes are less “valuable” than Nikes, but they are not even trying to be that. They are trying to take an entirely different angle; they are going for the bargain, not for the premium. Nike offsets that by making lower price point shoe to compete with that, but they still won’t compete in that level. You start seeing you are just fulfilling different areas of the market.
Let’s say I wanted to leave Onnit, and I’m going to go start my own supplement company, I get a lot of forward exposure at Onnit and I have a lot of connections, but I don’t play in the supplement space really. So if I want to go out and make new supplements, ‘yeah, he worked at Onnit, but he didn’t have anything to do with Onnit supplements, he doesn’t have the platform to launch from that people are going to want to buy into.’ When you look at your platform it provides you with a launching pad to stand up so people can see you, or it provides you the platform to jump from so that way you can spread your wings and fly. When you look at opportunities, look at what do you have in front of you right now, and are you through building out the value proposition as to why people should follow you, or why they should go with you if we are going to go back to the coach’s standpoint.
Do you have enough buying with all those members that they are going to leave with you because they love you, or they are there because they are already customers of the gym and they just happen to like your class? Being able to look at; do I really have legs to stand on my own, or I’m I only where I’m at because I have Onnit or whatever gym behind me? You know what I mean? It’s a different ball game.
Angelo: Do you know when that point is, or is that always end risk?
Sam: It’s always an end risk, but you can just make it more calculated.
Sam: If you are going to go out and do something else; let’s say I go start my own gym, I’m I going to have a better chance of starting my own gym if I was a coach at Onnit, and I was the coach at Onnit and I was 500,000 Instagram followers, or if I am brand new with no followers, and no one’s even seen my name before? We both worked at Onnit, but which one gave you the biggest platform to launch from? Are you going to launch from one where you have zero leverage, or you are going to launch from one where you have all the leverage? Leaving and starting your own company or leaving to go do something else that’s not really a new thing in the sense of, these days it’s now acceptable that you don’t work for a company forever.
Like my dad worked at the same company for 35 years. I’ve had 6, 7 jobs now and I’m 32. We are just doing a very different game because the industry is different. So we can really see that there is an opportunity for us to step out on our own and we can fly, but where there is more reward there is more risk. What risks are you really willing to take? I’m 32 and single, so it’s really easy for me to make a move across the country for a new job because I didn’t have to consider my girlfriend’s career, I didn’t have to consider a mortgage and a house, and the housing market, or schools if I’ve got kids in school. I’m like, oh, new job, new better opportunity? Cool, I’m gone.
Whereas, let’s say you wanted to move from Chicago, it’s not just your decision. What are you going to do with O’Hare? Does Rocio want to move? Can you literally bring yourself to want to leave Chicago? Does your family want you to leave? There is way more conversations that you have to have than I do. Even if the platform is there it may not even be the right move. Getting off on the tangent a little bit, but really looking at; do you really have the equity in the vertical that you are trying to move into, in the organization, or in the field that you want to move into that there is enough value that people will follow you?
Angelo: How did you know that you had it?
Sam: I didn’t.
I probably realized that I was starting to build out a platform when I started getting asked to speak. I did my first keynote this year. We’ll just say February this year. D1 is another gym organization, they do sports performance coaching and general population coaching based in Nashville, and I was one of the keynote speakers for their franchise summit, because they do a franchise model for their gyms. I asked them when they invited me, “hey, would you be a speaker?” And I was like, “for sure, who are your other speakers?” They are like, “well, one of them is Michael Abramson our president, and the other person is Shawn Johnson the Olympian” I’m like, “yeah, okay, cool, I actually have to prepare something,” because I can’t just go up there and wing it, not if I’ve got a fucking Olympian up there that speaks all of the time. Mark England from Procabulary I think you’ve had on…
Sam: Was really awesome to start helping me with my speech, and I’m someone I don’t mind being in front of the room, I don’t mind speaking, I really enjoy the all-eyes-on-me kind of aspect, but having someone go through my speech with a fine tooth comb, and like, hey, let’s look at how it’s delivered, does it all tie together? I was like, holy shit, I need to actually think about this more than just standing up there and talking, because I don’t mind the talking. I always refrain from wanting to plan a speech out because I felt like [inaudible 00:46:25] lost my spontaneity, but like, oh shit, what if I had my spontaneity already in my back pocket, and I had a really nice curated speech that was ready to go? Holy shit, then I had both.
Angelo: It’s different. It makes a difference. It really does.
Sam: And he is amazing.
Angelo: For sure.
Sam: Mark’s really amazing, so I really appreciate him. So that was a moment where I’m like, holy crap, Onnit built this platform—let me back up here, I know this has been really erratic: I didn’t want to be in the fitness industry. I found myself in it because I finished school in a way there was no jobs and I sold membership at 24 Hour Fitness, and then I became a trainee. Then I was so drastic to move to Houston, Texas to get out of the fitness industry because I didn’t think it was where my career was going to go. Let’s be honest, 10 years ago if you are in the fitness space a company like Onnit doing what I do didn’t exist. If you worked in an organization in the fitness realm you worked at NASM, or ACE, or NSCA, and maybe a supplement company, but there wasn’t something like what I do, ever.
That was a really unique thing to find myself in. We are really looking at how this platform really got built and realizing—I didn’t really know what to expect when I got to Onnit, when I started working here, but looking at all the things I just kept saying yes, let me learn; learn new skills, gain new experiences, and then it’s going to open up the door to maybe new potential. As we look at building your platform learning what you don’t like is just as important as learning what you do like. Even for gyms; you might love the fitness industry, you might love coaching clients, but if you don’t want to be married to a facility and you want to be able to travel when and where you want, owning a gym is not your friend. If you want to be able to take off Ibiza because you want to and make money to go do it, well, maybe online is probably a better solution for you than owning a brick and mortar facility, right?
Sam: Did I hit a button there?
Angelo: It’s possible. I just want to say it’s possible, it’s just going to take you much longer to get to that place if you have a brick and mortar. That’s the thing. If you have an online program you could get it rocking in 12 to 18 months, if you want to leave brick and mortar you are looking at 5 to 6 years, most likely, something around that area.
Sam: Really realizing Onnit is building this platform for me out where I went from being a nobody in the fitness industry with no leverage—sure I did well as a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness; I could sell sessions, I could train people, and it was fine, but I didn’t have a leverage-able name that people were calling me to ask advice or ask to speak in front of the room, or coach a workshop, or have athletes hit me up. None of that was happening. So, oh, Onnit is providing me opportunities that I could have created on my own, but it sped the process up 10 fold. Even for me to travel like I did this year, I couldn’t have afforded to travel like I did this year on my own dime, but Onnit created the story for me to able to do it, and I brought in immense value to Onnit through it.
It definitely positioned me as an authority in the market, so every time I travel for instance, I’ll tag flight 01, or flight 5, or flight 36, of flight whatever, not because I need the validation of people who are like, ‘oh my god, your job is so cool’, but because it starts telling a story when someone introduces me to someone else they are like, ‘oh my god, this dude travels like nobody’s business.
He is on every side of the country, every which way, hanging out with all the influential people that I follow’, that’s the story that they are seeing. Like, hey, you want to play in this space that I do? You are going to have to keep up with my cadence. That’s letting people know, hey, if you don’t know me I work hard, and I work at a cadence that’s really hard for a lot of people to keep up with, so before you sit and judge, ‘of course he’s got this because he works at Onnit’, no, you are going to look real quickly and realize I put the work in to have the freedom that I have, and the vision that I do have. Probably when I started getting asked to speak more and realizing that even after helping run a seminar people are asking to take pictures with me, not just with the other instructor.
I’m really watching myself go from I’m a nobody to slowly being in front of the room, and that’s building my platform. To be honest I was like, I’m going to start Fitness Break Room with the idea that this is going to be in a few years, I’ll just keep doing this podcast because I have access to all these amazing fitness professionals, and I travel, and they come into Houston, that this is an easy thing, that as this gets bigger I’ll be able to brand out and then I can move to that when I’m ready to be done working at Onnit. That also taught me massive skill set in producing content. As you know, producing a podcast is not easy, a lot of work goes into it from guests—you can do all the steps and you could be a terrible interviewer.
So being able to interview people, being able to connect with people, creating a show environment that people want to be on, what’s the show even about? Do people even want to listen to it? You might want to listen to it, just because it’s a good idea to you doesn’t mean there’s a market for it to make money. If anything, like you do business coaching, especially in fitness, a lot of people want to get into it as a side hustle. Is this your hobby? Or do you expect this to be your exit strategy? Let’s get that on the table first, because if it’s your hobby we don’t need to worry about creating all these large systems, you can just do it because you enjoy it, and if you lose a client you lose a client.
Angelo: No expectations, yep.
Sam: If you were expecting to take this and match your income because you’ve got three kids and you want to be able to walk to work and have an environment for your kids to grow up in, okay, we need to look at your business very differently in terms of how you are structuring your training business, or your gym business. You can’t just charge 30 bucks an hour to your friends because you like doing it; you need to actually understand how to make money. Onnit really positioned me in a spot to highlight that I was someone in this industry. Not that I am a household name by any means, but in my very small circle I’ve got some leverage.
Angelo: Sam is a big deal, don’t let him bullshit you for a second. I am so lucky that he answers my text messages. One thing I really thought was cool Sam, I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book, have you ever read the book Surrender Experiment?
Angelo: It’s a book by Michael Singer. He’s got another book out called The Untethered Soul which is pretty popular out. To me The Untethered Soul is to get you to understand your sub consciousness. But this book, The Surrender Experiment was basically about how he built, I believe what is now known as WebMD, by basically saying yes to every opportunity and everything that came to him. It was basically just that it showed up on his doorstep and he said yes, and then it showed up on his doorstep and he said yes. I think the way you articulated that is such an amazing thing because I think people have an idea of where they want to go or what they think the process needs to be, but in reality just saying yes to everything gets you to really know what works and what doesn’t.
Sam: Yeah, I absolutely agree. Because you are going to have experiences that you hated, or people that you hated, or you do jobs that you hated. It sucks to do something you don’t want to do, but you got to do it, or learn it well enough so you can have someone else do it. But clearly if it’s a need, like I don’t want to have to scrub the toilet, but for fuck’s sake I’m going to have to learn how to scrub the toilet so I can teach someone else how to do it, or pay someone else to do it. But when you are a one-man show, one-woman show those kinds of things aren’t always an option. I’m sure there were days when you were first getting into coaching you didn’t want to coach at 5 in the morning.
Sam: Till 9pm, but you are like, if I don’t do this, no one else is going to do it, I’m not going to make the money, that means I can’t buy groceries later, that means I can’t open this facility that I want to open up etc. Everything just provides you another opportunity to look higher above the foliage. Everything that you do may not be the end result and doesn’t have to be the end result; it doesn’t have to be the perfect scenario.
Angelo: Is it ever the end result?
Sam: I think that you can achieve a level that you really enjoy and you can find a rhythm in, but that doesn’t mean that you are done growing that. But I do think that you can find a spot where like, I’m really happy with where I’m at right now and I don’t really have a desire to—let’s say you run a really profitable gym, and you live three blocks away, so you walk to work, and your kids come in every day after school to come work out, and your wife does the books or she coaches, or she helps run, or she runs it. It’s her gym, whatever. This hits all the things; we make enough money to survive and be a happy family, my kids are in an environment where they are growing and they are learning- as a parent that’s a pretty key thing for most people, my wife and I get to do something together, so we have a shared experience together, so all the buttons of why work are being hit. And I get to do it where I don’t have to commute 35 miles a day just to go to work to a job that I hate because I love the coaching.
So maybe they are like, you know what, we have a gym that does great we make money, our family is happy, sure, I could try to get a YouTube channel going, or build an Instagram following, but why? That’s just more time away from my kids.
Angelo: That’s a good point.
Sam: I think Lewis Howes says this really well in his book School of Greatness, your goals line up with your desires. He gives the example of his buddy, he is a physical therapist, and he is asking him, “hey, what do you want to do when you are done with school, with PT school?” The guy responds, “oh, I want be a physical therapist in the NFL, work on athletes.” Lewis is like, oh, okay, and then he digs him a little bit more and finally gets this guy to open up and say, “I really want to be able to have a house in the beach, pick my kids up from school, coach soccer, and have dinner with my family every night.” Lewis is like, “well, that’s the opposite of working in the NFL, that’s you on the road half the year on someone else’s schedule. Sure you make money, you might have the house on the beach but you are not going to pick up your kids from school etc. so do your goals line up with your desires?”
I think really from platforms, to jobs, to career, I think what we really need to do is we need to identify what makes us happy, and how do we find happiness and how do we find success? Success doesn’t need to be a promotion, it doesn’t need to be monetary; success is a mindset that you feel happy and you feel complete in what you’ve done. My parents for example; my dad worked at a paper mill, my mom worked at a church and they weren’t career-driven, so by the time they got married when they were 18 and 19 they were unfortunate and they had a lot of some hard times trying to conceive a child, so I was able to be adopted. Before they adopted me their lost their house to [inaudible 00:58:13], they had 7 miscarriages, and a stillbirth.
They went through his fucking journey of just trying to have a family because their goal and their desire was to have a house that they proud of with land that my dad could grow a garden on, and my mom could have a garden on, and to have a child that they loved and got to watch them grow up. That was their goal. By the time they adopted me they were in their early 30s, well, I’m 32. My dad and I will talk and he is like, “sometimes it’s harder to connect with you because when I was your age we’d already been trying to have a kid for 10 years and we’d already lost one house to the mountain”. They were on their 5th house; the one that we live in now is their 5th house. “We’d gone through so much stuff, and the goal was to always have you, to have a kid; to go to baseball practice, to cook dinner at night.” That was their goal and desire, whereas mine has been; chase my career, grow my career, whatever that means.
Ask me a couple of years ago that might have been a title, that might have been a specific freedom, or a specific aspect of my job I get to do. Now as I’ve gotten older it’s not the money, because I don’t care about the comma like I said, on my salary, but, the money does represent the freedom, as we get back to that, of being able to do the things that I want to do that make me happy. So if I want to take off and go to Europe with you I can, if I want to buy this couch I can, I want to go out to eat I can. That’s what I want, because I want to gather experiences. My biggest regret in life is not studying abroad in college, because, when else are you going to live in France for 6 months and you are taking French, French cooking and wine making?
Your teacher doesn’t care that you are there, they don’t want to be there; they are there to travel, you are there to travel. You are 19, 20, or 21 years old living in France without really any really responsibilities. Like damn, that would have been such a cool experience. Sure, I could go do that now, but who you are when you are 19, and the things you have to worry about when you are 19 is different than when you are 30.
Angelo: I think that that’s the point; you’ve evolved these last few years, and now you are ready to want different things, and different things matter to you. I think that’s what’s really important too about this conversation for people to understand is; what you want now you may not want forever and that’s okay.
Sam: Absolutely, absolutely. But when you look back—I hate the studying abroad thing is, I hate having regret. I hate the idea that, I wonder what if, what would I have done? And now I’m really happy with where I am at in life and I wouldn’t want to change anything, because I truly believe that every single person, every single interaction with that person, every experience, everything that you do changes who you are forever. You and I have had countless conversations both in person, Skype and text, and I feel like every single time that you and I converse I’m now a different, a better human than I was before. It’s one of those things where it’s like, sure, I may not be monumental, like my parent died with every interaction, but we are all about habits.
Our decision making happens off of what past experiences have taught us is right and wrong. Let’s say relationships. If you are someone that every time you let someone get close to you they’ve hurt you, you are not going to let people in, are you? Every single good interaction has that same effect, so every single positive interaction I have whether it’s with Angelo or someone else; oh man, that got me really fired up, I’m really amped about things. I was always this; ah man, I don’t want to find myself in a spot where I have to make concessions for the things that I might want to do in my life. For the lack of trying to be polished, let’s say dating; my time in Houston I haven’t dated a whole lot. I got down here at 28, I put my head down, I was partying too much in Portland, and I wanted to get my career on track.
So I made a very conscious effort that I wasn’t down here to go out a bunch. I’ve gone out, and I’ll hang out, I’ve dated, but that wasn’t the goal. I don’t want to look back on my life where I slept with all these people, women, and I drink all this alcohol, and I had all these nights at the bar, all I can say, well, I travelled around the world, I read all these books, I met these amazing people, now my career is here, not here. That’s what I want to look back on and say I did. Now looking back, this experience in Houston, not only was I able to level up exponentially gaining skills that I never I thought would have been in, learning not only just fitness, but the way the world works and how people interact and who I am as a man, and then on top of that building out a brand or building out a platform for myself to now launch me into my next evolution.
I just accepted a new position with a company called TrueCoach, and they are an online app that allows coaches to coach people remotely online and in a scalable way that’s not just Microsoft Excel and emails. I met Casey, the founder of now TrueCoach; it was called FitBot in 2015 sitting next to Angelo at the Barbell Business Mastermind which makes that really special in that he was a part of the evolution. I am coming on as the VP of brand overseeing everything from the content strategy to the brand voice, to our forward facing persona in the market and what our strategies are to touch more audience and gain new customer acquisition.
I wouldn’t have gotten that a) had I not moved to Houston, b) had I not gone through the evolution I did at Onnit to become a personality inside of fitness, to teach education, to train professional athletes, to be in front of the room speaking and to produce a podcast. I post on Instagram, not because I care about being an Instagram celebrity, but it’s also been really good practice for me to learn how to shoot content which is how people digest information, and then the podcast. All of a sudden all these skills that I had learned out throughout my 3½ years at Onnit, and 4 years in Houston is what opened up this opportunity for me to take this position as the VP of brand.
I went to school for ‘business’, and I found myself in fitness, and now 10 years into the workforce I’m now finding myself accepting a new position with a tech startup that is doing really well as an executive in the marketing space without having had a traditional role in marketing, ever.
But not because I’m not smart when it comes to marketing, but because I went through and learned a different set of skills first and then learned the necessary skills in marketing that are applicable now through this other shared experience of fitness. But at the end of the day really I learned about building funnels, building out a brand, messaging, content, it’s all the same; I don’t care if it’s Coca Cola, or if it’s, Nike, or it’s a fitness brand, a tech brand. The game didn’t change; the delivery of who you are talking to changes. It’s really interesting as we get back to the whole concept of what did all these experiences and what did all these skills and saying yes lead to? But I didn’t expect to ever be in an executive marketing opportunity. I never expected to be in a brand type of role. When I moved to Houston I didn’t see that coming.
Even when I’m working at Onnit teaching seminars and whatnot, that was like, oh that’s where I’m trying to get to, but at the same time I had the mindset of like, hey, just go out and gather experience and learn, and keep saying yes to things and something will pop up. Understanding I got to build out my equity, I got to build out my platform first, now when this opportunity does come up, holy shit, now it’s in a very different opportunity than I would have ever guessed. So when you want to cash in your chips, I didn’t even go all in. I’ve been playing with house money the last three years; built up enough money, and I’m going to now move up to the high rollers table, but I walked in the door with 5 bucks.
Now it’s wow, I was able to build out this opportunity to get to this point and even—sorry Casey and Robbie, maybe TrueCoach isn’t my long term forever either. I think that anybody would be foolish to think that at this day and age anybody works anywhere forever, and if I do, awesome. I hope that I grow at the same rate that TrueCoach grows, that my skillset grows, that I can continue adding value at the same level today that I would 10 years from now. I think that’s really where we have to have an assessment around; I’m I the person that’s really going to take us from being an 8-person company to 100-person company? Maybe, but I’ve never run 100-person company right before. I’m I qualified to do it? Maybe, and I might gain the skill set to do it, but right now I don’t have it, so I need to gather that so that way when I do it I have the opportunity to learn in an environment where I’m also getting paid. You can learn all these lessons that I learned from being at Onnit, you can definitely learn on your own, can’t you Angelo?
Sam: It’s just painful.
Angelo: That’s what I was going to ask you; do you feel like a lot of stuff is out there about “the grind or the hustle” and all that stuff, and I do agree with it to a certain aspect, but do you feel like is the buy end for two to three years for someone trying to really grow and develop, like you almost have to just be okay with having this “almost lopsided life” to really gain the experience and almost do it in a way where because of the volume that you are experiencing you adapt to it faster?
Sam: I will say this, and I’m going to quote my friend Angelo Sisco on the Fitness Break Room podcast, “you can only ran on passion for two years, after that it’s time to get paid”.
Angelo: Got it.
Sam: Yes, you are going to go through a lopsided experience; fail fast, learn fast versus are you going to hire someone that went to Harvard and got a job with Goldman Sachs because dad’s the VP, and then got the house in the Hamptons, and has the perfect 10 model, and has never experienced any adversity, are they going to be a great employee for you?
Sam: Maybe, but probably not, because they’ve never had to go through any turmoil, so they don’t have that to share. So when shit hits the fan how are they going to respond? I don’t expect everybody to be proud, people are murderous about how many hours they work, ‘I work 90 hours a week,’ I’m like, well, it either shows me that you are probably inefficient with your time, be that self-proclaimed, it’s not a badge of honor to say you work that much.
Angelo: I want to work as little as possible and make as much money as possible.
Sam: That’s it right there.
Angelo: I want to work three hours a day forever.
Sam: If you love working all the time, awesome, do it because you love it, but don’t sit here and then expect people to celebrate you just because you worked hard. Now that doesn’t mean that I won’t check someone if they are like, ‘I just don’t have time to shoot content,’ and I’m like, you work 20 hours a week in the gym, is that the argument you want to go with with me? You want to tell me that you don’t have time? Cool, let run you down my day, and they are like, oh shit. I have in efficiencies in my day, I’m not perfect. Mark Fisher I love you to death, but if I want to feel bad about my productivity I go talk to Mark Fisher, because that dude is a machine; reading four books a week, running a multi-million dollar business, speaking all over the world, and he just crashes and has a great balance to it. He is equal work hard-play hard kind of guy.
I think you do need to go through the trials and the tribulations because that’s what shapes your character, but you don’t have to get your ass beat. It’s okay to win the lottery, it’s okay to win, because maybe you experienced your trials through a different means. The business itself doesn’t have to fail in order for you to be successful, maybe you experienced what that was like before; maybe you learned tenacity and strength, and will power through a bad relationship, a poor relationship with a loved one. Maybe your parents disowned you; maybe that’s where you learned it from. You don’t have to have the business world teach you that, but you learned it somehow. Maybe you put your investment on the front end that you already went through your shit. But I’d be really hesitant to find someone that hasn’t gone through something, you know what I mean?
Sam: It doesn’t have to be that lopsided, but at the same time I do hope that someone has gone through something, then that gives them the opportunity because that shapes how they are going to articulate that to others going forward. You don’t know when your platform is ready for you to launch, but you do need to have a good relationship with yourself to look at; what I’m I really trying to do? What’s the world like out there? If you are in a toxic environment and you really do hate who you with, like maybe you are a coach at a gym and you just really hate your ownership and they don’t let you do anything, and maybe the owners are bad, that’s fine, there’s bad owners out there. You quit and everybody is telling you, ‘don’t go out there in the market it’s scary, you don’t know if you are going to have clients, yada yada’. Hey, you might supersede all that and win, you might go out there and kick some ass, but you can’t celebrate that and not honor the fact that it could have gone the other way very easily, right?
Sam: At the same time as we are building out this platform and we are building out this brand and finding what you truly love, or finding a new opportunity, or gaining a new opportunity, you are saying yes, not all of it is going to go well, you are going to have to eat some shit in order to eat some candy, and it comes in different flavors. It might be really subtle, it might be really drastic, rock bottom is very different for every single person. Or maybe they didn’t need that much of a lesson to find out where they needed to go next.
Angelo: That’s a good question, I hate to cut you off, but do you think that that lesson has to come—I feel like for me, all my great lessons have come like knockout punches because I couldn’t hear the jabs, or feel the jabs, do you think that that’s necessary? Do you feel like, man, it could come in subtle ways if people are really in tune to it?
Sam: I think if you are in tune to it, and you can adjust on the fly, and you are willing to make change then I think a couple of jabs can do it. But there are two things that people fear: things that change and things that stay the same.
Angelo: It’s a good point.
Sam: For a lot of people maybe they are so resistant to change that until they get a big haymaker across the jaw they are like, oh, okay. But some people are like, oh my gosh, that little disruption in their life is what taught them everything that they needed to do to get out. You are a little boy that grew up in Chicago, so I’m imagining you’ve been punched in the face before.
Sam: How you respond to getting punched in the face teaches you a lot about who you are.
Sam: If you don’t like getting punched in the face, don’t talk shit, you need to know right now you can’t be that person, right?
Angelo: No doubt.
Sam: Because this could be in a real bad environment for you real quick, but if you are someone a couple of hits in the jaws will kind of get you going maybe ruffle some feathers, get out there, do it. I’m not saying be a dick, but I’m saying Mark Zuckerberg ruffled some feathers building out Facebook, it wasn’t an easy journey for him.
I’m not saying he had to take a punch in the chin to do it. Barry’s Bootcamp was unique when it first came out, and now you look at Treadmill Fitness and Circuit training and now it’s the thing. CrossFit was weird when it first came out, it took some leaks, it still takes a leak, all the time. Onnit takes leaks. You don’t think that major league baseball pitchers don’t take leaks? Sure, they are getting paid 25 million dollars a year to throw a baseball, and you don’t think that they are getting eaten alive by their fans because they had a bad day? They are taking leaks. Dude, you are a baseball fan, you like baseball? Is it really hard to throw a strike? Yeah. Cool, the hitters are really good at this level called the major league baseball level, and it’s really hard to be really good, so maybe talking shit isn’t—you know what I mean?
Sam: Everybody’s going to take some shit, I think it depends now where you are at in your life that determines whether you are needing a jab or you need a haymaker. I needed a haymaker. I needed to get fired from an action sports company to come back and become a trainer, and then I needed to go through being a trainer, kind of playing around in the space—I needed to have a couple of wins. You can’t just have all haymakers and getting beat down and not have a couple of wins; you’ve got to have a little bit, you’ve got to find some happiness.
Training was like, okay, I found a rhythm I kind of got going, and then it wasn’t enough. So then I packed my bags and moved to Texas. There were some unhappy times here in Texas. There were some really happy times here in Texas. But it took big haymakers for me to be like, holy shit, okay, this is a different direction. But now you take enough hits, now you don’t need big hits like that to change your perspective, now you are a little bit more open to that jab, aren’t you?
Sam: It just depends on the person. Some people need more of it than others but the life lessons they come in multiple waves. I think that you just have to be comfortable enough in your own skin to look up after getting hit and say, alright, let me self-assess where I’m at and what do I need. Do I not like my situation because I don’t make enough money? Okay, well, what can I do to alleviate that; could I cut down some of my expense? For sure. Can I cut down of the experiences I’m doing? For sure. Do I need all these things? No. If you want to make it work you’ll make it work, but if you are finding like I’m not willing to do those things, well, it’s okay to be not willing to want to make those changes of your lifestyle then you better go and figure out something else to do.
If you want to live that current lifestyle and you want to be able to buy nice handbags and go out to nice dinners but you make 40k a year then be willing to go out and serve tables or be a bartender, or whatever it is, or start a side business and be willing to work a lot of weekends knowing that that is what’s going to allow you to do the thing that you want to do, and that’s go out to nice dinners and buy nice handbags, or buy nice shoes; whatever that might be. You can’t have both, you can’t have all the success and all the wins and not take the leaks, and just the same, you can’t take all the leaks and not have any success because then you won’t want to keep going. They kind of go hand in hand. Each person is super different.
Angelo: What about for you when you got this opportunity from TrueCoach, how did you know that it felt right for you much like you just walked in Onnit and you became employee 42?
Sam: It was a combination of a lot of things; July I was probably as high in Onnit in my job as I ever was, of this year, July 2018. July and August I was living the high life, I was like, man- this is awesome. Then September energy changed, I’m like, we are getting a little bit more corporate around here, accounting is questioning why I had an Uber and a rental car at the same time. That’s what you want to hammer me on? I’ve brought in so much value to this company and that’s the thing that you are going to choose to hit me with? I’m okay with it, I can answer to it, but that puts a poor taste in my mouth.
That’s September, I’m Toronto, and I’m hanging out with my good buddy John Goodman who runs the Personal Trainer Development Center and then the Online Trainer Academy, and he makes a comment about salary, and I was like, “I don’t make that”. He is lie, “what? Really, I can pay you that right now, come join me”. I was like, “I’m not really interested, I really love what I have going on at Onnit. I love the freedom, I love my opportunities. Everything that I want from a job right now is coming from Onnit, but I really appreciate it.” He is like, “yeah okay, cool whatever.” I wasn’t really entertaining it, but at the same time I was seeing some negative things in the wall, like my role at Onnit, where do I see my next level of growth.
I may not have to have a clear path right away, but I do need to start clearing a path for myself to see what the next role is. I’m okay running into a forest blindfolded in the dark, but I do need to take that blindfold off at some point so I can at least start seeing the line that I want to run.
I’m not risk adverse at all, I’ll take a risk. I’m always the type like, I don’t need a job, I can go get a job anywhere. If I really want to go back, if I was struggling and I got fired today I can go be a trainer at Equinox, I could fly to Chicago and I know you’d hire me. I know I can go up to New York and go train at Mark Fisher’s. I’d get hired.
Sam: That allows me the opportunity that I never have to worry about having a job. Whereas I know that’s not everybody’s concern, I realize that’s not everybody’s lifestyle either, their persona, that’s my persona. It did make me start thinking, should I maybe pursue one of these offers that I’ve had along the way or people have talked to me about? Like, ‘we’d love for you to come work here’, and I usually just laugh it off so it never goes anywhere, but it got me thinking a little bit. Then I’m sitting in my desk or standing at my desk, I guess I should say, and I get an email from Casey Jenks.
It’s, “Hey man, I hope you are doing really well. I know you’ve got a big old fitness network and maybe you know someone that would be a good fit for us. We are looking for someone that’s super comfortable on camera, can talk training and can talk business, has the ability to travel, and has a big fitness network.” I’m like, yeah, okay, that didn’t just describe me to a T, but cool. I’m like, “hey, let’s just jump on the phone, let’s talk about it so I understand better what you are looking for then I can at least give you a better candidate if I do have someone.” He is like, “for sure, cool.”
So we jump on and we start chatting and I give my opinion on the role, what he should be looking for, what he is doing, and I’m just like, look man, I’m really happy here—whether he was looking at me or not, I’m like, man, I wish I could do this, I was really happy and just not in that space. He is like, “yeah, for sure.” I said, “you should talk to Marcus [inaudible 1:22:10], because Marcus might know someone or having a gym that he might have someone that would be great for this space. He’s got a network and that might be a sport for you to talk to as well.” He is like, “that’s cool, I’ve got a call with Marcus tomorrow.” I was like, really cool, that’s great.
The next day I get a call from Marcus and calls me and is like, “hey man, I just got off the phone with Casey, and all we did was talk about you.” He is like, “I think this would be a really wise decision for you to explore this, or at least have a conversation about it.” I was like, “alright, cool.” So we jump on the phone and we talk a little bit more pointed about me in the role, what I thought about the role, not my assessment of it. Whether he says this or not, whether he was fishing to see if I was interested without trying to poach me out or not, it led us down this path. With Marcus it was like, “you should explore this and check this out.” I was like, “okay.”
So I jump on the phone, we talked with Casey, and then Robbie, his co-founder and partner who was more on the marketing side, we jump on and we chat, and we connected really well, and that’s who I would be reporting to. He is the CMO and more on the marketing vertical. So we were like, okay, this is going somewhere. I’m really excited to learn more about this, but I’m not eager to leave by any means. I’m trying to paint that picture, which is very true. I have a great scenario here at Onnit, I don’t need to leave. I’m definitely willing to have a conversation, it would be foolish at this point to not.
So we went up to the board and I presented my 2019 campaign for TrueCoach and what I think that they should be doing and what direction we should be moving in. That resonated clearly with the vision they had for the brand, but I was also very clear, I’m like, “look, I’m employee number 8; we are friends at the same time. Even if you don’t hire me I want you to find someone, I want you to succeed, and this hire is super important. If you are going to be giving someone this much control over your brand, at the end of the day Robbie, Casey, this is your company, this is your baby, so we are going to have things that we disagree on, so we have to be able to talk it out. I’m not coming here because I need a job; I’m coming here because I want to join something that’s going to do something great. For me I can go get a job at another company, I need to be able to do this. If we can’t get along in this capacity this isn’t going to work ever.”
We really hit on that. I was like, I’m not going to say yes to a job just strictly to have a job because the wrong hire when you are an 8-person company can be detrimental.
Angelo: For sure.
Sam: As a small business, hiring is the most expensive thing you can do; fire fast, hire slow as they say, hire off competence and character, not just off of what they do. I told him, “look, you might find someone who’s really good at the marketing element of this job, the content piece of it, but they may not have the fitness background, or the network.
Or you might have someone who does the fitness stuff and has the network but doesn’t know how to shoot content. Or maybe they do both, but they are going to want to go in-house somewhere when they already have a good thing going, because clearly it’s working for them. So you are looking for someone that’s in a weird spot in their career to be able to have all these things.” Finally after, probably a good month of conversations around this job they presented me with the opportunity to come on board and be the VP of brand, and oversee the content strategy, and the brand strategy, and the voice going forward.
I was like, wow, this is the step that I never saw coming, but all the things that I think I want, I want to put my stamp on something, that’s my ego coming out. Sure I love Onnit, I love working for John Wolfe, and I love being here at Onnit, but I’m executing Onnit, I’m executing John’s vision. I get to step into this role. Sure I didn’t create TrueCoach, but from start to finish it will be mine, if it fails it’s because of me. If it succeeds it’s because of me on this element of the business. That was really exciting to think about, like wow, look at the skills you are going to gain from this, look at the experience you are going to get to gain from this, and look what it took to get here.
All these things like how resistant I was too be in the fitness industry and wanting to even be in it, kept trying to get out, now just opened up a door for me to get a job that I feel very comfortable taking from an ego standpoint, being able to say I’m a VP at a fitness tech company feeds my ego.
Sam: I’d be lying if it didn’t. If I want to feel validated that I made it, I made it, or anything that I may or may not lie about the way things are going on at Onnit, whether it’s the direction of something going, or the way we spend money, or whatever it is, that’s validated, because now it’s my show. It literally took away everything if I wanted to complain about something, it took it all away, every single button. Being able to step into an 8-person company and get to buy into ownership, which was key, being able to get a salary that I feel respected and validated that I’m getting paid what I’m worth, that got hit, being trusted, to execute a plan that someone else believes in, that’s what I bring to the table that no one else can do, that feels really good. I was a recruiter for a little bit in the tech space, to be recruited, holy shit, that was a really cool feeling.
Angelo: You were drafted.
Sam: Right. Because I had a hard time going away, I’m I leaving anything on the table? So I called Angelo, I called Marcus, I called Mark Fisher, I called John Wolfe, I’m calling all my mentors and talking to them like, ‘hey, I’m I leaving anything on the table?’ I don’t want to make any decision off of equity or money, because that’s not why I’m here. Sure, we’d all like to make more money, let’s just put that on the table for every job across the board; everybody wants to make more money. So take that out of the equation entirely. If you were able to hit the number on the money spot for you, would you still be happy with what you are doing? I think that’s the key thing.
Being able to come in and like, wow, I was so valued so much that they went after me, and they went through and they called references, they called people to figure out if I was the guy. They called you, they called John Wolfe, they called Marcus, they called Tony- owner of the gym back home. It feels so good for me when he is asking for references, I was like, ‘you are asking the networking guy for references?’ How would I not paint a picture that I’m a rock star?’ It was just such a unique spot, I had to sit back and really go, all these; selling membership to 24 Hour Fitness, going and getting fired form an actions sports company, going back to 24 Hour Fitness and becoming a trainer, moving to Houston on a whim, fighting being in the fitness industry, getting into the fitness industry, working 40 weekends a year for the last three years, traveling all the time, not dating the way I’d want to date, or going and traveling the way I want to travel for personal reasons, all of that, all that shit I got hit with, and all the cool things I got hit with, all led to this.
As emotional standpoint to the job itself, you can hear the cadence in my voice change already in just the way I talk about it.
It’s like, holy shit, I’m so excited to step into this realm and be a part of this, because it hit all the markers that I needed to hit, so now I have the emotional freedom to just step in and go fucking kick ass. That I think is really powerful that I don’t think people really give themselves enough credit for, that they give themselves freedom to be happy which opens up the space for them to go work harder, maybe not even more, just working harder or smarter, or more effectively, or maybe they are actually, you know what, we are so resistant to this, but I’m really happy doing this. Maybe I’m moonlighting as a stripper, I don’t know, but if you are happy doing it, be happy doing it and let yourself be happy doing it. But until you find whatever that magic special sauce scenario of portion that you are making just to get to where you are I hope that everybody finds an opportunity. I’m 32; I’m far from being done working.
Sam: But in my head when I’m here at Onnit I’m trying to figure out as I’m trying to peel my blindfold off, to go back to that reference running through the trees, I’m like, where is my career going? What I’m I trying to do? What I’m I going to do? At the time I thought that Fitness Break Room was my exit strategy, that was like, by the time I’m done working at Onnit I’ll just move into my own thing and here we go. So I wasn’t really prepared to want to go work for someone else again. I didn’t think that I was going to be in that space, but it’s funny because all the initiatives that I wanted to complete with Fitness Break Room I can now do through TrueCoach.
That’s kind of a wild experience to think wow, my foresight to that, sure, it’s what I wanted to do, and it’s not the way I’m going to do it but it’s going to get done better because I have a team now. It’s not just [inaudible 1:31:52] and I, or whatever it is. I think that if anything gaining all these experiences and going through all these different scenarios really opened up my potential to be happy with where I’m at and it also created the space for me to learn the skills that are necessary for me to do my next evolution, and that’s my next platform. TrueCoach is my next platform. I used Onnit to build the platform for me to get to TrueCoach. TrueCoach is going to build the platform for me to get to wherever it is. When we speak about platforms let’s look at it from levels that you guys all might know; The Rock used the WWE to become one of the highest paid actors of all time.
Sam: Justin Timberlake used NSYNC to become an actor, and then a solo musician. Let’s see, Jimmy Fallon used SNL to become the host of The Tonight Show and an actor. I think that we are going to see LeBron James use the NBA to become the greatest philanthropist this world has ever seen, and I’ll tell you why; when you look at LeBron, the one thing that was knocked in him, no one’s ever questioned how great of an athlete he was. People might question how good of a basketball player he was if he is better than Jordan etc. but no one ever questioned whether he was good an athlete. He has won a championship, so you can’t knock him for not being in championships, sure, whether he wins as many as Jordan whatever, whatever.
It’s one of those things where he was able to win and he got that taken care of and he built that school that’s free education for all those kids. If you wanted to win just take less money and build a better team around you, because he kept getting paid; he’s getting paid by Nike, he’s getting paid by the NBA, and then he built that school, and I’m like, holy shit, he is going to become the greatest philanthropist we’ve ever seen. All that money he’s made and the platform that he’s built you are going to see LeBron have massive population control on social influence for not even being a politician. But he is going to have that much control because he has the heartstrings of all those people.
All this being said, I know this is really jumbled and sporadic, but becoming a yes person don’t just say yes to everything, but at the same time be willing to go through an experience; learn about yourself, learn about other people, gain a new experience, learn a new skill. Whether you do anything with that skill or not you still leaned something that changed the way you see the world. Put yourself in an opportunity where you have to eat some shit a little bit and yet learn some lessons in life, hard life lessons, and that might open up doors for you to become more successful in other avenues. Be a really good person. Always be willing to help someone else out. If you guys haven’t read Adam Grant’s Give and Take, I’m reading it right now, and I’ve never read something that resonates more with the way I deal with relationships than this guy’s book right now.
I’m sure Angelo can tell you as well, if I do one thing really, really well, it’s to connect with people in a really large capacity and have a massive role rolodex that people trust me with.
Angelo: For sure.
Sam: I don’t care if Angelo and I ever exchanged money together doing business, but I tell you what, I value the fuck out of his friendship and who he is as a man, and his guidance, and then maybe he introduces me to someone else that I do a massive business deal with, but all that from being a good person. But through that you have to be willing to look up and realize, wow, let’s look at what I’ve done, I’ve been through some shit over the years and I’m still standing. Man, look at all the cool things I’ve learned over the year. Then what’s in front of me? What can I really do? Don’t think in absolute sense this job has to be the end or be a goal, don’t think that this person has to be the end or be a person in your life.
Even from a romantic relationship, that person may not be who you are going to marry, but that person is going to change you forever and you are going to have some shared experiences together that you are not going to be able to have with anybody else. Whether it goes anywhere or not, I truly believe, if her and I are dating, sure we may not go the distance, but damn, we are way better people now because of each other and being in each other’s lives than we would have. Even if it ended ugly, we still were able to share that with each other. So be able to look at the people that you are around and touch more people, and share those experiences, say yes to more things, other new skill sets. Then if you have the opportunity to look up you might have an opportunity to step into a role or an opportunity, or an experience that changes your life forever, and I haven’t even started this damn job yet and I’m so excited about it.
I’m still in Houston. I’m Houston till February when I move. It’s like, man, I’m so pumped, messaging them, “hey, send me my computers, get me my Slack login, give me my email now”, because I’m that excited. I hope that everybody has an opportunity to find something like this and to be able to be in a position where they can find something that really hits them and resonates with them and makes them happy. But understand, if you haven’t felt it yet maybe it’s there, you just have to be willing to look a little harder, and you need to go out and experience something newer, connect with someone new, and that’s what’s going to open your eyes. Got get punched in the jaw, maybe not figuratively or literally, but figuratively go get punched in the jaw and see what happens. You might see the world in a very different space.
I think at the end of the day being willing to just go experience things will open up doors for people that they never thought imaginable. I never thought that I would be in the fitness environment, I never thought I would be in the fitness tech environment, or in the marketing realm, I never thought I would be training a Cy Young Award winning pitcher, and then going to music festivals, and traveling the world. When I look back on 2018, wow, I never would have thought I would have 67 flights in one year traveling and meeting some of the most amazing people in my life, having one of the craziest years of all time, but tell you what, it led down a great path and I’m super pumped to be here for it. Hopefully, everybody else got a chance to highlight that experiences worth that, and that’s going to open up doors for everybody.
Angelo: Sam, I love it. I love how you tied all that up too. Thank you so much for sharing this new evolution of you, and I’m super excited for the world to hear about it, or just the Alpha Hippie tribe to listen about it. Good luck and I know that you are going to kick ass. You are the best.
Sam: Thanks brother. Have a great day.
Angelo: You too.