Year One: On-the-Job Training

“Please, dear Lord, don’t let me f*** up.”
 — Alan Shepard, first American in space, seconds before liftoff

I got a lot of nice notes on my blog a few weeks ago about making the decision to start CrossFit Kent Island ten years ago, and while this is not a popularity contest, if that story proved to be powerful or helpful to some people then I wanted to keep the ball rolling with the next chapter.  I’d like to let you know what my personal experience was like, and what I was feeling as I waded through the phases of starting and operating a small business, beginning now with Day 1.  If there are any lessons that I think are worth highlighting, I’ll pull them out separately – maybe even for my own benefit as I reflect back on this in another ten years!

I wish I could say that after I made the decision to open the gym, I was super confident in the next actions that I took, and it just sailed onto greatness from there.  But the reality is, as you might imagine, I felt very humble.  Not humble by choice, mind you, but humble in the sense that I had read everything that there was to know about starting a CrossFit gym and been to several as a client, I had spoken with a couple gym owners about their experience, but I still felt very unsure of myself.  Looking back, I wish someone had told me that it was OK to feel this way, that you don’t have to be an expert right away about everything.

When we begin something new, most of the time we’ll lack the skills, knowledge, and experience to take care of even the most basic tasks.  Of course!  If we had the experience we needed, we’d already be done.  Embrace the humility of not knowing even what you don’t know, and keep taking the next courageous step.

And so we (Denee and I meeting on all these important decisions from the start) bought enough equipment so that a few people at a time could work out together, and scheduled two early morning classes and two evening classes, anticipating all the CrossFit-hungry athletes milling around Queen Anne’s County.  And it turned out there weren’t that many on Day 1 or Day 10 or Day 60, so we walked the class schedule back a bit and settled for one morning and one evening.  I don’t regret starting with more classes than we needed, but I regret even less adjusting our approach after a quick test window.  One thing that we did well right off the bat was “fail forward fast.”

We will fail, especially in the beginning.  And that’s not only OK, it’s essential.  But we must be resilient so that the first failure is not the last.  Make adjustments to the plan based on data, and push forward.

We printed t-shirts (actually before we even had a physical space) and window stickers, and handed those bad boys out like it was our marketing strategy to have human and vehicular billboards scattered throughout the neighborhood, which it was.  This might seem like just a way to save money on advertising, but it was a real strategy right from the start.  Our “product” that we wanted others to know about was our happy, fit (if constantly sore) clients.  And so we focused all of our attention on making sure that we were always:

  1. Getting people more fit
  2. Working hard together as a team
  3. Having a ton of fun
    … not necessarily in that order

If you’re getting results from a fitness program, you’re going to tell someone that asks you what you’ve been doing.
When you work hard and sweat and suffer with a team, you create the strongest bonds outside of mother and son.
When you do both, and it’s fun as hell, you’re going to feel like everyone else you know is completely missing out and they just have to get in and be part of the greatness.

So the gym was off and running!  In the first year we made it to a whopping 25 members – not exactly raking it in, and in fact we had yet to make any profit on a monthly basis.  But you can’t quantify the tightness of that group, other than to say over the next couple years we attended four CFKI weddings (one couple actually met at a gym function), and Coaches Alyssa and Jess joined us as some of our first members.

Looking forward to reminiscing on our next chapter of Growth!  Until then, train hard, have fun, and I will see you at the gym!