Watching each other’s backs. When a family member is having a personal problem or crisis, it’s important that the other members lean in and help. I had gotten sick with Vertigo and couldn’t get out of bed. My kids didn’t miss a beat, and just took over the projects I was working on.
As a part of our series about 5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Zanker.
Bill Zanker is the co-founder and President of GRIT BXNG and GRIT EPIQ. Zanker is an American businessman best known for being the founder of the adult education company, The Learning Annex. Bill is an active angel investor in consumer start ups and has had several successful exits.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your family business and your role in it?
We built GRIT BXNG, a 50 minute full-body boxing, treadmill and weight boutique fitness studio as a family. GRIT BXNG is the first fitness studio with a full liquor bar. We believe in the work hard, play hard mentality. I’m the CEO, and co-founded GRIT with my son and daughter.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
We weren’t sure if a liquor bar in a studio would work. When we were first opening we were hesitant to include it in a lot of our marketing materials, or to push it too heavily on social media. We thought we would get backlash. But the most interesting thing was how many people actually ended up loving to drink after a workout. Clients don’t even waste time changing out of their workout gear after they finish their workout, they stay sweaty at the bar and order healthy cocktails and mocktails. People have ended up forming relationships, meeting their boyfriend or girlfriend at GRIT or their best friend.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we first were opening GRIT we decided to get a puppy, a boxer, to be the mascot of our gym. Our boxer would hang out at GRIT all day, and would pee all over the gym. We would have clients running up the stairs to tell us that our boxer peed in the men’s bathroom again. The mistake of getting a puppy mascot actually ended up being one of our best marketing decisions. All around the city everyone knew to come to GRIT to see GRITTY the cute puppy boxer.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We built GRIT because my daughter Ediva moved to NYC and loves working out. She couldn’t find a gym or studio where she could meet people. We thought to ourselves, “where do people hang out?” We all said a bar. So, we put a full liquor bar in GRIT for people to hang and meet their trainer and other like-minded people. It was the first time that anyone put a liquor bar into a fitness studio.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
During the pandemic, when GRIT was closed, we bought all the at home equipment devices like Peloton, Tonal, MIRROR, Liteboxer. etc. We thought they were a decent workout but there was none of the social experience we built at GRIT BXNG. So, we contacted our friend Eric Villency who designed the Peloton bike and asked him to build a total gym with AI for form correction and a great social experience. It’s called the GRIT EPIQ and comes out in 2022.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mentor and investor is Tony Robbins. I’ve been promoting him for over 40 years. Whenever I have been down and have those negative thoughts, I do some exercises that Tony has taught me over the years. Whether it’s changing my “state” by jumping on a trampoline, or taking a class at GRIT.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Through my first business called The Learning Annex, a education company. I’ve taught over 2 million students at The Learning Annex how to improve their lives, make changes, and take action.
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main parts of our interview. How do you define a family business? How is a family business different from a regular business?
A family business has all the benefits that you can instantly trust your family members. That doesn’t mean they will always do everything right, but you know that because they are family, they are committed to everybody’s success.
In your opinion or experience, what are the unique advantages that family owned businesses have?
You know everything about your family member.
What are the unique drawbacks or blindspots that family owned businesses have?
You know everything about your family member.
What are some of the common mistakes you have seen family businesses make? What would you recommend to avoid those errors?
It is very important to make sure that issues family members have from years ago are not brought into the business. Wrong decisions can be made because of things that happened in the past, unrelated to a smart business decision.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders of family businesses to help their employees to thrive?
Hold family members even more accountable than employees. This allows other employees to shine.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean with a story or example?
I treat my grown children as equal partners but I’m the CEO and make final decisions after consulting with them. And I try to listen very carefully to them. When we were building the curriculum for GRIT BXNG, I had a strong opinion that we needed a strong finish…a lightning round. They felt it was too much moving around from our three stations. I disagreed and went with my gut. And it ended up being our most popular part of the workout.
Here is our main question. What are the “5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Patience. It takes time for each family member to find their role. In the beginning we were all doing everything together.
- Trust. Instinctively you know that you can trust your family but as each person succeeds in what they are doing, you appreciate their expertise.
- Veto Power. Every family member has the ability to veto any idea or project. But that veto power has to be used sparingly. There was a logo our design team presented to us that I wanted to go with. My kids hated it, and vetoed it. They were ultimately right.
- Watching each other’s backs. When a family member is having a personal problem or crisis, it’s important that the other members lean in and help. I had gotten sick with Vertigo and couldn’t get out of bed. My kids didn’t miss a beat, and just took over the projects I was working on.
- Cheerlead. Always recognize and appreciate accomplishments that each family member does. Whenever someone does something right, we each verbally acknowledge it. We sometimes celebrate at our GRIT BAR with a nice bottle of champagne.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” — Tony Robbins
I am so grateful to my kids that I have the opportunity and the blessing to work with them. I sometimes sit back and take them in, and I feel this love go through my entire body.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Ian Schrager from Studio 54. He’s now building great, interesting hotels etc. I think he would really get what we are doing at GRIT BXNG. Exer-tainment. And could help us take it to the next level. I am such a fan of his.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
By making working out fun, we can help make the world a healthier place.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.