Always allow open communication and expression of ideas. This is particularly important in the early stages before more structural rules are in place. Diversity of ideas, and a culture of accepting differing ideas and values is crucial. Your employees will appreciate you and the company for it. People are willing to go above and beyond for a company culture that they respect and believe in.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy James, DC, CSCS.
Jeremy spent a decade helping professional and Olympic athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, and men and women from all walks of life overcome pain and get back to the sports, activities and daily life they love. Now Dr. James has teamed up with an expert in sports performance, Bill Fabrocini PT, CSCS, and world-renowned spine expert, Todd Albert MD, to build the most effective digital fitness program anywhere. Combining their expertise in the important areas of human biomechanics, sports performance, and joint and spine health, this program will safely get you in peak physical shape and feeling your best ever. In a series of easy to follow daily videos, FITFOREVER brings these exercise techniques to people of all ages and fitness levels everywhere. All you need is an internet connection and the desire to live your best life. Looking great is just a wonderful side effect. Dr. James is also the co-author of the best-selling Younger Next Year Back Book and former Director of the Aspen Club Back Institute
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was director of a destination clinic in Aspen, Colorado for over a decade. It became known as the “clinic of last resort” for chronic back and neck pain sufferers who had already tried everything else, but still lived with chronic pain. Our patients came from all over the world to spend anywhere from a few weeks to months with us, so we could teach them the behavioral changes necessary to rebuild their bodies and change habits to permanently relieve their pain. After doing this for years I wanted to find a way to offer people worldwide an inexpensive way to get the same care and instruction as the patients in my clinic. To that end I first wrote a book — The Younger Next Year Back Book — and then created our first digital program, BACKFOREVER. These were successful in helping thousands of people permanently relieve chronic back and neck pain. I then decided to turn my attention to using fitness and exercise to prevent the common causes of pain and injuries. Most of the people who visited my clinic needed our help due to a lack of exercise or poor exercise habits that could be doing more harm to their body than good. It became clear that there was a great need for a medically backed, guided fitness program for those millions of people who want to get fit in a safe, healthy way, with a focus on quality of life and injury prevention. I created FITFOREVER to do just that. FITFOREVER is a customized digital fitness program with a comprehensive self-assessment that provides users with an ongoing, progressive fitness program tailored to their goals, fitness level, access to equipment, and any preexisting injuries or conditions they may have. It creates the closest possible environment to seeing me and my team in person, and the results have been surprisingly similar.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
There were so many challenging days in the first year. Starting a company was far more difficult than I anticipated. One particular incident that comes to mind involved my sister in law’s wedding. My wife, son and I were in Australia for the wedding and it happened to coincide with the launch of our new GOLFFOREVER program. After a lot of challenges, we were delayed multiple days and the launch actually coincided with the wedding itself. That morning I was on the phone and computer all day, starting at 3 a.m. By the time we got to the wedding, multiple problems had arisen with the launch and I spent most of the wedding in a bathroom stall on my laptop. That was tough. Moral of the story: I’m incredibly grateful to have an understanding and supportive significant other! My drive to continue comes from many places: my wife, my son, my employees and my belief that we are doing something that’s going to make the world a better place for many people. I know that most people can live longer, be free of pain, and continue to do what they love in life, if they just have the right guidance for exercise and health. I remind myself that anything that’s good in life is difficult. As a healthcare provider, I know this even applies to our bodies: Exercise can be hard, yes, but it’s the key to health and longevity.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Without a doubt, that would be my initial business plan. I literally laugh out loud reading it now; I was so naive, and so optimistic. And I feel lucky that I was able to raise seed money with it, mainly because our investors saw the incredible potential and impact a business and digital program such as ours can have on the world. I’ve learned so much since then and continue to evolve every day as a CEO and leader of our growing company.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Even before COVID-19, we were a virtual company with all employees living in different cities, so we’ve always dealt with the physical distancing challenges many companies have faced since the pandemic hit. Despite that, we have been able to bond and feel more like a family than a company; a lot of it due to our collective mission and practicing what we preach. Everyone on our team is committed to bringing our products to the masses so we can truly change behavior and health on a worldwide scale. We have a company culture of elite fitness and health, and we’re committed to helping others live the same way.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The most important tip is that you MUST be passionate about your company’s mission and believe firmly in what you’re doing. Without that, burnout is highly likely. Secondly, make sure to take care of yourself, because you aren’t helping the company by putting your own health at risk. Exercise daily, eat well, spend time with family and friends whenever possible. Of course, you’re going to put in a tremendous amount of work and hours, but you have to commit to eating well and exercising every day, no matter what. Your performance at work will be dramatically improved by doing so.
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?
One of our earliest investors, Bob Hurst, is a truly remarkable man who has been a tremendous help throughout the life of our company. He also happens to be the fittest 75-year-old I’ve ever encountered. Previously a patient of mine, Bob was former Vice Chairman for Goldman Sachs and his experience and insight has been instrumental to the growth of the business. He has been incredibly supportive and giving of his time, and I’ve learned so much from Bob along the way. We now use him as a model in many of our exercise videos, and people are astounded that a 75-year-old can do the things he does. Bob truly embodies the soul of our company, and I couldn’t ask for a better mentor and ambassador from all sides of it.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
I think a good company is one that does business ethically while making a profit and taking care of its employees and shareholders. A great company is one that does those things while providing a product or service which improves the lives of others and instills a passion in its employees for self-improvement and meaningful living. We strive every day to provide the latter from every member that joins FITFOREVER, BACKFOREVER or GOLFFOREVER, to every employee and contractor we work with.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Evaluate your business and determine what, if anything, is keeping you from transitioning from be being “committed to it” to being passionate about it. Take the appropriate steps to make the changes necessary to foster that change in mindset and feeling. I’ve dealt with this personally when I felt we needed to do more to give-back, even though we weren’t cashflow positive yet. Before starting this business I saw patients every day and was rewarded daily by seeing how my work was helping others. In the first year of my new company I was becoming very bogged down by dealing only with the day-to-day “business” and not seeing any benefit to others. To get my passion back I decided to offer our BACKFOREVER program for free to the U.S. military before we were profitable or had cashflow. It involved a lot of work on our side but in the end was exactly the right thing to do, and we helped a lot of people. Hearing their wonderful stories of success made it all worth it.
2. Be open to evaluating your company’s products, trajectory, goals, and strategies, at least every 90 days and be willing to pivot as needed. Try not to have any “sacred cows” that are immune from the chopping block. I personally had to make this tough decision by pivoting a lot of the focus away from BACKFOREVER with its more limited appeal, to FITFOREVER, which has a broader appeal. It was painful at the time but was unquestionably the right move.
3. Never ask more from your employees than you ask from yourself. Lead by example. Put in the work. I try to be the first at the computer and the last to turn it off on most days.
4. Always allow open communication and expression of ideas. This is particularly important in the early stages before more structural rules are in place. Diversity of ideas, and a culture of accepting differing ideas and values is crucial. Your employees will appreciate you and the company for it. People are willing to go above and beyond for a company culture that they respect and believe in.
5. Base your company culture on positive things that will improve your employees’ lives outside of work. If you’re going to ask them to work long hours which often far exceeds the traditional corporate structure, also give them ways to improve their mental and physical health at the same time.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
There are going to be times throughout your company’s life cycle when things get incredibly difficult. You and your team will have to work very long hours and overcome countless obstacles. I believe there comes a point for many people that are just doing it for the money or success of the company, that it won’t be rewarding enough and the success of the business is impacted by that. Knowing that you are doing something to improve the lives of others or make the world a better place gives your life, and your company’s life, a purpose far beyond money or your company’s metrics. It can mean the difference between being committed to your company to being genuinely passionate about it.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
It’s easy to get tunnel vision on the end product and fail to take the time to step back and evaluate the larger picture, while considering other solutions to reach your objectives. What other angles, demographics, campaigns or products can we offer? With FITFOREVER, we identified a valuable opportunity for assisted living communities after getting questions on social media from people with specific pain or functional limitations, like not being able to safely get on the ground or being bound to a wheelchair. Because we develop personalized programs for our members, it was as natural segue to create an entire set of programming for those with pain, injuries, or a need to be standing or seated. Ultimately, this new segment of our business was a result of listening and stepping back to evaluate, thinking, “Who else can we help with our product?”
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
We’re fortunate to have a product available that meets consumers needs at exactly this time. We are solving the problem of people having no access to gyms, their trainers, or their physical therapists. When I saw this coming, it was imperative to fast-track the FITFOREVER solution, because we don’t know how long COVID-19 will last and sway many people who may have been on the fence about at-home fitness to take the leap and try it. We have something that can really help people get through this time, and beyond, so it’s been vitally important for us to get FITFOREVER in the marketplace as soon as possible.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Technology and data and systems management are the most complex elements, which has been especially true for developing a customized fitness program. In our minds, the concept is simple, deliver a personalized program to each member that joins. However, when based on 10+ different data points with several possible answers each including the members goals, equipment, fitness levels, pain or pre-existing injuries, the solution is very complicated from a development perspective.
So finding a development partner that was as driven to make this as successful as we are has been crucial to getting over speed bumps and long weekends to develop the right solutions. In addition, taking the time to evaluate every scenario, every use case, every edge case, and then poking holes in each of those meant that we were solving the major problems ahead of time. Many companies tend to settle on an MVP, but we had to get to a more refined product from the beginning which meant a lot of time dedicated to testing, focus group feedback, member feedback, and more testing. Never assume that edge case in your mind has been considered; if you haven’t seen it “on paper,” it likely hasn’t been.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
The health and wellness space is quite competitive, but fortunately for us our approach is inherently unique in that we are a fitness company which cares more about how you feel than how you look. Our approach to fitness is drastically different than all of the other brands you see and hear about, so that works in our favor.
Increasing conversion rates has been about making sure we focus on the key benefits and differentiators of our company, that we speak authentically to our audience, and that we find a balance between generating awareness for our new brand in a competitive space. Also finding the right media mix that offers potential members solutions for where they are.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
From the very early days of our business we’ve included our members in the development of the brand and the product. This means a high level of customer service, as well as asking them along the way via surveys and direct communication how we can improve, what they want more or less of, what frustrates them, and we’ve responded accordingly.
In a way, our new FITFOREVER program was built by feedback from our members when you look at naming conventions, price, content, and ultimately the personalization of their program. We developed an entire segment of content for functionally-limited members because we heard some of them couldn’t get on the floor or their hands and knees, and now we have options for them. We also heard many of our members would only like to use the program via Roku or Apple TV, so we prioritized those channels for them in addition to mobile, tablet and desktop devices.
It’s also about offering them value they didn’t know they need. Our team of medical experts develops workouts, member emails and blog posts to address questions we hear often on social media and through customer service. By providing answers to common questions about form, pain, equipment, various approaches to fitness, workout recovery etc., we’re able to compliment their physical fitness with valuable educational content that helps them move better, avoid injuries and workout smarter.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
- Be personal — not robotic. We are a small team and every member of our team does some level of customer service. We speak to members and potential members as individuals, answer their questions as individuals, and don’t deliver pre-scripted lines.
- Make exceptions — there’s no one-size-fits-all. The nature of our program is personalized, which means everything we do should have that consideration. If our members have special needs or requests, we do our best to offer them a solution versus an inflexible universal solution or response to everything.
- Ultimately, it’s about listening and responding accordingly. Our members are the reason we developed this program, so asking for input, listening, acknowledging feedback and concerns, and validating their input by implementing it into the program ensures we’re always evolving and providing the best product to our members possible.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Social media works for us in a few ways: It serves as an engagement tool to let our members know about new workouts and content, to educate members and the public via our blog content, and announce new features and news. It also works as a primary customer service tool to answer questions and offer member support. But, yes, in this day and age we have to be aware there is always someone around the corner to critique you, and always try to be sensitive as a brand, acting as a good humanitarian and leader in the community. And if people express concern about something, we try to address it publicly, Luckily, because we’re focused on making people’s lives better and stick to the foundation of our program, we’re perhaps not subject to as much risk in this space as some others out there.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
- Underestimating time to completion. A good rule of thumb is to always add at least 2 weeks for complicated problems, and adjust your expectations accordingly.
- Underestimating money to completion. Whatever you thought it might take, double it. There are many unexpected expenses that come up along the way and if you want to build the right product, it requires avoiding shortcuts.
- Hiring for potential vs actual. Vet any team hires, partners, consultants, and agencies thoroughly. With so many “digital” experts and “expert” consultants, it’s important to check every reference, review, case study, and culture fit. These people can become like family and everything from professionalism and communication, to actual work and work ethic, are important.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Move your body every day! It’s that simple. Do some sort of health physically activity just about every day of the week. Even 20 minutes a day can dramatically reduce your risk of the most common diseases affecting millions of Americans. It will also make you FEEL better — physically and mentally. I’ve seen this happen firsthand over and over again — once someone becomes consistently active and exercises regularly, they can’t believe how they legitimately feel 20 years younger and smarter, with more energy and less pain.
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can find us at fitforever.com and on Facebook and Instagram at @fitforeverprogram
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!