“You can’t have everything in life, so something has got to give, and I am no different. If you really want to change the world, you have to make massive sacrifices, so make sure you are prepared to do that.”
Joe De Sena — Founder and CEO of Spartan, the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand — has demonstrated his entrepreneurial drive since his pre-teens. After building a multimillion-dollar pool and construction business in college, and creating a Wall Street trading firm, De Sena set his sights on ripping 100 million people off their couches by creating the Spartan lifestyle.
Following a successful career on Wall Street, De Sena moved his family to Pittsfield, Vermont to operate an organic farm, a bed and breakfast, and a general store for hikers. It was here his passion grew for ultramarathons, adventure races, and endurance events, and thus the idea for Spartan was born.
With more than one million annual global participants at more than 200 events across more than 30 countries, Spartan offers heats for all fitness levels and ages, from beginner to elite and Kids as young as four-years-old. The brand has transformed more than five million lives since it was founded in 2010.
De Sena is also the New York Times Best Selling Author of “Spartan Up” and “Spartan Fit,” and recently released his third book, “The Spartan Way.” As a popular key note speaker, De Sena has parlayed the teachings of his Spartan Principals into the SpartanX Leadership Forum, a series of events in which participants collaborate to solve challenges alongside business leaders while learning to overcome mental and physical obstacles.
In addition to race events, the Spartan lifestyle that De Sena built encompasses all the tools one needs to transform their lives including partnerships with fitness brands such as Life Time, 24Hour Fitness and the DailyBurn; complementary training, nutrition plans and content; television series on NBC and Facebook; forthcoming documentaries about the brand, sport and health; and an extensive line of apparel and licensed fitness gear and equipment.
Throughout his lifetime, Joe has competed in any extreme sports adventure he could find, testing his mental and physical endurance against nature. Joe turned an interest in endurance racing into a passion. His racing resume is the stuff of legend — over 50 ultra-events overall and 14 Ironman events in one year alone.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I have always been an entrepreneur — I started a pool cleaning business in high school that I turned into a successful construction business — and after attending Cornell University, I sold my company to pursue a career on Wall Street, where I found great success and eventually establish my own firm. I had always been into triathlon and adventure racing, and after falling into a more dormant lifestyle on Wall Street, I was inspired to pack up and move my family to Pittsfield, VT where I began working on what I call the 17-year old start-up that is Spartan, with a mission of making the world a healthier place.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Back in 2001, before creating Spartan as it exists today, I planned a multi-day adventure race in the British Virgin Islands — “Expedition BVI,” and we actually lost a guy for four days after he drifted 150 miles in a dingy boat. With the help of the Coast Guard, we found him with on an uninhabited island, so it turned out to be a happy story. That experience definitely has in impact on shaping Spartan and the mainstream format we created in 2010.
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
I ran out of money multiple times to on the journey. I had to beg, borrow and delay payments to overcome the nightmare, but it got us to where we are today.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
Leadership to me means inspiring others by holding yourself accountable and rolling up your sleeves to do the work your asking others to do — to show them what’s necessary and possible. I believe that to inspire others, you have to have a mission and a vision that is powerful, purposeful, and that you believe in. And we have that, so I find my job to be easy. People are excited about changing the lives of others, and we do that.
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?
First and foremost, I owe my father and my mother — they both brought very different advice and perspective into my life. But after them, I have my own personal board of directors who have been willing to help me for the last 20 years. They have been like lighthouses guiding me. They would tell you the they are not necessarily smarter than me, but they have made all the mistakes already, which I have learned from without having to go through them myself.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
I’d say the natural order is to fit your career into your life, but I definitely do that in the opposite order. It’s not difficult for me because I have an awesome wife and family who let me go 24/7 and understand my busy travel schedule.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
Yes, you can’t have everything in life, so something has got to give, and I am no different. If you really want to change the world, you have to make massive sacrifices, so make sure you are prepared to do that.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
- Wake up earlier
- Go to bed later
- Workout every morning before breakfast (make that non-negotiable)
- Find a spouse that understands your sacrifice because it’s not going to be good.
- Always look forward. If something throws off your routine, do not look backwards because that won’t get you anywhere.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride?
I’m driven by the people we inspire. People email me every day telling me how we’ve changed their lives — how they have lost weight, overcome addiction or loss, rekindled their marriages — you name it, and we most likely have a transformational story to share. Hearing the stories of the lives we have improved gives me an indescribable sense of accomplishment.
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. 🙂
I want everybody to sprinkle a little Spartan in their life. If everyone made a small gesture — like taking the stairs instead of an escalator or an elevator, or drinking green juice instead of wine or beer — I think that would immediately change the world.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
The can follow me on Twitter at @realJoeDeSena or connect with me on Linkedin.
About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Medium magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site: liftyourlegacy.live