The entrepreneurial life is a path that many people avoid because of the challenges that come with it. The comfort of a cushy job and consistency of the everyday routine is hard to pass up for the stressful, time-consuming endeavor of starting your own business. For immigrants to America, those trials are amplified significantly.
Shahin Safai, Founder and CEO of Royal Personal Training (RPT), experienced those difficulties first-hand when he moved from his native country, Norway, to the United States. Without a formal education and an inability to speak a lick of English, Safai’s story is one of the examples of what perseverance can cultivate in the face of adversity.
From Norway to Hollywood
In Norway, Safai’s father was a painter, and his mother worked in a pastry shop, often working more than 12 hours a day — lessons that taught Safai his work ethic.
“That was the standard way,” Safai says. “The more you work, the more money you make, the better the life you can take.”
Seeking to help contribute to the family’s middle-class coffers, Safai started working a paper route, where he thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of labor. Both interested and motivated by luxury outside the realm of his family’s financial standing, Safai became engrossed with work. Coupled with a passive interest in school, Safai decided to drop out and work at the newspaper stand full-time.
“I was meant to provide,” he says.
Safai’s work snowballed into financial independence at age 18, when he bought his first apartment in Norway, but family matters would eventually lead him to the land of opportunity, America.
“I never intended to move to America, but I wanted to be closer to my sister and brother, who had been already living here in Los Angeles for years,” he says. “My parents wished for this as well, and although it was a tough decision to leave, family is more important than anything.”
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, without speaking any English, Safai was working 16 to 17 hours a day driving buses, taxis, and working as a valet to make ends meet. A similar story to many of America’s blossoming immigrant population, the grind reminded him of his younger days in Norway. But in the bright lights of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the opportunity in front of him inspired a different sense of motivation.
“When I arrived in Beverly Hills in 2014 and saw the land of opportunity, I quickly realized that only hard work, determination, and perseverance were the ways to accomplish my dreams.”
Shahin eventually started working at a gym with his brother, Shayan, where they became enthralled with personal health and fitness, two converging trends in American culture, specifically with social media as its medium. And in the midst of America’s pop culture and social media capital, Los Angeles, the duo was preparing for a shot at the American dream.
Their gym and odd job experience sparked the idea of venturing out onto their own, by taking a risk on a stripped-down, 1,400 square foot facility in Beverly Hills to launch their own gym and brand — Royal Personal Training.
Building a Brand in a Crowded Field of Competition
The Safai brothers had both worked at the premium gym, Equinox, in Los Angeles prior to their foray into RPT. Shahin was among the highest-ranked Equinox trainers nationally, but even in a luxury-style gym experience like Equinox, the brothers realized that there was a market for a different kind of training brand.
“Our experience taught us that there was a need for an ultra-specialized, private training environment that had the amenities like Equinox but a more personal experience for members,” says Shahin.
And so, Royal Personal Training was born in a quiet corner of Beverly Hills, in that 1,400 square foot space that desperately needed upgrading. “We didn’t have any employees and only the bare minimum of equipment,” says Shahin. “There was no structure at all; it was basically empty.”
Drawing from their past experiences and hard work ethic, the obstacles ahead of the Safai brothers weren’t going to stop them, however, their determination would prevail. And the testament to their commitment?
“Now we’re sitting on company with over 50 employees where 40 of them are coaches, and a team of GM’s, a sales team, juice bar girls, physical therapy trainers, cryotherapy equipment, and we have been voted the #1 training facility in LA over the last couple of years,” says Shahin.
That 1,4000 square foot facility has changed a little too. RPT is now over 7000 square feet, replete with brand new, cutting edge equipment and a separate group training facility with over 1000 square feet — almost as big as their original fixer-upper.
Shahin Safai’s story provides a conduit for evaluating the power of determination when the odds are stacked against you. Many Americans struggle to make ends meet, living day to day, without the language barrier or immigration transition hindering them.
Stories like Safai’s inspire others to take up the entrepreneurial mantle because they demonstrate the power of determination in the face of slim odds on the road to success.