Word of mouth is everything. Build a good rapport with the community, it will only serve you. Others will share their positive experiences with you and consistently attract others.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Weiss Sakhizada, Co-Founder of Sucker Free Jiu Jitsu. Weiss is the son of immigrant parents who came to America to provide a better life for their children. After graduating college and taking on multiple jobs, Weiss was left feeling uninspired and unsatisfied, willing to go off the beaten path in pursuit of his passions. Weiss found Jiu-Jitsu during a time in his life where he felt lost and wasn’t able to make sense of the world and his place in it. Training improved not only his physical but also mental health, providing clarity and structure. He took a life-changing risk and left his steady job, going against the grain of what others expected of him, in the pursuit of something more. He opened Sucker Free Jiu Jitsu, a New York based facility founded upon the purpose of teaching students how to overcome any negativity that life may bring and serves as a home to a community of people of all walks of life. After paving his way through entrepreneurship head on, he achieved his dream of owning his own business and serving his community while doing what he loves the most. He currently owns and operates the facility with his business partner, managing anything from social media marketing, teaching, hosting fundraising events and everything in between. Weiss is an accomplished Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt and multiple time IBJJF champion and medalist with over five years of teaching experience.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Weiss! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up with an older brother and two younger ones. My parents immigrated from Afghanistan in 1981, to give my brothers and I a better life. Growing up I played many sports, wasn’t good at any of them. I was kind of the black sheep while each of my brothers were natural athletes. Even though sports were something I always struggled with, I was always fascinated by martial arts since an early age.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I somehow got through life doing the bare minimum, I didn’t know what I wanted out of it. Never had anything that motivated me to work hard. I went to college to appease my parents, but I felt lost and confused. As a child of immigrant parents, I was expected to go to college and get a prestigious career. I had no real direction or vision as to how my professional future would turn out, but I am thankful for undergraduate. I learned how to use my brain and had some great college professors who influenced the way I instruct.
The moment I tried Jiu-Jitsu, I fell in love. I fell in love with the way it made me think and feel. It gave me the clarity I needed and then I thought to myself, how do I monetize this? I didn’t know how I was going to make money doing Jiu-Jitsu, all I knew was that I loved it so much and was willing to work hard to get better at it. I’ve never been good at anything. I did my first tournament and saw how proud my father was of me and was very inspired to make something out of myself.
My breakthrough moment was when I quit my job four years ago and was searching for teaching opportunities on Craigslist. I saw a brand new gym was looking for coaches and sales staff. The gym was still under construction, and was only hiring sales at their office. So I decided to take the position in hopes of it turning into a coaching opportunity. It wasn’t long until I realized I wasn’t very good at sales. I told my boss, “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to fire me, I’m not good at sales. I do love Jiu-Jitsu and am very passionate about it.” He told me not to worry about it and was willing to keep me around long enough till the gym opened. When the gym finally opened he gave me a few classes to teach. Within the opening weeks, my classes went from five people per class to 30. He immediately promoted me to Head Instructor. This was the very moment I started doing Jiu-Jitsu as a living. I am very thankful for my boss and this chance of a lifetime. It was this opportunity that I gained confidence in my abilities as an instructor and had a platform to not gain attention from, but also provide a meaningful experience to the public. This was a key moment that led me to believe in my capabilities in opening my own business.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Man, I think like anything worthwhile, it has got to be real. You must be real with yourself and real with those who you are marketing yourself to. After all, what is a business without consumers? I experienced many qualities I didn’t like that were associated with the thing I loved. Jiu-Jitsu is pure but sometimes the people entrusted to teach the public don’t have the best morality. I experienced bad business practice in martial arts and learned from it. I thought to myself, like everything in life, this has already been done before, but it has never been done by me. I think it is very important to recognize the current faults or areas of improvements in the things you are passionate about in order to build upon them so as to provide the best version possible to others. Otherwise, how would you be different from anyone else? I worked hard and consistently to improve my understanding of Jiu-Jitsu and how to articulate it, but I also treated people like people. I was patient, understanding and taught from the heart.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
If you love something enough, you will find a way to make it work. No matter how many people tell you otherwise, don’t listen to them. Friends, family and employers didn’t think I would be able to make it happen. I never listened to them and stayed true to myself.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I think that’s what people who aren’t courageous enough to chase their dreams tell themselves to feel better about their decisions. We spend a majority of our lives working, why not spend it doing something you love? Like anything, you find a balance. In order to find that balance, you must experience burn out. We tend to overwork ourselves often because we love it and it’s important to us. If you start to dread it, just means you need to rest and recover. No matter how much you love something, you must always dedicate time to recovery. Proper recovery will always keep things fresh and enjoyable.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I get to wake up every day doing what makes me the most happy. I get to be myself and share what I love with people who mean the world to me. I think the downsides were in the beginning when we started our business. Not sure whether or not it was going to thrive filled us with a lot of anxiety. We overcame this by making our work a priority. We sacrificed friendships, relationships and family time to make the business work. We stayed consistent, enthusiastic and optimistic even when it was hard. I told myself, four years ago I would have killed to be in this position and to not take it for granted.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
It’s even better and more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. With that being said it’s not easy, but it’s so worth it. I have a purpose, I feel important. This is all I ever wanted my whole life and it was worth every risk I took to get there.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Never. I felt as though I was never good at anything in my life until I found Jiu-Jitsu. I couldn’t give up on the one thing I felt I was decent at — it was my true calling. I didn’t care what people thought. I refused to live a life outside of Jiu-Jitsu.
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?
Trusting people I shouldn’t have trusted to teach me something that was so important to me. Ok, that’s not funny but I learned that not everyone has your best interests. Jealousy is very real. Just about four years ago, I was working as a bartender and server 6 days a week while balancing training Jiu Jitsu in Manhattan twice a week and teaching pro bono at my first Jiu-Jitsu school. One night after a shift, the whole staff went out for drinks. In front of everyone, my manager asked me, “What are you going to do with Jiu-Jitsu? There is no money in it.” I replied with “I’m going to open a school and make my living teaching.” Which he replied with “Trust me bro, I opened up a karate school. It’s not as easy as you think.” My final response was “I appreciate your concern, but you don’t know Jiu-Jitsu the way I do.” I wasn’t talking about actual techniques, it was more intimate in the sense that he didn’t know Jiu-Jitsu in the sense of how it made me feel. He didn’t know how much I loved it, and what I was willing to do to make this dream come true. It was clear that this friend I had didn’t believe in me, and that was okay because I believed in myself. I knew my capabilities, passions and drive to succeed were what it would take to get there. Not everyone has your best interest, even if they say they do.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My family, my students and everyone else always believed in me. I wouldn’t be here doing what I love without their support.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I like to think so. I use my work as a platform for people to bring out their true potential. To never give up on themselves and see that they’re capable of much more than they think. Jiu-Jitsu has helped me tremendously with my physical and mental health, and I wanted to present those benefits to anyone willing to learn from me. I also strive to bring laughter to each one of my students every day. I love seeing how happy Jiu-Jitsu makes them — it’s my favorite part about what I do.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I’m very happy with where I am at and wouldn’t change a thing. Even the inconveniences we experienced led us here. Looking back, there are a few things I would tell myself or like-minded people looking to leave their 9–5 hustles to ride this wave we call entrepreneurship.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You aren’t always going to get it right the first time around. Learn from every shortcoming and be better from it.
- Find something you are willing to fight for; something that fuels you to work hard every day.
- Serve others. Is what you’re doing benefiting someone else’s life? Giving yourself to others will always make you feel fulfilled even if you aren’t making the income you want right away.
- Networking is everything. My lawyer, accountant, business advisor, physical therapist, strength and conditioning coach are all students of mine. I value them and they value me.
- Word of mouth is everything. Build a good rapport with the community, it will only serve you. Others will share their positive experiences with you and consistently attract others.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. 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.
Just be kind, empathetic and understanding. The world would be a better place if people approached one another with those traits. What makes us human is our ability to care for one another. I think one of the biggest mistakes business owners can make is forgetting to make intimate and meaningful connections with their consumers. By connecting with them on a deeper level and providing them with positive feelings each time they interact with your business, you transform from being a service to something they choose to have be a part of their lives.
I always cared about my students and make that very obvious to them. Everyone wants to be accepted or feel that they belong and I never wanted to make them feel otherwise. I know what it’s like to feel like an outcast. I’ve trained at previous gyms, where I felt alienated. I knew when I finally became an instructor, I would always care for anyone willing to learn from me and always have their best interest in mind.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” -Wayne Gretzky
Life is all about taking chances, no different in Jiu-Jitsu and in business. You can’t win if you don’t give yourself a chance to.
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.
Dave Chappelle. He is someone I always looked up to. He is very innovative in his work. Stayed true to himself, always took risks and inspired much of my taste in music.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you again for the opportunity. 🙂