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Running a Business in the CrossFit Industry: Four CEO's Share What it Takes

Running a Business in the CrossFit Industry: Four CEO's Share What it Takes

This article is Part 1 of a series about working in CrossFit. For more details, and to be notified when Part 2 goes live, subscribe below. 

A new study out of Ohio State University says if you’re not happy with your career in your 20s and 30s, your health will decline once you hit your 40s—in the form of depression, anxiety and sleeping problems. Pretty scary, considering a 2014 report said more than half of Americans are unhappy in their jobs.

That might be an especially scary thought for a CrossFitter—someone who is almost certainly incredibly health conscious.

But as CrossFit has grown over the last 14 years, so have the number of companies that target the functional fitness market. From cool apparel brands and equipment manufacturers, to supplement companies, to WOD iphone apps and jump rope brands. This means there are more opportunities than ever to combine your interest in CrossFit with your career—and what better way to ensure workplace happiness than working in your passion?

In light of this, I talked to a number of CrossFit entrepreneurs to find out what it’s like working in the CrossFit market. In this piece— Part 1—we get into how they got into CrossFit and what their day-to-day lives are like, while Part 2 will provide tips about how to get hired or sponsored by a CrossFit company.

The CEOs I spoke with are:

Working In A CrossFit Focused Company- Via the Blonyx Blog

  1. Rowan Minnion—CEO of Blonyx, a CrossFit-focused supplement brand with an international presence.
  2. Marcus Dedina—founder of AsRx, a lifestyle apparel brand he started in 2008—at a time where Dedina and his business partners pretty much had a monopoly on the apparel industry in the CrossFit community, he said.
  3. Nick Massie—founder of Ice Age Meals whose company was recently seen on Shark Tank! Ice Age meals is a meal service that provides and delivers ready-to-eat, delicious healthy meals—including grass-fed organic meats and fresh veggies. Massie employs around 30 people in various roles.
  4. Mohammed Iqbal—owner of Sweatworks, a software company that provides registration and scoring/leaderboard software for various fitness events. Iqbal first introduced his products to the endurance world (triathlons, obstacle races etc…) and is now fully engaged in the CrossFit world, too.

Why did you decide to start a company that caters to the CrossFit community?

Minnion: I started Blonyx because I naively thought I could persuade anyone to ignore mainstream marketing and refocus on the science behind what supplements they were taking. I was spending my days making soul-destroying cold calls to personal trainers and supplement stores across the US and getting nowhere. At the time, I shared an office with two early adopter CrossFit athletes and entrepreneurs, who were almost pleading with me to consider it as a market to focus on. It took me a while to come around to it. I have been an athlete most of my life and was pretty set in my training ways, but after getting to know a few gym owners and coaches in the area, and suffering through a few workouts, I quickly realized that CrossFit was not only challenging the fitness status quo, but also challenging thinking on nutrition. Your underlying beliefs as a company need to match your market, and I had finally found my market.

CrossFit Athletes need to focus on nutrition, supplementation, sleep, and recovery on top of their intense training schedules. Minnion, Massie, Iqbal and Dedina have all found areas of the sport that can be improved by their services.

Massie: I don’t know that I made that decision. It just kind of naturally happened. When I got into CrossFit, I was already a chef. I combined the two, and it just kind of naturally took place. I was filling a need for myself, and then offering the same things I enjoy eating to other people.

Iqbal: It wasn’t until I participated in a CrossFit event at a box in New Jersey in 2013 that I realized the need for a (registration and leaderboard) product in the community.  What I experienced would have been nothing short of unacceptable at most endurance events: A clunky registration process, no automatic event day check-in, paper score cards, and the real kicker—excel spreadsheets for scoring. I remember waiting over an hour until the final scores were released. In our world, we expected results in seconds. I knew that if we entered the community, we could bring our years of experience and development know how into a community that desperately needed it.  

What were the early days like?

Dedina: There wasn’t a single other CrossFit brand back then. Rogue was around, but they were doing equipment, and hardly anyone even knew who Rogue was back then. In 2009, my business partners and I thought we’d drive up to the CrossFit Games in the Aromas to see if anyone wanted to buy this stuff. So we packed up and got an RV and got $3,000 to $4,000 of shirts made. We couldn’t afford a booth (they were going for $300-$500 then) so we just went up there without a booth. We were friends with Dave Castro’s brother Kenny…and Kenny let us (sell our shirts at the event). Chaos ensued all the way up there. We were just a bunch of 20-something year-old dudes with a puppy. We slept on top of the boxes, and by the end of the weekend we had sold out. We sold everything and walked away with several thousands dollars and realized we had something.

Working in a CrossFit Company- ASRX with athlete Brooke Wells.

Today, AsRx is one of the most well-known apparel brands in the CrossFit industry, with many big-named CrossFit athletes like Brooke Wells, Bjork Odinsdottir, and Wes Piatt on their team of sponsored athletes.

What does your day-to-day life look like owning and running your company?

Minnion: We’re a company made up of Games athletes, gym owner, Level 1 coaches and exercise physiology geeks, so at least 30 percent of my time is spent nerding out on CrossFit—the latest gossip, 315-lb. snatch PRs, other brands, workout critiques...whatever. It’s easy to get carried away when your job is in an area you’re passionate about. But there’s also the far less exciting side of it, too. Working in such a fast growing and unpredictable market means I spend a lot of time each day working with my staff, figuring out how to stay ahead of the game. We’re in a period of growth management—having to deal with quickly growing demand, sometimes without the capacity to manage it. This last six months has meant a lot of staff hiring, process-building and planning. It’s a big challenge, but also nicely balanced out by the fun stuff like hanging out with Games athletes and touring CrossFit gyms.

Work hard, play hard? Running a company in the CrossFit community is still like sailing through slightly uncharted waters and can be a 24/7 commitment. Breaking it up with moments of fun is a belief commonly shared between these companies.  

Dedina: I probably average 12 to 15 hour days, but we have a ton of fun and take breaks. We get in the workout of the day, or we’ll play spike ball or go grab lunch, or even play basketball or surf during the day. We work really hard, but we do try to keep it as fun as possible. This has been my life and soul for the last 11 years. Everything I have done I have been surrounded by CrossFit, and it is by far the most hard working, intelligent community I have ever been a part of. I feel insanely fortunate to have not only had the opportunity to ride the ride since the beginning, but to continue to get to see where it’s going is great.

Massie: There is no average day, no routine, no real consistency. Our day-to-day is early mornings, late nights and a lot of hard work—meeting people, answering e-mails, putting out fires, solving problems, all that good stuff.

How many people work for you and what are their roles like?

Minnion: We currently have 14 people in the Blonyx squad. The majority of these are our sales guys, and they're based all over the globe. I’m pretty proud of the team we have right now actually. They’re all 100% CrossFit—from CrossFit Games athletes like Tasia Percevecz—our North East sales manager—to gym owners like Ben Heslop—our UK and Europe sales director—and coaches like Graeme Macdonald—our Global Sales Director. Other than that, we have a support staff of five, who work on accounts, marketing, operations and customer service and programming. We’re quite the virtual company—strangely I haven’t even met some of our key staff members in operations—even though they have been working full-time for me for more than three years now.

Tasia Percevecz is part of the Blonyx team. As a full-time athlete who competed at this summer’s CrossFit Games, Percevecz also finds the time to work as the North East sales rep. The role is flexible so she can prioritize her training, and still make a positive difference for Blonyx. “It’s a teaching company, which I really enjoy. I’ve learned so much about supplements and also about being a salesperson. Something that is really unique is that we all work at different locations around the world. I have friends in countries I’ve never visited. Yet, we can work together and learn from each other.” - Percevecz. Img credit: @capracottaphoto

Massie: There are about 30 people working for me right now, close to 20 in the kitchen, and another 10 contract employees. We have people with different skills, everything from copywriting to graphic design to photography to videography to typing 95 words a minute and answering customer service e-mails, to chopping onions and stirring pots and scrubbing dishes, to construction work, and everything in between.

Iqbal: The SweatWorks group is just north of 100 fitness enthusiasts. Our roles include everything from support, HR, design, development, project management, sales, business analysts, and management. We have a fairly flat organization where we want to empower our employees to make decisions and take action. We also encourage growth, collaboration and a strong work-life balance. I know it’s cliche, but I really believe that a healthy and fit employee is a productive employee.

What's it like to sell your products and services to CrossFit athletes?

Minnion: It’s very different than selling to the general population. You have to really understand the differences in motivation and decision-making processes in CrossFit compared to other, more classical markets. The CrossFit movement rests on the shoulders of over 12,000 small business owners—each with different motivations: Making money, the love of helping others, being the founder of a community, getting out of the rat race, flexibility in work schedule, or simply a love for CrossFit. Without understanding what these motivations are, you’ll fail. If I present the potential revenue generation of wholesaling our products to a gym owner who founded their box for the sake of helping others improve their health, I’ll hit a brick wall. Better to understand this, and then focus on the benefits you can offer to their members (instead of how much money they can make wholesaling your product).

Iqbal: It has been both a joy and a challenge. I love the entrepreneurial drive and energy CrossFit owners have. CrossFit has enabled so many people to not only live out their dreams of being an entrepreneur but also impact other people in a positive way. The challenge has been in working with them to understand the value or the “why” in working with a premiere vendor rather than someone they know. While that might be OK in other areas, I think owners initially underestimate the complexity of what is involved in building usable, stable and functional software. In most cases, owners or event organizers accept what they know, not realizing that there are other options out there.

Ever wondered how you could get paid to work in the CrossFit community?

Subscribe for Part 2: Getting Hired or Sponsored by a CrossFit Company- enter your e-mail below. 



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