I Built A $240K/Year Business While Deployed In Kuwait
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is John Zarbock. I am the CEO and Founder of BioFit. I started my business in November of 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. We build better humans by providing them with the most effective, efficient, and safe exercise on the planet. We do this through the High-Intensity Training (HIT) methodology mostly by leveraging the Adaptive Resistance Exercise (ARX) machines. They are designed to achieve exercise results in as little as 20 minutes a week by performing not only each rep and set near perfectly but also allowing for the maximum amount of intensity every moment of every session in the safest way possible while giving each client real-time feedback on progress and performance. We deploy a simple success formula: Work + Rest = Growth.
We currently have approximately 125 clients and our average monthly revenue is $20k. We have about an 80% closing ratio and our client retention is over 70%. The intricacies of the business have been very dynamic as I have served more than half of my time operating it while on Active Duty for the Army. I am currently deployed overseas in Kuwait so there have been challenges in growth and scale but we have grown year over year in both memberships and revenue despite having a skeleton crew of dedicated team members and partners in the last two years.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In the spring of 2018, when coming off Active Duty and my third tour overseas I had had enough of doing the Army full time. I wanted to see if I was capable of providing for myself and following my dream of owning a business and helping people with their health and fitness. So I opened a personal training studio with $40,000 of used CrossFit equipment I purchased from a Box that closed down and was looking to liquidate everything. I was in a garage with no heat or air conditioning, a leaky roof, an alley with more than preferable traffic, and tucked into a place where most clients had a hard time finding me even after having been signed up for a month. As the year progressed I noticed that the Army would call more and more often to send me places for work; training events, conferences, planning meetings, etc., and I’d be gone for a week or two at a time. There was no way anyone would stick around and keep paying me with that schedule or take me seriously.
So in the late summer, I sat down and had some decisions to make. Would I get out of the Army with 16 years of service and roll the dice or give up on my dream and capitulate to the military and see the rest of my time through? It saddened me that I couldn't have both after all I have done and sacrificed. As I sat at my computer to look for answers, I stumbled upon a Facebook ad for an exercise machine that claimed I only needed 20 min of exercise a week and that it could give that to me safely and more effectively than any other kind of exercise. I was so skeptical and remember laughing at the notion and getting frustrated about another company coming out with another device that doesn't help anyone and sells because the marketing is so good and then they move on to the next trend. That bothers me about the fitness industry still. But it was such an outrageous claim that I got motivated to figure out how I could debunk it and tell them and others how fake it was. And then six weeks later I bought two of them.
The very next day after spending all night learning about how and why this machine was nothing like anything else on the planet nor in history and where the designs were motivated from I drove 4 hours to Nashville, TN to be there first thing in the morning to see for myself. After 3 minutes I had the closest thing to a perfect full-body workout and was more exhausted than I had ever been in my life! These machines were the answer to all my problems. I could train my clients on them for shorter durations of time, safer and if I was out of town for the Army they could still get what they needed without me being there! It was exactly what I needed.
As a Signal (Communications) Officer in the Army, I am around a lot of technology. I see trends and what humans do and use to make their lives easier and make the clock seem to tick a little slower by cramming more chores and tasks into the day. When I saw these machines in Nashville, I felt like the fabric of time was ripped for me to see what the Future of Exercise would be in the next 5-10 years. And I wanted IN. I wanted to be a part of shaping that future standing on the shoulders of giants like; Arthur Jones, Dorian Yates, and Dr. Doug McGuff. I was fortunate enough to also have the same crystal ball moment when my friend and mentor Steven Grove (Sigwo Technologies) forced me to read the Satoshi Whitepaper before showing me how to buy Bitcoin. When I read the paper and started going down the rabbit hole I understood inherently that blockchain Cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin would shape our financial future as humans and these machines are an extension of that network because of how they interface with the cloud and the data feedback they give. I saw the correlation between digital currencies and digital exercise so clearly. So I spent almost all my savings and Bitcoin and started my business.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The Product of BioFit is our Service. We sell “Time” back to our clients. We offer an exercise that is the most effective, efficient, and safe on the planet that delivers results that simply cannot be achieved anywhere else, using any other equipment in as little time, period. Our Service is to provide an experience for our clients that help them to achieve the goals that they came to us to help achieve and do in a way that makes them feel supported, inspired, and loved. We accomplish this through our WORK + REST = GROWTH formula.
We subscribe to a first-principles mentality which means that when muscles (tissue) are damaged (WORK), they (the tissues) require recovery (REST) to regrow to become bigger and or stronger and able to handle more stimulus or exercise when they heal (GROWTH). So when clients can experience ‘near perfect’ exercise with machines that know exactly when their muscles have fatigued to the ‘near perfect’ point to force an adaptive change in the body, clients no longer need to spend more than 20 min a week exercising or on the “WORK”, they can focus the majority of their time on what they want to be doing which is “REST” or not working/ exercising.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Honestly, I would not recommend anyone start their business as I did. If anything, I should be a use case for what NOT to do. I thought I had it all together at the time and had it all figured out but because I was incredibly impatient and unwilling to ask for help. I spent a lot more money and hours of stress than I needed to. Unfortunately, I am a human that must learn all his lessons the hard way and touch the hot stove twice, just in case.
Being in the Army for 20 years now, I have learned a lot about myself and the world around me. I know what I’m willing to sacrifice when I believe in a thing deeply enough. I know how to push my mind and my body to the maximum of what it can take and I know, now, when that is necessary and when it just simply is not. Unfortunately, in years 16 and 17, I did not know this. I did not realize how unimportant “being first to market” was going to be. I did not realize how unimportant “using my own money” was and how using the bank’s money would have been so much cheaper. I did not realize how “important” it was to have a plan and set benchmarks and goals to help me gauge how well or I was doing. I did realize how “IMPORTANT” it was to understand what money is and how it works in our world and how others view it by giving it to me to help solve their problems!
I just kept grinding and showing up and doing whatever it took to accomplish the mission, at whatever personal cost to myself, to prove that I could make it, on my own, without the damned Army. Fortunately, it worked out and I eventually met mentors and clients that saw my vision and believed in me enough to help and get me to where I am today. The last 4 years have been rough, to say the least, but the expensive experience I had hopefully will help others not to have to step on the mines I did while traversing the fields of their dreams.
Building a business takes time, focus, and vision. It requires Patience! I had made up my mind that failure wasn’t an option and I knew in my soul that what I had to offer would help change the world. I was and still am very convinced that this business, what BioFit offers, IS what I was put here on this planet to do. I did not start this business to make money. I did not start this business to become famous. I did not start this business to retire early. I started it as a way to manifest my vision and my calling to help raise the vibrational consciousness of the planet through the talents and gifts I have developed; health, fitness, and coaching. What I didn’t make time for was HOW I was going to do it, I just did it. I recommend not doing it that way and being a little more practical with your approach. I highly recommend having a plan and learning about all the facets of what it takes to be successful in the business including finances, taxes, sales, customer service, marketing, and most importantly what YOUR role in the business should be. Just be aware there is a difference between being an “entrepreneur” and a “solopreneur”. Do you want to run and scale your business or do you want to work for yourself? Knowing the difference and getting honest with yourself is, in my estimation, step one.
We started in a 900 sq ft Garage! With no heat, no AC, and in the middle of winter…
Now we have almost 5000 sq ft and three times the equipment and 10x the clients...
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have used quite a few different methods but referrals and word of mouth are the most successful for us. We build a community and relationship with our clients that make them feel like a part of a family or a tribe and impossible to not talk about or brag about to others. We have used lead generators like Bark and Thumbtack with some measurable success. We also have a small social media and digital following that helps. Appearing on podcasts has been a great way to get exposure and get a lot of content for our website, social, and YouTube channels.
Retaining clients boils down to one main aspect, giving a shit! We are in constant contact with our clients every week either over text, email, or phone call to ensure that they are getting what they need to feel supported and able to achieve the goals they tell us they want our help to achieve. There is so much that goes into physical health and fitness. It is not something one can achieve alone. The work can only be done by the client, but the process is never something one does by themselves. This approach has been what sets us apart from our competitors since most business people lead with profits and transactional relationships, we lead with people and results and only profit because have to keep playing the game and reach more humans to help and our clients can tell the difference.
Another approach that I consider to have been crucial to our success is our barter and community partnering. There have been some big influencers and other business owners that I have crossed paths with and we leverage each other’s networks to refer clients and barter or discount each other services for ourselves and our clients. For example, Real Estate agents are one of my target demographics for the perfect client; busy, usually not healthy despite being top-performing, value time, and have money to afford my service. I went to a few REIAs in my area and found the Alphas. I offered them free memberships for the opportunity to speak for free in front of their monthly meetings and offer discounts to their members and mastermind mentees. It has paid for itself tenfold and I made great friends in the process. Also, finding other businesses that complement what I do in the health and fitness industry, Float Spas, Massage Therapists, Sound Healers, etc. We discount each other's clients will free advertising so to speak, create some exclusivity and offer each other services for free. I have found that this is a great way to grow the community and develop amazing supporters and friends in the city you live in.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
BioFit is growing slowly. We have had a few false starts with our momentum for a variety of reasons. The location was a big one up until about a year ago. Downtown St. Louis hasn’t exactly been favorable to any small business in the last three or four years. We moved locations last year and after paying off the costs of the move are now just barely over even again. My availability to be on the floor working with clients has been limited due to all of the Army commitments that I have had to succumb to. Additionally, the ‘newness’ of the machines and approach we offer creates more than a healthy amount of skepticism and forces us to have to rely on clients' experiences in the studio and not them having heard of what we do anywhere else. What we offer can't be found anywhere else, so we have in a sense created a need in the market and that is always very different to fulfill.
Our sessions are 30 minutes long and we charge ~$40 per session. We are open 12 hours a day Monday through Friday and 5 hours on Saturdays. Our average client spend is about $180. We offer single sessions and group sessions for those who can't afford the full price themselves. We operate in a people before profit mentality and sometimes at the cost of our balance sheet. I am aware of the importance of making a profit. I intend to always do so for the sake of being able to scale the business to help as many humans as I can but I choose to focus more on the success of our clients and flex harder on the results we provide than on the P&L on our spreadsheets.
The future of BioFit is uncertain. I have a clear vision of what I want to achieve and how I want to show up in the world. At this moment, however, the state of the world seems foggy with the economic and political climates seeming so turbulent. I know that people need what BioFit offers, maybe more now than ever for various reasons. The challenge after returning from overseas is going to be to remind people of that and align with their goals as an essential part of their success and not be perceived as a luxury service only to be afforded in the “good times”. BioFit’s mission is to help build better humans by optimizing and empowering personal growth through innovative, evidence-based Fitness. We give people their time back by offering truly effective and efficient exercise, the kind that life depends on. We most likely will double down on community support, client experience, and brand awareness and education. Once the fog lifts, we will begin to expand first locally in St. Louis and then regionally through a hybrid franchise model designed to empower future entrepreneurs to live their dreams but not at the sole benefit of a corporatized transactional relationship with an HQ or future clients.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Expectation Management! No one is going to care as much as you. No one is going to see the vision as clearly as you. No one is going to be willing to lose it all in any proportion to what you are. Know that and never forget that.
I have found that going into business and not knowing much about how to do that has been very exciting and also very stressful and expensive. Take your time! You’re not going to miss anything, I Promise. Rushing into “opportunities” without cost/benefit analysis and possibly seeking counsel from a mentor or your board of advisors is very unwise…trust me. What I didn't have in business acumen and experience, I made up for in taking care of my clients and pouring into them to the point where they couldn’t leave. I gave them such an experience of support and care that they literally couldn't find it anywhere else. Once I was able to understand the dynamics of the business better I was slowly able to focus more ON the business and a little less on it with help and transparency with my clients… and they overwhelmingly understood and supported me in that. Because I am a service business and the relationships are pretty personal this may be an outlier but I believe wholeheartedly that if you treat your clients or customers like family and take care of them, they will stay loyal to you and allow for a misstep from time to time. (Because it will happen)
I also approach the relationship with my clients as far away from feeling transactional as possible. I get to know them. I keep them informed. I ask for feedback and advice constantly. I want them to feel like a little part of my business is theirs, cause it kinda is. They may not be shareholders but they are certainly huge stakeholders and without them and their memberships and referrals, I don’t exist. I include them in Marketing campaigns, take them out to meals, and go to their kid's events (the ones that bring them in with them). I build a literal community around me that supports me so I cannot fail. I pour into them so hard and make sure my team does the same and understands the ROI not only on paper but personally!
Networking has also been pretty key for me. I believe that when you are selling a thing, you represent yourself as “A Product of the Product.” If you don't use or believe in the thing that you ask people to spend their money on with you, what the hell are you doing? Leaders have to set the example and be seen walking their talk. So before you can sell anything to anyone, the first thing you must sell is YOU. Learning how to network has been instrumental to growing my business almost more than anything else.
Going into business for yourself is pretty simple. Staying in business is easy. Growing and scaling your business to multiple employees and locations AND paying yourself what you think you're worth is fucking HARD….but it's so worth it if you love the process and solving problems to help other people have better lives. Do not treat your business like a job, 40-50 hours a week isn’t going to cut it.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Square for our billing.
We use Schedulicity for our booking.
We use Spotify for our studio background music.
We use Signal and Google for internal communications.
We use Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Snapchat, and IG, and Google for Social and Reviews.
We have a very simple operation. But as we scale we are currently looking at more advanced and vanity CRM products.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
What you feed your mind is SO important. The music you listen to, the images you choose to look at, and the thoughts you allow yourself to entertain are so vital. Pay close attention to the substance and frequency of what you expose yourself to. You will feel alone at times so what and who you choose to surround yourself with and be influenced by will have a huge impact on your energy and resilience.
I read and listen to so many books and podcasts that it feels like I would overwhelm readers with all the content I have absorbed and have to give credit to in the last 20 years to get an idea of how I have come to be who I am and what I know but here is a list of who and what I think have had the MOST impact on me.
Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand - These books taught me what it means to be an entrepreneur and how deep one’s convictions must be to go against the grain to live life on your terms, selfishly and unapologetically when you truly believe that what you can do is help people.
- The Unincorporated Man
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
- As A Man Thinketh by James Allen
- Anything by Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, or Eric Thomas
- Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
- Actualized.org Podcast
- Lex Fridman Podcast
- Every Lecture by Alan Watts
Body by Science has by far been the most influential and life-changing book in my adult life. It taught me what exercise is and how to get results most safely and efficiently possible.
- The Nautilus Principles which is where the principal inspiration of the ARX machines came from.
- Deep Fitness by Andrei Yakovenko and Philip Shepherd
- Traction by Gino Wickman
- The E-Myth
- Good to Great
- Atomic Habits
- Tools for Titans by Tim Ferris
Financial and Business Growth:
- The Saylor Series by Robert Breedlove
- Valuetainment by Peter Bet-David
- Anything by Simon Senek
- The Go-Giver
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I feel like becoming an entrepreneur has morphed more into a trend than individuals recognizing that they have the DNA to take the calculated risks necessary to be successful. I encourage anyone to follow their dreams and I believe we all can bring our gifts and talents to market in the form of a business. However, self-awareness is the most important aspect in my opinion were starting a business is concerned. Consider the following: You may have a special skill or talent that could change the world and help solve a lot of people’s problems. It may be needed in the world and have immense value in the market. Have you asked yourself, though, if YOU are the right person to run and operate your business, or would someone else perform that function better with THEIR talents and skills of leadership, efficiency, and finance? It is possible to be the founder of a business that you do not “run” in the sense of knowing what is best FOR the business. This is most likely an unpopular opinion but I can attest to the fact that working IN the business and ON the business to scale takes completely different skills and necessary talents and so few people can do them both, simultaneously AND successfully…to scale.
My advice is to be patient. Learn as you go but dont let your ego blind you from reality and what is ultimately best for your business and thus your customers. No customers = no business. They dont exist for YOU. You exist for THEM. It's THEIR problems you are asking their permission to help solve. They exchange their time and sacrifice in the form of what we call money for your solutions IF they are more valuable to them than others. Be honest with yourself about what your true intentions are straight away up front. Then what do 2-5-10-30 years look like after having started this business? Dont be afraid to ask questions. Dont be afraid to fail. Never give up and always know that you may FEEL alone but you super-duper arent. Someone is rooting for you and if you can't find them, call me.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are not currently hiring but always looking for community partners or other professionals to work with or barter with. If there is someone who is inspired to want to get involved they can certainly reach out. We tend to make anything yes-able!
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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