Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Mike Doehla and I’m the founder/CEO of Stronger U - an online nutrition consulting company that’s trying to do things a little differently in a noisy and confusing space.
Stronger U offers a 1-1 nutrition coaching experience like nothing else out there. I know, I know everyone says that but this is what our members tell me :). We have an NPS of 78.6 and our Google reviews & FB reviews tell that story.
Each member gets paired up with one of our coaches or registered dietitians and they become a team with a purpose. The goal is to figure out this eating thing, get results, and keep them. We are not a diet. We are a solution to a bigger problem. We educate, encourage, and provide an honest and long term approach for our members no matter who they are, where they are, or what they want to to achieve. We’ve helped everyone from teenagers, moms, grandparents, and celebrities.
In just over 4 years we’ve become an 8 figure business with revenues over 500k monthly almost entirely from word of mouth. This is all crazy to me but what I love most has nothing to do with revenue. It’s the lives improved that those figures represent. That means our members and our team-The Stronger U family, are in a great place. That’s what matters most and I believe that’s why we continue to grow and why people love doing business with us. We are the good guys.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was working in Human Resources, and I was what I would call an underachiever. I didn’t have any real passion for my work and no plan for the future. I didn’t have much money, and was a little worried about what was coming.
You can say I was that guy that waited for things to happen instead of making them happen and I needed to make some changes or I’d be trapped forever.
Do things how you want. Just because others were successful in a similar business doesn’t mean you need to do what they did. Being a disruptor is more fun and it makes the business your own.
I knew I wanted to do something creative that provided more of a purpose but I had no idea what that was. I think the catalyst was a friend asking me what my life goals were. I thought of everything from personal life to professional. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I knew it was something that made a difference for people while giving me enough money to pay my modest bills. I often joke that I’m an accidental entrepreneur since I never knew I had “this” in me until I found what I truly enjoyed. I remember one of the reasons I wanted to quit my full time job was so I could have more freedom. Little did I know that freedom wouldn’t because I got the entrepreneur bug shortly after quitting my job.
Fortunately, my past helped. I started by taking my interests - fitness and nutrition and tried to make it a job. I started training people part-time in my garage but it didn’t quite work out as I expected...
That whole “If you build it they will come” thing isn’t actually true. No one cared about my cold little garage when there were so many others to choose from. I don’t blame them, either. This showed me the importance of service and experience and how you can’t just depend on a good product.
Fortunately, after a year of trying to make the garage gym work, I was able to pivot to what people did need in a related field.
A nutrition solution that worked for people when nothing else did. I thought my experience, messing up a lot on my own, along with years of reading, research, and being friends with lots of smart people was enough to get the ball rolling. I started by being that guy on Facebook who talked about food and what people needed to do.
I knew everyone pretty much knew what to eat but no one was doing it. Why? Because they didn’t know how and that’s what I wanted to fix. Soon after, I got my first client, Syndi. She followed my advice (none of which I had any proof would work) and a few weeks later I saw her results and at that moment I thought what we were doing was going to be special.
She opened the door to many more people who wanted what I was serving. Her taking a shot on me was what made others trust my systems and what ultimately lead us to where we are today.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When thinking of what the actual product would be I essentially reverse engineered the dieting process. In other words, I did everything differently that normal diets did and got our members even better results in the process.
Most diets tell you to just eat clean. Well, what does clean mean? The answer varies depending on who you ask. So, what we did is show our members how they can see success by still eating their favorite foods. We give our members protein, fat, and carb targets to hit and allow them to eat the foods they enjoy to fit those goals. Example- If you need protein you can eat chicken, fish, egg whites etc. We won't force you to eat something you wont like. We just want you to eat the amount we set. We call it Structured Flexibility.
Most diets are lonely so we wanted to give support and a community. I think many people fail diets because there is no one to talk to and no accountability. You can by a book, or google a meal plan but who’s going to keep you on track? We will. The entire SU community. We give our members access for life to our Facebook community filled with people around the world who are looking out for everyone’s success.
Most diets make up arbitrary rules and we thought they just didn’t make sense. Meal timing, Cutting carbs, butter in coffee, sugar being the devil? Ehh no need to overthink that stuff. We’ll give you the science behind of what we do and show you what actually matters based on real research. Luckily we have a PhD at our disposal to educate our staff and members so everyone is getting the most up to date information out there.
Most diets are only worried about the short term. While that may be all someone is looking for I’d like to break that habit. Let's think long term and get people out of the dieting rat race. We did that by setting expectations and educating our members with sound strategies and solutions to real problems. Setting up your food environment, dealing with difficult situations, fun recipes etc. These are the things that help people succeed years down the line. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing I wasn’t leaving people better than when they started.
Lasty, we looked at data with weekly check-ins. What can be measured can be managed and without data we’re all just people with opinions, right? We did this by having out members track what was happening. Food eaten, weight, workouts, how they felt, sleep, and more. We didn’t want to guess. We wanted to play detective and look at the evidence so we could provide the best solution possible.
We focused on change instead of dieting and provided a real and honest approach that broke the trend of fad dieting forever. It was what so many people were looking for. Their eureka moment if you will.
At first, our startup costs were next to nothing. I ran the business from a cell phone, had some spreadsheets for our clients to report in, bought some insurance, and I was off to the races. For the whole first year, this was how it was done. Running Stronger U from my phone allowed me to be more connected to our members and essentially in the office at all times.
Looking back I would have been a lot more structured but I had no idea any of this was going to happen. I was dreaming of it but I was in a bit of denial. How can someone make an interest a job? It didn’t make sense for me but I kept going and we kept growing.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The launch of the business was kind of funny when I think back. It was literally “Hey, I’m a coach and can help you”. Sure I had some links to join, an email address, and really ugly Wix website I built but our launch wasn’t very exciting.
We got our first few clients based on info I was posting on Facebook and a quick meeting to go over our service. After that, I gained a little confidence to say I had a business. Even though I was an online business I would meet people for coffee, visit gyms, and do talks on nutrition to build awareness around Stronger U. Many times these meet-ups didn’t amount to any client sign ups but that’s ok. I always looked at them as practice and knew it was a numbers game. I still do this and enjoy it quite a bit.
I didn’t really know what I was doing business wise but I knew I had a solution to something people needed so I did one of those Ready Fire Aim things, where you start and then worry about all the specifics. Having a decently active online presence definitely helped as many of those people would be some of our initial customers and referral networks.
One thing I’m proud of is we never needed or accepted any outside funding. If we need something we pay for it and make a less profit to retain ownership and control. I don’t think I would change much about how we started since I think everything worked out perfectly.
If I gave up ownership, took on debt, or spent too much time trying to acquire customers like other businesses I don’t think we’d be where we are right now. I always ran the business my way and not what others did and I think following your gut and making customer based decisions and not money driven decisions is better in the long run.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our customer acquisition and retention tactics are another thing that may not be too exciting but I think it’s something many need to be reminded of.
We grew and continue to grow by focusing on our customers and genuinely caring about them and their future. I feel this is often said by businesses but I see many companies acting differently.
So many businesses are goal oriented vs process oriented and just like nutrition, business requires a similar mindset. This is why we are so big on being process oriented. If we had a specific goal of new customers we may make some emotional and irrational decisions. Instead we keep improving and know as long as we do that, the success will follow.
If we do what needs to be done- give people what they came to us for and keep refining the experience, we will continue to grow. More customers and more jobs will be created by doing the things businesses are supposed to do. Offer a product that works, focus on customer experience, and develop the team to help the customer.
We’ve tried to do a few ads here and there but they are usually a miss. This could be for a variety of reasons. My initial thought is we didn’t know how to set the ad up properly but I also think it’s because we are just another nutrition solution in a noisy place. Throwing our hat in that ring often falls on deaf ears so we’ll encourage our members to share their experiences if they feel inclined. We’re big on community and when someone knows they are in a better place because of Stronger U they want their friends, family, coworkers to feel better too.
We do have a referral program so if our members get some friends/family on board we do give a free session for every 5. I’m confident they’d encourage friends to come along for the ride anyway but that’s our way of saying thank you.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Stronger U is fortunate to be in a great place today. Our business is profitable so we can grow and keep improving by adding the pieces we need. This includes an app under development, more positions, and more training and development for our team.
I’m playing the long game here and everything we’re doing is about making sure this ship keeps sailing. Our members deserve it and our team deserves it. My personal mission is helping people improve their lives and it’s incredible to see this happen each and every day. As cliche as it is, it’s what makes me excited to wake up each and every day.
Along with the growth of SU we’ve since started offering add on services with Stronger U Fitness and will soon offer Stronger Youth. A program for the younger population who need proper education and tools before it’s too late.
Our future is all about becoming that thing people think about when they want to live a better life. It’s incredible that a few changes to the way you eat can impact every single area of your life.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Be organized from day one. You never know what might happen. Work on the business for today but always plan for scale and what if.
Dream big but act small. Do not count your chickens before they’re hatched and take one step at a time. Be careful of surviorship bias.
The biggest mistake I made was assuming nothing like this was possible and with the help of the team and some close friends I started realizing it’s not wrong to think big. I just never thought someone like me could do something awesome. I feel we all have some untapped potential somewhere and all we need is the right opportunity to get it out.
One piece of advice I would give others is to do things how you want. Just because others were successful in a similar business doesn’t mean you need to do what they did. Being a disruptor is more fun and it makes the business your own. Get inspiration from others but do not think there is only one way to do things no matter how appealing it looks.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use quite a few platforms and tools at this point. Salesforce is our CRM, we love google sheets, Facebook & Instagram too. Zoom is our meeting software since most of our team works remote, this allows us to connect frequently.
Our tech stack will be rather robust once our application is up and running and we have an awesome team, Volum8, helping us.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am a big book buyer but not a big book reader. It’s something I’m working on but I do have some favorites:
- Delivering Happiness
- Good to Great
- Never Lose a Customer Again
- Secret Service
- Steal Like an Artist
- Show Your Work
These books are my biggest inspirations for how I do things.
In addition to that, I love looking outside of the fitness industry for inspiration. A big part of our corporate culture was developed a lot by doing what others do wrong. Unfortunately and fortunately many businesses get the things wrong that can improve their business and we learn from their mistakes so we don’t have to make our own.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Member experience is everything. Do not think you can just get away with offering a good product if your service is poor, have slow response times, and pointless policies.
The customer doesn’t have to be right but that doesn’t matter. Make things right and be flexible. In this day and age, it’s easy to find another option and your ticket to success is in your customers experience with you. From the start, in the middle, and at the end. Make it memorable.
My other advice would be to dream big but act small. Do not count your chickens before they’re hatched and take one step at a time. Be careful of surviorship bias. This can give many people the illusion of easy success and it can distract you from the things that matter most. I do hope to inspire others but I never want to mislead. If someone has success it is rare but it is possible.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always looking to hire the right person for the right position. While we may not have an official job posting I am always open to anyone joining our team who can help us move forward. If that is you feel free to shoot us an email [email protected]. We may not need you today but there is always tomorrow/
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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