My First Fifty CrossFit Days…

… I’m never going back.

Friends had been telling me for years to do CrossFit. I’ve been a “GloboGym” guy since high school. I’ve always enjoyed weightlifting and hated cardio. I figured I knew what I was doing after more than a decade in the gym – why did I need to do CrossFit? Weightlifting defined a big part of who I was. I spent an hour or two five to six days a week every morning before dawn. I didn’t need someone to tell me how to work out. To be clear, I did more than crunches, curls, and bench press and even competed in an amateur bodybuilding competition in college. I also looked at the guys who were at the elite CrossFit level and thought to myself “There’s no way they do a five minute workout and achieve that level of fitness.” After staring, admittedly curiously, from the outside in, my friend and business partner Web Smith finally got me to give it a go.

There was no question I was going to CrossFit Dallas Central to give it a shot. Widely viewed as the best CrossFit box in Dallas (“box” = gym), I’d even heard it’s one of the best in the US.  One of my first reactions was a bit of sticker shock at the price. Gold’s Gym was $50 a month. I was looking at $200 a month to join CrossFit. I had enough people at this point in my life telling me I had to try it that it was more than worth a one month trial. Having started a clothing company last year, something else I’ve learned first hand is that quality is never cheap. It it’s a great product or service, it’s going to be worth the cost. Our “chasing cheap” culture has distorted reality to an unhealthy level with everyone expecting things to cost less than it takes to actually deliver that product or service. There exists an almost automatic assumption that there should always be a discount, and if it costs more than something in the same product category, it’s too expensive (even if they aren’t really comparable). Past the signup, I got my world rocked.

I can’t remember my first week of workouts in terms of specific movements/time, but I can remember being humbled as never before. There will always be someone faster or stronger (unless you are Rich Froning), so it wasn’t that someone finished something faster or with more weight… It was that I felt like the workout had obliterated me. No exaggeration. I remember collapsing on the floor thinking “But wait! I’m FIT!”. The important distinction with CrossFit is that you may be able to run a marathon, but you can’t lift much weight at all. You may be incredibly strong, but if you have to row a 1000 meters, you may actually pass out. CrossFit is all about exactly what their slogan says “Forging Real Fitness”.

Perhaps even more amazing than this realization that I was nowhere near as “fit” as I thought I was, was the bonding experience that took place almost instantly. From the coaches to those getting obliterated with me, the sense of community is phenomenal. Perhaps shared suffering (and of course triumph at the completion of each WOD) is a stronger bonding tool than I had ever realized.

This false sense from those who have not ever even tried CrossFit that it’s a bunch of workout lunatics/muscle heads couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve seen the fittest people right next to those who are one hundred pounds overweight, all doing their best to improve their own fitness level while encouraging each other. From teenagers looking to get ready for soccer tryouts to men and women old enough to be grandparents, there is absolutely something for everyone. You do not need to get fit in order to show up on your first day. The coaches will tailor workouts to your level and push you, in a healthy way, for consistent improvement.

So about my “fitness” level… I rarely combined aerobic activity into workouts. I’d never done an overhead squat. I’d play with my phone or have long conversations with friends at the gym. I’d gotten really good at specific movements and while I was “strong”, I now understand I’ve just scratched the surface of true fitness.

Can’t wait for what’s next. Thanks Web and Lindsey Smith for opening my eyes. Thanks to the CrossFit community for welcoming me and making me want so much more for myself.

The Cost of Cheap

Some may have heard the news that a recent building collapse in Bangladesh killed over 1,100 people. Most have not. Disasters happen all over the world, all the time. What makes this different? It was a garment factory for some of the worlds biggest (cheap) brands with deplorable conditions. Ann Zimmerman and Neil Shah wrote a great piece in the Wall Street Journal this weekend entitled American Taste for Cheap Clothes Fed Bangladesh Boom. It is a must read.

Building Collapse

Photo Credit: Andrew Biraj, Reuters

My wife and I walked through the mall this weekend past an H&M store where they advertised a bikini for $4.95 (modeled by Beyonce). $4.95. Let that sink in. If you’ve ever dug into the economics of products like clothing, it means the cost of goods on that bikini is somewhere between $0.50 and $1.50, depending on a number of factors, that include the fabric and the labor itself. That does not include paying Beyonce. People have quickly become familiar with China making just about everything (and typically of rather poor quality), but what people are less familiar with is that even China is becoming “too expensive” in terms of labor. Companies are shifting their manufacturing from China to even lower cost manufacturing countries like Bangladesh, with devastating consequences. There aren’t even basic safeguards for people working in these countries. Over 1,100 people died in this building collapse. In buildings like this and others that have experienced deadly accidents in Bangladesh, clothes are made for H&M, Zara, J.C. Penney, United Colors of Benetton, Wal-Mart, and other major companies. H&M and Zara have made a name for themselves with “fast fashion”, taking inspiration from couture fashion, cutting down the production to shelf time, using dirt cheap labor, and bargain basement pricing. The consequences of these business practices are great profits for these companies along with significant human suffering.  It is absolutely true that offshore production can give people in developing countries a chance at a brighter future with jobs, if done responsibly. This is anything but responsible.

The only way things will change is if people in America and Europe (primarily) start to vote with their dollars and demand change. United Colors of Benetton champions itself as a company of social responsibility. It denied having any connection to the factory that collapsed, until pictures emerged of its clothing amidst the rubble.

Things have to change. I believe we’re doing our part at Mizzen+Main with our commitment to American manufacturing. While people don’t typically make the choice between item A and item B based on where it is made, seeing American made products, or responsibly made products from overseas, helps encourage people to keep in mind the consequences of their purchases.

John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, is probably the best example of what he champions: conscious capitalism. At Inc’s 2013 GrowCo conference, he said America is in “disintegration mode,” and unless businesses, government, and the media behave more ethically and more cooperatively, high unemployment levels and economic decline will continue. Perhaps most importantly, he said “the virtues that made us a great nation are beginning to disappear. Capitalism needs to renew itself, and we need new ethcial foundation for business.”

There is a cost to cheap. A very, very high cost. I encourage you to vote with your dollars and effect positive change. Pay attention to who you buy from and do business with. You’ll be surprised.

The Entitled Generation… and Those That Will Work For It

While I’d prefer not to give this young woman any more attention, Suzy Lee Weiss wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend entitled To (All) The Colleges That Rejected Me with the byline “If only I had a Tiger Mom or started a fake charity”. I’m sure (and I hope) most of you are already disgusted with some saying “well, maybe it’s a bad title, and she has valid points” It is, and she doesn’t. It is a shocking confession of the most entitled generation in existence, demonstrating perfectly the “Participation Trophy” culture and should be a dramatic wake up call to parents, educators, politicians, and business leaders that years of failed policies, bad parenting, and excuses are coming home to roost. Some chastise the Wall Street Journal for posting such a ridiculous piece or childish whining, but I say kudos. I’m sure they said “People need to see this.” They most certainly do.

Some of Ms. Weiss’ embarrassing rant includes:

  • Colleges apparently told her to “just be herself” – which she feels is a lie. Newsflash: just being yourself is not a skill that will earn you admission to college and no admissions officers leave their advice at that. Don’t be fake, but impress them and show them why they want you.
  • She would have gotten in to her dream school(s) if she had just faked diversity by wearing a headdress or claiming 1/32nd something like Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  • Taking stock photos of “scooping up” a starving African child would surely have wooed admissions officers
  • If only she had a coffee pouring fake internship, she would have been deemed a top candidate
  • Her parents didn’t push her hard enough and make her do activities she hated, so now she’s an undesirable undergrad (Jeez Mom and Dad, you ruin EVERYTHING!)

Anyone with any sense sees right through this pathetic diatribe – except those that live this life. It’s clear Ms. Weiss has zero drive, no ambition to succeed, no will to challenge herself, and a humiliating lack of perspective made all the worse by a bit of investigation Caity Weaver at Gawker that shows her parents have a luxury home featured by the Wall Street Journal. Life has clearly been a struggle for this privileged middle to upper class suburban child. The rude awakening she feels she’s just experienced will pale in comparison to life outside the comfortable nest her family has provided.

This generation, spanning Generation Y to the Millennials, is in for a rude awakening across the board due to what they’ve been told by their families, teachers, politicians, and corporations promising them everything without ever really having to work for it. From participation trophies to classes without “F’s” because of how it makes students “feel”, many kids and young adults feel so dangerously entitled, it’s terrifying.

Which brings me to one of the best quotes I’ve read in a long time:

Hard Work

Nothing is guaranteed. No one owes you anything. There is no “safe” path. Life isn’t fair. The only way to give yourself the best shot at success – whatever that means for you – is to work harder than everyone else. Make your own luck. You’ll be surprised at opportunities that suddenly “appear” because of how hard you are working, how people treat you differently and want to help you on your way, and how success begets success. One thing I can promise anyone who feels how Ms. Weiss feels is that there are countless others around you willing to work so much harder, day in and day out. Those that will work for success will earn it. Those that feel entitled, never will.

I don’t need to add much commentary around the college admissions process, because that’s not really what this young woman was even talking about. This rant was a young person waking up to a reality she had been shielded from and her violent reaction to it. I guess it isn’t even a violent reaction though – it’s just about as much effort as she could muster, a 250 word gripe fest passively complaining about everything and everyone except her own lack of ambition and motivation. Note that 250 words is just about a quarter of a standard English class essay… You can almost hear her sigh with exhaustion at the end of it. Of course the colleges admissions process is flawed at some levels, but by and large, students demonstrating drive, ambition, and an interest in the world around them outside social media and reality television will stand out.

I hope her parents are as embarrassed as they should be. If they aren’t, the only hope Ms. Weiss has a reality check outside her parent’s Wall Street Journal Luxury Homes featured nest.

The implications for our society are real. An entitled generation unwilling to work hard and frustrated by other’s success around them does not bode well for anyone.

I do see some hope, though. Organizations like the Young Entrepreneur Council are growing quickly with young adults looking to make their mark on the world in business, philanthropy, education, and the arts. Organizations like KIPP are teaching teenagers about hard work and the need to educate yourself. More needs to be done though, particularly from parents.

Let’s hope parents, teachers, politicians, and corporations are leading young adults in the direction of the YEC rather than the line of thinking that leads to this the spiteful rant of an entitled teenager.

Was this in your business plan?

Progress

These two images were apparently both taken in St. Peter’s Square, one in 2005 when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, and the other in 2013 when Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis. Honestly, these pictures could have probably been the exact same in 2007 and 2012, meaning only a 5 year difference. Businesses frequently work on their 5 Year Plan, carefully charting out the future of their company’s efforts and finances.

So… was this in your business plan?

Look at how people receive information, share information, and process information today versus even a few years ago. The iPad will be 3 years old in April of this year. Let that sink in. Remember when everyone scoffed and said “It’s too big, too small, can’t make phone calls, and isn’t a computer.” How’s that working out for you?

Business planning is a necessary endeavor, on many levels, but it’s clear we see far too many businesses writing their plans out for the future and ensuring they do everything they can to stick to them, even following them right into bankruptcy. “But it’s the plan!” you can almost hear management cry out… Certainly companies (and people) should not chase every new opportunity just because it’s there (FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is equally detrimental as “sticking to the plan” in my opinion), but I watch many companies today completely ignoring the freight train of reality coming straight towards them. Kodak and Blockbuster (and perhaps Blackberry though there may still be a small chance for recovery/turnaround) are two great illustrations of the picture above being played out in reality and knocking these once dominant (even industry defining) companies out of existence.

And to the person in the foreground of this now widely circulated image, please do us all a favor, and stop taking pictures with your iPad. Thanks Tumblr.

*All image rights to their respective owners (Luca Bruno, Michael Sohn, AP, NBC). No copyright intended – this is just sharing*

Get it done. Period.

Of all the things that have been most surprising in starting a business, I think the lack of interest in earning new business or retaining existing business I’ve experienced from a number of vendors has to take the top spot. It also makes me appreciate vendors, or companies I am a general customer of, who don’t just do the bare minimum, but go above and beyond. In a world of low-touch interactions and poor customer service, any business has an easy shot at standing out from all the rest. I came across this quote recently and was struck how many different ways it applies to being successful in business. It also reminded me of how much I love companies that I work with that I know will just get “it” done. Whatever it is. I know I can trust them to get it done.

Be A Good One

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” Abraham Lincoln

  • If you are starting out as an assistant, be the best assistant there is. You won’t be an assistant for long.
  • If you are in charge of new business, don’t let anything or anyone slip through the cracks or feel like they don’t matter. Trust me, you’ll be at the top of their mind anytime they have to make a decision related to your industry. If they can’t choose you for whatever reason, be it price, timing, etc., they will recommend you to their contacts or network. You won’t be in charge of new business for long, because everyone around you will see how much potential you have to get things done and get them done right. You’ll be in charge of all business, operations, or the company.
  • If you are a customer service representative, each customer should feel like once they call you, you will take care of their problems on your side of the fence. People are way too busy, all the time right now. If a customer calls you and says “I have a problem.” When they hang up, they should feel like 1) it’s resolved or 2) you will personally see to it that it is resolved.
  • If you are a sales representative, don’t make your clients or customers work to give you business. This should go without saying. If you make them work for you, you won’t be a sales representative long – you won’t have a job or, if you are the only representative, your business may fail. If you work your tail off for them, you won’t be a sales representative long – you’ll be in charges of sales, or the company, soon.

See a pattern?

I strongly encourage you read this article called the $4 Million Complaint Call. In a nutshell, one customer named Bob required an enormous amount of help with a software package, including basic training on how to use the computer itself. While some at the company encouraged the CEO to give up (“We can’t AFFORD to help him – just refund his money and move on”), he didn’t. Six months later, a call came in out of the blue with a new company requesting to standardize their systems on this company’s platform. How did they know they should select this company? Bob was brought on to their team a few months earlier – he said there was no one better to go with.

One final thought: things go wrong. All the time. If something can go wrong, it will. Maybe not now, but sometime soon. Don’t lose yourself. Don’t start cutting down people around you. Just get it done. Be the person that people want to have on their team, as a partner, as an employee, as a boss, or as a friend. People should know that if you’re involved, you are so good, whatever needs to get done, will.

Whatever you are, be a good one. Get things done. Period.

Everything else will fall into place.

Simple, but Significant

When I started this blog it was intended to be a forum for updates on business and life – and business and life have most certainly be going on at full speed. I also didn’t want to be another blog that compulsively updated without something meaningful to say. I see many people/blogs that feel compelled to push content, without necessity or quality. I think this poster below sums it up best, when it comes to this blog and what I am trying to build:

Make it simple, but significant.

In that vein, here is a simple, but significant update:

  • Mizzen+Main has made tremendous progress. After going back to the drawing board to make our moisture wicking, wrinkle free dress shirts that much better, we’ve done just that. We have substantially improved the cuffs and collars and made a number of design improvements to the shirts themselves.
  • We’ve taken our redesigned and improved shirts and released them in a beautiful Cornflower Blue and are releasing this weekend an Atlantic Blue Pinstripe and Pink Houndstooth. It’s an amazing feeling to see months of hard work result in such a tangible result.
  • Our first video will be debuted this weekend. The team at Slice Media did an unbelievable job of capturing what we are building – the next great American clothing company.
  • I received a thank you note from President George W. Bush. That was an incredibly significant moment in this journey.

GWBLetter

  • I come to understand more and more every day the blessing that it is to work with my two co-founders in building Mizzen+Main, Web Smith and Steven DeWitt. Their talents are overwhelming, and they are two fantastic gentlemen.
  • I have learned more in the last year, particularly the last six months, than I have in 4 years of college and 4 years of working.
  • I heard a quote when I started out on this journey – “Entrepreneurs are the only people who trade a steady paycheck and a 40 hour week for no money and an 80+hour week.” No sugarcoating, add to that investing your spouse, your savings, your emotions, your family, asking for stress 24/7, and asking others to participate on a roller coaster that could have seriously negative consequences for them, and you are beginning to see the picture. So am I.
  • The most significant lesson I have learned in terms of a daily impact on my actions and decisions (and something to keep in mind if you take this plunge yourself) – it’s nearly impossible to get things done on the timeframe, quality level, and price bracket you agree to with a vendor. There are exceptions (cherish those), but this is the rule. Should be done in 2 weeks? Allot 4. Sign off on a sample? Expect something to go wrong. Enter in thinking amount $ABC? Add $DE and perhaps $F into your budget for last minute changes, expedited shipping, and all the extras that will be necessary to complete your effort. A key element of this – people will take advantage of you, lie to you, or just steal from you. It’s reality.
  • Getting to spend the holidays with my family nearly six months into this journey was the most wonderful gift I could have asked for. I won the parent lottery, the sibling lottery, and my sibling’s choice of partner lottery.

IMG_1254

  • Of all the lotteries I won though, I know ultimately I won the wife lottery. To have someone as graceful, strong, understanding, and let’s be honest, beautiful, as Jen… I am one very, very lucky man.

JenAndKevin

 

 

 

Don’t Take No For An Answer

I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxSMU Hilltop last week.  The title of my talk was “No = Go”, and I shared some of the “no’s” I’ve heard so far in starting my own company, Mizzen+Main.  The only reason I have been able to bring to life my dream of starting a company is because I refused to take no for an answer.  I hope to share that message as much as possible – our community, country, and world need people to stop taking no for an answer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between the no we tell ourselves and the no we hear from others.  I’m not sure which is more powerful – to be specific, detrimental – in one’s life.  No matter what, we have a choice in how to respond to either “no”, which is to say the negative power “no” can have in our lives actually means little, because we always have the power within ourselves to effect a different result.

While telling oneself no is likely a product of being told no, whether directly or indirectly, both have can have similar effects: inaction and a deteriorating sense of confidence; however, the buck stops with you when you tell yourself no.  You alone are responsible for telling yourself no, which also means you have all the power in the world to achieve the exact opposite result – telling yourself yes.  When others tell you no, you are not powerless though. Push back and get the answer you want, find a different way at the moment, or reorganize and get the answer you want when the time is right.

I’ve seen many people not get what they want out of life because “no” is the paradigm they live with – from others and themselves. This isn’t meant to be a “go get ’em” motivational post.  It’s a comment on the power of no in people’s lives and hopefully sparks a thought on the opportunities that are possible if more people didn’t take no for an answer.