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.

Start Something.

Start Something. I think this is an amazingly simple challenge that can have profound implications for our economy and society at a macro level and our overall wellbeing and outlook on so many things at a micro level.

Start something, anything really, as long as it something in which you can make money. You don’t have to go start the next multibillion dollar business empire, next Facebook, or even the next hot gaming app. Why? There are a few main reasons.

Start Something

  • Experience. The experience of accomplishment (or failure) that is yours. Working for others, for companies, will mean that your successes and failures are always on on other’s shoulders – your boss, your coworkers, your direct reports, and the company’s shareholders. When things go well, or poorly, generally, the accolades or blame get spread around, even if it was virtually all because of you or in spite of you. Even if it was your idea, your execution, and even your job on the line, with almost virtual certainty you relied in some way on company resources, capital, prior experience, connections, reputation, and personnel.
    It’s an indescribable feeling when you can look at something you made or a service you provided and know that someone paid their hard earned money for it.
  • Ownership. If I were to say “lemonade stand”, most of you would likely think of young kids selling lemonade in their front lawn. It’s a fantastic experience as a kid, mostly because it’s all profit for you, but to make something yourself, then watch as people give you money for your time, effort, and product.
    What I’m speaking of isn’t vastly different – maybe you have some artistic or crafty talent, you’re really good with computers, or perhaps could be a freelance personal trainer to help friends or family get in shape. Whatever your talents, use them, even if it’s selling hand made candles out of your house or apartment. The feeling of ownership is one our society is lacking on a growing level. Knowing that you can build something or offer your skills or talent is a powerful feeling, and one that you will never fully realize working for someone else.
    This doesn’t mean you have to quit your job and be a starving soap maker. I’m merely saying start something that is yours, even as an occasional activity at night or on the weekends, to really get that amazing feeling of ownership.
  • Opportunity. Do you notice how those that are successful just seem to have the right opportunities fall into their laps? I promise you, that isn’t true. They are out there working their tails off every day, whether it’s building a business as an employee, as a partner, as an owner, investing in others with their time and resources, or networking and proving their worth as a person with whom others would like to do business or just simply be around.
    You’ll be surprised at the opportunities that begin to present themselves when you begin to put yourself out there.
  • Understanding. There’s a great deal of hostility towards business owners these days. Walk a mile in their shoes, even in your own small way, and begin to understand things in a new light.
    Certainly negligent or malicious business owners deserve the scorn they receive, but the large majority of business owners are men and women who wanted to build something of their own, hire a few employees, and make their own way in the world.
    Daymond John recently said “Being a boss is this: Your employees don’t like you. Your family doesn’t think you’re doing enough at home. You share the success with everyone, and the failure is yours alone.” It’s no cakewalk, despite the widespread perception.
    Business owners are also the ones who create jobs – no one else.
  • Economy. That is a perfect segue. New businesses, new products, new services. These drive us forward. The beautiful thing about starting something is it’s not a zero sum game. Think about GoPro – they created an entire industry around high quality video cameras on the go out of virtually nothing and destroyed no other businesses in the process. This results in more jobs and new opportunities others had never imagined.
    We need people who are willing to take risks and grow this economy. Status quo is unacceptable.

Start something. Anything. Do it for the experience and fun at first, then grow. Get to a point where you are ready to start something great. Something that will have a real impact on the world. Don’t worry about changing the world with your first go – doing it at all is more than 99% of people. As you gain experience, aim higher than a flash in the pan or a quick buck. It will be so much more rewarding than all your past experiences combined.

Please don’t misconstrue this challenge. It is vitally important that people start and continue efforts to help those around them, their community, and those that deserve our assistance. Another disclaimer that must be said: anyone who starts something is likely going to rely on the help of partners, employees, investors, or family and friends at some point. That does not diminish the points made above, and if you are fortunate enough to start something and receive help from those around you, be sure to recognize it.

Do something that matters.

Brent Beshore recently shared an article titled “The Hypocrisy in Silicon Valley’s Big Talk on Innovation” which challenges many out there talking about their hugely important projects and super sexy startups to remember that the newest timewasting app (or, let’s be honest, the 10,000th productivity app) may not be all that innovative, or all that important.

It’s an interesting article, particularly in the light of the current reality of many of the “hottest startups” in recent memory. Andrew Mason of Groupon was forced out of the company he started last month. Living Social is in dire straits (some may disagree, but their financials speak volumes). Remember when group couponing was going to revolutionize commerce? The insane valuations of investors crazy to pour money into a “sure thing” that was “innovative” beyond any doubts seems almost comical, in retrospect. One thing Groupon and Living Social have accomplished is a strong contribution to the race to the bottom on prices and quality many companies are locked into these days, destroying company and product value and consumer perspectives on what something is actually worth. Looking at Zynga, another innovative next big thing, tells a somewhat similar tale. Things aren’t going well, in terms of management (Founder forced renegotiations on equity promises when things were going well), stock price, or future. Even Zynga itself got caught up in other’s hype when it paid $180 million for Draw Something, an app that became hugely popular in a relatively short period of time. It’s taking a $100 million write down on that purchase. These are just a few examples. Certainly we’re seeing great things in innovation and tech these days (from Twitter and Square to Tesla and Shopify), but there is a continued fascination and obsession with a multitude of companies that seem highly talented at raising money and making noise rather than building real companies of true value. Why?

Real Work

For what little my opinion matters on the subject, I think it comes down to three things.

  1. Short sightedness. This is on behalf of both the investors and the entrepreneurs. The few stories we hear today of founders and investors cashing out for hundreds of millions after 3 years has poisoned people’s thought processes. Building something of real value takes a long time, great sacrifice, and more than most could ever imagine. If you’ve cashed out early for hundreds of millions, it was almost certainly a fluke. Since tech companies seem to be all the focus, let’s look at the ones we rely on the most: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung. These companies took years, even decades, to build and massive investments. There is no get rich quick. There is no build value quick. There is only hard work. Time will tell on Facebook’s real valuation (read: value). Right now, in pursuit of calming investors, they are making just about every single one of their users incredibly frustrated at every turn. Look at LinkedIn: once the ugly duckling of social media, they are the darling of the investor world today because they are creating real value and something people actually want and need. Twitter remains a toss up in my opinion – it is fundamentally the most transformative communication tool since the cell phone, but let’s see how they handle things moving forward.
  2. Tech. Tech isn’t a dirty word, but it is distorting perspectives on what is worthwhile and valuable. The ability to scale an app company quickly, reach millions, and quickly flip it for $180 million (see Draw Something) or $1 billion (see Instagram) has changed the way people pursue innovation, has changed the way investors look at risk and reward, and has changed the public’s perspective altogether. Look at Elon Musk with SpaceX and Tesla Motors. One man (supported by investors and an all star cast of employees, of course) is responsible for carrying the greatest nation on earth’s dream of space travel forward through his private sector efforts WHILE ALSO building the first real attempt at a viable electric car company. Most of the country laughs at him and says he’ll never make it. While many probably laughed at Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, monumental gains in demonstrating what is possible (computers, cell phones, satellites, the internet) should have us cheering for Elon and others like him rather than worshipping a photo filter app… For some reason, most aren’t.
  3. Distractions and Ease. The first two aren’t really the general population’s fault. They’re really more reserved for investors, entrepreneurs, and the media (particularly the startup media). We aren’t getting off that easy though. As Gary Vaynerchuk said, “Stop watching F-ing LOST” (I’m paraphrasing here and in full disclosure I absolutely loved LOST). Many people say how busy they are and how little time they have to a) do something that matters or b) do something they really want to do. I don’t need to quote any articles to point out how much time is spent wasted on Angry Birds, Social Media, or picking your latest filter. Sure, there’s a time and place for fun and social media is an amazing tool for business, communication, and maintaining friendships… but they’re also fantastic time wasters. Many people have lost sight of the big picture because they are focused on the very small screen right in front of them with flying birds that knock down pigs. People can get quite frustrated when their phone freezes or they lose service on a phone call. While this is indeed a frustrating experience, many forget the hundreds of billions of dollars and too many hours to count that went into creating computers, processors, cell phones, satellites, infrastructure, new forms of programming so on and so forth. The ease with which we live our lives, and the very entertaining distractions, have made most of us lose sight of what really matters and how hard it is to really build something of value.

I’m not trying to suggest that Mizzen+Main is a cure for cancer, or that we shouldn’t be excited and engage with fantastic tech developments. Not at all. I am all the more convinced, however, that we are on the right path to building something of real value, something that matters, and something that can have a very positive impact on our communities and our country. For a great perspective on our journey so far, please check out my brilliant cofounder’s thoughts on How to (Really) Found a Startup. It feels good to be getting our hands “dirty” (don’t worry we wash them before handling the fabric!), it truly is a labor of love. We’re building real products and aim to build something of true value.

In response to Brent, I said that companies need to aim for more than the next “hot app” while investors need to aim for more than a quick flip. Brent summed it up nicely: “Do stuff that matters”.

Please let me know what you think on Twitter @KevinSMU.

Jumping from Space

This is singlehandedly the most amazing picture of 2012.

Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian expert skydiver (coolest title ever), jumped from the edge of outer space yesterday, and became the first person to break the speed of sound unassisted by mechanical force. It was just Felix and gravity.  He jumped from 24 miles above the earth’s surface and ended up falling at over 800 mph. The Red Bull Stratos project inspired the world yesterday.

Surely such a feat of human engineering was directed by NASA or the federal government. The entire thing was brought to you by… an energy drink? In what has now set the bar for the greatest marketing effort in history, Red Bull shot for the stars with this one (bad pun intended) and funded the entire mission, from research and preparation, to execution and broadcast. To say it paid off is a massive understatement. Companies today pay millions of dollars to broadcast or print advertisements for a few seconds that most people ignore. Over 8 million people around the world directly participated in the event – and had to make an effort to do so – that had Red Bull logos everywhere and reinforced Red Bull is more than a company or product, it is a lifestyle that you want to be a part of.  For a company with the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings”, is there any better marketing stunt? Best of all, not one part of it felt forced.  It is a part of their DNA.  Can you imagine if Chevy did this? It wouldn’t feel authentic.

There are some great lessons that can be gleaned from this experience, for all companies, as Web Smith points out. While Red Bull spent a fortune on this, it was in such a pioneering way, the return on investment is far greater than an equal, or greater, sum spent elsewhere. They were also certain to prime the (worldwide) audience for a long time leading up to the event, ensuring maximum exposure. As tired of a cliche “think outside the box” is, imagine the conversation within the halls of Red Bull the day someone suggested having someone parachute from 24 miles above the earth to break the speed of sound unassisted. Most companies would have put that person in the “crazy” corner, or ignored him or her altogether.

Jen Blackman Lavelle: The Triathlete

My amazing wife, Jen, continues to be that much more amazing every day and inspire me on a daily basis.

While many people have a hard time in challenging situations, Jen is one of those people who thrives when challenged, personally and professionally, and seeks challenges out. Triathlons are grueling, both physically and mentally, but Jen couldn’t be happier out there training and competing.

Jen competed at the Stonebridge Playtri Triathlon this weekend in the sprint triathlon event.  She was out of the open water swim a full minute ahead of the next fastest woman and about 8 minutes faster than the average time in the event. Not only that, but she got out of the water looking fresh and ready to press on while everyone else seemed to get out thanking their lucky stars they survived the 750 meter open water swim!

Jen has been a swimmer her whole life.  Her parents incentivized her when she was young with ice cream.  The need for ice cream quickly faded, and she found herself swimming hours a day, improving and competing all the time. Before too long, she was at Highland Park High School and a 16 Time Texas State Champion. Continuing her career at SMU, she didn’t stop racking up awards and accolades:

  • Former American Record Holder (800 MR Freestyle)
  • 6 Time NCAA All-American
  • 2008 Olympic Trials Competitor
  • 2008 SMU Women’s Swimming Captain
  • 2008 US National Champion (400MR Freestyle)

I started out talking about Jen challenging herself, and clearly, she is a phenomenal swimmer, so what am I talking about here? Two weeks before her first ever triathlon, I was doing drills in the parking lot with Jen teaching her how to ride a bike. Seriously. I watched her topple over several times (she made me stand back and have her do it on her own, I’m not a bad husband, I promise!) Fast forward to this past weekend, and she won her age division and placed 5th overall in the triathlon! This is a woman who challenges herself… and will not take no for an answer, from others or herself.

Driving up to the race, I said (in the most reassuring voice possible) “Just finish – get your first triathlon under your belt.” When I told her twin sister my advice to Jen, she laughed saying “Right. Jen didn’t hear a word you said. She’ll win – just watch.”

And we did.

I’m so proud of my wife. This was her first race, and she’s only going to grow from here, never stopping when it comes to challenging herself.

A picture from the race this weekend – with Jen not only doing great on the bike, but smiling!

Choosing What Defines Us

Jonathan Wentz passed away this weekend due to complications from cerebral palsy, and this world lost a truly inspirational figure who chose to define his life in his own terms.

I met Jonathan at TEDxSMU Hilltop, where he and I both were honored to speak to the SMU community about our experiences.  Jonathan had just come back from the 2012 Paralympics in London where he narrowly missed a medal in the equestrian events.  He said it was the most amazing experience – and not just the Olympics itself but the entire journey – one for which he was incredibly grateful.  The fact that Jonathan was able to call himself an Olympian (which I remember him proudly saying despite not winning a medal, “once an Olympian, always an Olympian”) is actually not the most amazing thing I saw in him. We got to chat for a few hours after the event in which he described to me his journey through life, not just to the Olympics.  The most amazing thing Jonathan told me about himself was that he should not even be able to stand up, let alone walk around and control a thousand pound animal in equestrian events on the world’s greatest stage for athletics.  The most amazing thing I saw about Jonathan from the outside was that while some may see his life defined by his significant disability, something he did not get to choose, he chose to become an athlete at the highest level, a scholar (with a triple major), an advocate, a teacher, and an inspiration.

Jonathan described to me just how amazing horses are to those with disabilities. Riding a horse allows those who cannot walk to “learn” how to walk with the rest of their body by mimicking the gait of walking normally and teaching the body’s others muscles to walk.  Jonathan’s experiences as a child actually helped push forward the use of horses to help those with disabilities. He told me how tests on his muscles show that he should not be able to stand up at all – but his years of effort and hard work have him standing, walking, and competing in the Paralympics.  There’s a lot more about Jonathan’s story on his website.

Here is Jonathan’s TEDxSMU Hilltop talk:

Jonathan was not dealt a “fair” hand and didn’t get to choose his life circumstances – but he chose not to let that define him or what he was capable of.  He was a triple major at SMU and wanted to go into politics. He was an Olympian (and always will be). He was a staunch advocate – petitioning Congress to support American Olympic athletes (the United States is basically the only country in the world that expects its athletes to win gold and honor but tells its athletes they are on their own, effectively sentencing its athletes to never ending fund raising and having to work full time side jobs to afford living and training). He helped others with disabilities to ride and change their lives. He worked with horses and was a teacher. Most of all, he was an inspiration.  He is an inspiration.

Jonathan achieved greatness in his far too short life. Some may see Jonathan as disabled. I only knew him a short time and immediately saw that Jonathan was defined by so many other amazing things – things that he chose to define him.

If you would like to make a donation in Jonathan’s honor, details are below:

USPEA
Jonathan Wentz Scholarship Fund
3940 Verde Vista Drive
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
*The USPEA is a 501(c)(3) and all donations are tax-deductible.

You may also donate through the USPEA website atwww.USPEA.org by clicking the red “Donate Now” button at the bottom of the page. Please specify that the donation is for the Jonathan Wentz Scholarship Fund. Any questions about donating can be e-mailed to donate@uspea.org