each + every year we commemorate fitbook taking another trip around the sun - often entailing party hats + cake pops for my journal-baby personified, sometimes launching new products (like 10), but always including a somewhat sappy blog post by yours truly. and this year is no different - except for one thing: it’s very different. because this year marks a decade-long history for fitlosophy’s first + flagship product, my baby, fitbook. that one little idea has been at the forefront of innovation for this brand for over 10 years. TEN.
fun fact: the biblical meaning of the number 10 is “completeness in divine order.” in modern terms, the number 10 is the symbol of matter in harmony. well, i for one don’t believe in coincidence + can tell you for darn sure that it’s not by chance that in our tenth year of business, this little-brand-that-could was presented with the ultimate opportunity - one that oftentimes only knocks once in a lifetime, and literally blessed my business socks off. bear with me as i tell the tale of how fitlosophy went from a single idea to wall street in 10 years’ time.
[one simple idea]
when i started fitlosophy back in 2008, it wasn’t the most economically opportune time to be ditching a six-figure salary to chase a pipe dream. fresh out of my MBA program with a one-product business idea, my classmates can attest to two things: 1) i took diligent, obsessively organized, color-coded notes in class and 2) i was passionately devoted to this idea of creating a business around a fitness-journal idea i had. “it’s called fitbook,” i’d proudly proclaim, “by fitlosophy.” none of those classmates, including myself, would’ve ever guessed that the same simple idea that was launched in a business school entrepreneurship class would then go on to be sold to a publicly traded company.
like anything, the acquisition of fitlosophy by CSS Industries (NYSE: CSE) didn’t happen overnight. in fact, this deal had been in the making for quite some time. years, to be exact. i just didn’t know it yet. it’s always fascinating to look back + see that while you thought you were somewhat flying by the seat of your pants, in reality the path was being paved oh-so-precisely.
while those first few pavers were laid back in 2008 when i initially took the leap and brought my little pipe dream to life, that was just one of many chances taken. in 2010, i sent a red box to target, a fitbook nestled safely inside. the buyer never got it. i sent another one. he never got it. i sent yet another red box, which he finally received. he liked it and agreed to a 100-store test in february 2011. it sold better than expected, so that spring, they bumped us to 500 stores. outpacing the sales forecast, by september 2011, fitbook was launched in all 1800-ish target stores nationwide in the fitness aisle. a few years later, i wanted to approach the journal buyer, but was met with a chorus of no’s time and time again. in retail, it’s common that buyers in certain categories (journals, in this case) choose to work with only a select few large companies. so, i found out what companies sold in that aisle, approached them, and asked if they’d be interested in licensing a product in the journal aisle. boom, business-deal done. in january 2015, our fitspiration journal hit the target journal-aisle as the first of what would eventually be many licensed products created with C.R. Gibson, a CSS Industries company. and that was that.
[the call that changed it all]
then a year ago, in june of 2017 i took a phone call that changed everything: “have you ever thought of selling your business?” me: silence. a little taken aback, i knew it was worth exploring. what would follow was a year of conversations, negotiations, and sheer elation as we closed almost exactly 365 days later. those months flew by, but the hours leading up to close on june 1, 2018 are joyfully seared into my mind. nothing can prepare you for seeing the name of your company in the title of a press release on the NASDAQ. or having your entire team of employees, advisors, and even your father gathered ‘round a big, fancy table at a fancy-schmancy restaurant to celebrate a new reality that even now still feels like a dream. i never will take full credit for getting this deal done on my own – but one thing i will take credit for: when opportunity knocked at the most opportune time, i answered.
in a conversation with a dear friend of mine recently, she was frustrated because the outcome she’s been wanting hasn’t come to fruition (yet). exasperated, she said (and i quote) “well if it doesn’t open, it’s not my door!” in this friends’ defense, she’s a hard worker and not a quitter, but i think society promotes this newfound notion that whatever is supposed to be in your life will just fall in your lap; that if it’s tough then it’s not your path; that if opportunity doesn’t knock, bail out the window. my response is this: sometimes you have to knock – really hard, until your knuckles hurt. then try turning the knob and wiggling the lock a little bit – and if all else fails, plow through that sucker. point being, life isn’t like the four seasons with automatic revolving doors that sense your existence and ever-so-politely part ways like the red sea.
make no mistake - this does not mean that you’re meant to go through every door. to clarify, i think one of the most profound things i've learned in business over this past decade is just that: which opportunities are worth white-knuckling, which battles are worth getting bruised for, and also knowing when to walk away. for me, hearing “no” was never a rejection – it was a challenge to be better, improve the products or my pitch, learn to pivot in a positive way. plenty of times i chose the wrong door, whether it was selecting a shady vendor who ripped me off, manufacturing products that weren’t our core competency, or taking on deals with mass retailers that were a risk to our bottom line. but every single mistake was worth its weight in gold (literally, because almost all mistakes in business turn out to be expensive), but you can’t put a price on learning how to adjust, correct, and move forward. truth be told, there were times i wanted to give up – many times.
so why did i keep pounding down the proverbial door with perseverance? for me, it was simple. right about when i’d reached my wit’s end, or my bank account was running on fumes, i’d get an email from a customer proclaiming that fitbook changed their life. or i would see a heartfelt post on social media about how our products were part of someone’s success story to a healthier version of themselves. just the other day, a #fabfitbooker tagged us who was just starting her 33rd fitbook. that’s 8(!) years of fitbooking, people! the formula for my ‘why’ is simple: 1) create something that matters, 2) authentically change people’s lives for the better, and 3) people will come back again and again. for me, that made it worth beating down the door mercilessly – because truth is, it wasn’t about me at all.
in a recent interview, i was asked what one mistake i see start-up entrepreneurs make early on. not that I’m an expert by any means, but my feeling is this: people give up too easily. they want the door to open yet they don’t take the time to knock; turn the knob put a little force into it, and often times they walk by the door that’s already cracked open, but they’re too afraid to walk through it because on the other side could be failure – or (gasp!) even success! believe it or not, i truly believe that some people are more afraid of succeeding than they are of staying cozy in the comfort zone. as much as it seems like the choice to sell a business would be easy when opportunity comes a knockin’, i'd be fibbing if i didn’t admit there were moments of wondering what the best path was. truth is, i didn’t know what would be on the other side. and while not much has changed since merging with the big boys, in terms of the day-to-day or my involvement with this company i created, this is still my baby. i worried, can i entrust my baby to anyone else? what does it look like for the chief fitlosopher to not be the head honcho?
[leap of faith]
often times we run away from the unknown without exploring if it could in fact be everything we’ve ever wanted. rather than looking at who i’m not or fearing change, i chose to take a leap of faith and think about what i would be, what it would mean for my brand, and most importantly, what this meant for my customers - the very people for whom i create these products. yes, i could’ve continued on my own – clearly what we’ve been doing has been working! but i wondered: what would it mean for this passionate little brand to have the backing of a very large organization? it meant we could reach more people. it we meant we could help more people become healthy. my mission always has been to change the shape of our world - literally. choosing to stay in my comfort zone as privately-owned fitlosophy may have gotten us there eventually, but growing the company beyond my own limits has truly set this brand up for success in taking on the world. and unexpectedly, it’s ignited a new passion in me by being faced with new challenges, opportunities + ideas that i hadn’t even realized i was craving.
this deal was inked because we took the time to find the right opportunity. one that included me staying on as chief fitlosopher; one that included my entire fitlosophy team; one that is with a company that values not only what we’ve built but believes fiercely in where we’re going. i remember having dinner one night in new york city with a few key executives and, still in negotiations, i turned to one of the guys explaining to him any hesitation he might sense: “you just have to understand that it feels like i'm giving my baby up for adoption.” his quick response is a perfect example of the company that i'm now so proudly a part of: “don’t think of it that way – think of it as getting a whole lot more aunts and uncles to love on your baby.” boom, sold. (literally).
[the best is yet to come]
straight out of grad school i proudly pranced off with nothing more than an idea, a hand-drawn logo, and a business plan. i had no manufacturer, investor, warehouse, website, or money, for that matter. and maybe my lack of planning was part of what drove my persistence. had i been handed everything, i wouldn’t have learned to be scrappy – a characteristic that’s vital to surviving the rollercoaster ride we call entrepreneurship. fast forward 10 years and never could I have imagined that my “little” idea would lead to literally millions of fitbooks, gracing the shelves of stores like target and walgreens, changing lives all over the world, and growing from 1 to over 50 products with every word, design + detail meticulously crafted.
thomas edison said it best: “opportunity is often missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” if you’re willing to do the work, often much longer + harder than you ever imagined, that’s the first step to having your foot in the door of opportunity. after ten years, i've learned to white-knuckle my way through, beat down doors + never stop knockin’. what started as a simple idea has grown tenfold.
happy 10th birthday, fitbook! our lil’ baby deserves double high-fives to celebrate a decade’s worth of changing lives, one page + fitbooker at a time. we’d LOVE to know how long you’ve been a #fabfitbooker - or if you’re new (welcome!), introduce yourself in the comments below because i love meeting each + every one of you! one thing’s for sure: the best is yet to come.
with a grateful heart,
your chief fitlosopher (always)