Podcast

Episode 79 – Ally Davidson, Gladiator and CEO

Doesn’t every little girl dream about trying out for American Gladiator on the day of her wedding? Well Ally Davidson did just that – and won the competition! But it was what she did after the win that may surprise you. As Jessica and Ally talk about the journey of opening the life-changing fitness experience, Camp Gladiator, they’ll challenge all of us to consider how we spend our time, what our purpose is, and how we’re leveraging our life to make an impact on the world!

Transcript

Jessica: Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Are you ready for honest and vulnerable conversations that will inspire you towards action? Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

OK, today’s episode … I try not to play favorites, but this story is so inspiring and phenomenal. I am sitting down today with Ally Davidson. Ally tried out for the show American Gladiators on her wedding day. OK? Not before her wedding day, not after the honeymoon—on her wedding day. Her makeup artist was literally like, “You’re running late,” and she couldn’t even shower after she tried out.

She went on to get on the show and actually win the grand championship where they won $100,000. They were in their early 20s at the time, she had just gotten married. And today’s episode, we talk about what she decided to do after winning that $100,000. Give it a listen.

 

Double Booking the Wedding Day

Jessica: OK. So, before we get into CG, I need to hear, without missing a detail, about your wedding day and your honeymoon.

Ally: Right. Yeah, that kind of is where it all starts. Yeah, so, crazy story. But basically, I grew up my whole life playing sports. That was a big part of my life. I played four sports in high school on the varsity team and that was my life. I loved it. I would just go from sport to sport. And so, anyway, I met my now-husband, Jeff, I met him playing basketball over the summer when I was 18 years old. And we started dating. And, by the way, I’m from Austin, so I’m a local Austin girl, went to Westwood High School, and he’s from Dallas. And so, we met kind of the summer before I went to college and kind of hit off. And all through college we dated long distance. I was playing basketball in college at Ole Miss and Texas State, and he was working up in the Dallas area. So, anyway, we’re a long-distance couple, and we were just having fun. We loved stuff like going to the lake and doing adventurous outdoor sporty stuff, climbing mountains, that kind of thing. And so, anyway, we’re getting married, right? And so, I was graduating from college or I had just graduated the year before. And we had dated long distance for six years. And the day of my wedding rolls around, we’re getting married here in Austin. We actually got married on the UT campus. We’re big Longhorn fans.

Jessica: Love it.

Ally: Yeah. And my sister, who was my maid of honor, she runs up to me the night before the wedding and she says, "Hey, Ally, do you wanna do one last crazy thing before you get married?" And I’m like, "Yeah, duh. You know me." And she said, "Well, American Gladiators, the TV show is having tryouts right down the street from your church, we should go try out for the show." And so, we’re thinking, "Oh, this is a great idea." Right? And so, the night…

Jessica: And that’s literally on your wedding day?

Ally: Yes. Yes. Yes. So, the night before the wedding, all my bridesmaids, we all spend the night, it was a fun girls night. We’re spending the night at my parent’s house. Well, we wake up early the next morning, and we sneak out of the house, and nobody knows where we’ve gone. We’ve gone missing, right? And so, it’s like my whole bridesmaid posse. And we go down to this tryout for American Gladiators. And we get there, there’s already 2,000 people in line. And my sister’s like, she’s like, "What have I done? You’re gonna sit here and wait in this line. You’re gonna miss your wedding." And by this time, we’ve already been there for a couple of hours. And we’re like … this is not gonna work. I’m gonna literally miss my wedding if we don’t hurry this thing up. And so, we throw on my veil and my garter and we, like, the run-up to the front of the line. We beg the producers to let me cut, to do the tryout so I can make it to the church on time. And, of course, everybody thinks I’m lying and that this is made up, but this is real. I’m literally a couple of hours from…

“I’m gonna literally miss my wedding if we don’t hurry this thing up. And so, we throw on my veil and my garter and we, like, the run-up to the front of the line. We beg the producers to let me cut, to do the tryout so I can make it to the church on time.” Ally Davidson

Jessica: This is real. That is insane.

Ally: Yeah, it was crazy. So, they let me do the tryout. I did pretty well in the tryout and they liked the story. Well, anyway, I just jet over to the church and I don’t even have time to take a shower. This is the really funny part. I had no time to take a shower. My hairdresser has been waiting on me for like an hour. She’s like, "Where have you been?" She has to do my hair really quickly. We throw on my dress, just in enough time to walk down the aisle and get married. And Jeff has no idea what has been going on the whole day but everybody else knew that we were missing.

Jessica: That is amazing.

Ally: It was crazy. Yeah, it was crazy.

 

Power Couple

Jessica: OK. So, tell me about the moment where you found out you made it to American Gladiators.

Ally: Yeah. So, we did the wedding and I don’t tell Jeff until the reception. I’m like, "Hey babe, guess what I did today?" He’s like, "Oh, I don’t know, your hair, your makeup." I’m like, "Nope, didn’t do any of that." I’m like, "I tried out for American Gladiators. And he’s like, "What?" He was just very confused. And we just thought it was gonna be like this funny thing that we did on my wedding day. I didn’t think anything was gonna actually come of it. So, anyway, we go on our honeymoon. And Jeff is making fun of me the whole time. He’s like, "Well, you better go work out. You might get chosen to be on that show." And I’m like, "Oh, yeah, right." Well, anyway, two days after we get back home from our honeymoon, they call from LA. And they’re like, "Hey, we want you to come audition for the show."

And so, I’m like, "Oh, wow." And so, imagine I had just gotten married seven days ago, going up to my new husband and being like, "Hey, babe. Remember that show? Well, I got chosen to be on it. And I’m gonna have to go to LA for six weeks to film this thing." And so, luckily, he was really supportive. Well, I go to the final audition process in LA, and I get a chance to talk to the executive producer. And I start telling him how athletic and amazing my new husband is. And I tell him, "And he should be on the show with me." And so, basically, I convince the executive producer to allow my husband to come try out to be on the show with me. And so, Jeff gets a call … and you’ll have to one day hear his side of the story because it’s hilarious. He’s a financial advisor. He’s super athletic, but he does not like to work out like I do. He’s not into fitness like I am. He’s a business guy.

“I get a chance to talk to the executive producer. And I start telling him how athletic and amazing my new husband is. And I tell him, "And he should be on the show with me." And so, basically, I convince the executive producer to allow my husband to come try out to be on the show with me.” Ally Davidson

So, he gets this call from the executive producer, and he’s like, "Hey, your wife is sitting here telling me how athletic you are, and we want you to come be on the show." And, they talk for a little bit. They hang up the phone. Jeff calls me immediately right after that and he is just furious. He’s like, "Why do you want me to come be on the show? You have to wear spandex on national TV. I’m gonna get beat up by all these guys that are 300 pounds." My husband is super slim. He’s 160 pounds at the time, going up against guys that are 300 pounds. So, anyway, it was really, really funny. And long story short, we both end up being on the show together. I competed as a female though, obviously, he competed as a male. And Jeff did really good. And he made it to the quarterfinals. And I was fortunate enough to go on and win the whole show. And this was back in 2008. So, it was…

Jessica: It is so crazy. So, had you been a fan of the show before? Had you studied it? And did you have a whole strategy going in?

Ally: Oh, no, I just showed up on my wedding day to try out. I didn’t know the show existed. And then, of course, once I got picked for the show, of course, I started studying and working out, training to get ready for it. But I only had about four weeks once I actually knew that I was gonna be on the show to actually prepare myself. Yeah, it just all happened so fast. I mean, this was a blur. And then, ever since then life has been very different than what we originally might have thought it would be. It’s been a lot of fun.

“It just all happened so fast. I mean, this was a blur. And then, ever since then life has been very different than what we originally might have thought it would be. It’s been a lot of fun.” Ally Davidson

Jessica: I hope your sister is proud of pushing you to go and do something crazy on your wedding day.

Ally: Yes. She gets all the credit. I tell her that all the time.

Jessica: All the credit. All the credit. OK. So, what gave you the edge above all the others? Because American Gladiators, these are people that … they did not have just four weeks. These are people that have been training, they’ve probably been fans of the show. They’ve been studying every little move for who knows how long. How did you win?

Ally: Yeah, so, the gladiators that you go up against, they are very, very strong. A lot of them are fitness models or, like I said, they’re just big. The girls were a lot stronger than me, same with Jeff. Obviously, one of the guys in the guys’ division was … he’s called the beast. He’s 320 pounds and in the WWE. Those are the kind of people you’re going up against. And so, we knew we had to be agile. We had to be fast. And we just had to be faster than these guys because if they can’t catch you up, they’re not gonna be able to tackle you and kill you. And so, that was kind of our strategy is to not die.

And luckily, obviously, I’ve played basketball, and volleyball, and softball through high school and college and so, I had that athleticism and I was used to having to be quick and react in a situation. And so, we used that to our advantage. And I think a big part of it, though, that people don’t probably realize is, when you’re in those situations, you really have to learn and practice how to calm your nerves. Because you’re about to be on a TV show and your heart rate is so high because you’re so nervous. You have to learn how to try to maintain yourself so that you don’t get so nervous that you can’t perform. And so, luckily…

“And I think a big part of it, though, that people don’t probably realize is, when you’re in those situations, you really have to learn and practice how to calm your nerves. … You have to learn how to try to maintain yourself so that you don’t get so nervous that you can’t perform.” Ally Davidson

Jessica: Did you harness some of those practices to make you not nervous, that you had used previously when you were about to go out for a big volleyball tournament or something?

Ally: Yeah, yeah. I mean, that’s kind of I think one of the advantages that I did have is, I had been used to playing in some big sports games throughout my life. And so, I kind of knew what it was like to have nerves and pressure. And so, just being able to kind of calm those nerves, yeah, that helped prepare me a lot, for sure. But you can never be trained fully for something like that. I mean, these events, you don’t even get to practice on the event. You just get thrown out there and really, they wanna make good TV and so you don’t have a chance to practice anything. You just have to go train on your own, try to get in good shape, and then hope you don’t look like an idiot on national TV.

 

Winning with a Longview

Jessica: OK. So, you become the grand champion and you win. I mean, you win some money, right?

Ally: Yeah. I won $100,000 and a new car.

Jessica: Wow. OK. So, you win $100,000 and a new car, that is a lot of money when you’re just newly married in your early 20s. And you could have done a lot with your winnings. So, tell me the process and why you and Jeff decided to funnel that into what you now run, Camp Gladiator.

Ally: Yeah. So, I won the show, and we went and celebrated that night. And luckily, my family was there to get to see me win. But when you’re on a reality show like that, and you come home, you are not allowed to tell anybody what has happened until the show airs, right? And so, you sign all these contracts and say you won’t tell anybody. And so, I win the show and the long story is really funny when you hear it, but the short version of it is literally, the very next day after I won the show, I was sitting back at my normal cubicle, in my normal office, back in my normal job. And I’m like, "Did that just happen? I was just fighting gladiators yesterday. I won this whole TV show." And literally, the next day, I am back at my cubicle at my normal job, and I cannot tell anybody what has happened for three months until the show airs.

And so, obviously, this emotional roller-coaster, right, if you could imagine, that I’m on at this point in life. I’m like super excited about winning, but then I’m like, "Well, now I’m back to my normal thing." And it just felt like, at that time, God was telling me like, "Hey, you gotta do something with this opportunity. It is not every day you get chosen to be on a show and then you … let alone go win the whole thing." And I just felt something tugging at my heart like, "I gotta make something of this opportunity. This is once in a lifetime." And so, we thought and prayed about it for like a month, we’re like, "What can we possibly do?" And then, the idea kind of came to us of like, "Hey, my passion and my background has always been in sports and fitness." That is absolutely been my love my entire life.

Jessica: And what was the cubicle you were sitting in?

Ally: Yeah. So, at the time, I was working in direct mail marketing sales, so basically an ad sales rep.

Jessica: OK. Great. Great. You were not exactly loving life in your cubicle?

Ally: Yeah, I mean, after fighting gladiators, that job is way boring after that. So, I’m like, "Jeff, I’m so bored at my job." He’s like, "Well, of course, you are. You’re not hanging out with Hulk Hogan every day," you know. And so, yeah, I’m like, "I gotta do something with this." And so, we come up with the idea to start an adult outdoor group fitness program. And we came up with the name Camp Gladiator. And now, keep in mind, I’m 24 years old at the time, and I have never … I had trained kids and high school kids like at sports camps and yeah, I had been a counselor, that sort of thing. But I had never trained an adult in fitness before. I don’t think most people even know that, because I’m pretty young. And so, we’re like, "OK. We’re gonna open up this outdoor fitness program." We came up with the name. We got our friend to build us a website. We kind of got all of our ducks in a row to get ready. And then the day the grand finale aired, we rented out a movie theater, and we invited 300 of our closest friends to come watch the finale with us. And I walked into my boss’s office at 5:00 pm that day, and I quit my job.

“I just felt something tugging at my heart like, ‘I gotta make something of this opportunity. This is once in a lifetime.’ And so, we thought and prayed about it for like a month. … We come up with the idea to start an adult outdoor group fitness program. And we came up with the name Camp Gladiator.” Ally Davidson

Jessica: Oh, that was so dramatic. I love it.

Ally: It was so dramatic.

Jessica: You rent out a theater, so I think your friends are like, "Oh, I think they probably won. So, I think we know where this is going."

Ally: Yes. So, I quit my job at 5:00 P.M., I show up to the movie theater at 7:00 P.M. We watch me win and I run up to the front of the movie theater and I announce right there on the spot that I’m opening up this new business, and that if they wanna come work out with me, they’re gonna be able to, at Camp Gladiator. Yeah.

Camp Gladiator: Fun, Fitness, and Family

Jessica: What a launch. What a launch. I love that. So, you obviously have a marketing brain. But I’m curious, when you’re coming up with this idea and you could have done a million things, but you had honed-in on fitness. What was the problem that you were trying to solve with this whole idea of adults and outdoors?

Ally: Yeah. So, I think, at the time, and still today, it felt like my way of kind of giving back to the community. There’s so many people that they need help along their fitness journey, right? But what I noticed … Because for about a year after I graduated college, finished playing basketball and until I launched Camp Gladiator, I had taken different fitness classes at different gyms around town and different fitness programs. And the thing that I noticed is, I could get a good workout in at a lot of places, but the thing that was missing was there was nothing more to it than that. It was never really that much fun. The trainer never knew my name. There was never community around it. And so, basically kind of the light bulb idea for me is like, "Hey, what if I create an amazing workout, but at the same time, I create this team environment where you feel like you’re part of a family and a community, and where we make it fun?

“I could get a good workout in at a lot of places, but the thing that was missing was there was nothing more to it than that. It was never really that much fun. The trainer never knew my name. There was never community around it.” Ally Davidson

Because that was what I experienced playing so many sports growing up, and that’s what I felt like was missing in fitness. And so, I kind of said, "We’re gonna combine all of that. I’m gonna be a great trainer for these people and I’m gonna be more than a trainer. I’m gonna live this life with them. We’re gonna do adventurous things together, whether it be like races on the weekend or, going to stand up paddleboard, or rock climb, or go mountain climbing." And so, we kind of just started living life together. And so, that was the essence of what I felt like was missing, at the time, in fitness. And this was in 2008. And this was when boot camps kind of started to become popular, like in 2005 and ’06, and ’07. But at that time, pretty much all boot camps were like military-style boot camps. And there was a guy walking around in combat boots, who was just barking orders at you like it was the military. And so, I was like, "Well, I can’t pull that off. I’m not military. That’s not my style." But I’m like, "I can pull off team, fun, community, that kind of thing." So, that was kind of the essence that I was creating.

Jessica: Truly, I love hearing you describe your original intent because that culture has been preserved as you guys have absolutely blown up. So, I’d love to hear about the blow-up. Because first, you’re just like, "I’m gonna be the coach." And then, when did you sort of pivot into … Because now, I mean, your model’s a little bit similar to Noonday’s and that we are empowering entrepreneurs to become successful in their own right. So, I’d love to hear that journey.

Ally: So, I launched my first camps, and I wanted to create an amazing experience … is what we kind of title it at CG. It’s not just a workout, it’s an experience, "60 minutes of amazing" is what we call it. And so, the campers … I had 40 original campers that first month. Well, I was hustling to generate just marketing leads and meet people in the community, and then they were inviting their friends out to camp. And a camp is a month-long program for us. I had 60 campers, in the next month I had 80 campers, the next month I had 110. This is in my fourth month of business. At this point, Jeff and I…

Jessica: And is it once a week, at this point?

Ally: Yeah, so I offered a morning class and an evening class. Two evenings a week, three mornings a week.

Jessica: So, you’re at the movie theater, you make this announcement, Camp Gladiator, and your offer is, "Come work out with me, either on this morning or in this evening for one month," that was sort of the original camp.

Ally: Exactly. Yeah. And at that time, we don’t know what’s in store for the future. We don’t have these grand visions to change and disrupt the fitness industry, which is now what we see as possible. At that time, I was just wanting to lead some workouts and help positively impact some other lives. Well, I had no idea that I would love it so much. And so, I fell in love with training adults. And I had always kind of thought that maybe it’d be really fun to train like high school students, you know, that kind of thing. But I found that actually I really have a niche and a love for training adults because they don’t have many opportunities like kids do. And adults need this stuff, they need friends. We play. We have team competitions out at camp, and we do all that kind of stuff. Kids get to do this stuff all day long. And adults, man, most adults, life is hard. And so, I just … I’m an adult, you are too. It’s like, "Oh, we need something like this." And so, they were just falling in love with the program. And they were bringing their friends and…

“I really have a niche and a love for training adults because they don’t have many opportunities like kids do. And adults need this stuff, they need friends. We play. We have team competitions out at camp, and we do all that kind of stuff. Kids get to do this stuff all day long. And adults, man, most adults, life is hard.” Ally Davidson

Jessica: The program that you were just kind of developing, as you went along, you’re like, "Well, maybe this would be fun to do or maybe this would be fun to do."

 

Building Business by Building Community

Ally: Yes, yes. I had many drills that bombed in the early days because I was new as a trainer myself. And so, they had a lot of grace with me because I was learning how to lead this fitness class as it went. And so, those were really fun times. Yeah, and so, I was learning what was working, they were falling in love with it, bringing their friends and it was growing. Well, at about that fourth-month mark, a couple of things happened. First off, Jeff and I, when I had 100 campers, we’re like, "Whoa, this is actually turning into a legit little business here." Right? And we’re kind of looking at each other going, "Wow. This thing has some potential, some opportunity." By this point, I’m already making more money than I was making at my previous job, just in four months. Then the other thing that happened at this time period, and this was again, just God’s plan for it all was, we were living in Dallas and I started camp in a parking lot at our church, at the time. Well, Jeff got a job promotion offer to move down to Austin. And so, we’re in Dallas … I’m from Austin, and I knew that this would be a hit in Austin. And I’m thinking, "Man, I would love to be able to go back home and to start camps there. But what do we do with all these Dallas campers that I’ve…?"

I’ve built this business in Dallas and we’re really torn because I’m like, "I don’t wanna leave all these campers. I got a great business that’s going on here. What are we gonna do if we move to Austin?" And so, that’s kind of where the real original idea came up of, I was like, "Wow, what if this wasn’t just about Ally and Ally leading workouts? What if we basically got business partners with other trainers to come on board with us? And essentially, what if we took care of the backend headache sides of the business, doing the accounting, the legal, the technology, maintaining a website, the insurance, the things that trainers are really terrible at doing? What if we took that load off of them? What if we did that for them and they could focus on being a great trainer, and building relationships in their community, and kind of local marketing, and that sort of thing?"

And so, we essentially, at that time, created a business platform in which trainers could come on board and partner with us. And again, we kind of do the backend side of the business for them so they can thrive on the field as a trainer. And if we hadn’t gotten that opportunity to move to Austin, I don’t know that we would have ever thought to do that. And so, it was just crazy how the whole thing worked out.

Jessica: So, who was your first trainer that you trained?

Ally: Yeah, so, this is funny as well. First trainer I brought on board was actually Jeff’s best friend. So, my husband’s best friend, we bring him on board … And, at this point, I’m four months into leading the workouts. Camp Gladiator’s only revolving around Ally at this point. But we knew that you can’t scale a business if it’s just me being the trainer. So, I had to kind of introduce to the group this new trainer I was bringing on board. And they did not know I was transitioning to Austin. I would commute back and forth frequently throughout the week, over about a six-week time period, as I was launching the Austin camps, and basically integrating Mason, who was our first trainer into the Dallas camps.

And so, I taught him kind of the programming that I wanted him to lead. I taught him about the culture I wanted him to foster. And he’s a phenomenal guy. He’s still one of our top people in our company today. And he just latched onto it, and him and I were in very close alignment. And then I brought on a third trainer, because we kept growing at this point. Now, we’re in our fifth month, we’re at 140 campers now so we could just keep growing. We brought another trainer, and I trained her. Her name is Amy. She’s still with us, one of our key leaders today as well. And then we brought on another trainer in Dallas. And I trained them, at the same time that I’m training these guys. I said, I was opening the Austin market and running six locations here as a trainer while doing that, and then also doing all the headquarters work during the middle of the day.

Jessica: And I’m curious about payment structure. Did you already have a clear idea…? Once you realize, I need to multiply myself, I’m gonna move to Austin, was it immediately like, "OK. This is how we can scale this organization," you figured out a compensation plan that was gonna be financially viable, and that was also gonna be attractive? How was that process?

Ally: Yeah, so, the cool simple answer to that … what is so cool is that we literally had a handshake deal with our first trainer, Mason, and we agreed on a certain business arrangement. And for the most part, that arrangement that was agreed on between us and the first trainer is still pretty much almost exactly the same arrangement that we have today. And the essence of that arrangement is that we wanted him to be a business partner with us. We wanted him to be incentivized, to show up early and to stay late, and to be involved in this community, and do marketing events, and really be a part of attracting new campers, right, and making sales. And so, essentially, we said, "Hey, we wanna partner with you. We do not wanna just pay you an hourly rate. We want you to be kind of in this with us." And so, he was very much so incentivized to continue growing the Dallas camps while I transitioned to Austin.

And, again, like I said, we were taking care of a lot of the aspects of the business that he didn’t have to worry about the customer support, like I said, the website maintenance. Anything just dealing with operations or tech, or legal, or finances, we handled all of that for him, so that he could be a great trainer. And the end result of that was really … Because he was already a trainer and he was kind of running his own small little workout groups, but he realized like, “Wow, this is a great deal for him and this is a great deal for us.” Because, like I said, trainers, they don’t like doing that backend side of the business, and they’re not good at that stuff. They’ll admit to that. And so, that’s kind of where this idea of like, "Wow, what if we created this platform where they could kind of be operators of their own business under the CG umbrella?" And so, it’s kind of like an operator-based model.

 

Grassroots with Grit

Jessica: OK. So, then you move to Austin, and how … you said you’re from here. How did you go about building a market in Austin, initially? Was it still grassroots or were you thinking now more like marketing, making a big Austin launch?

Ally: Yeah, so, we definitely tried and we succeeded at a pretty good Austin launch. So, I launched in Dallas with 40 campers and I launched in Austin with 80 campers. I had also obviously over those couple of months learned how to be a better trainer, learned what was working. I also was learning a lot about what was working marketing-wise how I was generating leads successfully and making sales, and that sort of thing. So, that was great. I give a whole presentation to all of our new trainers that come on board, and it’s called the "hustle presentation." And essentially, the basis of that is that, "Hey, nothing’s gonna be given to you. If you wanna go out and grow these camps, you gotta go out, and you gotta meet people face to face in your local community and you have to invite them personally to camp. And you have to stay on them and hold them accountable until they actually show up."

It is hard to get people to show up to work out at 5:00 A.M. or 6:00 P.M. when it’s 100 degrees. And so, you have to just hustle and have this kind of grit and determination to make this thing work and grow. And so, I, of course, did some marketing things here and there. I did some mailers in the beginning. And I was also coming off winning Gladiator, so I had the opportunity to do some interviews and speaking engagements. And, of course, I used that to my full advantage, as much as I could. But for the most part, pretty much every camper that I got to sign up was because I was out in my local community, meeting people, shaking their hand, inviting them out to camp, following up with them, or working marketing events. I would have a tent and a table out at all the races on the weekends, and I would work by myself for four straight hours just meeting people and inviting them to camp. And I tell every entrepreneur, I’m like, "That’s what you have to do to launch a business." So, yeah.

“You have to just hustle and have this kind of grit and determination to make this thing work and grow. … For the most part, pretty much every camper that I got to sign up was because I was out in my local community, meeting people, shaking their hand, inviting them out to camp, following up with them, or working marketing events.” Ally Davidson

Jessica: I was doing the same thing. I was couch-surfing. I was asking strangers to open up their homes, invite their friends in. And I feel like that’s such a good message to entrepreneurs is you can’t ever underestimate the power of grassroots. And then, the power of grassroots, of course, is that you get to bootstrap your company and grow it. And I’m sure it’s like the same passion that made you successful to begin with, is what’s driving your success today.

OK. So, your business model is just so incredible. I mean, we are similarly built in that we are wanting to drive results through independent contractors who are their own entrepreneurs. But we have a lot of inventory, and we’re managing supply chain. And obviously, the whole point of our business is partnering with artisans in vulnerable communities. But it adds such a complexity that you’ve created this beautiful model where you’re not really managing a lot of the headaches of inventory and supply chain, you’re just…

And it creates such a beautiful cash flow for you to be able to do things like rent out stadiums. So, I’ve always been just so impressed with you guys. And so, I wanted to talk about how can you compare like being a CEO in your journey and learning how to be a good CEO with the sports and the training it took to be at Gladiator? And what’s sort of been your…? You talked to us about your sports journey and how you won being at Gladiator, how do you think you’re winning at being a successful CEO?

Ally: Well, I mean, especially in the early years, when we were forming our company, it’s really just about making sure you have the right people, right? And especially in what we do, is we are a service-based business, we are delivering a service which is our workout, right? And I say this all the time to our new trainers that come on board, I tell them, I say, "Hey, there has to be a reason, and a really good reason, why somebody would drive past a multi-million dollar fitness facility like a Lifetime Fitness or 24 Hour Fitness to come work out with you in a parking lot at 5:00 A.M. in the morning," right?

Jessica: In 100-degree heat, because I mean…

Ally: Yeah, we’re in 100-degree heat. It literally makes no sense; people shouldn’t do it. But there’s a reason why they come work out with you in the park, at 100 degrees, and they don’t go to the big multi-million-dollar box facility. And that is because of the quality of the experience that we deliver. And it’s the people that deliver that experience. So, therefore, if we wanna great service or product that we provide on the field, we have to have the right people. And so, we just kind of knew early on like, "Whoa…"

I knew when I kind of hand the reins over to Mason in Dallas, when I was transitioning to Austin like, "These people, if they’re gonna stay, they’re gonna have to fall in love with Mason, right? And they’re gonna have to fall in love with Amy. And they’re gonna have to fall in love with all these other trainers so that they bring their friends and so that this thing keeps growing." And so, the biggest area of focus that we try to continue to focus on, and we pride ourselves on having the best trainers in fitness, having a high-brand-quality trainer that represents us well. And obviously, with 1,000 trainers now, that’s really, really hard to do but it’s something that we feel like is fundamental to our continued success. So, I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned…

 

Making the Time to Make an Impact

Jessica: How are you scaling that then? Because you, as a CEO then, I know your role has changed probably over the years as far as where you’re spending your time. So, at the place where you’re at right now, how have you decided or where have you decided to spend your time to make the biggest impact on the business?

Ally: Yeah, that’s really a good question.

Jessica: I’ve kind of turned this into a mentoring conversation. I mean, I’m asking for a friend. I’m asking for a friend. And I was gonna ask you the same question. You’re a co-CEO as well, so that adds a whole nother layer of complexity, right?

Jessica: It does. It does.

Ally: Well, so, we spent a lot of, a lot of time with our original kind of founding trainers, right? And we’re so glad that we spend so much time with them because now it’s that generation of trainers that is bringing on the next generation of trainers, right? And so, now, we’re in our third or fourth generation of trainers, as an example, Mason, the first trainer I hired, he now has hired somebody who’s hired a couple of people. And so, the main thing is, if we can keep our leadership at the top really strong and focus on the right things, we feel like we can scale with great people. But that is always easier said than done because there’s a lot that goes on in a business. There’s a lot of distractions. There’s a lot of areas you can get pulled into.

Jessica: There’s human beings. There’s human beings.

Ally: There’s humans. It’s so hard. It’s so hard. People are so flawed. But you do the best that you can. And so, we’ve had some people that have worked out phenomenally. We’ve had some that haven’t worked out. And I think the earlier you can realize that this person is maybe not a good fit, so, therefore, we should not move forward, that’s always a good thing, right? And so, we try to do our due diligence on the front end, to make sure that we’re only allowing the right people through the front door. But that doesn’t always work, right? And so, you have to just kind of try to do the best you can. In terms of areas of focus, oh, man. My role is very, very interesting. I tell people that I pretty much feel like I have a different role as a CEO like every six months, right? Because the business almost has different needs every six months. And in the early days…

Jessica: Well, if you’re growing at the rate you’re growing, it does. Absolutely.

Ally: Yeah. I mean, in the early days, I was training a lot. I was leading six locations myself as a trainer and doing all the headquarter’s work. Obviously, I could not maintain that, so I slowly dwindled away. So, I don’t lead as many workouts. I lead workouts now for our trainers. And I train our trainers how to lead workouts. But that shift has kind of changed. And nowadays, my husband and I are co-CEOs and so, for about the last year, we’ve been trying to figure out how do we have role clarity for what we spend our time on? And how do we not step on each other’s toes so that we don’t have conflict during the day, which is hard when you’re married to your co-CEO.

Jessica: Oh my gosh. Yeah, that’s a whole different dynamic. Although, my husband is completely opposite from my business partner. So, I feel like I’m managing two marriages, if it makes you feel any better.

Ally: That does make me feel better.

Jessica: Now I have two men to figure out life with, you know?

Ally: Oh, wow, yes. Yes. Oh, that would be so hard. I can only handle one.

Jessica: If you have a Camp Gladiator in your state, in your town, you have to go check it out. It really is the most high-energy boot camp that I have attended. If you’re looking for community, fun, and attainable fitness, go check out campgladiator.com.

OK, I know. Sometimes I get a little selfish on these podcasts, and I start doing the CEO-to-CEO interviews like, “So, how’d you do this? And how’d you figure that out?” So, I kind of went there today. But I hope it was helpful for you, too. Because, whether you’re a CEO or not, you can be asking yourself that question, “Where am I spending my time to make the highest impact on the purpose that has been given to me in my life?” And that changes. Just in the same way that Ally says her business changes every six months, we have to continually evaluate that.

But that’s what I want to leave you with today. What is your purpose in this season? Where are you meant to make the highest impact? Maybe it’s a season of being hyper focused on one of your kids that may have just been diagnosed with dyslexia or have another special need. Maybe you have joined a new fitness community and are really needing a season of really being able to honor your health. Whatever it might be, I would encourage you today to think about how you are spending your time. Because how we spend our days is ultimately how we spend our lives.

Thanks so much for joining me on today’s show. Our music is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.