Joe De Sena is the founder and CEO of Spartan, the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand and has demonstrated his entrepreneurial drive since his pre-teens. After building a multimillion-dollar pool and construction business in college, and creating a Wall Street trading firm, De Sena set his sights on ripping 100 million people off their couches by creating the Spartan lifestyle.
Spartan Nutrition – Ancient Nutrients To Fuel The Modern Warrior. Use the code JOEONFIRE, and get 50% off!
3 Value Bombs
1) The only thing that matters in starting a business is sales and making sure that your customers will love your service or product; then they will recommend it to their friends.
2) If you are not progressing, you are dying.
3) Fire. Ready. Aim: While being in your home during this Pandemic period go online, sign up for something hard, and commit to it. You will experience a Spartan Paradox – all of a sudden your life will change. Get it done today.
Traffic Secrets Podcast: The strategies to attract your dream customers when you’re just starting out are exactly the same as when you own a multi-million dollar business. And these strategies are waiting for you on a new podcast mini- series: Traffic Secrets. TrafficSecretsPodcast.com
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Today’s Audio MASTERCLASS: From Near Bankruptcy to 45 Countries Worldwide – Scaling the Unscalable with Joe De Sena
[1:52] – Joe shares something interesting about himself that most people do not know.
- He hates burpees, cold showers, and salads, but he does it every single day.
[2:21] – Joe talks about his mantra.
- He believes that the #1 motivator of a human being is the avoidance of discomfort.
- At all costs you avoid discomfort and you do it subconsciously.
- It is more uncomfortable for Joe to avoid the hard stuff.
[3:42] – How long did it take to turn a profit with the Spartan race?
- It took Joe 15 years to turn a profit.
[4:49] – How hard was it to scale the Spartan race?
- Joe chats about going from 0 to 45 countries
- Building an obstacle on the side of a mountain
- It takes 14 days to set up a single race.
[7:12] – Why are you steering away from Obstacle Course Racing?
- They have to expand beyond the OCR
- Their current goal is to help people train better, eat better, and think better.
[8:41] – How big is the OCR industry, and where is it heading?
- OCR industry has about 3-3.5 million participants.
- They are heading towards having an endurance brand.
[9:54] – What makes Spartan so special?
- It’s much bigger than a race; Spartan is a lifestyle.
- It allows people to live the life of a Spartan, which is why they keep coming back for more races.
[14:18] – What should people know when starting a business?
- The only thing that matters in starting a business is sales. You need to make sure that you are bringing in revenue.
- Whatever product or service you are selling, you have to sell it non-stop.
- Make sure your customers will love your service or product, and they will recommend it to their friends.
[16:30] – How do you go from a small business to a large business?
- Joe’s business transitioned by adapting, moving, and growing. If you are not progressing, you are dying.
- The art of being comfortable in the uncomfortable.
[17:42] – Joe explains his methodology of Fire. Ready. Aim.
- If you sit and aim too long, you will not move.
- You have to adjust to the digital world, you have to Fire right away – commit.
[20:06] – What is the lifetime value of a customer?
- Build the relationship first, and then you get your value.
[23:23] – How can Fire Nation connect, participate, and support Spartan?
- Spartan Nutrition – Ancient Nutrients To Fuel The Modern Warrior. Use the code JOEONFIRE, and get 50% off!
[24:30] – Joe’s parting piece of guidance.
- Fire. Ready. Aim: While being in your home during this Pandemic period go online, sign up for something hard, and commit to it. You will experience a Spartan Paradox – all of a sudden your life will change. Get it done today.
JLD: What’s shaking, Fire Nation? JLD here with an audio master class, we’re calling from near bankruptcy to 45 countries world-wide. Scaling the unscalable. To drop these value bombs, I have brought Joe De Sena on the mic. He is the founder and CEO of Spartan, the worlds largest obstacle race and endurance brand. He’s demonstrated his entrepreneurial brand since his pre-teens after building a multimillion-dollar pool construction business in college, including a Wall Street treading firm.
De Sena set his sights on ripping one hundred million people off their coaches by creating the spartan lifestyle. In Fire Nation Today, we’ll be chatting all about OCR. Will obstacle course racing become and Olympic sport? What’s the lifetime value to a customer? What people need to know when starting a business and so much more. As soon as we get back from thanking out sponsors. Joe, say what’s up to Fire Nation and share something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
Joe: I don’t think anybody knows this about me. Joe De Sena, founder, and CEO of Spartan hates burpees. I hate cold showers and I hate salad.
JLD: But don’t you do most of those every single day?
Joe: Every single day. I have a policy where things that I don’t like, I have to do. So, if I'm feeling a little tired and I'm just not feeling it then I work out harder.
JLD: Love that.
Joe: Can we get right into this?
JLD: Well, let’s get right into it.
Joe: I spent some time with some Stanford professors and different professors from around the world. They said to me, “The No. 1 motivator for human beings is the avoidance of discomfort.” So, let’s just assume that’s true, which I believe it is. At all cost we avoid discomfort; we do it subconsciously. So, if you and I for example wake up at 5:00 a.m. and we’re planning on working out. Our brains will tell us, “Wait a minute, you gotta go get a glass of water. Wait a minute, you’ve gotta go answer some emails. Wait a minute, you need a cup of coffee.”
We don’t need any of those things. We just don’t wanna do the workout. We’re avoiding discomfort at all cost. I just flip things on it’s head and I said, “Wait a minute, it’s more uncomfortable for me, Joe De Sena. Joe, it’s more uncomfortable.” This is what I tell myself, my mantra if I don’t do those things. If I don’t do the hard stuff. It took a few years, but if you’re able to flip it around 180 degrees. My God, game changers.
JLD: Fire Nation, as I mentioned in the intro. We’re talking all about how Joe went from near bankruptcy to 45 countries worldwide. How he scaled literally the unscalable. It is through mantras like he just shared that he’s been able to do so much. Joe, just like you like to cut right to the chase, I do too brother. So, let’s start with most people care about, money. How long did it take to turn a profit with the Spartan Race?
Joe: It took me 15 years to turn a profit. So, anybody listening that has any kind of business savvy is gonna say, “Joe’s an idiot. Why would you possibly spend 15 years working on something.” I don’t know, I just loved it. I believed in it; I just had a lot of passion towards it.
JLD: Hey, Basso’s still trying right?
Joe: Basso’s still trying but he’s not okay. He figured out how to monetize it a different way. So, then here we are I was with Donny Deutsch. You know Donny Deutsch?
Joe: I was with Donny; I was having lunch with him. I don’t know, let’s call it a year ago and he said, “You haven’t taken any money off the table? You own 80% of your company, you have to take money off the table.” I thought, “I don’t wanna take money off the table.” This is gonna be a billion-dollar business, I don’t wanna take money off the table. That is my exit strategy. I have to say, the other day if Donny’s listening. I should have listened to you. I should have taken money off the table.
JLD: Donny, you do listen to Entrepreneurs on Fire. We know that, so let’s talk about the difficulties of scaling the Spartan Race. Get down to the specifics. What was hard to scale about it?
Joe: I go to zero to 45 countries. So, that’s hard, just putting in one of them is hard. Making sure you can handle the logistics. We got six tractor trailers showing up, unloading those tractor trailers. Building one obstacle on the side of a mountain. If anybody on this podcast, anybody listening to this or has ever done a kitchen renovation. Think about how difficult. They have TV shows on how to renovation, pretty hard to do a renovation. I do 30 renovations simultaneously on the side of a mountain during a rainstorm.
That’s what I do; that’s what it’s like building an obstacle. One obstacle on the side of a mountain. Forklifts, men, women, carrying heavy equipment, trusses, cranes, you name it. So, it’s hard to scale that because – here’s a great story, so you can grasp this.
It takes 14 days to set this thing up and break it down for one race. Now, when you’re on 45 countries and you’re putting on 325 events. There’s stuff that gets in the way. Like I said, a rainstorm, a snowstorm. How about the pope decides not to let us into our location because he’s anointing a new saint that week? Through a monkey wrench in your program. I don’t wanna get in the way of God, so we deferred to the pope. They gave us 14 hours to build our course. The race was going to be on in 14 hours, get your shit together, go. Somehow my team got it done.
So, we’re running into those kinds of challenges all over. So, when you say is it hard to scale? If it was a factory where everything was organized and there was processes and the steel came in one side and cars came out the other side. That’s different than all the things that go on that are out of our control. Let me think, six times a week. We’re putting on six events. When we’re not in the middle of pandemic, which is a whole other thing we should talk about. Six times a week I'm dealing with this some where in the world.
JLD: Now, you’re steering into different avenues away from obstacle course racing. Why are doing that? Obviously, this is maybe where we can talk a little bit about COVID-19 and this kinda new world we’re living in.
Joe: Well before COVID, we said, “We’ve gotta answer some questions authentically for our consumers. The question that I've been asked for 20 years is, “Joe, this thing is awesome. But I need to know, how do I eat? What do I think? What do I wear? How do I train?” So, we have the answers to those questions authentically. So, the way to answer them in some cases are digitally. Making merchandise, selling nutrition products.
We said, “We’ve gotta expand beyond the race and we’ve gotta help people sprinkle some Spartan into their lives. Train better, eat better, think better, learn what to wear proper gear, et cetera. The shame for us is they were all nascent businesses for us when the pandemic hit. We talked about them a lot; we talked a big game. We were gonna get after it. I was on podcast, “This is what we’re gonna do.” I just wasn’t there when the pandemic hit, I just wasn’t where we needed to be. The good news is our team pivoted immediately and we’re a lot further ahead then we were 45 days ago. We have not achieved perfect success in relation to what we’re dealing with.
JLD: How big is the overall OCR industry? What’s it’s current size and obviously what do you kinda foresee it growing to after everything kind of settles down here? What do you foresee it heading towards?
Joe: We go beyond OCR when we think about the races. We also do trail, we do kids. We actually brought a little race, it’s probably the oldest most grueling mountain bike race in the world. Called La Ruta, down in [inaudible] [00:08:03]. So, it’s more than obstacle racing for us. When you define endurance, there’s about 50 thousand events globally. It’s like 100 million people competing. If you define it just as obstacle racing that numbers probably closer to seven and half million.
Of which were about two, two and half million between Tough Mudder and Spartan. I don’t know if that’s ever get – let’s say it’ll go to three million, three and half million. But trail, trails a big business because not everybody’s ready for an obstacle but they wanna run in the woods. Mountain biking’s a big busines. We’re not pigeonholing ourselves just with obstacle racing. We’re an endurance brand.
JLD: One thing that you’ve been able to do really well is make sure that people come back to do more and more races with you, with Spartan. How have you accomplished that and what the heck makes Spartan so special?
Joe: I mean, who doesn’t wanna be a Spartan, 2,500 years ago three hundred men marched to Thermopylae. They marched, I don’t know, 150 miles carrying a sword and a shield. They held off 10,000 plus Persians. All other queens and kings around the world would say, “Those Spartans, they like going to war. It’s easier than their training.”
The discipline, the stoicism, so I think everybody from school teaching us. From the movies, from whatever it is. Deep down inside wants to have a little Spartan in their life. So, we’re really lucky with the name. This is a lifestyle; this is much bigger than a race. I don’t know if I answered the question well.
JLD: I think of Gladiator and I think of the movie 300. People look at those movies and they’re like, “Wow, that’s untouchable. That’s just not in the realm of possibility in 2020 and beyond.” Yet, that’s kinda what you’re bringing to people. You’re bringing that touch of Spartan. You’re bring that kind of opportunity for people to explore that side of themselves. Some people wake up in the morning and they’re like, “You know what, I was born 3,000 years too late. I was meant to live in the B.C.E. era. That’s just where I was supposed to be.”
Again, we all kinda have a little Spartan in us. How much we’re gonna let that out is gonna be different for every single person. But you give people that opportunity and because of that they keep coming back for more and more races. In Fire Nation, we have a ton to cover when we get back from thanking our sponsors.
So, Joe, we’re back. Let’s be honest, you started a business when it came to Spartan. I mean, you started a business. What do people need to know when they’re starting off on their journey of beginning a business?
Joe: I think we started more than a business. I think we started an industry. But I think what people need to know when they start a business is that there’s only one thing that matters and that’s sales. You gotta make sure you’re bringing in revenue. That’s your oxygen, that is your blood pumping. You gotta make sure your customers really like it, whatever that product is, that service is that you’re selling.
You better be selling it nonstop and you better make sure it’s so damn good that they’re recommending it to friends, and they can’t get enough of it. Because without that, you’re just wasting your time. You’re constantly raising money. So, I think that’s what we saw right away with this thing was people couldn’t get enough of it. They were crazy about it. They’d tell 20 friends; they’d rope brothers and sisters and cousins into coming out and doing it. We got lucky; this is a very viral product.
When you have that then all the other stuff is just the buts and bolts of doing business. The accounting, marketing, this, and that. I’m not saying all those things aren’t hard but you gotta have a product and you’ve gotta be selling it nonstop.
JLD: What would you say to people that would reply by saying, “Joe, I don’t think I can go fifteen years before I take a profit.” What would you say to them?
Joe: Get a job. I mean, business there is no guarantee when you start a business, you’re gonna make money. If somebody’s guaranteeing that, take that deal. This is hard work and just when you finally – can I curse on this thing? I know I already cursed a little bit.
JLD: Go for it.
Joe: Just when you finally figure it out, you get hit with a pandemic. I’m sorry if you’re not ready for this. If you don’t have the stomach for this, you’re not ready to bleed to the death because that’s what it’s like having a business. I had a job once, it was great. Get paid every week, finish early, maybe even take a nap on the weekends. Get a job, I wanna get a job right now. If anybody’s hiring, let me know.
JLD: Joe, you started a business. You started an industry and the reality is you did go from a small business to a large business. How did you make that transition?
Joe: What does Darwin say? Darwin says, “Not the strong, not the smart. But it’s the most agile.” So, I just love adapting and moving and adding and growing. Otherwise, why are we doing it? I don’t understand, what are we doing? I’m not looking to stay static. If you’re not progressing, you’re dying. All right, we figured out obstacle. We figured out United State. Go to Canada, figured out Canada. Go to UK, go to Slovakia, let’s go to South Africa.
But guys, we haven’t even figured out the UK yet. You wanna go to Africa? Yeah, just keep pushing and pushing and making everybody uncomfortable. It’s the art, it’s the art of being comfortable in the uncomfortable. We’re gonna always be out over our skis when we’re trying new stuff and hopefully growing. We’re gonna make mistakes. We make mistakes, we stop the bleeding, we move on, go to the next thing.
JLD: You have a methodology of fire, ready, aim. I gotta be honest, I was an officer in the Army for eight years. I was a tank commander in Iraq. So, those words are a little scary to me. They kinda go against my personal government training. But at the same time, I’ve been an entrepreneur now for eight years. So, I think I know where you’re going with this. But break down that methodology.
Joe: Hang on a second, because I’m gonna change your whole way of thinking here. Let’s make believe as a tank commander you were able to continuously fire. You had unlimited ammunition, just play with me for a second.
Joe: You were able to fire and then from inside your tank with little dials you could then move the canon. What is it that you fire the ammo [crosstalk – inaudible] [00:14:39]?
JLD: The sable rounds.
Joe: The sable rounds. As you fire them, you could turn little dials and you could then hone in on the enemy. Turn the thing to the right, turn it to the left. Of course, you’d do that.
JLD: So, like a heat seeking missile, kind of.
Joe: Beyond heat seeking. You could actually make adjustments as you go. You could get information, “Nope, don’t wanna hit that bad guy, rather hit that one over there. Make a left turn, make a right turn.” My methodologies much smarter than the 1900’s methodology of, “Aim, ready, fire.” If you sit around and aim too long you don’t move, you don’t do anything. Here in this new digital world where you can make adjustments on the fly.
You fire, you commit. We are going to Slovakia; we’re going to do this. “But Joe, I don’t understand. Don’t we have to put together a business plan.” For what? For what? Find a location, commit to a date, tell everybody in Slovakia Spartans gonna be there and start selling tickets. We’ll figure it out later. “But Joe, we don’t have obstacles.” So, ship them over from Germany, I don’t know figure it out.
JLD: So, I played with you and I agree with your methodology. Going back into my days in Iraq, if I could have fired my sable round and then made adjustments on the fly and make sure I know exactly where that’s going. Where the target’s going to be hitting on the fly, being agile, moving quick. That’s absolutely the way that we would have gone because speed wins everything when it comes to war. If I blow up your tank before you blow up my tank, then I win that battle and that’s the whole point of this.
Now of course, we’re taught the whole ready, aim, fire because friendly fires a very sad and scary and real thing when it comes to war. But in your world with that opportunity to say, “Hey, let’s just jump and then we’re gonna have that parachute be formed and deployed on the way down. That’s the way you’ve gotta play this entrepreneurial game. Speaking of which, you’ve been able to develop a lot of loyalty, a lot of customers over the years, Joe. What’s the lifetime value of a customer? Do you mess with those type of metrics?
Joe: I never really paid attention to it. My team we’ve got a whole marketing team. We’ve got data people that dig in and take a look at that. But I’ve been doing business for 41 years now, I’m 51 years old. I’ve been doing business 41 years. Again, my first business was cleaning swimming pools. My first customer was the head of the organized crime family, the Bonanno family. He sat me down, I’m like nine or 10 years old. He said, “Listen, three lessons are all you’re gonna need to know. You’ll crush business. No. 1 if you say you’re coming at 8:00 you better be here at 7:45. On time is late, got it?”
When you’re taking lessons from the head of an organized crime family, you sit down, and you listen. You don’t write anything down; he doesn’t want any notes anywhere and make sure you don’t record it. Second thing he said is, “If you’re gonna clean the pool, you gotta go above and beyond. You gotta clean the shed, you’re gonna scrub the tiles on the side, you’re gonna straighten up the lawn furniture. You might even cut my grass. You’re gonna go way above what I'm paying for. No. 3 you’re never gonna ask for money. You’re gonna do such an unbelievable job that I can’t wait to pay you because I don’t wanna lose you.”
So, don’t have your hand out asking for money. You add value to the relationship first and then you’ll get your value. Those three lessons just changed the whole game. So, a lifetime value customer like he recommended me to 100 customers. The each recommended me to seven. I had 700 customers by the time I graduated college. Every year they were paying me $1,500, $2,000 each. Yeah, I wanna keep a customer for life is my philosophy. Sometimes they’ll pay you a little less; sometimes they’ll pay you a little more. But I don’t wanna lose my customer, the customers always right.
JLD: Joe, I wanna end with a bang here because we talked about a lot a great stuff. Right now, we’re living in quite strange times with COVID and getting over everything that’s happening. My audience, Fire Nation, a lot of them know your brand. A lot of them love your brands but break it down for us. How can we today connect with your brand? How can we participate with your brand? How can we support your brands right here in 2020?
Joe: I did something special for you. I created a link which John will send over to you. I think it’s spartan.com/nutrition. I’m gonna sounds like a late-night salesman, I apologize. I’ve got a hydration product and an energy product that’s gonna blow your mind. So, here’s what I wanna do for all your listeners. If they use the code, Joe on fire. I’m gonna give them 50% off.
JLD: five – zero?
Joe: Yeah, 50 off, 50% off. Joe on fire, okay? You talk about the lifetime value. Any customer that tries this energy and hydration, there’s no need to use anything else. This is from Sparta Greece, this was Aprocrates and Socrates and all the Spartan warriors. I’m not bull shitting you, this was there ancient nutrition. This is why they could hold off the Persians for I don’t know how many, three days I think they held off the Persians of Thermopylae. So, it’s a combo pack. It’s 50% off, Spartan hydration and Spartan energy box. You’re awesome, I’m doing it for you.
JLD: That’s amazing because Fire Nation, you know this. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you’ve been hanging out with JDS and JLD today. So, keep up that heat. Of course, your call to action Fire Nation head over to Spartan.com/nutrition. You use that promo code, Joe on Fire. You’re gonna get 50% off this product. I’ve actually already booked marked it myself.
I’m gonna do it as soon I get off the mic here because this is the kinda stuff Fire Nation that’s going to improve your overall just activities in every way of the word. You want to write more, you gotta be hydrated. You want to run more, you gotta be hydrated. You want to just operate at a better level, you gotta be putting the right things in your body. So, Joe, what’s the final take away you wanna say to Fire Nation before we let you go?
Joe: I think along the lines of fire, ready, aim. This is a really important message. We’re all trapped in our homes probably right now. It’s gonna sound self-serving, it’s really not. You need to go online today, and you need to sign up for something hard somewhere in the world. I hope it’s a Spartan race. I hope it’s a Mud Runner, a trail race, whatever. But it doesn’t have to be, it could be the New York Marathon, a 5K, a 10K.
You need to sign up for something hard and what’s gonna happen is something I call a Spartan paradox. All of a sudden, it’s gonna force you to go to bed early, put down the glass of wine, stop eating the cookie, wake up early, train harder. Your whole life is gonna change because you signed up for something hard. So, get it done today. If it’s not a Spartan, I don’t care. Just go do something, sign up for something hard and commit to it.
JLD: Joe, thank you for sharing your knowledge, your value, your truth with Fire Nation today. For that brother, we salute you and we will catch you on the flip side.
Joe: Thanks for putting me on fire.
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