The Most Important Decision You’ll Make for your Fitness Business

“You and Eric seem to have an efficient system in place.  How do I go about finding a business partner so that I can distribute responsibilities the way you guys do?”

This right here is among the most commonly asked questions asked during my weekly business consulting interactions.  While there are times when I wish a recipe existed for identifying the perfect business partner, the existence of such a tool would actually take away one of our biggest competitive advantages here at CSP.  Our cohesive decision-making processes and clearly defined ownership roles have proven to be true differentiators for us in relation to many of the fitness facilities we compete with.

I’m sorry to tell you this, but I’ve yet to figure out a structured way to identify the right person to start a business with.  Instead, I can tell you how Eric and I stumbled into this scenario, and why I think it works for us.

It all started when…

During the summer of 1999 I received a packet in the mail from Babson College: 

Congratulations on your acceptance to the class of 2003! As an on-campus student, you have been assigned to live in room 201 of Forest Hall.  Your roommates will be Eric M. Cressey, and Jean-Pierre Mondalek.

So, there you have it…you can find the perfect business partner by sitting back and allowing your college or university to arbitrarily make that call for you.  (I should note that JP is also still a friend and currently doing big things in the U.A.E. working for UBER)

In all seriousness, this random room assignment for my freshman year of college has had an immeasurable impact on the direction of my career and life as a whole.  Several of the guys from my floor in Forest Hall continue to be among my close friends today.  Eric and I managed to survive a year of living in tight quarters.  We went on to have rooms just doors apart the following year before he made the decision to transfer to another program and pursue an exercise science education.

Though we didn’t realize it at the time, we’d spent months working surprisingly well in a collaborative format.  Nothing says compatibility quite like walking into a forced-triple as strangers and emerging as friends eight grueling months later. 

We shared an interest in local sports.  We dabbled in the club sports scene on campus.  We routinely made the trip to the dining hall together.  We even teamed up in the classroom to successfully complete a project for our Statistical Analysis course.  Long story short, we demonstrated a propensity to function effectively as a team.

Eric eventually moved on to a different university and started the long process of becoming an educated and influential contributor to the fitness industry.  I stayed the course in pursuit of a business degree and then began to accumulate professional experience in a 9-to-5 workplace setting.  It was during the spring of 2007 that the two of us reconnected and began the discussion of opening a strength & conditioning business.  We haven’t looked back since.

Here’s why it works for us…

There are a couple of reasons why I believe we’ve proven to be compatible business owners to this point in time.  For starters, we were friends going in to the process, but not best friends.  I mentioned in my most recent post that my dad taught me life-lessons relating to lending money, and he had similarly impactful words on the dangers of going into business with friends or family.  In his words, “the personal relationships are far more valuable than any business will ever be”.

For me and Eric, the occasional email exchange and ongoing AOL Instant Messenger banter (his username was EricMC10 – hit him up on there) was enough to keep a friendship in tact between 2001 and 2006, but surely not enough for us to lay claim to best-friend status at that point in time.

The second reason why our business partnership has thrived is that our mutual interest in owning a successful business is just about the only place where our interests overlap here at CSP.  Eric enjoys assessing athletes and designing training materials.  I have an odd interest in tracking our performance metrics so closely that I can tell you how many dollars we need to collect today in order to be on track to outperform our September of 2014 number.  We’re both aware of our strengths, and focus on doing what we do best. 

If you were ever to ask Eric his keys to success in building a great team of strength coaches, he’d tell you that he focuses on hiring complimentary parts, as opposed to clones of himself.  This rationale holds true in searching for your potential business partner. 

My close friend Kevin Colleran is a co-founder of Slow Ventures, a venture capital firm investing in early stage technology companies.  The vast majority of Slow Ventures’ 200+ investments involve multiple co-founder scenarios.  I reached out to him discuss their evaluation protocols for potential investments and he shared a similar attitude relating to co-founder compatibility.  He explained, “I usually avoid scenarios pairing two Type-A personalities who are going to compete over who is effectively the CEO.  I’d prefer a “divide and conquer” approach based on split responsibilities.”

Some important questions to ask yourself…

If you can comfortably say that your potential business partner has a personality type and management style which will compliment your own, and you are not putting yourself in a position to possibly compromise a lifelong friendship, I’d encourage you to consider these five important questions:

Am I prepared to trust another individual with my credit? 

Starting a business isn’t cheap and owners are going to be accountable to any investments made on its behalf. 

Do I know someone I’d be comfortable allowing to spend my life savings? 

Big money decisions will be made on a daily basis during the early stages of building your fitness business, and micro-management of every call will only serve to slow you down.

Is there a person out there that I’d be okay with seeing 6+ days/week for the next couple of years? 

If 7+ was an option in the last sentence, I would have used it.

Do I get along with their significant other? 

When you go into business with someone else, you’re effectively going into business with his or her spouse.  Thankfully, Eric and I get along with each other's wives, and they happen to be friends as well.  I urge you not to overlook this piece of the puzzle, as it is likely to influence major decisions during the lifespan of your business.

What are their long-term career goals? 

If this is going to be your livelihood, it is best that your business partner share the same long-term vision you possess. 

How can I help?

Let me know if I can be of assistance during the business building process!  I can be reached at to discuss consulting opportunities.  Good luck!