Ep. 1 - Dr. John Berardi, PhD: From Zero to $200 Million: How Growing Precision Nutrition Almost Killed Dr. John Berardi
On the outside everything looked amazing. Business was sky-rocketing, clients were getting amazing results, and it would appear to others that John Berardi was living the perfect life. Yet on the inside, he was dying. Things came to a head when he made a list of options to escape his current reality, including A) selling his shares in the company or even B) ending his life.
How did he come back from that very dark place? What lessons did he learn that he now wants to share with other entrepreneurs, professionals, and those that want to learn how to leverage their strengths in a powerful way to deliver value to the world?
Those are just a few of the questions we explore in this no holds barred interview with Dr. John Berardi, PhD – co-founder of Precision Nutrition and now Founder of Change Maker Academy and author of Change Maker: Turn Your Passion for Health and Fitness into a Powerful Purpose and a Wildly Successful Career.
In this interview you’ll learn:
- How John’s near-death car accident led him to get into the fitness industry.
- How he started Precision Nutrition and grew the company from zero to $200 million valuation.
- What Holacracy is and the idea of hiring talented people who are able to make their own decisions for the success of your company or organization.
- John’s struggle with his role within his own company all the while battling depression that severely impacted his mental and emotional health.
- What happened after he sold and exited his company, and starting his next journey within the health and fitness space.
- Lessoned learned from entrepreneurship and how being compassionate, asking thoughtful questions, listening, and taking action are key for happiness.
- And much more…
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Sean Greeley: Okay. Welcome everybody. We’re here for a really great interview. I’m excited to be here with my good friend, Dr. John Berardi. John, we’ve been friends for a long time and excited to have you in the show and show a little bit about your history and story, which is frankly one of the best in the fitness industry from my perspective, so thank you for being here.
John Berardi: Thanks man. Thank you for having me. Thanks to everyone who’s about to listen to us. Hopefully, we provide some nuggets and some motivation and some inspiration to help them along their entrepreneurial journeys as well.
Sean Greeley: Awesome. So, for those who don’t know you of your background, which if you don’t know John, where are you, but he’s been around for quite some time. He’s one of the co-founders of PN, built up Precision Nutrition to be arguably one of the most successful companies in an industry ever and they’re still going on to great things.
Had a great entrepreneurial exit a couple years ago from the company and solely transitioned, and is not only a phenomenal entrepreneur, he’s an incredible educator, leader, PhD, done incredible work in nutrition, advised a lot of great companies, athletes.
One of the things I really admire and respect about John, he’s an incredible father and husband and really balances out the whole aspects of being a good human being. Not just being a good entrepreneur and business owner. Certainly, John, you’re a great example for all in so many ways. And so excited to unpack that a little bit on the show.
John Berardi: Thanks man. I appreciate the kind words. That means a lot to me. On the latter things that you mentioned are things that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to do well. And so people recognizing them and saying nice things about that means the world to me.
Sean Greeley: Yeah, absolutely. So, let’s tell people a little bit about quick summary of your background. So, tell people how you started PN, and the journey of building the PN.
John Berardi: Yeah. The trajectory probably goes all the way back to high school for me, which is I was a terrible high school student. I got very bad grades, largely because I was drunk and high most of the time, skipping school and was not on a good path.
Towards the tail end of my high school experience, I was in sort of a car crash with a group of friends. It was a big wake up call for me. I expected to die that night. I didn’t, thankfully, gratefully. And then sort of the next year, my life was about sort of re-imagining.
These Hollywood kind of stories where you’re on your own sort of beginning a new on this, new here. It was kind of journey, leave out what I think is a particular reality, and it’s not popular to discuss. But, after that night of that car crash, I was like, “I need to do something different with my life.”
And I certainly can’t hang out with any of these people anymore. And so the next year to two years of my life was incredibly lonely, because I decided I wasn’t going to drink and do drugs anymore. I decided I wasn’t going to hang out with the same people anymore.
So now, I have literally zero coping mechanisms or my old coping mechanisms for life. And so I stumbled into the gym. And that’s kind of where the rest of this trajectory began. I was like, “Hey, maybe I should just fill some of my time working out, building some muscles, getting strong. Maybe this is a nice way to reinvent myself.”
And I was really, really fortunate that the owner of the gym, and he owns a couple of gyms in our town and surrounding communities. And this guy was someone that a high school, kid, teenager kid would really look up to. He was a handsome guy, drove a nice car, had a beautiful girlfriend, owned a bunch of gyms, was huge. He was 240, and competitive bodybuilder and power lifter.
And so he kind of noticed me flailing around in the gym and kind of took me under his wing. And both when it came to working out, I eventually became his training partner and we even went on to compete in the Mr. USA contest together a few years later.
But also, just mentally, emotionally, intellectually, he was always … He kicked my butt in a workout in the gym, and then he’d send me home with books to read. So, everything from philosophy, then motivation, to finance. He introduced me way back in the day to Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar and Stephen Covey.
And he just made me promise and like, “Go get an education.” He’s like, “I’m not going to ask anything of you, except for you to go out and go to school.” And so that really kicked me off in the direction I was ahead, and also sort of embedded this deep love of health and fitness, both as the vehicle for personal transformation, but also as a way to pay back the mentorship and coaching that I received from this one individual who really is the most influential person in my history.
And so, that’s what I set out to do. So, I went to school, and I didn’t know what I needed to learn or how or what I wanted to be. I come from an immigrant family. So, the dreaming big, and having a business and making a lot of money was never really anywhere in my mind.
My parents grew up in a little village with no running water, no electricity in the house, and no education. And so I was just exploring my interests. So, I would take a bunch of psychology classes and take a bunch of physiology classes, and then muscle biochemistry and stuff like that.
And then somehow, I was good at those things, because I had a new commitment to my education. And so all of a sudden, before I know it, I’m pursuing a PhD in exercise and nutritional biochemistry. But fully realizing that’s not the path I’m going to go down. The university professor or researcher.
I was doing those things, but it really wasn’t like passionate. I wanted to be back out in the industry, if you will. And so towards the tail end of my grad school, I just started writing for publications, which was based on some work that I was doing with coaching.
So, I paid my whole way through school all the way by doing personal training with clients. And then I started working with athletes, and then I was doing sort of Lifestyle coaching. And then as my skills grew, and as my research experience grew, I was doing physiological testing, and then I was doing nutrition work.
And so I was writing about those experiences. I was kind of an odd guy, because I had this research training, but also years of competitive bodybuilding and power lifting and working with all kinds of different sports from cross country skiing to bobsled, to whatever else.
And so I got a lot of recognition for that writing, and then that sort of parlayed itself into, “Okay, how do I … If I wanted to assume for a minute that I don’t want to have a real job when I get out of school, but what I do.” And so that’s when I met Phil Caravaggio, who co-founded Precision Nutrition with me.
And he’s like, “Hey, there’s maybe a way to consider this. Why don’t we build out a website and doing what now would be called an information product business?” But back then, there wasn’t a name for it. People didn’t have their own websites back then.
I even told Phil, when he proposed the ideas, like, “Yeah, I’ll never work, man.” I try and go on the web now and everyone was on dial-up. I’m like, “It takes 20 minutes to load a simple HTML page.” He’s like, “Oh, trust me.” And Phil was a systems design engineering student. So, he was building web interfaces, and he was working with IBM, a bunch of big companies, and he sort of have seen the future.
So, that’s what we did. We started sort of an information product business and then a couple years into that, we are doing okay. We’re selling products and services and making decent money and a couple 100 grand a year and you’re encroaching upon about a million dollars a year.
And I was invited out to a company that was servicing the financial industry. And what they were doing was coaching programs for team members that worked at big companies in the financial industry. And so, it was all online was digital, and they wanted me to create the nutrition modules.
And so, I went and met with them, and it wasn’t a good fit for what I wanted to do. But the idea really resonated with me, like, “What if we created a similar kind of group coaching program that’s not geographically limited so people can work with us from all over the world and we can help them through lifestyle change?”
And so, then we built an interface, and we build a program. And we launched what I think is the first group, lifestyle nutrition exercise, coaching company on the Internet. And again, this is so passe now that everyone has this now. It seems so uninteresting as I hear myself saying it, but I’m like, “There’s literally no one doing this.” We were the first. We built a platform. We hired engineers. No one was doing this in health and fitness.
Sean Greeley: It was groundbreaking at the time.
John Berardi: Yeah, it was novel, and it was new, and it did really well. And then, after a while doing that, we are getting a lot of attention and a lot of professionals said, “Hey, can you teach us how you guys are doing that? How do you do group coaching that’s so scalable and actually has a meaningful impact on people’s lives?”
Because it’s really easy to presuppose that either you’re going to do small group and one on one stuff and have a big impact, or large group stuff, and the impact diminishes. So, there’s an inverse relationship between personal touch and positive outcome. And you’re like, “Yeah, but what if we presumed that wasn’t true? What if we tried to create a program that worked as well or even better, and could be done on scale?”
And that was how we went into this, and it was working. And so professionals want to learn it, and then that’s where the certification came from. And so we launched what it was the first nutrition certification for health and fitness professionals. And people thought we’re so dumb, because we did that at a time when literally every personal training organization said, “You’re not allowed to talk nutrition. It’s against the law. It’s immoral.” On and on down the line.
And I just had this inkling that this was going to be a thing. And now fast forward today, PN has coached over 200,000 people. Over, I think, 120,000 students have enrolled in the certification program.
And then right around 2015, 2016, we started thinking like, “How can we tie the two together?” I mean, we have all these professionals who are learning from us how we do things. And then we have a whole platform for actually doing those things, but we didn’t have a way to put them together, so we launched a program called ProCoach, which was basically opening up our software to all of our certified professionals, so that they could use it with their clients and with them as the coach.
So, now, they have this proven system that we’ve done a bunch of research on, we’ve shown reliable outcomes with and it’s all built. The platform is all built. And so, then they can start using it in their practice, and then that became a software as a service model. That was the first recurring revenue model we ever had.
Now, all of a sudden, if people end up using it and liking it and staying … Now, we don’t need them to buy again, they’re just paying monthly, and then each round, another whack of new professionals comes on top of that. So, it becomes sort of an exponential growth process, both in terms of revenue and reach.
All of a sudden, you have 10,000 professionals each working with 50 people and the impact really goes to a place we could never have had when we were doing all the coaching in-house ourselves. And I remember within one year of launching ProCoach, we were really pleased that we had coached more people through the ProCoach platform in one year than we had in 10 years coaching people through our own coaching efforts.
So, it just became this beautiful scalable thing. So, then that takes us up to December 2017. That year, 2017, there was just a lot of very proactive interest from various people in the industry and outside the industry and investing in PN. I knew nothing, absolutely nothing about this, about selling a company, what it meant to get outside investment.
PN never had any. We just bootstrapped and grew from revenue. And probably the truth is, we probably looked down on the other path. A lot of my own biases back then are slightly embarrassing to me now. But I used to be like, “Oh, these Silicon Valley idiots, whatever.” This is all happening in my head.
It was just ignorance. I didn’t really understand how any of the games worked. But it got to the point where people were just calling us and saying, “We’d like to buy PN.” Phil and I were like, “Do we want to sell PN? I mean, we’re having a good time. We have a great team. We love the people we work with. We’re proud of our work.”
I don’t have any interest in selling this thing. It feels like I don’t either, but I bet if we at least went down the path to exploring this, we get a masterclass in finance, in bringing on partners, transaction, all that. And along the way, we learned that …
And we were growing fast at the same time too. And we hit a point where we both looked at each other and realized, like, “Hey, if anything were to go wrong at PN, we could sell everything we own, the two of us and not even cover one month’s team employment.” Like, “Man, that’s not good.” And we have money in the bank and stuff, but for PN, but still, we’re like, “We don’t have the financial wherewithal to support a company as big as we have now.”
And there’s companies out there that do, what would that look like? So, we went down that path. And it was amazing. I mean, it ended up being a very competitive process, which is what I recommend for anyone selling the company.
The first company that contacted us to buy or invest in PN threw out a number. We ended up selling PN for about eight times that number. So, what was the defining factor? It was just a competitive process. It’s like in real estate, when there’s a hot market, and you create a bidding war, they call it, where you have a bunch of parties coming to the table. A little nervous, they’re not going to get the house that they want.
So, you have all bids final by such and such a day, you show the house often before that day, and you tell everyone, “Okay, cool. We’re not showing you what the other parties are going to bid. Make your best offer.” And that’s how it ended up working out.
And so not only did we have … I think we ended up with over 35 offers on the company. A great group of partners to select from, but we also had a premium price that we could sell for. And so that sort of took us right up to December 2017.
And so now, PN has owned 80% by a private equity company. That was the partner we ended up choosing. Phil and I own 10% each and the company just continues to do extremely well. I mean, PM is growing 40% year over year still.
When we ended up selling, evaluation was close to $200 million, and I think probably inside of two more years, it will be 500. The valuation will be close to $500 million.
Sean Greeley: Yeah, the numbers get exponential pretty quickly, right? And the growth has just been amazing. And obviously, having got to know a lot of the great team that is still on at PN and continues to take it to a great place, it just seems like the work and the output just continues to get better and better and better.
And I know that’s a lot of fear for entrepreneurs about selling a company as well. I don’t want my baby that I built to go down because I’m not there and just seeing a great company come in who makes a purchase, who can make the right investments, can bring on new team members who have new skill sets and know the next moves that you don’t have the experience in necessarily or the team in place to do and see how it goes from strength to strength. It’s got to be inspiring and a feel good story for you.
John Berardi: Yeah, it is. I often think about what is essentially heralded as like an entrepreneurial triumph story, which is like the Steve Jobs story, like when he was leading Apple, and then they sent him away, and then they brought him back. And so he’s leading apple and is crushing, and they sent him away and just tanked. And then they bring him back and he saves the day again, “Hooray entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs.”
Having gone through this journey now, I can’t help but think, like, “Why did he leave them in such shambles?” You know what I mean? Like, “Why did he have to come back and save the damn thing?” If you’re doing great leadership, then you should be building a company that’s going to do incredible when you’re not there.
Obviously, there’s a host of other factors, but it feels like a heroic, individualistic kind of effort, and it’s a great story from that perspective. But it also represents, I think, like a leadership failure. The fear of leaving your baby in someone else’s hands, and it to do poorly or embarrass your legacy or whatever is kind of contingent upon you.
If you create a competitive process, then you’ll get a bunch of partners to choose from, then you have to vet them really well and choose appropriately. And then you have to continually invest in building relationships so that you can spend some time helping them understand your vantage and point of view of the culture of the company and then you have to hire people to take over your roles.
And you have to vet them really well, and make sure they’re the kind of people who can do a great job here. All of it is easier said than done, but it’s the requirement. It is like sharking. And I see loads of people walk away from their company, selling their company, and they feel no compulsion to do any of the things I just said. And that’s like the surefire way for it to embarrass you legacy and not do well.
Sean Greeley: Yeah. Or to validate like this, “Oh, it’s all me.” An ego play, which is the other dark side of it, right?
John Berardi: Yeah, that’s exactly right. “Oh, see, without me, this is nothing.” And it’s just a very egocentric kind of perspective. I actually credit our work running Holacracy for the last last six, seven years at PN for helping me get to a place where I could be that way.
One of the central tenants of Holacracy is separate role from soul. So, who you are in the business isn’t who you are. It’s just a subset of who you are. It’s a small circle within the grander circle. How can I detach from the ego and all the …
I mean, there’s obvious rewards of being successful and attached to a successful company. How can I be a person okay without any of that? There’s real advantages operationally to detach roll from soul. But then there’s real advantages post transaction as well. It made the transaction process way easier for me, because I had already done this work. There is no ego attachment left.
Sean Greeley: Just a backup, for those who aren’t familiar with Holacracy, would you just give a brief summary? And you and I have had some discussions over the years. It’s a model for structure and communication with an organization. That’s a different type of structure and creates a different kind of culture.
Maybe just give a little overview. But also, I’d love for you to share … We’ve had some great conversations around how that structure fits really well with some certain types of companies that it’s a good fit for and industries and different type of people in that work that is … It’s gotten great praise, but also, I think a lot of people … There’s probably a lot of people who struggle with that as well.
John Berardi: Yeah, totally. So what it is, it’s like an organizational structure and kind of thing. Anyone who knows me knows I hate the fetishization of things. So, when you give something a term, then it becomes a thing. And then we have to talk about it separately from being a human on this planet.
So really, what organizational structure is, is the rules for being together within our company. So, how do we relate to each other as team members, as employer, employee? Is it hierarchical? Is it flat structure? Meaning there’s really not bosses and things like that.
And so the Holacracy is a structure where the presupposition is you’re going to hire talented people who are able to make decisions. They’re grownups, they have autonomy, and you should give them independence to make decisions about maybe how to best do their particular work. Let’s, let’s do everything.
Like if someone works in client care and has never worked in strategy a day in their lives, they shouldn’t be making strategy decisions. It doesn’t mean we’re all equal in different roles, it means that if my job is strategy, and I still happen to be the founder of the company, and I’ve never worked in client care, then I really have to respect the experience and talent and daily work of the people in client care.
So, the idea is just kind of in Holacracy, we don’t think in terms of boss, leader, bunch of managers, people working for those managers, we actually just have to be … We get really explicit on who’s doing what. Roles have specific definitions, not just the boss of X or I work for Y.
But my role is clearly painted out, and then how that relates to other work in the company is clearly painted out. There are still people who control budgets, and so people who can say yes or no to various projects. But it’s much more independent than a traditional hierarchy.
And so it really, really resonated with who we were at PN. I mean, we’re a coaching company. We believe that health and fitness professionals should orient to their clients this way. Historically, it was, “Okay, I’m the coach. I’m going to tell you what to do. You’re going to do it. And if you don’t, you’re rebellious or lazy.”
No, we don’t believe that. We believe we should interact this too independent, autonomous adults with agency. And then we figure out a path to go forward together. And so if that’s how we believe in coaching, we have to believe that about our company as well.
So, that’s the idea behind Holacracy, and people can go unpack more of that. There’s some great materials on it. But like you said, I mean, some companies have tried it and it’s been a real failure. I don’t know all about the insides of their cultures. PN, at one point, was hired to come consult with Zappos when they were trying to implement Holacracy.
I think it fits particularly well in companies with knowledge workers. So, people who are coming with a deep skillset and a lot of experience, who don’t want to be told what to do by some arbitrary distinction of management. For people who are grownups, who can show up to work, share your responsibilities and working in a team.
So, these are the things we would screen for. And I think it works for particularly well in a remote environment, which is the kind of company that we were. We never had a headquarters or anything like that. We were always remote from day one. Even Phil and I didn’t live in the same city when we started the company.
And so, I think, in the remote environment, there’s almost no other way to be than having this distributed authority model. I think it tends not to work in companies with a deep entrenchment of hierarchy. And I think it tends to work with a group of people who maybe are slightly allergic to hierarchy, and who are used to working in remote environments with shared accountabilities and responsibilities.
And again, I took a lot out of it. I think our company has really unique culture as a result of it. But again, I took a ton out of it personally and got a lot of personal growth out of it. And that, I think, is the other part. The leadership has to be willing to step into a new space and say, “I don’t know how to lead this way, so I’m going to learn alongside you all, rather than I have to have the answers, and I’m just going to tell you how it has to be.”
Sean Greeley: Yeah, I love that. I’m so happy you shared that, that work you did really support a great transition for you, and a great transition for the company. I’d love for you to share if you were looking back in many ways, you’ve done what so many entrepreneurs set out to do, build a great company, makes a big impact, have a great exit and have a great windfall for you and your family. And for everybody involved for many, many years to come as a result.
Looking back on where you started, and where it ended, the PN journey, we got more to talk about in the next phase here in a second. But what advice would you give yourself looking back to your younger self back in the early days of PN, and where you ended?
John Berardi: Yeah. I mean, I have a few things that now I’m like, “Oh, man.” A lot of it has to do with my inner life. Less outwardly. We had a great run at PN, like an enchanted run. I mean there was rarely a thing that we did that didn’t work.
There were some hairy moments along the way, but they were small comparatively. And so the rest of it was just like how I was inside. And there are two things that really come to mind. One, we’ll talk about my new book later, I’m sure, but one of them I recount in the book.
There was a point about halfway through the journey where … When you don’t know anything, like I don’t have any business training, and there wasn’t like a deep thread of entrepreneurship through any of my upbringing. So, I’m trying to figure it out as I go. And so, where do you turn to? This was pre-podcast and stuff. So, you just turn to books and magazines and stuff.
I think picked up from various books I read and Inc. Magazine and stuff like that. I developed this belief that a founder starts out as the jack of all trades, doing everything, then becomes a manager as they hire a few more people. Then it has to level up and become a manager of managers, so a leader as we might call it, or C something O.
And I felt like that was the appropriate and correct way to run a company. And if I didn’t want to do that, then I had to suck it up and grow. I didn’t want to do that. It was just so clear. I like what I like doing. I’m probably world class at what I’m good at.
And so I was having to do all the things that were not that. And so about halfway through PN’s journey, I was getting really depressed, and toggling back and forth between just depressed and pissed off. And I’m like, “I’m in meetings in a managing team, and I’m not writing anymore. And I’m not doing content. I’m not doing ads. I’m not doing research.”
None of the stuff that I really love. There’s literally no time in the day for that, unless I rob time for my family, or my workouts, or my self care, or my personal growth to do that stuff. And again, I was getting pissed. And then after a while became depressed, to the point where …
I mean, I still have it. I have it written down. I made a list of all the ways I could get out of this scenario that was making me so miserable for so long. We had just had our second child, so I’m sure sleep deprivation and all this was playing into it.
My list on the sunnier side was try and sell my shares in the company. One of the items was give my shares to Phil, which if I would have done that, that would have been a temporary relief of pain, but that would really suck in the long run. I would probably lost out $100 million.
But on the darker side, there were like kill myself items on the list. And so the thing that sort of emerged as a lesson from that, because how we resolved it was I called Phil and said, “Hey, I’ve been struggling with this inside for six months. I need to talk to you about it.”
And he came out and we spent the day together. And he had perspective on it and he was just like, “Hey, JB, I’ve noticed a little bit of this. And the truth is we can hire leaders, we can hire C something Os. We can’t hire out what you do though. So, you need to go back to that, and we’ll find managers things like that.”
And that was literally began a process of, again, what I teach in the book, exploration of purpose, identification of unique abilities, and then sort of making concrete of your value system. So, you can actually build your life around your purpose values and your unique abilities. And so we had exercises that went through this.
I mean, really, you can consider who I was before that this thing happened. And after in work, there’s two different people. And after was a result of these very explicit intentional exercises. And we can call them unique ability finders and stuff, but really, what we’re talking about is not copying other people’s success. Not creating a false narrative about what it means to be successful, copying other people’s experience, and not being yourself.
That, for me, has been just a profound teaching point going forward, where it’s like, “Man, I was literally trying to erase myself in the process.” And you can paint it as some lofty, “Oh, it’s personal growth.” You know what I mean? But really, it was like an obliteration of self like, “No, you need to stop doing all the things you’re interested in, and good at and have been rewarded for and do all together totally different things if you want success.”
So, the lesson really in that is if you want to find what I think is the rarest, but most rewarding way to have a career with longevity, it has to be centered on this idea of you, who you are, your unique abilities, your purpose, your values, and then springing from there.
I was at an event last weekend in Seattle speaking and I was just watching every speaker come up. And these are the people in front of the 300 attendees. And every single one of them was so uniquely themselves. They had success, like leveraging, amplifying the thing that made them unique and special.
And every one of them was different in that regard, and I was just like, “This is just such a testament to this thing that I’ve had an inkling for so long now, but we actually treat it like it’s a bug rather than a feature.” You know what I mean? Like we got to eliminate these weirdnesses, like smooth out those rough edges of your personality, and follow the success path.
But if you really look around, you’re like, “Wow. No, those are actually features. Those are the things that great businesses and cultures get build off of.” So, that’s one lesson. The other one is smaller, but still relevant. I pursued a lot of my early career with a lot of … I carried a lot of anxiety and urgency around with me.
Anxiety around all the things we weren’t doing, and urgency about we need to go faster, we need to go faster, we need to go faster. And nowadays, I am in a totally different place. And I don’t feel those things anymore. It’s like carrying around for 20 years a heavy backpack that you don’t even know that’s on, and then you set it down. And you’re like, “I didn’t even realize. What a relief.”
And it’s so strange because this is all happening inside my head, but people are coming up to me and using words that resonate with the same imagery I have. Like I was at a thing and a woman came up to me and she was like, “I know we just met, but you seem so light.” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel, light. I feel like I put this heavy back back down.”
I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy, in counseling. I think it’s really critical for everyone, but entrepreneurs especially. I just realized that I didn’t need to have an exit to put the backpack down. I used sort of the exit to really just go, “It is taking this thing off.”
But I didn’t need to have an exit to put the backpack down. That urgency, that anxiety was fed by an incorrect way of thinking that I know now, that’s what it was. And I actually know how to fix it now. And so as I start new ventures, which you know about and we can talk about, it’s a totally different feeling going into them.
Some of it has to do with the financial wherewithal I have now, but the rest of it has to do with this new perspective on, “Hey, how can I narrow down?” Instead of having anxiety by all the things that I’m not doing, how can I just choose very, very thoughtfully and intentionally the few things that are worth doing, and just do those, like do them extraordinarily well.
And then when I’m done, just call it a day, rest, and get ready for the next thing that I’m going to do in a really big, impactful way that matters. And again, I think I had been influenced by the action taker called mantra culture in health and fitness right now.
You can’t go to an event or read a thing without someone telling you to be an action taker. What’s the one thing you’re going to do right after I leave this stage? And it’s like, “I don’t know. Maybe that works for some people, but for me, I think you should spend a minute thinking about what the right action to take is before you just go start working hard on something that may not actually lead to what you want to achieve.”
Sean Greeley: Yeah, I love that. And it really speaks to the work that we do at NP and our message around strategy. And we talked a lot about how so many people. They think growing your businesses is really it’s about getting leads and getting clients. Intuitively, I’m a service provider, I get more leads, I get more clients, I have more revenue, revenue solves problems that not having revenue creates. That should be the path. I just got to go do that if I want to grow.
And really, our message is stop. Stop thinking that way and step back and really think about the deeper pieces of what is the money map that creates profitability and cash flow in your business model? What is the things that you do to support great retention and client acquisition? A lot of people through these mid stage service companies, they got there by getting clients, but they’re missing the piece. It’s the game of and. It’s the get clients and keep clients in this models.
And then, to your point, speaking about building the leadership capacity within your organization, so that your life gets better as you grow, not worse. Because without that in place, everything just sucks more as you grow.
John Berardi: Yes.
Sean Greeley: Right? So, it’s so important to … I speak about this every day, every time I can, just think differently. Right? And I think that’s a message we’re both both committed to sharing with the world.
John Berardi: It is. Yeah. This is actually the section header in the book. It’s not just a theoretical thing. I grew up with people who worked harder than almost any entrepreneur I’ve ever met. It’s just a group of immigrants with like no … They came with no education, with minimal skills.
Now, some of them were escaping persecution, and maybe certain death. So, it was an upgrade. But nevertheless, some of these people were working harder than anyone I’ve met, and didn’t get the rewards that everyone tells you that action takers get. You know what I mean?
So, it can’t just be working hard. There has to be pointed in the direction of the thing you want to accomplish. And that I think is what’s challenging for folks and why they need help, what they need a process. They need help from their friends. They probably need some kind of coaching.
And just to get to the point where … The way I think of it is I come from those immigrants. I can’t not work hard. That’s in my DNA now. It’s been bred into me. But when I die or retire, I’d like to know that the thing I chose to work on was going to bring the rewards I was seeking. I’m going to work hard anyway, so wouldn’t it be more fun if I work just as more hard and got meaningful relationships and done impactful work and got paid really well, and all those things.
It’s like the old story, like an airplane leaves New York and wants to fly to Southern California, and you change its trajectory, its angle of takeoff by two degrees, and it ends up in Seattle. That’s how I think about this. That’s where your point of strategy. It is about working hard, but you have to work hard on the right things, you think differently. And that’s what I had to learn along the way, for sure.
Sean Greeley: Yeah. And I think for our industry particularly, not just this had the same mentality like, “I’ll just work harder, and everything will work itself out.” No, you can work harder, and everything just goes to complete failure. That’s not proven to work out. I think people really need to be able to engage thinking about the world around them differently.
John Berardi: Yeah. And great analogy is working out. You build muscle and you build capacity, aerobic, anaerobic in the recovery from exercise, not during the exercise. So, what is your recovery from hard work? Those are the spaces where quiet reflection and thoughtfulness and seeking feedback has to come into play, and then you do another big workout effort. And then, okay, now is recovery time.
I think a lot of people working in health and fitness thought about their business, their work the same way as they do about exercise. They have a meaningful analogy that they can lean on.
Sean Greeley: Yeah. So, that’s a great place to transition. And I want to get to some other things in this conversation today that I think are important to share on the show. And so, you have this tremendous exit from PN. You have more money than you’ll ever spend in your lifetime, for you and for generations of your family. You’ve achieved tremendous success and the impact the work is done.
You don’t change your life that much. You guys get a lake house. That’s kind of it. I remember we had a great conversation during that time and spent time with you guys. And then we left and a boat arrived, so we missed the boat on that trip, but I look forward to the next one.
You were inspired to write this book, and I’d love for you to talk about what inspired you to write this book. What are you most driven to go do now and what inspired … Yeah, what seemed to drop here? And what is it? November 2nd, right?
John Berardi: Yeah. Well, this is a bit of an interesting discovery process for me now too. What happens after the exit or whatever? When Phil and I sold the majority of our ownership in PN, my first thought was, “Hey, this might be the last thing I do in health and fitness.”
So, what I’d love to really spend some time on is capturing all the lessons I’ve learned over the last 30 years in the field, like career lessons, if you will. So, the book ended up … We ended up calling a Change Maker, turn your passion for health and fitness into a powerful purpose and a wildly successful career.
And the idea being like I started out just like everyone else. For whatever reason or anyone who’s decided to work in this field has a superhero origin story. Whatever spider bit you and turned you into health and fitness spider man or woman, there’s a story behind that.
I shared a bit about mine. I think, everyone, it’s worth unpacking your own.Why are you in this field? Of all the things you could be doing, why here, why now? But then I look around, I see all these people bit by this radioactive health and fitness spider, but they have no idea how to turn that even into a purpose, let alone a career.
And I’m just like, “I figured this out, and I learned a lot of lessons along the way.” So, I want to capture those. And I want to capture them in a meaningful way, not in a, “Oh, here’s what I think are the best practices.” But what did I really learn these last 30 years? What’s a real lesson rather than just a superstition?
So, I thought this would be pretty easy, but it took two years, and it was pretty excruciating actually to come up with non-bullshit answers to the question of what did I learn. What we ended up producing is this Change Maker book, and it’s got sections on career, and it’s got sections on coaching, it’s got sections on business, and it’s got sections on reputation and on education. Like how do you build future you through a thoughtful education process?
And so, I was like, “Great. I’m going to capture all this, every loads of personal stories, loads of PN stories.” most of the stories though come from my personal life, my interaction with my family, and my friends and things like that, and what they taught me and how I brought that into business.
And at the end of the process, I was like … As I mentioned to you, Amanda was like, “Hey, what do you … So now that the book is written and you’re just trying to produce the physical object, like what are you doing when you’re in your office during the day?” I was like, “I think I have to start a new business, honey.” And she was like, “Do you want to?” I’m like, “No, I don’t want to, but it’s the right thing to do right now.” Because career is a thing that …
Again, my professional life is marked by that point I talked about earlier, where I was just doing what I thought I needed to be doing, versus a very intentional look at how I’d be spending my life. And so I’m like, “I know how to teach people how to do this. We did this with every single person at PN, unique abilities, and values and purpose and try and create a place where every person to the left of you and every person to the right of you.”
No, you know. Hey, they’re here doing their unique abilities within their purpose, according to their values. What a great culture that creates. So, I’m like, “I need to share this with the world. I need to share our way of looking at business.”
So, we created that, and then really, the academy sprung out from that. And so the idea of being like, “The book is a great start, but what if you want someone to walk you through how to do this in the context of your actual life with some peers?”
So, that’s really the next phase. The book is coming out in November, so really soon. It’s available for pre order now and people are ordering like crazy, which is really exciting. And then after that, assuming the book does really well, then we’re going to bring out some courses and some events and some meetups. And this is one of the part I’m most excited about, connecting people in geographically related locations.
Sean Greeley: No buses involved?
John Berardi: No buses. Yeah. Allowing them to sort of congregate and create community with and support other health and fitness professionals where they live. So, rather than these people being adversaries, they are your team of superheroes. They’re your X-men.
Where these are the people who are rooting for you and sharing strategies and ideas, and I’d love to see these meetups all over North America, UK, Australia, Europe, where people can just get together with other people trying to level up themselves, but also the entire field.
So, that’s really what’s next for me. The idea of the Change Maker book and the Change Maker Academy. People have asked how is this different from a lot of business and entrepreneurship coaching that’s out there nowadays, like NPE or others.
And I’m like, “I think it’s fundamentally different. What we’re talking about is creating a sustainable career. I’m not delving into the same things you are in terms of how to do the X’s and O’s of business building. That’s not really my passion.”
My passion is to help people decide whether they should go into entrepreneurship in the first place. You know what I mean? This is an area that I think is sorely lacking. folks who aren’t making much money in health and fitness today, their presupposition is that, well, I’ve worked as a trainer for the man. The only way to be successful is to become the man.
And there’s so many other paths for that to be successful in this field. PN was recently looking for a head of product. So, someone who could help with digital products, and particular, ProCoach, our software I mentioned earlier. And so they found a really great individual who was … And actually, all the applicants.
And I had no idea, but we’re interviewing people and the average salary for a head of product in a big health and fitness company is like over 500 grand US. And I’m like, “What?” You know what I mean? So, these are people who are passionate about health and fitness and like technology, and they found a way to lead teams building technological products in health and fitness. And they’re making salaries of half a million or more a year.
And there’s all kinds of roles you can have nowadays working for health and fitness companies that aren’t entrepreneurial. I don’t think the entrepreneurial journey is for everyone. And that’s why I would rather spend a few minutes figuring out what your unique abilities are and purpose and values, and then decide rather than just copycatting and saying, “Well, I see those people over there who seem to run their own businesses. It kind of looks like they’re doing well.”
Because you and I know this, I have never had as much access to help people and companies are doing than I did in 2017, 2018, 2019, by virtue of working with private equity companies, because they can find these things out very easily, because this company is always trying to be sold and trying to be bought.
And so there are so many companies in our field that look like they’re doing great that are a disaster. Like you would mind blown if you saw how bad their numbers were, and it seems like they’re crushing it, and vice versa. Companies you’ve never heard of, or you would never predict they’re doing so well. They’re absolutely crushing it financially in terms of meaningful impact.
It’s like the Facebook thing, like don’t compare your real life to someone else’s highlight reel. Well, this is what we’re doing with business all the time.You’re doing the same problem. So, for me, it’s just can we intercept people who are passionate about health and fitness before they start coming up with some superstition about what meaning would be to them.
And actually, take them through a process to figure out. Should you be a coach? Should you be an entrepreneur? Should you be a tech leader? Should you be a podcast? There’s all kinds of ways to be successful in this field now.
One of my greatest triumph from a recent event was Andrea, who’s like my right-hand person at Change Maker Academy, was sitting next to a woman all day. And all day, she’s taking notes about coaching and how to be a better coach, and she’s trying to pull every lesson. And then I talked and then on its own page, she wrote, “I don’t think I want to be a coach!?”
She had this epiphany. I don’t know if I saved or ruined her life there, but this is what I want people to do next. To think about, “Hey, where do I slot in and all of this?” And to see there’s alternative paths to success that are worth thinking about, at least.
I’m not trying to talk anyone out of what they’re doing right now. It’s mostly like, “Hey, let’s do a little exploration.” Because there’s financial success, and then there’s deep resonance with who you are. And hopefully, this is the dream, you can create both at the same time.
Sean Greeley: Yeah. What’s more meaningful than that, really? I mean, it’s just so powerful. And I can’t wait to see the book in spirit to get in some people’s hands that I know will really benefit from the lessons you’re sharing.
So, the book comes out for, again, depending on when you’re listening the show, the book comes out November 2nd. It’s on pre-order on Amazon, and a host of places. We’ll have it in the show notes to go check out.
John Berardi: Yeah, that’s great. I’d love folks, if you’re interested in checking it out, there’s a … I put together sort of for the podcast listeners like a free download. So, people can get a couple sample chapters and some bonus materials and stuff if they want.
So, if we could put those in the show notes, that would be great. And then also, if you get those things and you like what you see, I can share an Amazon coupon code as well for some percent off the book for folks who listen today.
Sean Greeley: Awesome.
John Berardi: It’s just important to me that as many people who need this as possible get it. As you mentioned, like for me, this isn’t about selling books and making money. It’s not a driving force in my life, because I’m fortunate enough for that not to be.
So now, it’s just been how can we get this into everyone’s hands that needs to have it? Because, I think, there’s a lot of insights in there for folks at any stage of their journey. Beginners, for sure, but even people further along the path.
Sean Greeley: Yeah, and I love that you even share that critical stages during the PN run where you had to make some pivots, which a lot of these lessons are born out of that journey for you at critical points. During great success, right? Where a time when on the outside, everything is, “Oh, John is doing great. He know everything is fantastic. And internally, you’re just not …
John Berardi: Struggling. Yeah.
Sean Greeley: Yeah.
John Berardi: Well, that was it. A couple people early on kept saying like, “Well, this book is for beginners, right?” And I was struggling with that idea, because I’m like, “It’s not, but how do I convince people otherwise? How do you convince someone who’s experienced in season? They derive some value out of this too.”
And I was like, “I’m actually half the lessons in here from when I was running $100 million company.” You know what I mean? So, it’s self-evident. I don’t have to argue against that point. It’s actually about that too.
Sean Greeley: Yeah. So, we can really say anybody who is looking for more clarity of the right path for them or feeling misaligned in their current role and structure today, that’s looking for a better way to create alignment in their life and with their unique talents, abilities and gifts to make an impact and deliver value.
John Berardi: Yeah, it’s great. You’re hired.
Sean Greeley: All right, good.
John Berardi: You’ll be my marketing PR.
Sean Greeley: I love it. I’m a fan. So, I’m on board. Awesome. Well, I want to be respectful of your time. We’re right about at the window of what we plan for today. But I guess to just finish off, some of the most inspiring things I think are not just your entrepreneur journey, but around the personal work that you’ve done and continue to invest in yourself.
And I think this is such an important area that not a lot of people are vulnerable about to speak about their struggles and speak about the work required, and how important that is internally in yourself and in your relationships, and how that just affects everything around you.
And not just being a good entrepreneur, business owner and successful in your career, but in every area of your life is impacted with who you are when you show up and what’s in front of you. So, this is an area that you’ve done tremendous work in.
You’re sharing a lot of those lessons in the book. But I’d love for you to just talk about just some other components of how you’ve done that work, and what you advice to share to this.
Actually yesterday, just did an interview with a couple of our very successful clients in Australia. And they talked around how two business partners and how they had done a tremendous amount of work before they became business partners and during their partnership, especially for partnerships, I think, is critical in business to be able to do that work individually and together to be able to have just powerful communication and understanding.
And in a business relationship, which just gets more important, the more the company grows, the more pressure there is to perform and all the things that you talked about with you and Phil and how you navigated some of those pieces for yourself.
So, having our relationship for a few years now, you’ve talked a lot about how it’s impacted your marriage, your relationship with your children, and so many aspects of your life. And so what would you say to people around, not just the value, but your advice for doing that work, and how to engage that work internally?
John Berardi: Yeah. I think it means back towards what we talked about earlier, which is like … I think everything is connected and relates to everything. So, how do I become a good business partner is not a separate question from how do I be with people.
That’s really what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to be skillful with people, which means if you develop that skill and apply it, you should be skillful in your marriage, and you should be skillful with your children, and with your parents, and with your clients, and with your business partner.
There is no set of hacks. I mean, you can try them, but people will see through that pretty easily. So, for me, it’s just been how can I develop and evolve as a consistent person who’s skillful with others. Unless you live in the wilderness and cabin by yourself, skill with others may be one of the most important ways of being in the world.
And for me, the most fundamental skill for being with others is asking thoughtful, compassionate questions and listening deeply to the answers. I don’t know any other way to more quickly connect with people or to build ties and bridges and love and mutual respect than this. And it is so damn easy.
You’re like, how long will it take to become skillful with other people? I’m like, “Well, if you think of everything is a discrete strategy, it would take a very long time, because you have to learn a lot of strategies.”
If you just think of it as this, I mean, how can I be a better listener? But being a better listener is almost like just chastising people. How do you listen better? Well, it begins with asking better questions. You have to begin the listening process with a question that elicits truth, their vulnerability, or pride, or respect, or whatever, and then let people talk about those things, and then really listen and respond to them in positive ways.
And I think that defines good parenting, good partnership, romantic business. An example is a thing that I do with our children, and we have four, is I ask them every few months. I start off with, “Hey, you guys know, it’s really important to me to be a good dad. It’s one of the most important jobs I’ll ever have in my life. And I want to do really good job at nit, but I can’t do it by myself. Can you guys spend a few minutes telling me what I’m doing well, and what I’m doing badly? Like what I could do better at.”
And so I start this when our kids are like three. And the answers that they give … Our oldest is nine now or different between three and nine. But at the beginning of this year, so spring time, I asked that of our boys. And they gave me some feedback. And some of it was kind of unexpected. They leaned into some things I didn’t think they would lean into and they didn’t say some things I was for sure, they would say,
And it was just like a humbling moment, because I’m like, “If I wasn’t doing this intentional exercise, then I would have made assumptions about what I should do to be a better dad without ever asking the people I’m dad with.” And then I’d be investing in areas that weren’t worth investing in and not investing in areas that were worth investing in.
And so the boys gave me some feedback. And one of the things was among a couple of others. The top two were will spend a little less time working and a little more time having fun with the kids. Now, this is strange feedback, because I work less than almost any other dad that I know. I work maybe four hours a day.
So, the first response can be, “Well, these kids are crazy. They need to understand what reality looks like. So, I’m going to teach them that I don’t work very much. But that’s absurd, because their experiences is their experience, like trying to reason it out of them is folly.
So, I just started asking myself, “Okay, what is it that I do that gives them the perception that I work a lot? And could I change the way that I work or how I work so that they feel like I’m working less, even though I’m not?”
And so I committed to that for the entire summer. And our relationship is so different right now than it was in the spring. It’s magical. And part of it is because I even asked the question in the first place. You’re important, your thoughts matter. Tell me then.
The second part is then it told me … And I didn’t dismiss it or argued away. I acted on it. I went out, set out to do better, and they saw and felt it. And I think, in addition to the things that I improved per there comments, it’s this meta mutual respect concept that’s done most of the heavy lifting.
So, that’s just one example, but I think it’s really fundamental to how I view all these things. From what I’ve accomplished, and from my unique abilities around communication, and speaking and writing and all that, it’s really tempting for me to just talk all the time. It really is. It’s what I would fall back on. And people can reasonably argue, you should do more of that.
But I found that the antidote is the opposite. A good life actually comes from the opposite of that, which is compassionate, thoughtful questions, and taking them seriously, listening for real. And then bonus points if you act on it. I think if there was a secret sauce to this sort of phase of my life, it’s that very thing.
I think it’s where empathy comes from. I think it’s where connection comes from or compassion comes from, and meaningful relationships come from. So, I don’t think there’s a hack to marriage and business partnership and parenting. I just think there’s a way of being with people that works in nearly every situation, and It’s founded on this principle, if you will.
Sean Greeley: Yeah, well, I couldn’t end on a better note than that. I think that is great advice for, as you said, anything in life with it’s you and someone else. Here’s how to engage it better. So, fantastic. Well, look, there’s so much more I know that you have to share the world. I’m excited about this next phase of your journey with the book, with the academy, with meetups, with the events.
We look forward to supporting that in NP and anything I can do to obviously help you get the message out. I know we’re aligned and our mission, our work to help the industry grow and get better and support people in their careers and work they do.
I’m just really happy for this. It’s such a great, exciting time for you. It’s awesome to see you go from strength to strength and continue to find your right balance for you. And doing it in such a powerful way that gets to get back to the world. So, thank you for the work you’re doing.
John Berardi: Thanks, my friend. I appreciate the kind words. I appreciate the chance to kind of share some of the story today and all the support that you’ve given me already and support that I know is to come. And again to the folks who’ve listened in, thanks for spending time with us today. Hopefully, there’s some value that you can get out of this and you can translate it into something very meaningful and uniquely you in the process.
Sean Greeley: Absolutely. And we’ll have more in the show notes. Check them out. Go grab the free bonuses and worksheets and go grab the book and we look forward to more to come.
John Berardi: Thanks, everyone.