“SK: I ended up getting a personal trainer certification, not because I wanted to become a trainer but rather I wanted to have a piece of paper that I thought would be really important for some reason to convince people on the internet to take me seriously and it turns out, nobody cares. Like, “Can you get me results? Are somebody that I can trust and somebody that I can believe and you’re real?” I found out very quickly that was more important.”
[0:00:24.6] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Fail on Podcast where we explore the hardships and obstacles today’s industry leaders face on their journey to the top of their fields, through careful insight and thoughtful conversation. By embracing failure, we’ll show you how to build momentum without being consumed by the result.
Now please welcome your host, Rob Nunnery.
[0:00:51.4] RN: Hey there and welcome to the show that believes leveraging failure is not only the fastest way to learn but is also the fastest way to grow your business and live a life of absolute freedom in a world that only shares successes, we dissect the struggle by talking to honest and vulnerable entrepreneurs and this is a platform for their stories.
Today’s story is of Steve Kamb, Steve is a fitness instructor publisher and writer, best known for promoting Superhero Workout Regimes and the paleo diet at his website nerdfitness.com which is now a booming business and worldwide fitness community dedicated to helping nerds and desk jockeys level up their lives and their fitness.
He’s also the author of the book, Level Up Your Life: How To Unlock Adventure And Happiness By Becoming The Hero Of Your Own Story. In addition to his writing and coaching, Steve has also guest lectured at Google, Facebook, Ted X Emery and many other places. In this chat, we’ll be discussing Steve’s high school experience that sparked his motivation for working out and led him on his journey to actually creating Nerd Fitness.
He’ll discuss that a deciding moment when he was ready to break free from his nine to five and focus solely on creating the business and Steve also shares his advice for growing an audience, managing remote teams and how to transition from a full-time job to your own passion project.
But first, luckily, all I travel with now is a backpack for one reason only, it’s clothing form an innovative Toronto apparel company called unbound merino, they have clothes made out of merino wool that you can wear for months on end without ever needing to wash it. Yes.
This means I can travel with less clothes since the clothes clean themselves but checkout the show notes page for an exclusive Fail On discount that you won’t be able to get anywhere else. And of course, if you’d like to stay up to date on all the fail on podcast interviews and key takeaways form each guest, simply go to failon.com and signup for our newsletter at the bottom of the page. That’s failon.com.
[0:03:00.3] RN: So, in New York City, why are you here, why in New York City?
[0:03:02.9] SK: If you’ll notice here on the walls, this makes for great radio by the way, I have a Captain America shield hanging on my wall and Captain America hanging above my desk where I work from. The funny official answer is, Steve Rogers AKA captain America is from New York City. Where else should I be for a scrawny guy named Steve that was really trying to get bigger and stronger and become Captain America.
No, the reality is.
[0:03:31.8] RN: That wasn’t the reality?
[0:03:34.1] SK: The reality is that I’ve been running a company called Nerd Fitness for seven years now. Two years ago, I came up to New York City. I was living in Nashville at the time. Came to New York City to meet with my book publisher and I’ve been to New York a whole bunch of times, I was like, “Why would anybody live here? It’s big and expensive and there’s people everywhere.”
I decided that week that I was coming up, it’s like, “I’m really going to give New York City a chance.” Instead of coming in and out for a day or two which is what I had done in the past, I gave it a real chance. I rented a place for a week, I setup appointments with friends that I knew, I went out to eat good dinner. I went out to the park, I met up with heroes of mine in the internet business space.
I just had the best week ever and I went back to Nashville and I was like – I was only two months into a 12-month lease and I was like, “Crap. I think I need to move to New York.” I think another month went by and I realized I was like, “I’m mentally am already in New York. Physically I’m still in Nashville.”
“Mentally I’m there. What am I waiting for?” Within two weeks after I made that decision, I had sold all of my stuff, I had found somebody to rent out my apartment, anything that didn’t fit in my Jeep was gotten rid of, donated or sold and I drove in to New York City and rented an AirBNB for a month and as soon as I found an apartment, sold my car and I’ve been here for two years and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
[0:04:55.7] RN: Was it more so the city or the kind of community like you said, you were here that week and you met with a lot of good people and it was like –
[0:05:01.4] SK: Yeah, it was the community, like I said, I was trying to think bigger with Nerd Fitness and I had a few mentors and a lot of college friends actually here in New York City and I knew that anytime I wanted to meet up with somebody, they were always coming to New York City at some point.
Anytime you want to meet somebody, at some point in the next 12 months, they’re going to be here and that’s somebody that likes to sit on my butt and read books – I like when I’m here, I like being here. It’s kind of nice that everybody has to come through so I get to see everybody individually instead of only seeing them in a chaotic three day conference that everybody else is at.
You get to have those one on one moments with a lot of people that are visiting just for a few days.
[0:05:43.4] RN: I feel like, I was talking to Nick Teraso, I know we talked before we got on the air that you know, a mutual friend of ours. I was talking to him because him and I had this in common like socially awkward and like, it kind of social angst and big setting with a lot of people.
It sounds like you’re the same but I find it interesting that we all find our little ways to find deep connection like for him, he does this flight adventures, right? Where he takes somebody like his reasoning behind this was beautiful.
I can meet whoever I want because it’s very tempting for me to reach out to one of my heroes and say “Hey, do you want to fly to Connecticut today, we’ll be back by the afternoon.” That kind of thing and he’s like, well then they’re stuck in this little cockpit with me, they can’t go anywhere so that’s just like an instant bond.
It’s a really deep connection, same kind of reason like I do the podcast because I go talk to people I really admire and like, it’s the same thing. It’s deeper connection.
[0:06:30.8] SK: Speaking of Teraso, did you know he is a phenomenal musician?
[0:06:34.6] RN: I did.
[0:06:35.6] SK: I had no idea, I had met him and hung out with him a few times and then he invited me to this charity event, him and another friend of his, Nick Ganju who is – I showed up to this event and Ganju was on stage in full Prince outfit just crushing Purple Rain and then Teraso comes out and sang U2 and nailed it. I was like, I’d hung out with these guys a handful of times and they were like, “I’m doing this event.”
It’s like, “Okay,” you’re like “Ha, ha. Of course you are. You’re going to play Free Falling on your guitar? Wait, you guys are actually good at music? Okay, that was not expected.” Yeah, two really funny guys.
[0:07:17.5] RN: What were you doing in Nashville?
[0:07:18.8] SK: I went to college in Nashville actually. I went to college at Vanderbelt University and after college, I actually moved to San Diego for about a year and a half and when I was in San Diego, I had the genesis for Nerd Fitness. I was working a crappy job and ended up picking up The Four-Hour Workweek on my lunch break and read it cover to cover in two days and like Neo discovered the Matrix existed.
There’s this completely different world out there that I am completely unaware of.
[0:07:47.7] RN: What was the crappy job?
[0:07:48.8] SK: I worked for a construction equipment sales and rentals company.
[0:07:52.9] RN: Pretty crappy.
[0:07:54.6] SK: Not to belittle anybody, obviously that does that, it takes a tremendous amount of skill and expertise and knowledge in that area and obviously I was working for this company just before the bottom fell out of the construction market back in 2007/2008.
It was tough, it was real cutthroat and sales is not my cup of tea. I very quickly learned that was not for me and started Nerd Fitness on the side and ended up from there, moving to Atlanta and then I traveled a whole bunch and ended up back in Nashville for a few years because I love music.
Here in the apartment I have a banjo on the wall, a violin, a guitar, keyboard. I like to make a lot of noise, I’m never good at it but I like to make a lot of noise so that’s how I ended up back in Nashville.
[0:08:38.0] RN: I actually saw you on your LinkedIn profile and I saw you worked for Six Man and crazy enough, before I got into what I’m – before my last two businesses advertising companies. I was in this period of trying to figure out what to do and I’m originally from Atlanta so – I saw Six Man, I don’t remember where I found them from but I saw they put on this amazing cruises with all these bands.
I can start that business. You just need capital to rent out the cruise ship and then to get this bands and I was like, that’s like – it was a very clear focus for me, I was like, “I can do that” and I obviously didn’t but I just loved the model and I thought like it seemed like a really cool startup company in Atlanta, right?
[0:09:19.9] SK: Yeah, Andy Levine, the owner of former owner of Six Man, you know, they were acquired in a kind of like an amazon/Zappos type experience with cruise lines a few years back but Andy has been a mentor to me, really, since the first day I started working there.
It’s funny, a lot of other companies have come along to try to do what they do and Six Man just does it in such a way – they care and they have done such an amazing job with community building, that the artists that they work with, when they do this events, you know, most of them refuse to work with other companies trying to do similar things.
Just because Six Man actually treats both the artist with respect and the customers and the fans of those bands treats them with respect too. I learned a lot while working at Six Man about community building and taking care of the customer. I applied as much of that – I still applied as much as that as I could to Nerd Fitness.
[0:10:16.6] RN: Got you. Give me like the genesis of Nerd Fitness? Where did it come from, what made you interested in that and how did you actually start growing and building it?
[0:10:26.6] SK: Sure. I was, as I eluded to earlier, I was the skinny, scrawny, small nerd growing up. I would escape into as many games and books and movies as I could, I went through Accutane twice in high school. Puberty hit me very late. I was five feet tall and 120 pounds or something by the time I think I was like a sophomore in high school. It was tough.
Junior year I finally hit a growth spirt and went out for the basketball team and got cut, mostly because I was terrible at basketball. In my head, it was because I was too skinny. I was like, “I’m going to go to the gym and I’m going to start working out.”
I went to the gym, I had no idea what I was doing and ended up spending two years of high school, four years of college, training and going to the gym, three, four, five days a week and seeing almost next to nothing when it came to results, as a result of all that hard work I was putting in.
It wasn’t until I moved to san Diego in college that I signed up for a gym, they gave me free personal trainer sessions and in 30 days, with that trainer, having him also overhaul my nutrition, in those 30 days, I had more success that I’d had in the entire six years before then.
Instantly, I was hooked, it was like okay, I had been blaming my genetics forever, I had been blaming – I was too busy that there was no way I could get bigger or stronger and it just wasn’t in the cards and those 30 days essentially flipped that completely on its head.
Maybe realized that there is a method to all of this madness and it lit a little bit of a spark I guess in my head that was, “If it took me six years to make these mistakes. What about everybody else that’s out there that is struggling with this stuff? That have bought late night infomercial products for fitness or tried supplements or signed up for a gym membership and got excited, to only give up. Because they’re not seeing results.”
When I cracked the code, I wanted to help other people like me crack the code as well. Like I said, I’d spent most of my childhood playing video games. At that point, I was working my crappy job selling construction equipment.
Well, trying to sell construction equipment, I wasn’t selling very much of it and playing video games every night. I was like well, and again, I just read The Four-Hour Work Week, we talked about something you’re good at and a social group you’re a part of and what’s that tiny sliver of overlap? And I was like, “Well, you know, I don’t consider myself a fitness expert” but at that point I had spent a few more months even learning and researching and getting even better shape.
It was like, “Maybe I can help beginners at least get started with fitness” and I’m a huge nerd and I Googled “Nerd and fitness” and nothing popped up. I just started writing and –
[0:13:04.2] RN: So you weren’t a personal trainer?
[0:13:06.3] SK: No.
[0:13:06.5] RN: Because a lot of people are in the fitness industry, get in it because you know, they’re trading time for money, they’re training people, hour by hour, they want more leverage, they start some kind of virtual fitness program?
[0:13:17.3] SK: Sure, no, I came at it from a very different angle. I think I did actually – believe it or not, Andy, the owner of Six Man was my first client when I was in Atlanta, I was working on Six Man on Nerd Fitness on the side and I ended up getting a personal trainer certification, not because I wanted to become a trainer but rather, I wanted to have a piece of paper that I thought would be really important, for some reason, to convince people on the internet to take me seriously and it turns out nobody cares, can you get me results?
Like, “Are you somebody that I can trust and somebody that I can believe in and are real?” I found out that out very quickly that that was more important but until then, I did get a certification. I took a very basic one, you know, it was probably like a weekend long certification.
I trained Andy for a few weeks and we had fun together and I think we both decided he was like “Yeah, you know, this is fun but he’s like, you’re a writer. You can train me for an hour and you can help me once or you can write for an hour and impact 10, a hundred, a thousand, a million people if when you publish a blog post.”
“You should keep your focus there” and it’s like, “I think that sounds like a good strategy.” Yeah, I was never like the get a job in or you know, study, exercise physiology and become a dietician and then work in a gym and then move on to this, it was more like, I saw this as my path because I writing was the thing I truly enjoyed.
[0:14:43.7] RN: Got it. Are you still writing a lot ‘till this day?
[0:14:46.8] SK: Yeah, it’s been recently I’ve gone through a bit of a shift. For close to seven years, I published two articles a week, every week for seven years and those articles were anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 words long. A lot of writing.
Some of them were good, some weren’t great but I learned a lot and I got a lot better writing. As a result of that sheer volume and quality and quantity, a huge number of those articles or a decent amount of those articles started to get ranked really well on Google. Or people would share it or go viral or whatever it may be.
That’s how Nerd Fitness really started to grow is I would just publish content like put my head down and just cranked on something that was interesting to me and try to write about it in a fun way that made it exciting to me and exciting to others, I interject my personality into it.
Only recently have I not gone away from it but really tried to study, okay, which of the articles that really resonate with people, which ones help the most people and are there things that I’m doing with some of our top articles that were not doing with the rest of our top articles?
Can I go back and either fix them or update them. I’ve gone back to some of our really popular articles that I wrote years ago. Given them a fresh coat of paint, introducing new public studies that have happened in the past three years, updating them to make them as recent and updated as possible so that knowing that every day, tens of thousands of new people find Nerd Fitness.
This is an opportunity for them to get the most up to date information, even if they’re finding an article that I initially wrote, you know, four or five years ago.
[0:16:25.4] RN: What’s been the most popular article out of all of them?
[0:16:28.2] SK: Yeah, long term, I wrote an article called The Beginner’s Guide To The Paleo Diet, specifically because it was a diet that I’d never heard of and somebody told me about it and I was like, “That sounds crazy, and then I researched it and I was like, never mind, this actually just sounds really normal. Eat vegetables and like real food. Okay.”
Alright, that’s not so scary. It was really scary to me to begin with, what about everybody else that probably feels similarly? So, I just decided, I’m going to corner – I’m going to write the beginner’s guide to this diet and everything you need to know about it.
I remember not the day specifically but I remember the mood of the day. Google happened to have obtained some algorithm, this is probably four or five years ago and whatever it was, our traffic like, 5x’d in like a week. I was like “What the Fff?” I literally had no idea what was going on and I posted on Twitter and I was like, “Hey, my traffic’s way up and I didn’t publish anything.”
[0:17:26.6] RN: Pull yourself.
[0:17:27.7] SK: Yeah. Exactly, it was like, what happened? Somebody’s like, “Well, you’re the number one article for when people search paleo diet, maybe that’s it.” “But I wrote that article two years ago, why is it just showing up now, you know?” I don’t know. That’s how google operates.
It was number one or two or three, for really the past four or five years. I’ve gone back and updated it and fixed that article and these days, my Beginner’s Guide To Intermittent Fasting is probably the most popular.
[0:17:54.5] RN: Yeah, it’s a big thing right now.
[0:17:55.7] SK: Which is funny, I think as the terms, I wrote that article, same thing many years ago, it was interesting to me and then Google decided to make that for whatever reason, you know, I guess I’m fortunate and I’m also scared in some capacities. I don’t know what I’m doing with SEO and it’s working. Then if it stops working I wouldn’t know why.
[0:18:17.1] RN: I think it’s working years after the fact, right? I think it does lend itself to showing how important that creating consistent quality work, over a long period of time matters hugely, right? Not just writing one article and like, not seeing results and then like, “I’m not going to write that anymore.” Just staying committed to the cause, right?
[0:18:35.4] SK: Sure, yeah. I mean, I think, at least, I’ve published hundreds of articles and many of them at the time, people are like, “Man, that’s a great article.” Now, if I go back into google analytics, they get a few hundred hits a month and then other articles get 50, 60, 70, 80, 100,000 plus views a month and those are articles I wrote many years ago.
Like you said, I think it’s a cool combination of quantity and as a result of that quantity, it allowed me to hone my craft and get less terrible at writing to a point that I’m actually, I go back to read them. “Yeah, that’s actually a pretty damn good article.”
If you go back and read the original stuff in Nerd Fitness, it wasn’t that great. I feel like I had to write a lot in order to learn what people – resonated with people and ultimately led me to become – I guess I describe it a decent writer.
[0:19:26.5] RN: It’s interesting because I told you, I just came from Roman’s place, John Romanielo and also a fitness guy also a very good writer.
[0:19:33.4] SK: He’s nerdier than I am.
[0:19:34.1] RN: Exactly.
[0:19:35.1] SK: he’s nerdier and more fit and he’s just like – he does Nerd Fitness better than I do. Like “Dude, you should be running this website.”
[0:19:42.9] RN: No, but seriously. I find it interesting because you know, like you, he’s a very good writer and – but he’s been doing, he’s loved writing his entire life. He was a bookworm growing up like you said, huge nerd.
[0:19:57.3] SK: We played a lot of D&D too.
[0:19:59.5] RN: Played a lot of D&D, yeah. You started telling me like all these stories and phrases about D&D, I’m like, “Dude, I have no idea what we’re talking about, no clue. All these references I don’t get, hopefully the audience gets it.”
Have you been the same? Did you grow up like wanting to always tell stories, write, or was that something that developed later on?
[0:20:18.0] SK: It happened at Six Man actually. I was at Six Man in the marketing department and I went on, luckily, that job was so much fun I had to like write the marketing content for some of the cruises and discovered that when I was writing things I actually enjoyed, this is kind of fun.
Then, I went on one of the cruises and Andy or one of my bosses was like “Hey, do you want to write about your experience, we’re going to start launching this, we’re going to try to launch a blog.” I was like, “Okay, sure. What do I do?” “Just write about what you did on the boat and which bands were there, that stuff” I was like, “Okay.”
I wrote it and I had so much fun and I sent it out to the rest, everybody that had been on the cruise, and everybody was like, “Dude, this is great, I felt like I was there with you.” I was like, “Man, this is pretty cool.”
[0:21:01.6] RN: Just the feedback, right?
[0:21:02.8] SK: It was great. I was like, I feel like through my words, I could elicit a response or feedback or a feeling in other people and Six Man, it was bringing people with me through my words on to these cruise ships and to have fun. And make them feel like they’re up late with me or hanging out at the crabs table playing black jack. Or hanging out the crabs table with some of my favorite bands.
Then you know, This Nerd Fitness, we had a domain that I had bought but I hadn’t started working on. Then I started writing articles in Nerd Fitness and as soon as I got my first email from one random person, it was like “Hey, found your website. I love legend of Zelda also and I’m going to go work out today from it.”
I was like, “My god, I got one. Okay, that’s all I need, I got one if I can get one then I can get to two and we’re done, we did it. Ship it, yeah, we’re good to go.”
[0:21:55.5] RN: Quit everything, I’m doing this.
[0:21:57.4] SK: I remember, the guy’s name was Evan, he lives in San Francisco.
[0:21:59.6] RN: Awesome. That’s so cool.
[0:22:00.3] SK: I never actually met him but like to this day, I still know who – because he was the first guy that ever emailed me that wasn’t like a friend or a family member, it was like, “Great article Steve.” It was some random dude, it was like, I like Nerd Fitness.
I was like, “Okay. I’m in. I will work on this for the next decade” because this one guy gave me – it was like months after I started too.
[0:22:21.8] RN: It does matter though, let’s be honest.
[0:22:22.8] SK: Hell yeah.
[0:22:23.6] RN: It matters. Like getting that validation.
[0:22:26.2] SK: Even now it still does.
[0:22:27.1] RN: Yeah, totally.
[0:22:28.4] SK: It’s tough because obviously the bigger the site is now, the more people discover it, the more people that it is not for will discover it and obviously the internet being what it is, people have no problem telling you why, what you’re doing is wrong and ruining the planet and call me horrible names and why I’m a selfish whatever and I’m like.
This is an article about Optimus prime. How did you make that leap? I don’t understand. Those things will get to me. So validation and not that I go hunting for it but rather, I do have a folder of success stories and emails from saying like “Hey, I took my first trip because of your site or I did this or that.” Reminding myself like “No, you’re doing good work and you’re helping people and as long as you keep your focus there, forget the rest of them.”
[0:23:16.5] RN: I always think it’s a really interesting time going from like Six Man to going full time into anything because it can often times for me, it was a pretty scary place. I think for a lot of people, it’s what holds them back a little bit.
I talk about this quite often where – for me, it was like, on this side, I had a level of certainty and comfort with my job. I was working remote, wasn’t making a ton of money, but I was making comfortable living for us, comfortable living for where I was based which was on the Georgia coast down saint Simon, south of Savannah.
There was a very specific moment for me where I was in this coffee shop, working remote, I worked there every day. I was also reading – very good employee, I was reading a business book on the side.
[0:23:58.0] SK: Yup.
[0:23:58.4] RN: I remember, I had gotten to this point where I’d had all of these different jobs, I tried a bunch of different businesses. I just could not make anything work, partially because I hadn’t fully decided that I was actually going to focus on something but my pain – well my comfort right here with that job, my pain finally exceeded that comfort that I had. So it was finally at this point of I was more dissatisfied with knowing I had more to offer but not fulfilling that or not acting on that.
Versus the level of comfort and certainty I had in my job. So that was my breaking point where I was like, “Okay I have to make something happen.” Did you have a similar experience or was it more just like a slow build?
[0:24:35.9] SK: Sure, so I worked at Six Man for two and a half years and it was about a year after I had started with them, after I got my personal trainer certification and got settled into the job that I really started to spend my free time on Nerd Fitness. So it was about a year and a half doing the both Nerd Fitness and Six Man and I remember specifically, I went on one of the cruises and my family was on that cruise. They had a few extra cabins and they would always –
They had a few extra spots, they’d email the employees and say like, “Hey if you want to bring family and love ones, we could get you guys on cheap.” Just because sailing alone at those spots doesn’t make any sense. So my folks came on this cruise that I was on and I remember that on the boat explaining to my parents how excited I was about Nerd Fitness. One night, I was at the staff meeting and one of my friends Mike, who actually still lives in Georgia was talking about Six Man.
And he was so passionate and excited about something that they were working on or whatever and I’ve noticed that at that point, it had been too close to two and a half years, like that excitement that I used to have for Six Man, it was now I had that excitement for Nerd Fitness. I love the people I worked with. It was such a fun company. Andy couldn’t have been a better boss and like I said, he is still a mentor that I’d call probably once every month or every other month.
And I noticed that night at that staff meeting, I was like, “My heart is not here anymore.” The joke was I don’t know what I was thinking, I was like, “You know what? Hanging out with rock stars in the Caribbean is not for me. I am going to hang out with unhealthy nerds online instead that’s currently not making me any money.” That’s a great strategy so I told my dad that next day. The boat was docked in Mexico and I was just sitting at the beach side bar. I had a beer on my break and then get back on the boat, waiting for everybody to come back on –
[0:26:29.9] RN: That is a tough job man, how do you do that?
[0:26:32.4] SK: It really was a lot of fun and I sat there I was like, “Dad I’ve got to quit.” He’s like, “Okay do you have a backup plan?” I was like, “No” he was like, “Alright, you have a lot of money saved up?” like not really. He’s like, “Uh so what’s your plan for making money?” I was like, “Well I am going to make an ebook and I hope that the nerds want to buy it.” He’s like, “Okay, you have my faith and you have my support and whatever else I can do for you let me know.”
So, I was in charge. I had two events at Six Man that I was essentially the head person that were happening for three and four and five months later and in my head I was like, “If I don’t quit now Nerd Fitness is going to suffer, these two cruises is going to suffer and I am going to screw over all of my co-workers. I’m going to pull a Seinfeld and I’m going to go out or George, go out on top. So I am going to quit when things are great and I can successfully hand over the reins to these two events that are very important.”
One was with a band called Zach Brown Band that has now since become the biggest bands, one of the biggest country acts in the world but the first time I saw them, Zach was on the back of a cruise ship plane that 30 people or 20 people and I was like, “That dude is going to be huge someday” and then two years later, Chicken Fry hit the radio but one of the events I was in charge of was Zach Brown’s cruise. I was like, “Man I don’t want to screw this event up.”
If I quit now, I had money saved up. Six Man was a great job but it wasn’t paying me very well. I have money saved up, I can live cheaply and Nerd Fitness is it. I know this is it and if the ebook doesn’t work then I’ll try advertising then I will go back and coach. I will start waiting tables. I don’t care but if I don’t do this the longer I wait the worst Nerd Fitness will be the worst Six Man will be. This is the perfect time for me to take a chance. I can always go back and get another job or figure something out until I can make Nerd Fitness work.
[0:28:23.5] RN: Yeah, I think it’s an interesting place too because that sounds like that was your cutting your line at the sand moment where “I’m going to do this no matter what.”
[0:28:31.0] SK: Yeah, it was literally in the sand. I was in Mexico.
[0:28:33.3] RN: Drinking a beer at work on my break. No but it is because most of the listeners are in a spot where they want to start a business but they’re a little scared. They always think that nobody really looks at the true worst case scenario. For you it’s like, “I can always get a job, I can always go serve, I can wait tables” whatever and let’s be honest, for most people that’s the worst case scenario. It’s an ego thing too though to quit your job, to try something.
That may not work out, I think culture is changing a little bit to where that’s admired a little bit because you are taking a leap, you are going for it. But still, you don’t want to feel stupid if that doesn’t work out and you have to go serve tables and you can take a big step back which we know that’s not a setback. It’s a learning experience, that’s what this whole podcast is based around failure and failing on. So, I think for somebody that’s scared and looking at maybe they are in the same position you are.
They have a job that’s comfortable, they like it. I mean you like Six Man but they also have – maybe they don’t have that side project yet like a Nerd Fitness but they know they wanted to do something, what would you recommend for them?
[0:29:42.1] SK: Yeah, certainly don’t quit your day job yet. I had been working on Nerd Fitness for – it had been an idea for two and a half years at that point. I had been working on it not fulltime because it was just my part-time but I was probably putting in fulltime hours into it for a good year and a half and I had built up a decent enough following and there was enough indicators in it that led me to believe this is going to be – I can make this successful.
I focus on getting an audience and I was like, “Okay I have a group of people, I have a captive audience. If worse comes to worst, I can ask them what they want and built that thing for them.” That ended up being an ebook with workout plans for them to follow and to your point, you mentioned earlier about having to wait tables, whatever it is I think that’s something that people’s egos need to get over. You know after I quit, I still did whatever I could to pick up extra cash just to be safe.
I painted, I spent two-night painting the sound stage for one of Drake’s music videos. I never really saw Drake. He was not there but my job was I had a large paint roller and I showed up at midnight with a bucket of paint and I was supposed to paint this huge sound stage. One night I painted the whole thing white and then I had to come back the next night at midnight until four in the morning and paint the whole thing black. I was like, “Well alright, you’re going to give me $200,” like it’s 200 bucks.
[0:31:00.9] RN: How did you find that gig?
[0:31:01.4] SK: A friend of mine that worked at Six Man was like a project manager, office manager and his gig helps with music videos and it was what they were doing and then on other nights it was pushing sound stage equipment around manual labor like, “I don’t care. I’ll take the money because I’m working towards this other thing.” So for somebody that doesn’t have an idea yet certainly don’t quit the job but see if there is a way that if they have an inkling of an idea that they wanted can they start it with the, “I’ll get a minimum viable version of that up and running and see if they even like it.”
I think so many people their business mistake is all right, let’s build a product and dump a bunch of money into it and then hope people buy it. I think business, a lot of people are so afraid like, “Okay I need my website perfect and I need to get head shots. I need to set up my YouTube channel. I need to buy the best equipment and then they get three videos in they’re like, “Oh wait a second, I hate this, I don’t like this.”
[0:31:54.2] RN: I don’t like this, yeah but now I have $2,000 worth of camera equipment.
[0:31:56.5] SK: Right, now I have all this credit card debt that I can’t afford to pay off. So Nerd Fitness the website was so ugly for so long and it didn’t matter because if people can get past that they can get to the information and I tried starting a music blog before I started Nerd Fitness and I was like, “I’m going to get free concert tickets” and I was like, “Wait a second, this isn’t fun. I don’t want to scrutinize my favorite artist’s albums and get angry. That’s terrible.”
I think I put four posts on it. It was like, “Music Guy Steve,” it was so bad. I was a big fan of Bill Simmons who was the boss at the time. He was the Boston Sports Guide before he started ESPN and then now he’s got the ringer. So it was like Music Guy Steve is my version of the Boston Sports Guy. I was going to be music version of Bill Simmons and then very quickly I was like, “I do not want to do this. This is not a good idea.” But thank God I’m just set up a free blog spot I think.
So maybe like the musicguysteve.blogspot, whatever it is, I’m really thankful for that and same thing with Nerd Fitness. It was nerdfitness.wordpress.com and then I had the domain. I don’t even know how to set this up yet, so I am just going to start writing and publish. Nobody is reading it anyway might as well get some things out there. So I think anybody that is terrified of starting, having the perfect business plan, whatever, like Nerd Fitness what it is now versus what I thought it was going to be eight years ago is night and day.
I thought I was just going to help skinny male nerd like me get bigger. Our audience is 65% female.
[0:33:28.8] RN: Yeah, you are telling me that. I couldn’t believe it.
[0:33:30.7] SK: 95% of the people I help are probably people that need to lose weight not people that need to gain weight or build muscle. We pivoted and shifted and changed avenues multiple times in that area. So it’s like “This is what I think the idea is, I’m going to start and would course correct along the way.”
So that’s the advice I would give to other people, start something on side. You have no idea even if it’s a failure you’re going to learn something from that that you can apply to the next thing and eventually and hopefully get to a path where you can then draw that line in the sand and make it a decision.
[0:33:57.9] RN: Totally. At what point when you are building your initial audience did you get to the point where you are like, “Okay I need a product, I need to make money,” which sounds like it turned out to be an ebook. I guess what was the inflection point that made you get to that point of needing to create a product?
[0:34:15.4] SK: Sure.
[0:34:16.0] RN: Was it because the bank account was running on fumes or was it because?
[0:34:18.9] SK: No, the bank account wasn’t running out of fumes but it was up until a year and a half before I decided to start monetizing Nerd Fitness, I had too many signs. I saw that they would just go up there and they would be covered in ads and I was like, “I don’t like that.” So let’s build the audience first and then I started getting the same question over and over again. It was just, “Tell me how to work out.” I was like, “Oh here’s an article,” and I had to design your own workout plan.
They’re like, “Dude just do it for me. Just tell me what to do,” like, “Oh okay.” I was a big fan of a guy named Chris Guillebeau at the time and Guillebeau had just put out I think one or two of his own ebooks and I really admired his business plan which was like build audience, ask them what they want, build things that they want, profit. “Oh, alright, yeah that sounds like a very ethical intelligent strategy. I’d like to implement that.”
So when I decided that I was going to quit my job, I gave myself a month to put out my first ebook and then for that next month, I literary didn’t sleep. I was up all night. I got unhealthier writing my ebook about how to be healthy which is kind of ironic, I guess but I was able to ship it on time. I think it was maybe two days late but ship it on time, close enough. I was charging $29 for it, or $30. Whatever it was I was so afraid to ask for the tinniest amount of money.
And I end up selling a 150 or 200 of them which was just huge for me. It was like, “Oh my god, people on the internet are actually giving me money.”
[0:35:54.5] RN: Is that the first time that you’d created something and somebody gave you money in exchange?
[0:35:58.4] SK: I cried man. Well okay, so that was the first time internet based but I feel like I have been an entrepreneur actually like my whole life. I grew up on Massachusetts on Cape Cod and I would go collect sea shells and paint Red Sox logos and then when I was four I would sell them in front of my house and I got in trouble in the 4th grade for selling creepy crawlies, like the dude version of Easy Bake Oven, for selling those – like the scorpions was the big seller.
And then I had lawn mowing businesses and raking leaves and shoveling snow. In Massachusetts you get all four seasons. So I was never out of work for manual labor and that is something my folks really instilled in me. It was like, “Yeah you can absolutely make money. You just have to bust your ass for it.” So as far as making money through the internet, that ebook was the first thing I had ever asked for and it was certainly kind of cover my eyes and hit the publish button.
See if anybody bought moments and then as soon as the first sale rolled in and then they just kept coming. I cried and people are emailing saying, “Dude I don’t even need this but this is the only way I can actually give you money. there’s no ads, there’s nothing else to buy, but you need to charge more than $29.” I think eventually upped it to $39 and got crazy with it but yeah, that was a really special moment.
[0:37:12.5] RN: Does it still sell today?
[0:37:14.0] SK: No. I actually took those three ebooks that was the first ebook and then I end up publishing two other ebooks and I think it was 50 bucks each. I actually ended up probably three, three and a half, maybe four years ago took the ebooks down and created an online course with high quality videos. We created a character creation system, so now when you complete your workouts you’re character actually levels up and there is boss battles and HD video demonstrations.
And a whole quest of missions to complete, so I kind of brought it forward but those ebooks sustained and build Nerd Fitness for four or five years.
[0:37:50.3] RN: Oh wow.
[0:37:50.8] SK: Yeah four years probably.
[0:37:51.8] RN: You’ve got to print that cover off and put it on the wall like with Platinum.
[0:37:55.7] SK: The Rebel Fitness Guide is what it was called and yeah, I still get emails from some people like, “Oh man I love the Rebel Fitness Guide” I’m like, “Yeah that’s what I’m talking about!”
[0:38:04.7] RN: That’s awesome so you’re like gamified it now right? It’s like points, levels. Is it like levels, you can level up that kind of thing?
[0:38:10.1] SK: Points, levels, we have the academy and it’s a onetime fee. The first six months of your fitness journey we’re going to hold your hand through the whole process. So to complete this benchmark workout, we’ll then tell you which of these three body weight workouts you should start with. At the end of those workouts after a few weeks you do a boss battle and if you defeat that boss by completing a certain workout you then move up to the next workout.
And then you have some point of branches, if you want to go to a gym or stay training at home, there is a leveling system with your nutrition. You actually get your character to actually level up as you check off certain missions, those are all earning points and then we have a monthly program called The Rising Heroes which mixes Mr. Robot conspiracy theory with real life missions to complete and team based competition to get you to stay accountable.
To recruit friends and to get off your butt, get outside and actually go start doing stuff and experience this pretty fun world that we live in.
[0:39:04.1] RN: That’s amazing dude. Man, this sounds like a big tech project is it not?
[0:39:07.9] SK: Yes it is.
[0:39:08.8] RN: Pretty painful or is it?
[0:39:11.1] SK: I mean they have gone through many, many iterations and what the academy is now and versus what it was when it started and Rising Heroes now, just six months after we’ve launched it is very different than it’s been – I’m guessing six months from now. It is going to be very different again which is really fun. So we try pivot very quickly and we just get a version out there that works and that we are proud of and then we see how people use it and then we start to update and improve based on their feedback.
[0:39:38.2] RN: Is that an internal tech team or is it outsourced?
[0:39:40.6] SK: Internal, yeah. We have a guy in our team named Alec who is just a wizard. You know we’ve worked with outsourced tech companies, probably half a dozen of them, and Alec has replaced all of them. He’s the best developer I have ever worked with and he’s a proud member of team Nerd Fitness so.
[0:40:01.6] RN: You got to get all the nerds.
[0:40:03.2] SK: Absolutely. He is a big World of Warcraft guy and it’s funny people always ask me like, “Oh where did you get your gamification? Is it like a WordPress plugin?” I was like, “Nope we built it” they’re like, “Oh who built it?” I was like, “He’s name is Alec and you can’t have him.” So Alec, he probably won’t be listening to the episode but if he does, yeah Alec lives in Florida. He’s got a cute kid. I have a team of 10 people.
[0:40:24.9] RN: All remote?
[0:40:25.7] SK: All remote, they live in 10 different states and everybody has their place. Most of those 10 came out of the Nerd Fitness community. I had a job posting at the end of an article and it’s been pretty fun.
[0:40:38.3] RN: How do you manage that team or are you managing the day to day like that like standups that kind of thing?
[0:40:45.0] SK: Yeah, we do have a morning meeting. We have a few people in our team that are much more operationally focused than I am and those guys manage the X’s and O’s and allow me to focus on the creative stuff and like I said, that’s my specialty. It’s put your head down, create content that makes people get up their butts or feel something and as long as I can keep my focus there and then the rest of the team can really help on the engine behind the scenes, it allows us to help a lot more people.
[0:41:15.1] RN: What do you – I know you said you are doing a little less writing right now but what are you most excited about with what you guys are building or even personal life, what are you super pumped about?
[0:41:24.6] SK: You can see here I’ve got this violin sitting next to me that I am currently taking. It’s been probably been a month or two. I guess I just got back from vacation but I take violin lessons and I am so bad at it.
[0:41:34.4] RN: That’s cool, somebody comes in?
[0:41:36.4] SK: Yes, somebody comes over and he is very nice because he’s like, “Oh that was a good try” and this guy plays I think he leads the stud. Yeah, he is really, really – he plays in this one of the symphonies here in New York and I find him through a music teacher website. I’m like, “Looking for a beginning fiddle instructor to teach me how to play Irish fiddle music or country music.” So that’s where my focus is on the fiddle.
So that’s really fun, I just got back from Australia which is a blast and business wise, you know, like I said, I feel like I put my head down and cranked on content for years and you know, we get a few million, it’s like two million unique visitors a month or something.
Just from organic, we don’t spend any money on ads. So I feel like I’ve done really well with getting people to Nerd Fitness and now we have the entire team focused on once they get to Nerd Fitness, how can we take care of them better or create more things for them that solve their problems.
The whole team is focused on some of those things and because we have such a large number entering the funnel, you know, we can see with a few small changes in the middle like drastic swings in signups, retentions, revenue, opt ins, subscriptions, whatever it may be.
You know, changing one page here or updating whatever they are, there’s just so much opportunity there because it’s been largely ignored for a long time because it was something that wasn’t my skillset and like I said, I really focused on just getting more people to the site.
Now it’s like, “Alright, let’s dial in some of these metrics” and then when I get back to writing even more, it makes everybody that comes to the site more likely to stick around to become part of the community. To pick up on of our courses or join Rising Heroes, come to camp, you know, whatever it may be.
[0:43:19.2] RN: Is that something you had to develop in terms of like the internet marketing side of it? Like the metrics, the conversions, that kind of thing. Or did you kind of bring somebody on that can manage the –
[0:43:28.8] SK: We’ve brought some people on to teach us and then I have a handful of mentors here in New York that have been really helpful. Not just to men but like the ops people on my team and you know, we all get together now and we can dig in to some of those things but man, it’s a beast. You know, with eight years probably multiple WordPress redesigns, google analytics installed by –
You know, it’s quite the nest of chaos. Just specifically really, we’re seeing a lot of wins in the past few weeks it’s been something we’re like, “Okay, we’re going to get really focused in on these analytics and tracking and know exactly who’s coming from where, who’s buying what, why, when.” And having that insight allows them to pick and choose our battles which just made those battles infinitely more valuable.
[0:44:16.0] RN: Well, I appreciate it dude, we’re running about 45 minutes on the dot.
[0:44:19.6] SK: Alright, alright.
[0:44:20.3] RN: I appreciate it and I will see you at drinks tomorrow I guess.
[0:44:23.5] RN: Yeah. We can hang out in the corner and put the headsets on and keep rolling.
[0:44:29.8] SK: Yeah, we’ll just pretend like everybody else’s itinerary isn’t there, that sounds – less anxiety inducing for me.
[0:44:35.6] RN: Yeah, I’m definitely in for doing that at the dinner because the dinner sounds stressful with 50 people, 45 people.
[0:44:40.2] SK: I’m already getting nervous just thinking about it. Like you said, I’m a proud nerd that likes to sit quietly and read a book and give me one person to talk to for three hours instead of 50 people and we’ll be fine.
[0:44:54.8] RN: We’re going to be fine.
[0:44:56.0] SK: We’ll hold hands, we’ll get through it, it’s going to be totally okay.
[0:44:59.2] RN: Thanks dude, I appreciate it.
[0:45:00.8] SK: Yeah, thanks for having me.
[0:45:04.1] RN: Alright, you can find Steve @stevekamb on Twitter. Of course, for that spelling, along with all the links and resources Steve and I discussed, including more information on Nerd Fitness and his training programs, it can all be found in the page we created especially for this episode, it will be at failon.com/038.
Next week, we are sitting down with a power house entrepreneur, Adrian Dorson. Adrian is a business consultant, podcast host and the founder of Good Businesses Do Good and in this episode, she’ll be sharing how she consults small businesses to increase their profitability. She then will go on to explain how she helps her clients identify how to actually give back a portion of those profits to meaningful causes that they care deeply about.
We’ll also be discussing the biggest challenges that Adrian has faced along her entrepreneurial journey and why giving back is so important to her and why she teaches that to her clients. Don’t miss it, coming up next. If the podcast is providing value to your life and your business, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what your biggest takeaway from this episode is.
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