Doug Larson is one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. I remember working out one day and he was asking me if I ever thought about selling courses online to teach people how to do some of the computer stuff I knew how to do. It seemed so foreign to me. Why would anyone want to pay me to teach them how to do stuff on the internet? I think about that a lot. I wonder what would have happened if I had said, “Man, that’s a great idea I should do that.” I’m sure I’d be more popular than Zuckerberg by now. Back then I didn’t think anyone would be interested in anything I was doing. Anyway, Doug always wanted to sell stuff online. As well he should, he is one of the most knowledgeable coaches in the world.
So me, Doug and Mike Bledsoe decided to go to this event in Memphis called the 48 hour launch. The idea was that you come into the launch on Friday, pitch your idea and you have until Sunday to launch it. Here’s a pic I took of Mike and Doug at that event.
It’s been a while so I don’t remember the exact idea we pitched but basically we wanted to be like an online fitness program where people subscribe and can watch videos with fitness routines, coaching, etc. We called it Fitr.tv. I bought the domain name that weekend and we did our best to flesh it all out. I don’t really remember a whole lot about what the website was like that we built but I do remember drinking a lot of free Red Bull and getting to hang out with two of the coolest dudes I’ve ever known for the weekend and geeking out on business and website stuff. Fitr.tv went on to be the parent company of Barbell Shrugged. I don’t remember the timeline exactly but either the podcast has just started at this time or it hadn’t come about yet. I’m sure there is someone from the team that could fill in the gaps there.
Since I was the resident IT guy at the gym and we had worked on the Fitr.tv idea, when the guys decided to start the Barbell Shrugged podcast I just naturally fell into the role of the tech guy for that adventure as well. It wasn’t long before things started really taking off for the Barbell Shrugged team. Since Rich Froning is from Tennessee, everyone knew him already so when he won the CrossFit Games it was easy to get him on the podcast. The Shrugged crew travelled to Cookeville and he met them in other places to do all kinds of stuff for the show. I always thought that was what got the podcast and the guys the exposure that would help launch them to insane popularity. If you combine that kind of exposure with the incredible talents that the Barbell Shrugged team had you are pretty much unstoppable. That’s the way I saw it anyway. The next 3-4 years brought on some of the most wonderful experiences that I’ve ever had. Travelling experiences, business experiences, personal development experiences, and much more. It truly was amazing and I love and respect everyone that I got to work with on the BBS team. I also really miss it.
I had a really cush job. I was an IT Manager for a government contractor in Memphis for about 6 or 7 years before Barbell Shrugged got started up. For a few years I did my day job and helped out with the gym and Barbell Shrugged whenever I needed. If I needed to build a wordpress site or setup email or whatever I would do it when I could at work. Whatever the team needed I’d always take care of it, and the podcast just continued to grow. We eventually launched a few products on our website. I want to say the first product was called “Maximum Mobility.” It was an awesome mobility program that Doug built. If there was a program before that, I don’t remember. So I built a membership site so that we could sell stuff and people could get there videos to watch online. Pretty cool considering this is the thing we had pitched not too long before at the 48 hour launch. We were doing it.
Then I lost my cush job. I don’t want to go into all of that, but if you ever catch me in person and want to know I’ll tell you about it. It’s a wild story, and really started a period of my life that I still haven’t really figured out. I made a good bit of money doing that job so it was a pretty devastating thing. The first thing I did when I found out I was losing my job was to get Mike and Doug to come have lunch with me. We had talked about opening a gym, I was helping with Barbell Shrugged, they owned a gym. I wanted to see if there was anything they could officially hire me for since I was about to be without a paycheck. At the time there wasn’t much of anything. We went on to figure out a way for me to open up a gym, but I’ll get into all of that in another chapter of this crazy story. The short version is I ended up opening up Olive Branch CrossFit and working for Barbell Shrugged for a pretty small monthly contractor fee.
Then Barbell Shrugged blew up. I mean, it blew up! If you’re anybody who is anybody in the fitness industry you know Barbell Shrugged. Seriously, we regularly hit number 1 in the fitness and nutrition category on iTunes. It was insane. We were regularly launching online coaching programs and had thousands of people paying a lot of money for them. It truly was amazing!
I was in a pretty bad spot. No real job, trying to help run a gym aka get a small business off the ground, freaking out internally about having a family and no real income. My savings was rapidly decreasing. Then I got a call from Rob Conner. Rob was the CFO of Fitr.tv/Barbell Shrugged. I consider Rob a very good friend. I think our personalities work together in a way that really helps both of us. I’m not really sure how to explain it, but he’s the man. He can help me and I can help him and we both like to drink cheap beer and run in the woods. Anyway, I’ll never in my life forget this moment. I’m standing in my kitchen on a very nice October day. We had just opened my gym in the beginning of September. My phone rings, and I see that it’s Rob. I answer because he’s the boss. He tells me that they are ready to bring me on as a real employee with a real salary. The timing of this call couldn’t have been any better. I literally had just finished having a conversation with my wife about how we really need some kind of revenue stream, and I felt like shit about that. I just cried. You know those moments when you are just in a bad spot but something happens and you know you’re doing the right thing? This was one of those moments. I tried to tell Rob on the phone that day how much it meant to me, but I’m not sure I ever really made it clear to him that if it wasn’t for that phone call things would most certainly not have worked out the way they did. My gym (Olive Branch CrossFit) as it is today would most certainly not be here.
Then the party started. It really was a hell of an experience. We got to do and experience so many things. Since I was a “back stage” employee I didn’t get to do a lot of the really crazy stuff but I want to highlight a couple of pretty awesome things I did get to do.
We started doing these “Mastermind” events. People would pay a bunch of money to come go out to california and hang out with the guys for the weekend and learn from them. I weaseled my way into one of the first ones because it was at Brian Mackenzie’s (CrossFit Endurance) gym. I remember Alex Maclin coming to pick me up at the John Wayne airport when I arrived. It was my first time ever in California. He took me to the house they had rented, and Brian Mackenzie was there with Chris Moore on the back porch recording a podcast or something. Brian left and I didn’t say anything to him. We would go to his gym the next morning for the mastermind event.
When I walked into what I called the “CrossFit Endurance Gym” I was so stoked. I’d been following Brian for a long time. I walked in and Brian was sitting on a box talking to the rest of the team. He looked over as I walked in and said, no lie, “Hey, Von.” I know that sounds cheesy as shit, but I was like, “how in the world does Brian Mackenzie know who I am?” I didn’t even know what to say. Looking back it’s one of those moments where you are like, “I wish I could go back and do that again knowing what I know now.”
During that mastermind we also got to hear Mark Divine talk. One morning he took us all out to the beach for a PT session and some meditation. I will never forget this either. We did a pretty nice workout on the beach then did a guided meditation that he took us through. He had us imagine that we are running along a path in the woods. Along that path we came along a small pond and jumped in. Under the pond was a tunnel we swam through, and when we came out the other side we were a different person. The person we imagined ourselves to be. We thought about what we had as that person. We thought about what we looked like and what we were doing. Then we jumped back into the pond and ran back down the path. Then we all locked arms and walked into the ocean together. It was amazing.
The second biggest Barbell Shrugged experience was when we had a retreat to California and got to go to the CrossFit Games. We all had hotel rooms and did a lot of “team building” stuff that was really cool. I learned a lot from this as well. It’s so crazy how I just wandered into this whole experience with some of the smartest and most awesome people you’ll ever meet. Seriously, people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have some of the experiences I’ve gotten to have and to be perfectly honest I’m just now reaping the benefits of a lot of it because I don’t think I was ready for it back then or I just didn’t understand some of it. I’ll get into it more in the Olive Branch CrossFit chapter but it was during this time that my gym was pretty much starting to fall apart. So I was pretty stressed out, but at the same time trying to soak up as much of the experience that I could.
So we went to the CrossFit games. It was absolutely amazing. Fit Aid and Barbell Shrugged were really good friends at the time so we had access to the Fit Aid party booth so that was cool. If you walked around with Mike and Doug people would stop them and ask for pictures because they were celebrities. We were like their entourage! My friend Mike McGoldrick took me to one of his sponsors tents and they gave us a whole bunch of t-shirts and hats. It was like if you’re with Barbell Shrugged you can do whatever you want. It was truly incredible. Also I got to drive out to the valley and see two of my best friends that live out west before going home. It really was one of the best times of my life.
Unfortunately the high wore off. I’m still not really sure what happened. Chris Moore passed away and things were never really the same to be honest. We did put out the most awesome and funnest project that I’ve ever worked on in my life which was the Shrugged Strength Challenge. The whole team came together and just crushed the shit out of that product. I’m not sure I’ll ever find a team that gels so well together. It was like being in a band again. One day we would make it and we’d all be in good shape.
Eventually I just got to a point where I had to get a real job. We have a mortgage and an awesome family with kids that we love supporting as much as we can so it just got to the point where we needed to quit struggling and get back to where we were before this whole thing started. So I got a job offer and took it.
You can find the podcast these days at Shrugged Collective. I highly recommend the Shrugged Strength Challenge. I wouldn’t trade my Barbell Shrugged experience for anything. I was so fortunate to learn so much from such a great group of people and I hope one day I can work with each of them again in some capacity. Here’s a pic of the greatest team ever assembled: