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From Broke to $100 Million - Joel Marion

We've had the privilege of sitting down with one of 2018's most tenacious, health-aspiring entrepreneurs, Joel Marion. As a 5-time best-selling author and fitness personality, Joel has appeared on NBC, ABC, and CBS, SIRIUS satellite radio, and has been featured in world renown publications including: Men's Fitness, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, Woman's Day, Maximum Fitness, Oxygen, Clean Eating, MuscleMag International, and Muscle & Fitness Hers. As you'll surely believe by reading below, Joel has been helping tens of millions of people across the globe slash body fat, gain muscle, and dramatically improve their lives through his cutting-edge articles, witty blogs, and breakthrough diet programs. Joel now generously supplies us on how you can accelerate your entrepreneurial journey with his tactical, and applicable insights:

1. What were some of your challenges on scaling from 8-150+ employees and how were you able to scale at a rapid rate and build a $100 Million+ company? Can you share your top 3 lessons you learned as an entrepreneur from this endeavor?

During that first year, it was honestly a learn on your toes and do whatever it takes mentality that kept us from falling apart and allowed us to actually continue to grow without having to hold back the reigns too much.

But, there were a lot of challenges: inventory, personnel, fulfillment, infrastructure. Within that first year, we had to:

  • Push suppliers to get product faster and overbuy inventory to avoid stocking out of big sellers
  • Move fulfillment centers – we outgrew our original center in the first 6 months
  • Move office buildings – due to growth we had to cut out of our lease early and get new office space to accommodate a higher head count
  • Hire like crazy. It seems like we were hiring someone new every couple of days there for a while. But, we'd rather be overstaffed and keep up with the demand, than to be understaffed and have to slow down and have the customer experience suffer

Lessons learned:

Be agile. You can prepare all you want, but in some circumstances, as was the case with us, literally nothing goes as planned. We projected doing $10M our first year and wound up doing 10X that before our second year rolled around. You can't plan for that. So, we had to be agile and respond quickly based on what was actually happening. Good problems to have, but still problems and they need to be navigated carefully.

It's better to have more than you need, than not enough. For us, we intentionally overstaffed customer service and over-ordered inventory beyond what we would need to avoid product going on back order and to keep the customer experience first in mind. If customers weren't happy, they weren't going to re-order, so we made every effort to wow them with world class service, super short wait times, and very quick response times to email contacts.

For inventory, if we stocked out of a product and even had to wait 3 – 4 weeks to get more in, at our sell through rate, we would be leaving millions of dollars on the table. So, we made the decision to invest more in inventory and trust the marketing to continue to sell the product as it was. Sure, it tied up more cash, but for us, it was much better than the alternative of having product unavailable when thousands of customers were there wanting to buy.

Be willing to sacrifice when opportunity arises. When things are working, you have to be willing to go all out and push the pedal down full blast. Truth is, nothing works forever, so you have to squeeze every drop out of the times that are working. That meant during that first year when things were taking off like a rocket, it was long days followed by long nights doing everything we could to navigate problems, optimize what was working, and push the company forward.

We had to scramble to keep up, and we did, and then because things were working, we pushed harder. Then scrambled some more. If we got comfortable, we could have easily left the door open for a competitor to come in, model what we were doing, and work harder than us to push ahead. But, because we were outworking everyone else in the space, we left no opportunity for someone to come in and do it better. We were doing it better, and then optimizing and striving to be even better, every day. Seize the moment when it's there, and capitalize on rapid growth opportunities. If you miss them, you won't have the momentum to carry you through the down times, the slow months, or the challenging time periods where growth doesn't come so easy.

2. You believe in leading with value and that's how you were able to build a powerhouse network- for someone that's starting out, how do you suggest they consider on how they can provide value to someone?

It doesn't matter who you are, what you've done, or what you have or haven't accomplished, you have something to offer.

When I first started in ePublishing and online marketing, I was a relative nobody. Yet still, I networked with the biggest names in my industry and became amazing friends with virtually all of them before I ever even launched my own product.


I led with value.

While I didn't have a massive email list to promote their product at the time, I offered any and everything I did have.

I was a traditionally published author with a tangible hardcover book (even though the book barely sold)…the kind in the bookstores. I also wrote for a number of popular trade magazines.

In the self-publishing world, those things are viewed as credibility, and I used them to my advantage.

I reached out to everyone with the subject line "Hey, it's Joel Marion from Men's Fitness – I want to help you" – that got virtually everyone I was targeting to open.

When they opened they read an email that:

  • Complimented their work and success
  • Told them I'd love to help them
  • Offered to interview them for a couple publications they didn't have access to
  • Offered to send them a copy of my book
  • Offered to write an expert testimonial for their product
  • Offered to write a "guest article" for their website or blog (easy, credible content for them)
  • Offered to help them with any administrative tasks or even customer service just to learn from them
  • Asked them for NOTHING

As you can see, the email was entirely about helping them, and I asked for nothing.

How do you think that email was received?

VERY, very well.

Fact is, everyone has something to offer, and most people at the top who didn't start there have a soft place in their heart for people approaching them the right way, starting at the bottom—with the right attitude—where they once were.

Whatever skills you have, offer them, for FREE, just for the opportunity to watch, shadow, and learn. Answer phone calls or customer service tickets, offer your graphic design skills, video production skills, help with administrative tasks. Offer to intern. Whatever you can think of, use it. I can't think of an entrepreneur that I'm friends with who wouldn't gladly take you up on that in some way, shape, or form. Other entrepreneurs love to see other hungry people starting out, because it reminds them of themselves when they started.

3. When you first began writing, your articles were rejected 100s of times and your book also flopped - what forced you to keep going?

Success wasn't optional for me. I mean, what was the alternative? Go back to a day job and a lifestyle that I hated, and live that for 40 years and retire with enough to scrap along until I expire? I couldn't even fathom that alternative. So, I kept at it.

My initial articles weren't good enough, so they got turned down. That's pretty much how it's supposed to go. You have to work to get good at something. No one at the top of their field started there. In fact, when they started, they probably weren't very good, didn't know enough, didn't have good enough skills, etc. No one picks up a guitar and knows what they are doing. It's the same with writing or any other skill. You have to practice. You have to train. You have to refine your craft, and as you do, you will get better. You will improve. I've never met anyone who spent loads of time practicing something and didn't get better.

Beyond that, nothing worth having comes easy. I didn't expect it to work the first time. If you do, you're not going to make it, because it almost never happens that way. But I did know that if I kept at it, if I worked harder, if I practiced more, if I learned more, if I studied more, if I applied more, I would catch a break. And I did.

Honestly, when I look back, I'm so thankful for all the things that didn't work. They made me better, and they forced me to figure it out. For example, if it weren't for my book flopping, I would have never been forced to learn marketing for myself. And if I never learned that, my life wouldn't even come close to resembling what it does now. Marketing has changed my life. And I only learned it because other efforts failed and I had to.

4. You have been able to impact so many lives through the Make- A- Wish Foundation, what inspired you to give back to the youth?

Capitalism is all about giving back. If you're just making money to horde it for yourself, you're going to live a really shallow, unfulfilled life. And it's also likely that things will stop working for you. You reap what you sow. Karma is a real thing. You have to be doing this for something bigger than yourself.

So my partner and I, giving back came very naturally. After all, we partnered up to make a difference. Through our products, through our profits. Not only are we one of the largest donors to Make-A-Wish, but we've also donated more than 2.6M meals to hungry children through no kid hungry. I've personally supported missions and ministry with more than 7 figures of donations. And I don't say that to say "Oh, look at me and what I've done," but rather to inspire other up and coming entrepreneurs that business is the means to make a difference. Whether we like it or not, dollars make the world go round. Want to build a school? Clothe children? Better the education system? It all takes money. And when you're an entrepreneur, you have the opportunity to generate that capital to make a difference in the world.

For me, I believe it's my inherent responsibility. God gave me my businesses and everything good that has come out of them to be a blessing to others through it all. So I keep giving, and sure enough, it keeps coming back to me.

5. You sacrificed a lot to get to the position you are today at a young age - waking up early, long hours etc. - how does one develop those habits?

Honestly, it all comes down to desire. If you want it bad enough, you'll do what it takes. I am not a morning person. I like to sleep. I'm inherently lazy. But, my desire to build a certain lifestyle for myself and my family was more important than sleep, so I choose what's most important.

And that's the key. You will always choose what is more important to you. Always. Make sure you are going after something important enough to you, and the things that would normally stop you otherwise, including your bad habits, won't any longer.

6. What has been your biggest failure to date and how did you overcome it?

I fail every day, to this moment. It's a regular thing. I've been in business for 10 years and have helped build many 7, 8, and 9 figure businesses. But, I still fail. Not everything I put my hands to works, at least not initially. Most recently, we wrote a new sales funnel and it completely bombed. Converted like crap. And of course, I thought it was going to do really well when I wrote it. I wrote it based on 10 years of experience and loads of market research. But, we released it, and the market spoke otherwise. So, I had to go back to the drawing board. We worked on this thing for over 2 months, constantly, and finally cracked the code. We tested, and tested, and tested, and finally found the winning marketing angles. It took many rounds of testing to get there, analyzing what worked and what didn't, and optimizing until we reached the performance we needed to in order to scale. Bottom line, persistence always wins. If you don't give up, you'll get there.

7. What do you want people to remember you by (your legacy)?

Joel Marion was a giver. He helped people, in everything he did. He strived to make everyone around him better. He came into every meeting and every room and approached every new relationship with the intention to out-give the other side, because that's what he felt they deserved from him. Joel was one of the most generous people I've ever met. With his time, with his resources, with his connections. That's the way he lived his life, with others in mind first.

8. You have mentioned many entrepreneurs in your eBook (who are your top 5 entrepreneurs you follow and why?)

I love Gary Vaynerchuk because of his tenacity and tell it like it is delivery. So much to learn just by watching him operate, and hustle.

Andy Frisella is another favorite, for a lot of the same reasons. He's true to himself, isn't afraid to offend people who don't like what he is dishing out, but at the same time always has the intention to inspire and help. He's genuine, and that can't be replaced.

Eric Thomas AKA Eric the Hip Hop Preacher is a true motivator. When I need a pep talk, I'll give his page or YouTube channel a visit.

Grant Cardone just gets it done. The guy does whatever it takes. And that's the reason he's so successful. He doesn't take no for an answer. Doesn't give up. Doesn't make excuses. Beyond that, any guy who can fill out a 10,000 person venue for a high-ticket business conference is worth paying attention to.

Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong Church New York City, while not technically an "entrepreneur" is a true leader, and a continual source of inspiration. His candid wisdom and insights help make me a better leader, father, and husband, and of course that all trickles down into business.