SHOW 109 Sarah Robb O’Hagan
This week’s special guest is Sarah Robb OHagan.
She is the CEO of Flywheel and she has just released a new book called Extreme You.
During today’s show, we discuss how career challenges can turn into amazing opportunities. Sarah tells us how to play our Specialist Game
and we discuss how to stay focused and not be distracted by the competition.
I don’t know if it was the Aussie-New Zealand connection but interviewing Sarah Robb O’Hagan was an absolute blast. We are talking about the
CEO of Flywheel. one of Forbes’ most powerful women in sports and one of Fast Companies most creative people in business. A woman who has held
previous leadership positions at Equinox, Gatorade, Nike and Virgin. And you know what, she is so down to earth, so gracious and just a seriously cool chic.
So, for something a little bit different this week, we start the show when I was telling Sarah about my recent Flywheel experience.
Chantal: So, I did my first Flywheel class just a couple of months ago.
Sarah: Awesome! Where?
Chantal: It was so cool. So we came over for IHRSA, which was in March in LA. I’m hoping I have the suburb right, is it Player Vista?
Chantal: It is. So I did my very first Flywheel and I teach cycle here in Australia. It was so cool to have the dials and be able to see what I was doing.
I went into a competitive overload!
Sarah: Yeah, I’m sure. That generally happens to most people.
Chantal: It was absolute awesome. So I asked you on the show because I wanted to say a huge congratulations on your book
“Extreme You. Step Up, Stand out, Kick Ass and Repeat.” It’s just phenomenal and I have just finished the book, listening as an audio book.
Sarah: Oh cool!
Chantal: Being a podcaster, I love my audio books. You know, Sarah, early on in the book you shared this story about your Harvard keynote that you did
and you talked about it, you felt the most important part of your bio was missing. And you talked about not being perfect and not excelling in one particular thing when you were growing up, despite having dreams of making a huge impact in the world. Thinking about that, could you share one of the major challenges that you have faced in your career so far, that actually ended making a really significant, positive impact on your life in the long run
Sarah: Yeah, for sure. So I have talked openly in the book about these challenges but one that really stands the most is in my late 20s I got fired, not once but twice, back to back. And not only did I get fired but the first time around, I lost my green card application, my visa and I was given a one-way ticket home to New Zealand, that’s my severance. So I mean, it’s like not only we do not like you in our company, we do not want you in our country, like go away.
And you know, it was profoundly difficult experience at that time because I think most of us in our late 20s that’s when you’re really trying to get your career up and going. And I just felt like for a period of three or four years, I could not make any thing work and I lost a lot of confidence and it was really a difficult experience.
However, I definitely recognize now that, had I not gone through that; had I not sort of learned a lot of major lessons of self-awareness and humility and frankly, built up the resilience that comes from surviving something like that; there’s just no way I could have gone on to do some of the bigger leadership challenges I had later on in my life. So I really realized, it was one of the reasons I wrote the book. It’s just that, I felt like the world at large has this culture of success and
perfection and everyone looks so perfect Instagram these days and that’s like, we’re not actually telling the real truth about what it takes to get the most out of yourself. And it does require screw-ups and failures and the lessons that comes with them and people shouldn’t be shy about it.
Chantal: I think it’s very nice that you have shared that in the book because I know that for myself, personally, as I was reading it, it made me think back about my career and the things that you go through and those challenges that you face that at that time feel so devastating but end up making you stronger in the end. And I think, people will be able to relate to many of these stories that Sarah gives throughout the book. And it is a really good reminder as you say, you know, we’re not always perfect throughout every stage of our life and our career, the whole way long, it’s what you learn from that and how you handle it that really makes the difference.
Sarah: Absolutely. It’s how you react to it. Spot on.
Chantal: Sarah, there’s one particular chapter that we do talk a lot about on the show and that is the importance of really thinking about your niche. And it’s Chapter 7, you talked about playing your Specialist Game and that really resonated with me and I think it will with the number of our listeners.
And you gave that great example of Ali Webb, who I believe is the founder of Drybar and I have no doubt that many of our listeners can relate to feeling that pressure of trying to be all things to all people. I think, there’s one particular stage that you said with Ali’s business, people were really putting pressure on her to go beyond just the Drybar concept; why didn’t you add this; why didn’t you do that and you should expand and you know, so I think we can definitely relate to that. And I feel as though, it takes a huge amount of guts to actually narrow down your niche and to stick to your guns. So I was hoping maybe you could share some advice for fitness business owners around playing their Specialist Game.
Sarah: Yeah, I came upon the idea from not only interviewing many entrepreneurs and founders like Ali with smaller businesses but also, you know in my own career having worked at Virgin Atlantic Airways, at Nike, at Gatorade – giant businesses and recognizing that both small and large businesses actually perform better when they say NO to being all things for all people and really knuckle down and specialize. And people would often say to me when I was talking about this concept, you know, it’s fine it you’re a small business owner like Ali from the Drybar but it doesn’t work in bigger business. And it’s like well actually, I led the turn around of Gatorade, which is a 5-billion-dollar business and believe it or not, when I
first hired with the company, their target consumer was 18-64-year-old human being who has a throat. I mean, that’s how broad it was, you know. And by shifting it to 13-17 yr. old high school boys and girls who play sports, like going that narrow, is actually what led to turning the whole business around. Because we suddenly became so relevant to the right consumer, who then spread the word for you because they become so passionate about what you’re doing. So, I do think it’s important for, particularly, fitness businesses owners to understand. In our business, people walk in the door to work out for very very different reasons. And look at within the cycling category that I’m in, we attract a very competitive performance-driven rider, which is very different to some of our competitors and I’m good with that. Like, there’s plenty of consumers to go around but you’ve got to focus on who your specific person is. Why did they work out in the first place and how can you really be relevant to them and a particular mindset?
Chantal: No doubt, once you’ve identified that, it just helps that much more with your marketing, with your tone of voice, with your social media presence.
Sarah: Absolutely. When you do play your Specialist Game, your core consumer will absolutely, passionately love you and then there will be other consumers for whom you’re a total turn off and that’s okay. That actually means you’re doing it well because you’re really sticking to a strong point of view.
Chantal: Sarah, earlier on when we went through your bio and mentioned of course that you’re currently the CEO of Flywheel, and that is really competitive environment, we’re all aware of how competitive that is. Tell us how do you actually help and lead the company in staying focused on running your own race and not being influenced by what the competition is always doing.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, number one comes down to deeply, deeply understanding your consumer and focus on only on serving their needs and not getting distracted by the competition. Because I think, it’s a classic thing in business is when you start thinking about the dreaded “market share” and that is usually the beginning of the sleigh ride to a really bad place, because it means that you are trying to capture someone else’s customers instead of just focusing on your own.
And understanding how you can meet more the needs of your existing consumers and so I am really lucky at Flywheel because we were the first company to pioneer
the technology on the bike that really tracks and makes the experience more competitive. We attracted either a competitor or a consumer and so we know who they are and we often get sort of more casual fitness person saying, ” My gosh, Flywheel is intimidating.” And I’m like, “I’m good with that.” Because for our major passionate consumer, what we are doing for them is an extraordinary experience. It’s just about focusing on them and doing everything you can to delight them over the long term.
Chantal: Yeah, and once again it goes back to that previous discussion of playing your Specialist Game. Doesn’t? It all relates.
Chantal: Hey Sarah, whereabouts is Flywheel in the world currently?
Sarah: Yeah, we are headquartered at Union Square in New York. Just North of Union Square, which is funny. The flat iron district of New York
has been the ground zero of boutique fitness. It is like everything is here. And so we are right in thick of it. And then we have 42 locations across the U.S. and we also just announced last week actually, that we are going to be bringing an at home bike to the market during the fall. So that is super exciting.
Chantal: Well, that’s huge news!
Chantal: Wow! So that means that I could actually Flywheel in Australia?
Sarah: Yeah! Exactly! Initially, it will just be U.S. But for sure, we want to go global. So, yay! So finally the Aussies and the Kiwis can get in there.
Chantal: That is really really cool. And if you are competitive like me, being able to see the statistics is the coolest thing. Excellent! So make sure you keep us up to date when that happens. Because that is big news. We’d love to know about that.
Let’s break away form Sarah for just a second. Often, I get asked by gym owners about price increases for their facilities. How to raise rates, how much to increase by, and how to communicate it to your members. As I mentioned earlier in Sarah’s bio, she was formerly the president of Equinox, a brand that I’m sure most of you would know. During her time in the company, she really shaped the brand to be a premium offering. So, I thought it was a good opportunity to ask her about that strategy.
Sarah: So, the interesting thing about Equinox is they were already a premium brand and offering in a club space when I got there. What we spent time on
when I joined was I joined right at the time that Fitbit and Jawbone and tracking has sort of emerged as a thing in the world of fitness. And so, we recognized
that we needed to take the experience to the next level with technology and making more of a content-driven, always-on experience than just a brick and mortar club. And yeah, we took pricing, but it wasn’t a first. I mean, Equinox had a good history of doing that because they did such a good job of constantly reinventing the offering, contributing more features to the offerings so you know the everyday user is getting more value for their membership. So therefore they can afford to take prices. We were on that particularly unique moment in time. The New York fitness scene is just off the charts like it is at the moment. And so we have so many clubs that are at capacity. So what do you do? In that situation, you have to take advantage of the opportunity.
Chantal: So, Sarah, what advice would you give to any other fitness business owners out there that might be in a similar situation, where they are either looking to launch within their local area or they are looking to transform their current business, increase prices and position themselves more as a premium brand.
Sarah: I mean, I think, you have to go back to the specialist game. Understand who you are, what you stand for and who is your unique consumer psychographic.
In some businesses, the competitive athlete is the psychographic. For others, that social kind of woman that comes out to hang out socially in the gym is a different kind of consumer right? It is like, pick who your core psychographic is. The lifestyle brands come from thinking about the lifestyle that they are doing in fitness and service all. Because I think, many gyms make the mistake of all of the marketing and advertising is of people working out on equipment but the reality is that equipment exists in every gym across the world.
It is not differentiated. So, you have to figure out, what’s the lifestyle that they are working out in. And how do you really aspirationally bring that lifestyle to life for them.
Chantal: One of the things from her book Extreme You is getting out of your comfort zone. So, I thought I’d turn the tables and ask Sarah, what is she doing in 2017 to disrupt her own comfort zone.
Sarah: Well, it’s funny because I am definitely taking on the Flywheel job is a big change that I wasn’t expecting. That in itself is one hell of an awesome journey and it’s definitely challenging me in a lots of new ways, which is awesome. I am also probably more focused now on bigger macro issues in the world and how I can contribute to them and that is one of things that I was thinking a lot about when I wrote this book. It’s like how can I help be like a catalyst for a movement against the last 25 years of raising kids with trophies and this empowerment culture that frankly I think it was dampening their potential and so it’s kind of pushing me to get out of my comfort zone as just being a business person and trying to drive more systemic change for people and society as a whole.
Chantal: Yeah, I think that’s actually a great segue to remind everyone that if you haven’t yet gotten your hands on to Extreme You, then, you really, really must grab this book or listen to the audio book.
I think you will find there was so many parts of the book that I felt that I could relate to. And because you were so honest, it made me kind of go, ” Everyone has these parts in their career that are ups and downs and everything and you learn from them and
you go through fantastic highs throughout your life and throughout your career and then you have, sometimes, when it’s just shithouse you know, and you just got to learn from it”
Sarah: Yup, and not be scared of it. I think that’s the single biggest thing I learned from all the research for the book is that, you know, the older we get, the more risk-averse that we get. And the fact is that if you take risks, yes, you might fail but you’re going to grow more from that than if you just didn’t do anything at all.
Chantal: Sarah, one last little bit that we’d like to finish all. We call this out, Fitbizpiration segment for all our fitness business owners, do you like that one?
Sarah: Love it! It’s good.
Chantal: Can you share with us your Top 3 Tips for our listeners to check themselves out and embrace their Extreme You.
Sarah: So the first one I would say is to, which I don’t think is terribly hard of your listeners, but it is an often an issue for the younger generation, is to get off Google and get into the real world and experience shit.
It’s funny like I joke a lot that young people today are all told that you have to find your passion but you can’t Google search your passion. You got to get out and try a lot of things, you know and figure it out. And secondly, I would say, this notion of “Break yourself to make yourself.” Like, when you know that you’re achieved mastery; when you know you’re in your comfort zone, because you just really cruising; you know how to do what your current role is really well. Push yourself into a new space. Get uncomfortable and that could be, physically, you know, taking on a physical challenge you’ve ever done before. It could be mentally, going to study a language or whatever it may be or it could be in business. Like, going to…get involve in a piece of a business that’s new for you. All of those experiences will sort of push your growth and learning to the next level.
And then lastly, my favorite is probably to bring out the extreme in others and really understand that you can only be the best you by hanging out with other people that really compliment you, both in your personal life and at work. So really, put the time into partnering with others that are not like you so that you can learn all from their experiences.
Chantal: And Sarah, I have to tell you that is probably one of the most recurring themes, pieces of advice that we have had from the best in the industry.
And how it is important to surround yourself with people that lift you up and that compliment your way of doing things that you can learn from.
So thank you so much for sharing that. Now, if people want to get their hands on your book, what do they need to do?
Sarah: Yes, so depending on what country they are, just go to my website at extremeyou.com and then you can go on to the book page and there we’ve got links
for all of the global places that you can buy. It’s available in the US and Canada or in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc. So, it’s all there at extremeyou.com
and there’s also a very cool quiz of extremeness that you can take. It will take you about, probably 10-15 minutes and it will give you a really honest insight into
how much of your own potential you are living out to at this moment in time? It’s a lot of fun.
Chantal: That’s so cool. I’m hoping we might be up to grab that extremeness and I’ll pop it in the show notes as well. So guys make sure that you do check
all of that out. Sarah, I want to thank you so much for taking the time. It is such a thrill to have you on the show.
Sarah: Awesome, I’ve had a blast! Thank you.
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