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How I’m Crushing It

Andy Frisella, The MFCEO Project

IG: @AndyFrisella

Andy Frisella looks like a man who could squash your head like a grapefruit. For someone in his line of work, that’s a good thing. Built and buff, his face lightly scarred from a long-ago knife attack, Andy is the founder and CEO—actually, the MFCEO (I’ll let you guess what the MF stands for)—of two companies dedicated to fitness and health. A voracious reader, he found Crush It! by chance. He regularly buys books as they come out on Amazon regardless of whether he’s heard good things about them or not, figuring that if he can glean even one or two useful pointers or thought-provoking ideas from each, his time has been well spent. At the time of Crush It!’s publication, Andy had already been in business ten years, selling sports nutrition products through his Missouri-based brick-and-mortar chain, Supplement Superstores (S2). Despite eight locations, S2 was doing what most businesses do—treading water. Business was good but not great, certainly not enough for Andy to take home more than about $50,000 a year. It was all a single guy at the time needed to pay the rent and enjoy dinner out every now and then, but Andy’s ambitions had been significantly bigger when he and his business partner, Chris Klein, had launched the original store. All his life, Andy had been entrepreneurial, selling baseball cards, snow cones, even lightbulbs door-to-door. He liked making money, and he was frustrated that he couldn’t get the business to grow faster. Yet although he wasn’t bringing in the returns he’d thought he would, it was sure better than working for somebody else. No matter what, he wasn’t about to give up and go get a “real job.” So Andy decided that if doing something else wasn’t an option, he’d need to focus on the part of the business that he did enjoy—helping people create their stories. Customers would visit his stores and return six months later completely transformed after using the knowledge and products they’d taken home with them. Some had lost as much as a hundred pounds; many had dramatically changed their lives.

So Andy doubled down on doing right by his customers, making sure they left his store feeling confident and equipped with everything they needed to achieve their goals. Store traffic immediately picked up.

Everybody knows when they’re being sold. No matter how slick and cool and shiny a salesman is, customers recognize a fucking salesman. We all know them. And so when you have somebody who genuinely cares, people feel the difference. They feel it in the conversation and in their heart. And it has to come from a genuine place, or it doesn’t work.

It was around this time that he found Crush It!, which also talked about caring about customers and focusing on what you are providing others as opposed to focusing on yourself. It was a pivot point, reinforcing his instincts and confirming that he was taking the business in the right direction.

I was passionate about making money, and that’s what held me back for so long. I wanted to make money so bad that all I cared about was making money, like most of these dudes who are trying to start businesses. And when you’re always focused on the money, you don’t really think about what you could do better for your customers. When I shifted that focus and started caring about the customer in front of me, things started happening. I’m not super passionate about bodybuilding, I’m not a workout freak. I work out and stay in good shape, but it’s just part of what I do so I can do other things. I’m passionate about creating people’s success stories.

Andy and Chris reallocated a large chunk of their marketing budget to improving their in-store customer transactions. They handed out free T-shirts. They hired extra staff to advise people on their nutrition. They kept a clutch of umbrellas by the door for people to take with them if it started to rain. In short, they provided a customer experience completely different from what most people are used to.

Their business doubled. Every year. For five years in a row.

Eventually they increased their advertising and marketing budget. “Advertising should be used to accelerate the stories that are being told about you. People were finding us, coming into our company, staying, and referring their friends. If people aren’t telling good stories, all advertising is going to do is speed your death.”

The year 2009 also saw Andy and Chris start another company, 1st Phorm, a premium brand of supplements. This one was founded from the get-go on the principles Andy had finally realized were critical to business success.

The marketing strategy to build 1st Phorm was simple and grassroots—care about the customers, give them exactly what they want and more, and then create opportunities for them to easily tell others about their great experience. That’s where social media came in. Andy had been on Facebook for a while but hadn’t been using it properly. Now he took a strategic approach, going heavy on valuable content instead of constant pictures of his dog (though Andy’s dogs still get plenty of screen time, and deservedly so), creating a place where his community could come together. In addition, he started building his personal brand. He tried Twitter but struggled to cram everything he wanted to say into 140 characters, so though @1stPhorm has a healthy following, you won’t find Andy himself there. He calls Snapchat an “edifying” tool because it allows the world to see the real-life, behind-the-scenes work of entrepreneurship, though he admits he uses Instagram Stories more now. As for Instagram, he did exactly the opposite of what normally works best on the platform (to great effect—he has over six hundred thousand followers).

I post pictures and videos and make long-ass captions. And when I first started it, people told me, ‘Oh, nobody wants to read this shit,’ but apparently they do. With social media, I think it’s more about being authentic to yourself and finding what’s going to be the thing that suits you best, versus where everybody is and deciding that’s where you need to be. It’s about finding what works and working with that.

Together, the companies grew from $1 million in sales to $100 million. Andy predicts that 2018 will see in excess of $200 million.

As his brand and businesses swelled, people started to notice that Andy knew something other entrepreneurs didn’t. The press reached out to get his story, and the more he shared, the more people wanted to know. He met a writer, Vaughn Kohler, who suggested he write a book. He was ready, so the two sat down for a series of interviews. They videotaped their sessions, and Andy thought some clips might make good content for Instagram and Facebook. Jackpot. “They started going crazy. I had one that got two or three million views, and it was a fifteen-second clip!” After each post, Andy would get messages from people asking where they could hear the full podcast, so Andy figured he’d better start producing one. In June 2015, he and Kohler started cohosting The MFCEO Project, a motivational podcast about business and success. The first episode debuted at number one, and the program has stayed in the Top 50 in the managing and marketing category on iTunes since that day, earning 1.5 million downloads per month. Andy’s persona and fiery delivery made him a natural for the speaking circuit, and the invitations started flooding in. He enjoys public speaking so much that he accepts every opportunity he can, “whether it’s five people or five thousand.” Sometimes when he’s moved to do so, he speaks for free; sometimes he gets a $50,000 fee for a single event.

Starting in spring 2017, he launched a YouTube channel, The Frisella Factor, on which he answers his podcast listeners’ e-mailed questions.

It took eighteen years for Andy to get to where he is now, and he envies the younger generation of entrepreneurs, who have never known a world where they couldn’t connect to the bigger world with the click of a mouse. However, he also thinks that the younger generation would do well to remember that certain values and business practices are timeless.

My journey took much longer than it should have. We created our first business pre–social media, building everything through real word of mouth. Our second business was created post–social media. So we’ve done it in both eras. And the reason that we’re successful is because the lessons we learned pre-social are applicable to post-social; you just have to use the tools the right way to accelerate the word of mouth. But if you’re starting out right now, if it takes you seventeen years, there’s something wrong with your brain. You can reach people instantly, and you get instant feedback. All the things that took us months and years to figure out could be known in a short amount of time. Now you can connect with people all over the world on a minute-by-minute basis. The kids now that are starting out are lucky.

But they’re handicapped, too. They rely too much on the social. They rely too much on the likes, the shares, the messaging, and not enough on the face-to-face interactions. And learning how to create customer experience comes from face-to-face, man. You know, seeing somebody’s eyes light up, seeing somebody smile, seeing somebody reach out and shake your hand and say, “Thank you so much for helping me with this. I really appreciate it.” That’s shit you can’t get through the Internet. Unless they can go through that process, they’re always going to be trying to automate. And that’s why you see so many people creating a product that they sell, versus creating a true brand that represents something. If you can bridge these two things together [the social media smarts with the skills to engage face-to-face with empathy and care], you’ve really got something special.

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