“I want to inspire more people to recognize the power of the “Immigrant Edge” in their own lives. If you are an immigrant, you have a built in advantage, no matter what other people tell you, when you don’t understand the culture, don’t speak language, etc. You have to be resourceful, and that’s the path to being successful as entrepreneur. Even if you’re not an immigrant, you can still teach yourself how to have the immigrant edge. When others slam a door in your face, you build your own door. You get resourceful instead of making excuses. If more people would think that way, the world would have more successful entrepreneurs, more team members who are able to solve more problems and become linchpins, and quite frankly, more people living better lives because they make more money and have a purpose.”
I had the pleasure to interview Bedros Keuilian, the founder and CEO of Fit Body Boot Camp, one of the nation’s fastest growing franchises, and author of Man Up (September 18, 2018). He’s also known as a hidden genius entrepreneurs, bestselling authors and thought leaders turn to when they want to quickly scale their businesses and build impact-focused brands.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
First off, thank you for the opportunity. I didn’t have a typical childhood growing up. My parents lived in Soviet Armenia until I was 5 years old, when, in June of 1980, my father decided to flee the country in search of a better life. I mean, we left with nothing. We made it to Italy, declared ourselves political refugees, then fled to the US.
We didn’t have much growing up. I remember having to dumpster dive for food because we had gone too long without eating. I remember my parents washing my hair out with gasoline so I wouldn’t get lice. Man, I could barely speak English and was picked on by other kids for being a foreigner and told to “go back to your effin’ country.”
Even in high school, I had a teacher in 11th grade (Mrs. Boyer) basically tell me that I would amount to nothing. That stuff sticks with you. I eventually made it through high school but dropped out of college.
But the one thing I was always good at was finishing what I started. And so I got into the fitness industry as a personal trainer. This was back when I was still scraping for money. I had worked as a bouncer at a nightclub, I had worked as a line cook at Disneyland. At one point, I was even drinking diet coke and tuna blended into “protein shakes” and sleeping out of my car to save money.
But again, I wanted to make something out of myself in the fitness industry. I wanted to help people change their lives through exercise and nutrition. Growing up, I had been overweight until I began to work out, so I knew how much fitness could do for someone. I wasn’t about to give up on my goals for the future.
Still, I was struggling to scale my business. That is, until one of the guys I trained at the gym was this dude named Jim Franco. Really successful business guy. He mentored me in exchange for free training — maybe the best deal I’ve made in my life.
That’s who I learned entrepreneurship from. Soon I had my own fitness studio. Then I had 5. Then I began licensing boot camp studios until I eventually began to franchise. It was like I’d stumbled upon the secret formula to success. Now I own a fitness franchise with about 700 locations worldwide, and I coach some of the world’s foremost fitness professionals on scaling their businesses. But none of that would have been possible without the struggles I faced as a kid and even as a young entrepreneur.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Man. There have been so many. I’ll give you a recent one. A few weeks ago, I went to a professional recording studio to record the audiobook version of my upcoming book, Man Up. I’m a guy that’s grown comfortable with speaking on stage, but reading something out loud is a different story. And in the same studio that Whitney Houston, Jamie Foxx, and Green Day have recorded in? DUDE.
I was getting some serious anxiety just thinking about reading my book in this fancy recording studio. I even contemplated cancelling the whole thing and just having someone else read it for me. After all, I have plenty of other things to do, and there are professionals that read these audio books for a living.
But I knew that no one else could tell my story for me. They couldn’t deliver the same passion and voice to my story that I could. That’s why it’s something I had to do. I needed to man up, get over my fears, and get in the damn recording booth and knock it out. And I’m so happy I did it. It’s that same “never settle” mindset that got me through all the shit I had to endure when I was opening up my first personal training studio, when I began my own franchise, and even now — even when shit hits the fan, you’ve gotta build emotional resilience and get in the habit of doing the stuff you don’t wanna do.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ll tell you, back when the Internet was just starting to become a thing, I decided to sell supplements online. My plan was to buy a whole bunch of supplements and resell them for profit. Well, I ordered the supplements thinking I’d easily get them off my hands. Then I realized that there weren’t enough people online yet to market them to. My house was filled with a bunch of supplements I couldn’t sell, and to make things worse, they were starting to spoil. I was stuck.
It’s really funny looking back at that now, but when you invest a large chunk of your life savings into an investment that fails, that’s a tough pill to swallow in the moment. That taught me about making wise investments, of course, but also that you have to put in the marketing to get your business off the ground. Once I learned the ropes online and polished my marketing chops, I learned how to get my products in front of the right audience and at the right time. I’m glad I can teach my clients this without them having to buy a truckload of spoiling supplements like I did.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
That all comes down to leadership. On a macro level, you need to get everyone to buy into your company vision. If there isn’t a main purpose that everyone’s driving towards, then your company will be full of confusion and conflicting interests. But when everyone’s on the same page and commits to the same goal, that’s the first step to get everyone to work together.
Really, it starts with hiring. I don’t just hire capable team members, I hire people who fit our culture. That’s a huge thing for me. Do you have the interpersonal skills to work with our different departments? Can you thrive in your designated role and help others to do the same?
Our team members have monthly coaching meetings with their direct leads. Then, we do quarterly and annual reviews to review how they’ve been performing. We do this so that there’s a clear understanding of expectations, both for the team member and their leads.
And if you ever come to our HQ, you’ll notice that we encourage communication between departments. We work in a pretty open set-up. Every few months I evaluate our seating chart and make any needed adjustments. One thing I always keep in mind is that you work closely with the people you sit next to, so I make sure to be strategic about where our departments sit.
Finally, you have to build trust, both from the top-down and between team members. That starts with me, as the leader of our business, openly communicating what goes on at all times. And to foster that team camaraderie, we hold monthly culture events, which help our team members bond and trust each other more.
All those things build the trust and communication you need to get large teams to work in unison, for one common vision. There has to be a shared vision, leaders with a map to execute that vision, and a willingness to collaborate from everyone.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
It’s getting everyone on the same page. We have about 700 franchises worldwide owned by over 400 franchisees. Communicating with each of them is a tall order, but we make it happen.
That’s why I always try to over-communicate with our franchisees. Every Monday I write an email to our team at HQ, which usually includes some life advice or a reminder of our ultimate vision. I’ll often share these with our franchisees to make sure we’re all on the same page and know what we’re striving for.
When you a run an operation as big as our franchise, you need to address everything head on. We recently began rolling out a lot of changes that improve the way our franchisees do business. Still, there’s often confusion around stuff like the new software we’re adding to our locations. So our VP, Bryce and I hopped on camera and live-casted a fully-transparent Q&A with our owners. They had the chance to ask anything that was on their mind in order to make sure that, again, we’re all on the same page. If there are still things that need to be cleared up, I’ll go into our owner’s Facebook group and post — once again, keeping the lines of communication open between myself and our franchisees.
The lesson here is when you go out of your way to over-communicate, you cut down on the amount of miscommunication that comes with managing on a global scale. Of course, problems will still come up simply because you can’t be everywhere physically to guide your team. But if you keep open dialogue from the start, your team will know what is expected of them, regardless of where they’re located at, and your global team — or franchise — will operate on the same wavelength.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Treat them well, but make sure you establish expectations for them first. Look, when my business first started growing, my team began to grow too. I wanted to be the “nice boss”, so I’d treat my team members out to free Starbucks or I’d invite them over to my place for a barbecue.
Now, none of those things are wrong. In fact, they do a lot to earn the trust of your team members. My mistake was rewarding my team before I had established expectations for them, because eventually they got comfortable and underperformed.
You have to make sure you set the standard first. Once your team members reach and exceed what you ask of them, then praise them in public and reward them for what they’ve done. That way, they’re more incentivized to work harder, because they know that they’ll be rewarded if they do.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers.” What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
Look, I tell my team that there are two ways you can leave this building. You can either move on to something even better, or you can retire. I hate firing people and will do everything I possibly can to coach people up to where they need to be.
As a CEO, do everything you reasonably can to retain your top talent. Pay them well. Establish a culture that they don’t want to leave. Make them feel excited about coming to work every day, and constantly challenge them to grow.
I hear about this from fitness professionals all the time. They’ll complain to me that one of their trainers decided to leave and start his own studio, taking a bunch of the owner’s clients with them. My first question to them is always, “Well, did you give them a reason to stay?” Again, make them feel appreciated. Make their job so good that they won’t even think about leaving.
And just to drive this home: I’m not talking about pay, here. In fact, what people want more than anything else is a clear path to growth. Show them how they can increase their income by increasing their contribution to the company. Give them interesting new challenges. Your top team members will value that continued challenge and opportunity to improve more than anything else.
But at the end of the day, you can’t hold on to your team members forever. Some of them leave for reasons outside of your control — that’s okay. If you’re hiring and developing A+ team members, then you’ll already have someone who can step up and fill that role when the time comes.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team” (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience).
First, you need to hire fighter jets, not crop dusters. See, crop dusters are the people that clock in late and clock out early. They’re there to collect a paycheck, nothing more. But fighter jets are people that understand your vision and that have the will and the moxie to make it a reality. These are people who go above and beyond. Whenever we face a problem at our HQ, our team members come to the table with 3 solutions ready to go. If you want to manage a successful team, it starts with hiring the right people.
Next you need to have clarity of vision. What is your ultimate goal for your business? This isn’t just some vague “pie in the sky” idea, but it’s concrete. I know that for my franchise that we want to open 2500 locations by 2023. Knowing that, each of our teams can then adjust their responsibilities and prioritize the stuff that will get you closer to that vision.
Next is to work on your 5%. Your 5% is the high-level stuff that only you can do, the stuff that will make your business the most money. I have team members that handle video editing, copywriting, running ads, handle payroll, etc. I could do that stuff, but it’s much more effective (and cost-efficient) to train someone on my team to do it. Meanwhile, my 5% is to delegate, motivate, and sell — things that only I can do that make the most money. So make sure your responsibilities are delegated to the right people, and that you’re handling the most important stuff at the top.
You also need to invest in your team. Contribute to their professional and personal development. That’s key. I send my team members to the top conferences and seminars in the country. That way, they come back with knowledge they can share with the rest of our team, and we all level up as a result. I also invite some of my friends, such as stress management and productivity experts, to the HQ to teach my team. Not only does my team grow and get better, but they trust me because they know I’m willing to spend the money to improve their skills.
Finally, you have to reinforce all of these ideas on a consistent basis. I love to send my team a weekly Monday morning email, where I share wisdom with them and reiterate our goals and vision. That keeps us all on the same page, even when I’m not physically in the office. Keep the mission at the front of their minds at all times.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I want to inspire more people to recognize the power of the “Immigrant Edge” in their own lives. If you are an immigrant, you have a built in advantage, no matter what other people tell you, when you don’t understand the culture, don’t speak language, etc. You have to be resourceful, and that’s the path to being successful as entrepreneur.
Even if you’re not an immigrant, you can still teach yourself how to have the immigrant edge. When others slam a door in your face, you build your own door. You get resourceful instead of making excuses. If more people would think that way, the world would have more successful entrepreneurs, more team members who are able to solve more problems and become linchpins, and quite frankly, more people living better lives because they make more money and have a purpose.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Circumstance doesn’t change responsibility.” My book that’s about to hit stores on September 18th, Man Up, is all about this. Look, some of us are dealt pretty crappy hands in life. Does that mean that life is out of your control? Does it mean your future is doomed? No!
I grew up with every reason to make an excuse. I didn’t have the finances, I didn’t speak the language, I wasn’t well-spoken enough, others told me I’d amount to nothing, I dropped out of college, I was bullied because I was a foreigner. There wasn’t much out there pointing me to the life I have now.
But I knew that I had to cut the bullshit excuses. My life, my business, my happiness is in my hands. If you have the will and the mindset, you absolutely can rise above your circumstances. You have a massive free resource in the Internet to use, where you can reach out to entrepreneurs for advice and look up strategies to be successful.
If you want to achieve your fullest potential, you need to cut the excuses and take action, even when others think you’re stupid. That’s how I, along with every other successful person in the world, found success.