How 25 Minutes Every Day and a Cheerleader Can Change Your Life: With Founder and CEO Sebastien Lagree
By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner
“…if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past 20 years, it’s that everyone — no matter how smart and successful — needs that one person who will believe in you and push you beyond where you thought you could go.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sebastien Lagree, founder and CEO of Lagree Fitness, an innovator, the man behind the revolutionary and world famous Lagree Fitness Method, inventor of the popular Megaformer machines used in over 350 studios worldwide, and creator of the Supra Machine—his latest machine exclusively available at Lagree Fitness Studio in LA.
Thank you for doing this with us today. What is your backstory?
I moved to Los Angeles in 1998 as a body builder and aspiring actor. Shortly after arriving, I was completely disillusioned by the entertainment industry and my plan went right out the window! I quickly realized that both body building and the entertainment business were not for me so I fell back on my passion for fitness, and began taking on clients as a personal trainer. Over the years I gained quite the celebrity following, training A-listers like Sofia Vergara, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Nicole Kidman, and dozens more.
A few months in, I started looking at my job as a business. How could I make more money? As a personal trainer, you can only charge one person so much per hour. But I thought, what if you had more people at once? The earning potential could be endless. So, I decided to try training in a group environment, which at the time was a very non-traditional method for strength training. Once I got in the classroom, I realized how completely limiting and lacking the equipment available for group settings actually was. This is what prompted me to create my own machines fit for a class environment and I began work on a prototype in 2003.
It may sound simple, but it was anything but! From there, I maxed out approximatley 15 credit cards in order to get the process going and to create my first prototype.
I opened my own studio on Melrose with my very first machine, the Proformer, and my very own customized workout created specifically to use with it. The classes became so popular so quickly that Pilates instructors from all over Los Angeles would come in to take my classes and try to copycat them at their own studios on a traditional Reformer machine — but I knew with my method, the workout would never be able to translate because the machines were completely different and impossible to perform on. That’s when it all clicked for me. I knew I had something that worked, was in high demand, and that nobody else had. Within that same month, I began selling and licensing out my machines along with the Lagree Fitness® Method.
Fast forward to 2018, and there are over a million people all across the globe using the Lagree Fitness® Method. We have more than 300 licensed locations in over 20 countries including the US, Canada, UK, China, Germany, Egypt, Australia, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, India, the Philippines and more.
As my machines grow in popularity and more people are practicing Lagree, I realize we are reaching a broader audience, which means I must continue to innovate. I am constantly evolving my machines to adapt to both men and women of all fitness levels, ages, body types and physical conditions. It’s through Lagree’s mass following that I can learn, problem-solve, and upgrade every new machine I release to be more accessible and effective than the last.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
After 20 years of building the Lagree Fitness empire and 12 years of licensing my machines worldwide, I am still left in awe when I find out a major celebrity or VIP is a huge fan of the method. Most recently, we learned that Meghan Markle named my machine, the Megaformer, her favorite workout. We’ve had celebrities, supermodels, socialites, politicians, and professional athletes around the globe using the machine, but future royalty? Even after all this time, I thought that was pretty awesome and humbling. I also find it really interesting that Lagree fans get just as excited about the workout today as they did 20 years ago. That fan-love and excitement of spreading the Lagree Fitness Method is really what keeps me going and motivated to continue to create and introduce new fitness innovations.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Lagree Fitness is and always has been a leader in fitness innovation. I’ve always strived to go where others won’t and push the envelope. That’s my nature and that’s what has made Lagree Fitness so popular and successful through the years.
I’ve spent years thinking and rethinking the way people workout, and as a result, I own 45 patents for my workout method and machines. Everything about Lagree Fitness is unique. For example, we created our own tension system for my newest machine, the Supra. The Supra is also the first and only fitness equipment in the world that inclines and rotates. We had to create an entirely new iOS software infrastructure to support the machine’s innovation — which is responsible for moving the machine to tilt and incline with the push of a button via the instructor’s iPad. When you need innovation to support innovation, that’s when you know you’re taking your brand to the next level.
I often say that nothing we put out is store bought. You can’t go out and buy the ingredients that make up Lagree. We make our own ingredients in-house so that the dish is so unique, you can only get it at Lagree. We have our own manufacturers, designers, engineers, warehouse, and more; but all of those resources help to keep Lagree exclusive and of the highest quality.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who has helped get you to where you are?
Without question, the person I am most grateful to is my wife, Dede Lagree, who runs the business with me. She is not only a phenomenal CEO, but she has reenergized me to look at the business in completely new ways. Without her, we wouldn’t have our own studio, another on the way, an apparel line, at-home workout videos, and more planned later this year.
When we opened up Lagree Fitness Studio and introduced the Supra in 2016, there were a lot of skeptics. It was a new and untested method (“What do you mean a full-body workout in just 25-minutes?! How does that work!? Yeah right!”), an untested machine (the first in the world to incline and tilt); and a new and untested business model offering classes every half-hour. Even though the Lagree Method and my earlier Megaformer machines were successful and popular, a lot of people in the industry didn’t think that a 25-minute workout was enough time; a lot of trainers didn’t want to teach a 25-minute class; and students really had to be sold that yes, just 25-minutes is all you need to fulfill your cardio, strength-training, flexibility, and endurance needs. It was Dede that made all of that a success — she stuck to the vision, worked with the instructors, got people in the door, grew the following, spread the message and made it a hit. Dede truly helped me reclaim the Lagree brand and breathe life back into it, and made me stop and rethink the vision for the future of Lagree.
Above that, she is my biggest cheerleader, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past 20 years, it’s that everyone — no matter how smart and successful — needs that one person who will believe in you and push you beyond where you thought you could go.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My goal and commitment to Lagree Fitness is to get everyone to work out and break down any barriers that have previously prohibited or discouraged people from working out.
Every design, every technological advancement, every accessory I add to every machine all comes down to making Lagree Fitness more accessible to the masses.
I’ve always said, “All fitness is not created equal”. There are many methods that are completely unhealthy, some that are just way too expensive, and then others that cannot be performed by all fitness levels.
From the beginning, it was always my goal to make fitness accessible and effective so that everyone can do it. Not everyone is going to be a size two or a body builder. At Lagree Fitness Studio, we’ve made workouts shorter yet more effective so more people can find the time to squeeze in a workout; the classes are more frequent and affordable (especially for L.A. pricing); and I’ve designed the machines so that they can be used no matter your fitness level, prior experience, or any limiting physical conditions.
We are continuously updating the machines to make Lagree accessible for everyone, not just the fit.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my startup,” and why?
- Don’t take all the advice you get! If someone told me everything that would happen in the last 20 years, from our global following and pivots in the business to lawsuits and hardships along the way, I think I would have said “Thanks, but no thanks!” It’s almost better to not know everything that’s going to happen and figure some things out along the way.
- You’re not going to have all the answers, and that’s ok! Even if you’re an expert in your field there are so many moving parts when navigating through the business world that at some point, it’s almost certain you’ll be navigating in the dark and making big decisions when it’s impossible to know what the right move is to make. It can be frustrating at times but in your first few years, don’t be too hard on yourself. Know that you’re going to make a bad decision or two, but to always make sure you have a way out and never to sign your life away!
- Get Legal Advice: This is one of the biggest and most important lessons to learn early on in your business. If I had better legal advice from the start, I would have known to put a set term in all of my licensing agreements that would terminate or renew at some specific set period of time. With licensing, there’s got to be an end date because you never know what could happen. In general, I would advise everyone to reevaluate their business-scape every ten years and seek legal advice from the start even if you think you don’t need it!
- Don’t Invest In What You Can’t Mass Produce: If you have an incredible innovation but you can’t build it, then it will never be more than a prototype. Similarly, don’t mass produce something you can’t mass distribute or you’ll just be stuck with a bunch of inventory on hand. Every piece of the business has to be well thought out from the beginning and serve a purpose, fit a demand and have a channel for sales. After years and years, we’ve been able to refine our system and follow the trends of supply and demand.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for more! It’s very common for people starting out to shortchange themselves. When I licensed my first machines, there was nothing like it available on the market, but it was also hard to predict how quickly interest would grow and what the demand would be like in the fitness world. Therefore, you tend to ask for less than what it’s actually worth. When you have something unique that you can’t buy elsewhere, my advice would be to believe in yourself and believe in your product. You’ll never know how much people are willing to pay until time has gone by and you see the landscape and gain perspective. Don’t be afraid to ask for a little bit more.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Someone that I admired very early on when I was body building was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not only did I idolize him as a body builder, but watching his action movies is what brought me to LA to pursue acting. I saw a lot of parallels in our lives — I was from the countryside in France, him from Austria; I idolized his physique and the roles he took on and I really admired him before all of my success. Recently, I wrapped my first documentary, “The Future of Fitness: How Technology is Reshaping the Human Body,” in which I interviewed another one of my bodybuilding idols, Lou Ferrigno, and I’d love to have a similar conversation with Arnold about the culture of body building back in ‘70’s, how its evolved, and finally the future of fitness.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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