Ex-gym owner sells blog for millions


Gym World comes from Kilo co-founder John Franklin, who shares lessons about making money in the fitness industry.

How one strength nerd turned his hobby into a big pay day.

Happy Friday Gym World,

This week we talk with David Thomas Tao, the Co-Founder of BarBend.com—which was acquired by Pillar4 Media this year.

Let’s break down how he went from writing blog posts in his apartment to an acquisition that “made [his] investors very happy” in 6 years.

Step 1: Scratch your own itch

The year was 2016, and David was a strength nerd looking for a place to hang out on the internet.

He couldn’t find one, so he decided to build the website he wanted to visit.

He approached two friends and said:

“Let’s build ESPN.com for strength. And let’s convince everyone they can lift weights.”

Step 2: Grind

To get traction, David wrote up to 30 articles each week for the first 7 months they were in business. It worked. By the end of its first year, the company had 1.4 million users.

Step 3: Find something that works and do more of it

After a few years of grinding it out, strength nerds were hanging out on the site.

To ramp up their revenue, the team decided to focus on affiliate marketing.

The way it works is simple:

BarBend writes an article like The 12 Best Greens Powders Of 2023, According To A Dietician.”

The article reviews 12 greens powders and links to the products:

Screenshot 2023 06 15 at 8.41.21 PM

If you click a link from the BarBend article and buy a product, they receive a commission.

The rate varies depending on the product and the vendor, but 2.5-25% of revenue collected is the ballpark.

So if BarBend created content that drove people to their site, some of them would buy stuff from the affiliate articles.

To grow his business, all David needed to do was double down on making good content, which is exactly what he did.

I LOVE affiliate marketing. When done right, it’s a scalable, low-cost way to make money.

Back when I was running gyms, I built a course that helped gym owners get more leads. In it, I recommended a piece of software.

That little affiliate link generated $120k in revenue for something I would’ve recommended anyway.

Screenshot 2023 06 15 at 10.27.05 PM

Check out the pending payment. I am STILL getting commissions six years later.

Step 4: Snap necks and cash checks

By 2020 BarBend was profitable and ready to scale.

Shortly thereafter, they bought BreakingMuscle.com—another strength site with millions of users.

By 2022, the company had grown to 31M users and was selling $19M of stuff from its affiliate links.

In April of 2023, BarBend.com was acquired by Pillar4 Media, a company that owns a portfolio of review websites that include:

Screenshot 2023 06 15 at 9.34.09 PM

I first found out about Pillar4 by reading this crazy article.

The CEO of Pillar4 used to work at Red Ventures—a media conglomerate that reportedly made $2B in 2021.

It’s safe to say that these guys know how to get traffic and monetize it.

At the time, Pillar4 was writing equipment reviews for GarageGymReviews.com, Active.com, and SportsIllustrated.com.

If you look at the reviews across each site, you’ll notice that they’re remarkably similar:

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With BarBend.com and BreakingMuscle.com, they could rubber-stamp their winning formula and take advantage of all the traffic that both sites were generating.

Which appears to be exactly what they did:

And it looks like it’s working.

In 2022, Pillar4 did around $44M in gross merchandise value. This year, they’re on track to reach $100M.

Not too shabby.

David’s advice for gym owners:

If you want to drive more traffic to your gym, content is king, but it doesn’t make up for a shitty in-gym experience.

To win the content game:

  • Post to social consistently. It’ll show that you are active and allow others to get the vibe of your community. Post photos, videos, articles—anything.
  • Optimize content for engagement. If your posts get shared by others, they’ll reach a greater audience.
  • Update your Google Business Profile. It’ll push your gym higher in Google’s rankings.
  • Make your content fun. It reflects your gym’s environment and helps create stronger relationships with your audience.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect—it just needs to be visible.


P.S. David can’t disclose the sale price of the BarBend deal. When I say, “he sold for millions,” that’s my educated guess based on numbers he publicly shared.

P.P.S. Jon Goodman, one of my favorite authors from the gym world, is giving away his top 3 books this week. Go grab a copy of Ignite the FireWealthy Fit Pro’s Guide to Getting Clients and Referrals, and Wealthy Fit Pro’s Guide to Online Trainingand get yourself some knowledge.

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