Here’s what gym owners can learn from him.
Ben Francis, the Founder & CEO of Gymshark — one of the biggest sports apparel brands in the fitness industry — is the newest & youngest billionaire in the UK at just 30-years old.
According to reports, his net worth is now $1.2B after selling a 21% stake to General Atlantic in 2020.
10 years of @gymshark❤️ #gymshark #10yearanniversary #fyp #10yearjourney
Like any business, there’s always a backstory, and Gymshark’s goes something like this:
Best friends (at the time) Ben Francis & Lewis Morgan were 19-year old college students working minimum wage jobs when they launched Gymshark from Ben’s family garage.
They simply wanted to start a business. Lewis says their mentality was, “let’s see what’s successful and sticks.”
Spoiler: Lewis parted ways with Gymshark in 2020, cashing out for $130M. It’s still unclear why the breakup happened, but it appears to be hostile.
What is clear is that these two caught lightning in a bottle.
So how exactly did they do it?
Finding a niche… after trial & error
Before selling sports apparel, Gymshark was dropshipping protein supplements because “that was the big thing” at the time for gyms.
That was their first mistake.
“[Create] a category you can be first in. It’s the law of leadership: It’s better to be first than it is to be better.”
When that didn’t work, they shifted gears and identified the next biggest challenge in fitness: finding high-quality sportswear.
That’s right. None other than stringer tanks and short-shorts.
That style was a hot trend in Australia, which was led by then-famous YouTuber Zyzz.
Plenty of European gym rats were consuming Zyzz’s content, but no major brands were cutting clothes like that in Europe. It became an opportunity for the boys to be #1 in an untouched category and win.
“Zyzz was a massive part of the success originally of Gymshark so he was wearing all the stringers the small shorts from Australia.
So what we did is we bought loads of those from America and we started selling them in Europe… Back in 2011, 2012, if you wanted to order from America or Australia, you were paying $100 shipping and it was only twenty dollars [for the stringer].
No one was going to pay $120 for a vest so we ordered maybe like 50, got a discount, paid for the shipping and we just put them online. Everyone wanted them.”
Finding cheap attention
After they found product-market fit with short shorts and stringer tanks, Ben & Lewis scaled their business by finding cheap attention.
They were one of the first companies to grow using influencer marketing. They built relationships with some of the biggest weightlifting personalities at the time like Jeff Seid, Matt Ogus & Chris Lavado, and offered free products in exchange for free exposure.
In a recent interview with Don’t Be Sour, Lewis shared his first DM with Jeff:
There’s absolutely zero chance that this kind of formula would work in today’s market if Gymshark wanted to replicate its results. Mega influencers with over 1M followers can charge anywhere from $10K per post to feature a product. Currently, Jeff Seid has over 4.6M followers on Instagram.
Needless to say, influencer marketing has become incredibly saturated.
Why? Because it works, so everyone’s doing it.
It’s the same story with Facebook ads — those who were early made easy money. If you follow the same playbook today, it’s 10x the effort for 1/10th the result.
When Gymshark gathered a team of influencers, they became known as Gymshark Athletes. They acted as brand ambassadors by exclusively wearing Gymshark gear for their social posts. Some would travel with the company to different events, like BodyPower — Europe’s largest bodybuilding expo.
At the time Ben & Lewis scoured YouTube to search for prospects for this program, which made it super VIP-like & the ultimate goal for any young fitness influencer.
Many major fitness influencers were in the exclusive club, including Christian Guzman, the Founder of Alphalete — which is now one of Gymshark’s biggest competitors.
The program was successful for three reasons:
- Becoming a Gymshark athlete was considered an instant path to fame for young fitness influencers
- Because the program was coveted, they could [Gymshark athletes] next to nothing to wear their clothing
- Which made Gymshark’s marketing reach insane → daily sales went from $450 to $45,000
Even today, the company’s still on the hunt for talent according to their website:
Gymshark was originally catered towards the male audience most notably by their gym wear and Gymshark athletes. They wanted all the skinny guys to look like to look like their favorite influencer — which isn’t a problem.
Naturally, they rewarded young kids with extreme physiques by helping them build large followings. The problem was that these kids had a “if it works for me, it’ll work for you” attitude, which projected a toxic, unattainable body image for any average person.
It turned out that most of these athletes were fake natty’s peddling suspicious diet plans and supplements to young audiences.
The company didn’t do shit about it, until it started costing them $$$. Personally, I don’t blame them.
Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Addressing the heat
Over time Gymshark slowly started to address their issues. They wanted to improve their brand image by becoming more inclusive of different body types through their body-positive campaign and focusing more on positive influence.
Interestingly, this campaign appears to be targeting women.
Working hard & working smart
In an interview with The Diary of a CEO, Ben iterated that the most successful people he knows are the ones that work the hardest.
Even when Gymshark was generating hundreds of thousands in revenue, he still kept his Pizza Hut delivery job. This allowed him to invest into his business only using the money from his minimum wage job.
Ben also revealed that he surrounds himself with people who challenge him rather than consistently agree with him.
Now why is that?
He claims that the “yes” person is the “worst character trait in business” — if you’re not challenged, you won’t grow.
What can gym owners learn from the UK’s youngest billionaire
- Failure doesn’t define you → In fact, Ben launched two failed fitness apps before Gymshark.
- Find a category you can win → When high-quality gym wear was hard to find, but in demand, he created a solution to the problem.
- Find cheap attention → When social media was just taking off, he used that to his advantage to gain as much exposure as possible from others with a large following for as cheap as possible.
- Ride trends → It’s easier to channel demand than create it. I’d rather be building a business in Pickleball than CrossFit right now.
- Help others reach their goals → When Christian Guzman took off to create Alphalete, Ben allowed him and other athletes with similar aspirations to bring their own merch to Gymshark events.
Don’t be afraid to DM your followers
Gymshark pioneered influencer marketing by DM-ing people on Instagram. Last week on Gym World we sat down with Nick Page, a gym owner who makes $15K/mo by doing just that.