It was July 11, 2010. I had cooked up a business concept a year and a half earlier I was overzealously calling “POUND.”
Today, it is one of the fastest-growing and most recognized fitness brands in the world.
But in the early days, most people I told about it thought it was some kind of lame-ass joke. Remember, this was the Golden Age of the ShakeWeight, in the capital of corny trends, LA, so the concept of a “drumming fitness class” sounded like an SNL outtake in-the-making. I somehow thought this company could follow the same business model and scaling strategy as Zumba. Plus, I thought it was fun AF and a hell of a good workout.
What was not fun was the rejection factor that accompanied said concept. But, despite the many doors that hadn’t even been cracked open wide enough to slam in my face, I somehow had the cajones to tell everyone who would listen (and a lot who wouldn’t) about it.
And time after time, month after month, “no” after “no”; every single time I talked about it, demoed it, and pitched it, my enthusiasm held steady. In the face of many frowning, shitty, unamused faces, I didn’t flinch. I’d wake up and do it again the following day as if Will Smith from Men in Black erased my brain and my pain from the attempts before. Sometimes, I’d like to teleport myself back to that time and bottle that brand of resilience and guts. Eau’d’Delusion. In hindsight, I don’t know where I got the gall. Also, I feel like a complete pansy now in comparison.
But, I digress.
As I got given the middle finger more and more, I somehow steered myself towards healthy escapism. Hobbies. Cheap hobbies. Emphasis on the cheap— because I was so broke I was stealing handfuls of tampons from each of the gyms I was visiting to pitch the class to. I admit — that was also not a fun feature of the startup life.
At this point, it was a successful day if I made it to the end of another unsuccessful day. And, to keep going, I had to find a way to remind myself of what it felt like to feel good — to feel like myself.
My feel-good go-tos were, and still are, drumming, music, dancing, writing, and soccer. Classic ADHD, really. In that spirit, and because I was currently pitching a tent at the corner of Rock Bottom and WTF Am I Doing With My Life, I decided to escape my reality for an afternoon by watching the World Cup at my favorite soccer-friendly bar in LA, Goal on West 3rd St.
So there I was, watching the Netherlands versus Spain. And there Sir Richard Branson was, at the booth next to me. And there, in my purse, was a pair of exercise drumsticks prototypes, which I had become accustomed to whipping out without feeling even slightly worried that they clearly resembled a pair of phalluses. Again, the cajones of youth were at play. Or maybe the balls came with having a phallus-shaped product? That would make sense.
I think I blacked out for most of our exchange. I suspect I had pit-stains and was star-struck. But what I do know happened for sure is I strolled straight up to Richard Branson at a bar in the middle of a soccer match, sat at his booth, and put a pair of drumsticks in his hands.
“You’re holding these because you’re no stranger to crazy ideas,” I said.
“This concept is cool. I own one of the largest gym chains in the world, Virgin Active.”
And he typed his email address into my phone and told me to send him my deck, EPK, and other marketing collateral. (WTF was an EPK? Google, to the rescue!)
I ditched the rest of the game early to race home, fix my deck (which still sucked even after I fixed it, and was actually more of a one-sheet) and sent it to him. I didn’t expect to hear anything back, ever.
So, when an email from Richard Branson lit up the screen of my Blackberry Pearl (throwback!) 5 minutes later, I nearly shat my soccer shorts. He was fast! He remembered me!
And — whoa — he had already connected me with the head of Virgin Active.
And today, 8 years later, my company is partners with his.
I’m not sharing this story to inspire you. I’m not sharing it to motivate you. I’m not sharing it to tell you to chase down the Bransons and dream big with your big balls swinging.
I am at-long-last sharing this story to applaud you. Yes, you.
For your effort and stamina during the not-so-dreamy parts of trying something new. I know it’s hard. This is for you.
This a soundtrack to the door-slams, ding-ups and god-damns you’re experiencing. And this is the sound of our footsteps walking — nope! — dancing, through it together.
I am writing this as a tribute to the new mom, who’s thinking, “What the fuck have I gotten into?” as she gets up in the middle of the night and the new dad who doesn’t know how to change diapers, but does it anyway. And then, does it again the next day.
Shit, to anyone doing something new, intentionally or accidentally. Hats-off.
To the people who have started something great, but no one knows it yet. To you, who are working, and waiting. And waiting. And still waiting, without any validation, accolades or rewards. I feel you. The sameness of the pain of patience is something that unites all of us. So remember, you are not alone, even when you feel that way.
To the peeps who make things; who make art; who progress; who make time; who make allies: You are making something. Do you know how truly amazing that is? You are practically a goddamn magician. You are actually creating things from nothings. I applaud you for animating your ideas with actions.
You have all been through it at some point. You might be going through it now. Or fuck, maybe you’re about to go through it but don’t even know it yet. We are all there, wherever there is.
I don’t think Richard Branson listened to me because I said something special, or because I had something special to offer. If anything, I think he saw something not special in me. Something not unique, not outstanding, not rare.
I think he saw the most common, human element there is in me; across all humans, everywhere: struggle.
I imagine my hunger was palpable in the sheer audacity of my pitch. And he saw that I was still there, despite the shittiness, enjoying something I loved; soccer. That I showed up anyway. And that yeah, I had some pretty wild balls to be carrying around drumsticks in my purse to pitch people with.
I applaud you guys today. I applaud your work, your tears, your struggle; but most of all, I applaud what, in fact, makes you extraordinary: The fact that you keep going anyway.