From Facebook to 8 Figures: Mike Doehla’s Marketing Approach

A picture of Mike Doehla with the title "From Facebook to 8-Figures: Mike Doehla's Marketing Approach."

John Franklin (00:02):
Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of “Run a Profitable Gym.” I am John Franklin, the CMO here at Two-Brain Business. And this week we are talking about building a strong community using Facebook, and to help you learn, I brought one of my friends who happens to be one of the best people, I think, in the entire world on this topic. He is the previous owner of Stronger U Nutrition. And you may be asking, “Why is he the previous owner?” He’s the previous owner because he sold it to Anytime Fitness for eight figures. So, this man walks the walk, he talks the talk, he comes off as incredibly humble, and that’s likely because he is, but he’s not afraid to shy away from an internet fight. And we’re going to get into all that now. It is the man, the myth, the legend: Mike Doehla. How are you, sir?

Mike Doehla (00:52):
This is awesome, man. I’m happy to chat and share whatever I know with the audience. So, thank you, man.

John Franklin (00:57):
So when someone tells me they want to build a nutrition coaching company, I tell them that is a terrible idea. I hate those businesses because there is just a built-in churn factor. Or even if you are the best in the world, people are going to leave. In fact, if you are the best in the world, people are probably going to leave faster because you’ve gotten them the results they want faster and then they just want to go back to their old life because you’ve done what they paid you to do. For whatever reason, you’ve been able to buck the trend. Like when you sold, you had how many thousands of people on the program?

Mike Doehla (01:36):
Lifetime, there were 50,000 plus. I think when we sold it was like maybe 6,000 active and about 80 coaches or so.

John Franklin (01:42):
So insane numbers, gym owners, numbers that just make your head explode. And when you ask Mike, like, “How’d you do it?” He’s like, “I don’t know; it was an accident.” But like in reality, what do you think made you different than the million other macro coaching companies out there? Like why were you able to get to 6,000 and almost every other nutrition coach I talked to stalls somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 100?

Mike Doehla (02:05):
Yeah, I think a lot of it is the timing of everything was really good to us. So, we had a lot of years to build up our reputation, to build our community, to fine tune our processes and everything like that. But it was really just a refreshing approach for people, not only because it was a flexible dieting approach, but because the community was just so fun. Everybody was so cool with each other; everybody was helping each other. I think a lot of nutrition coaches now, they either just try to post reels and things like that and grow that way. They haven’t really fine-tuned A, their philosophy, and B, how they’re going to deliver it. And it’s just kind of a little bit of a jumbled mess. So, we just had a singular vision of just helping people eat a little bit better and have a lot of fun in the process. And we just luckily had the right mix of characters in our group that did that every single day.

John Franklin (02:58):
You and I both come from the world of CrossFit, and our businesses spun out from there. And you and I both had the advantage of excellent timing, which was starting in the early 2010s. So that’s definitely a part of it. But one of the things that you mentioned is community, and that word gets tossed around a lot in group fitness. I’ve built, not personally, but through Kilo, we’ve built thousands of gym websites at this point. Everyone wants to talk community, community, community, community. Everyone’s got the best community. That’s obviously not true. And so, you mentioned your community. What made it special? Like why was it better than any other community? You know, is it you? Like, my theory is it’s you, but is there something else you can point to, or is it just brute force?

Mike Doehla (03:48):
Yeah, it’s funny because when you say that I get a little uncomfortable because we’re not supposed to talk about how great we are. Other people can say it, but we can’t say it. I do think a big part of it was my personality was infused so much into the business, and my insanity in terms of awareness and social media presence in the group was so valuable as a CEO. For the average person, I think it was so unique to see a CEO of a company of that size interacting with customers, whereas most CEOs or figureheads are kind of behind the scenes in spreadsheets and things. So, I think what it is, is I had such a close pulse on everything. Like the DNA of the business was guided so much from all the interactions I saw all day.

Mike Doehla (04:41):
So just constant positive reinforcement, constant fun, constant problem solving. Having a bunch of different coaches in there that were kind of on the same page, but also had their unique viewpoint on everything. And then it was just like—the best way to put it is everybody talks about community, but that’s a place where people just kind of go to get information. This was a place where people—when they would go on Facebook, they knew the newsfeed was just such a show, but the Stronger U group was where everybody was cool as hell, helpful as hell, and experienced as hell. And that’s not just me and the coaches; that was the members too. So like when you mentioned, yes, we had a lot of churn because we sold mostly three-month blocks. So, some people did six months a year and beyond, but most people were there for just a little while. But I kept them in the community because I knew they were the experienced people who were going to help the new breed of clients. So, one tip I give people is think about if you want to kick people out after they’re on your program or not. Because for us, if we kick those people out every few months, it’s a brand-new fresh group of people who don’t know the vibe of the company and the culture. So, we just had that from the start, and we just ran with it.

John Franklin (05:58):
Yeah, so they were stewards of the brand. And for context listener, I’ve done Stronger U multiple times. Mateo Lopez, one of my partners in Kilo, has done Stronger U multiple times. Chris Cooper, the owner of Two-Brain, has done the Stronger U. My wife has done it. We’re all in the community, and I can attest it is an incredible, or it was an incredible community. I’m not active in there anymore, so I can’t speak to it now. But we’re going to pull up some of your old posts here, and you can see that posts in the group were regularly getting 700, 1,000, 1,500 likes, like insane numbers for a Facebook group that at the midpoint of the company. Like how many people were in there? It wasn’t an insane number. It was a lot, but not an insane number.

Mike Doehla (06:49):
Like 25K. And not every single member we had got in there. It sucks because they probably would’ve done better and had a greater time. But a lot of people would leave too because they thought allowed in there. But I was constant, “Hey guys, don’t leave. Stay in here. Get all the value from this. You can for as long as you want, client or not.”

John Franklin (07:09):
And so you started like—you don’t shy away from an internet fight, and you have a special place in your heart for business gurus. So, I’ve seen you pick some fights before on the internet, and now that we’ve talked before that that was a part of your strategy, not like, “I’m going to find something bad to say about this person,” but if you genuinely disagreed with someone, you’re not afraid to tell them why you think they’re wrong. You said you were the CEO; you used the word CEO a lot. Two-Brain uses the word CEOA lot, but you got your hands dirty, man. Like is it true—like you told me in the beginning you were using your phone so much that you had literal calluses on your thumb, right?

Mike Doehla (07:51):
Yeah, I was on my phone so much, and the case that I had, the little bump on the bottom where the charge report was, it would just constantly rub against the side of my thumb. And I had a callous on there, and it was just a testament to how involved I was. And it’s one of those things that’s so controversial now, like social media and hustle culture and grinding and all that crap. But it’s like when I look back, and I see all the situations that brought us forward, it was because I had that cellphone in my hand, and I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t valuable for an entrepreneur to do that.

John Franklin (08:29):
Right? Because a lot of people like to talk about balance and four-hour workweek and how you should have time built in for rest, but usually the people who are saying that are where you are now, or you sold the company, or you’ve gotten over a couple million in revenue, or you have a team in place. But the reality is if you talk to anybody who’s built a business of any substantial size, like they’re going to have a dark period where there was no balance whatsoever, like going all in. And so maybe you can talk about how you got that first 100 clients because I think there’s something that everybody listening to this can learn about it even if you have more than 100 clients already. Like there is some value in here, and it’s something that is just not said enough in our community.

Mike Doehla (09:16):
Yeah, these were—I like to refer these people as like the grandpa and the grandma of the family tree of Stronger U. Without these first few people, there is no Stronger U story. And a lot of these people were met because of my involvement in the CrossFit world. And for people who don’t know, I was one of those people who didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do with my life and wanted to break into the fitness world. And the easiest way for me to do that was affiliate with CrossFit. So, I owned CrossFit Newburgh out of my 400, 500-square-foot garage in Newburgh where I was living. And that didn’t work because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and I could only do it an hour a day. But what that did do was introduce me to so many people in the CrossFit community and all these awesome gyms locally that would trust me as their nutrition solution when I did start talking about it online. So, I was in the CrossFit affiliate owners’ group, and I was one of those people who was saying, “Sugar is OK.” And obviously it’s all context dependent and dosage dependent. But you remember at those times, like 2014-15—

John Franklin (10:24):
Paleo challenge. Prime paleo challenge.

Mike Doehla (10:27):
Paleo challenge. “Sugar is the devil; don’t you dare touch it.” And I’m like, “Wait man, some of these people are so high level, and they’re putting out so much expenditure, they probably should be eating some gummy bears post-workout.” And people were like, “Oh my god; who are you? Why are you doing this?” And I was convinced, based on my experience and the nutritional science and my understanding of it and application of it, that this is what people needed. And I wasn’t shy about it. And I would constantly talk about it with such confidence that I believe people were like, “This guy’s onto something. There’s something about this that should work if I do it.” And I just got a few people and the results they got in a matter of weeks and the community and the vibe and the attention to detail that I had, they were just telling everybody about it.

Mike Doehla (11:20):
So, that’s why I’m so big on—I think coaches these days and companies these days in our field start with, “How do I make my life easier?” Not “How do I make the client’s life easier?” And I was backwards. I said, “I’m going to do everything I can for these clients because life right now isn’t that great. And if I get this thing popping off, it’s going to be awesome, and I’m going to going to be one of those people who can work in a field I like.” So, I just harnessed those first relationships because I knew, just like the human population in the world, this can spread so easily because every other solution out there was kind of crappy at the time, and people were just sick of what was happening when they would try to lose fat or perform better and fail over and over. So that was it. Just give them what they weren’t getting—reverse engineer the dieting process. Don’t just tell them what to do, figure out why they don’t do it and plug it in.

John Franklin (12:15):
So you were talking about building authority a little bit there, and you wanted to escape the life you were in. So, you were working a desk job; you were in HR, right? If I remember correctly. So, you were an HR guy. You’re working behind a desk, and you were talking about nutrition. And so, you don’t have a PhD in nutrition, you don’t look like a superhero, you’re a fit guy, but you’re not posting shirtless pics of your 10 pack, which is—a lot of people who talk about nutrition and get a lot of heat for it, like they use that as authority, just like, “Look at my abs.” But it sounds like based off of this post, your origin story begins with a bagel. Is that true, or is this an April Fool’s joke?

Mike Doehla (13:02):
Well, at the end you could see it says it’s a joke, but I figured I’m just going to make up a story just to make a few people laugh, and that’s it.

John Franklin (13:10):
So this is from, if you’re listening, I have the Stronger U community up right now, and I’m actually scrolling through some of Mike’s old posts. You’re referred to in here a lot. And you refer to yourself in a couple posts as “Food Dad.” How did you get that name?

Mike Doehla (13:29):
I think it was from a post a while back where I was making people who were on the program and no longer on the program or people who fell off a little more comfortable with knowing they could always come back. So, I think I equated it to like a college kid who goes off to school and then graduates and maybe has to come back home. And I said, “Your room is always ready. I want you to think of us as like your food parents.” And I maybe I said, like, “Love Food Dad” or something. And it just kind of stuck and then people were just saying it all the time. So, I was like, alright, it’s like a character. You know, I wasn’t a different person, but it was like, alright, I’m just going to put a name to this thing.

John Franklin (14:05):
Yeah. So, here’s a post with 1,100 likes—that was in 2019—where it’s literally signed off “Food Dad.” And so, you said there were 18,000 people in the group at the time you wrote this post. So, that means more than one in every 18 people in the group liked this thing. And it was like—this was before there was an @everybody button in the Facebook group. So just massive reach.

Mike Doehla (14:34):
Yeah, I didn’t have @everyone. That’s a new thing.

John Franklin (14:37):
So I don’t want to get too much into this post. I want to push you back and talk about getting those first 100 clients. And maybe I’ll give you a little nudge here since I know your story. At Two-Brain, we tell people not to discount. We also don’t like the idea that a lot of gym owners give their stuff away for free, and that is something you strongly disagree with. And so tell us why, and tell us how that was a part of getting a little traction?

Mike Doehla (15:05):
Yeah, so that was when I would get into some of these CrossFit gyms or even other regular random gyms or offices. I figured that a lot of people just like discounts. It’s just—there’s something very attractive about it. They pay attention when there’s a sale. It also gives them incentive to share because if something’s a discounted rate, “Cool, I’m special; I’m going to jump in.” So, I would give—a lot of times when I would get into these gyms, I would say,
“Hey, alright, owners or coaches, I’ll give everybody in here 10% off.” And I was getting—at the time, I’m researching business, I’m looking at things, I’m hearing everybody say, “Don’t give discounts.” And I have, what I think, evidence that suggests these people signed on because of that discount and the attractive nature of the discount. So, I would just get—I don’t care.

Mike Doehla (15:56):
I’ll take 10% off the top at that point. I’m a one-man show. I don’t care about making that 10% up in my bottom line. I’ll use that to subsidize marketing costs because now I don’t have to pay to market. I could just run around and give discounts to people. So, I often think about, you know, I’ll never know in reality if the discount helped, but I believe strongly that if I didn’t do the discounts—and I did them in Facebook groups too for certain parties—I wouldn’t have had this story happen. Because especially in a Facebook group or one of these gyms, when they say, “Hey, Stronger U is now our nutrition solution; it’s 10% off.” People say, “Oh crap, this thing is 10% off.” Rather than seeing, “OK, there’s Stronger U, the nutrition solution, at full price.” That’s not attractive. That’s not exciting. So, I don’t know, man, our industry likes to not give discounts because we like to think that like, “We’re so valuable, and we’re so special, and we shouldn’t have to do that.” But I mean, we all kind of look for sales here and there, so.

John Franklin (16:59):
Everybody likes getting a deal, man.

Mike Doehla (17:02):
Yeah, I don’t see it as like, “Oh, you’re discounting your service.” Yeah, that’s the fucking point, man. Like, yeah, it’s cheaper. That’s it.

John Franklin (17:09):
Didn’t you do your first 10 for free? Wasn’t that like your first 10 clients were $0?

Mike Doehla (17:16):
No, they were $120 for 12 weeks. So basically, I mean you could call it free. It was $10 a week basically.

John Franklin (17:24):
And that was unlimited access to you, right?

Mike Doehla (17:27):
Yeah. And it’s another one of those things where people are like, “Oh, I need to start at $500 a month.” I’m like, “Dude, I started at $40 a month.” Like, you could talk to me whenever you want. You had your weekly check-in, but you could text me whenever you want. And I would be—that’s why I had the callous man.

John Franklin (17:46):
Yeah. So, before you hired your first full-time coach, how many nutrition clients were you working with personally?

Mike Doehla (17:55):
When I quit my full-time job, I had 350.

John Franklin (17:58):
So you were doing 350 one-on-one check-ins. You were answering—how many texts were you getting at that point?

Mike Doehla (18:05):
Dude, it was just—it was constant. It was like all day. But it was one of those things where these people don’t—not everybody texts you every day or even weekly for that matter. But there’s a few who you would talk to constantly.

John Franklin (18:18):
And on top of that, you were posting in the group, you were posting on your personal Facebook page, and you were liking, engaging—you know, how many posts would you say on a given day?

Mike Doehla (18:28):
I couldn’t even say. If I said it was a hundred, it would probably be 10 times that.

John Franklin (18:34):
And what was like—were you still able to manage your health? Were you married at the time?

Mike Doehla (18:39):
No, no, I was—I just started a new relationship who is now my wife and the mother of my children. So, I didn’t mess that up, which is great. But yeah, dude, it was—and I did this on top of the full-time job, which is—you know, corporate America’s kind of laughable because I probably could have been part-time, but thanks for not firing me, guys.

John Franklin (19:00):
Yeah, you made it out. OK. Alright. And so, you mentioned that discounts were a way you thought of not paying sales commissions, or you thought of it as like, “That’s my marketing expense.” From that zero to 50,000 client mark, how much money did you spend on paid ads?

Mike Doehla (19:18):
I mean, it was less than $1,000. We tried it a couple times, like Thanksgiving posts and random booths and things like that. But we didn’t have a strategy or any agency or any internal marketing person at all. So, I would say really nothing.

John Franklin (19:35):
So how do you think about marketing? Because you were the most successful company in this space, and what was marketing to you? We talked about the discounts. But how else did you think about it?

Mike Doehla (19:48):
My philosophy about it is, and again, I don’t know if it’s correct for everyone, but my philosophy is when I think of businesses, I don’t want to be told from the business that they’re awesome because I won’t believe it. Because why wouldn’t they say that? So, my theory was if I could make all these happy customers be my salespeople and I guess representatives in some way—and even calling them salespeople sounds too tactical; like, it was just, “These people are happy. I’m going to enable them to share our website, share their pictures, share their stories, and get everyone on their news feeds a little curious about what that thing is that they did that made them in better shape or healthier or whatever.” And they would do it. They would post all over the place. And that’s something I see missing now. I don’t see anybody’s people posting anywhere, and I can’t understand why.

Mike Doehla (20:43):
If you want your coaching business to grow, you have to have the people who use it say that it’s awesome. And that’s what we did. It was everywhere. And little tactics, like if they shared a picture or something, I would try to encourage them to post it on their newsfeed rather than me posting it. Because if I post it and I tag them, it probably won’t be as visible as if they did it. And this time, maybe the news feeds are different now; I don’t know. But if Susan posts it on her feed, maybe a couple hundred people will see it. And I think those numbers are not attractive enough for a lot of coaches. They’re like, “I need thousands of eyeballs. I need to go viral.” It’s like, “Why? Why do you need to go viral? A single picture?”

Mike Doehla (21:27):
I have stories of, not even encouraged, but members just randomly go into the Peloton main group with hundreds of thousands of people, will just post their picture and mention us, and it would make us $20,000. Like, just because they did it. And I’m like, “Holy shit.” But that was all the vibe that we tried to create. Like if your people are not sharing your coaching company or what you did for them, you have to ask, “Why are they not happy? Do they not know? How do they not know that it’s going to help create more jobs?” And that’s what I would say, I would purposefully say things like that, “Wow, you guys, we just hired four more coaches because you shared this. So not only did I get to quit my job, these four people now have an online coaching career because of all of you.”

Mike Doehla (22:17):
And it’s not like this is—these are real feelings. You know what I mean? I just knew, man, this is not company versus client like so many businesses. This truly was a little team—and like family gets thrown out there; obviously these people are not family, but it was this like this little food family that was like, “Holy shit, I did good on this program. I’m going to tell everybody about it because not telling them is selfish. They have enough coaches, they’re growing, the CEO is cool. He’s met me for coffee.” Like, this is just what the story was. And I love these conversations because it pulls this stuff out of me because I was there, I was living it, but I don’t remember enough how it all went down.

John Franklin (23:05):
Because what’s crazy is you have a little bit of a following on Instagram. You have just under 15,000 followers; I’m assuming a decent chunk of them came after the sale because you’ve been doing a lot of shows and podcasts like this. So, the fact that you were able to get that type of reach, it wasn’t because you were going viral all the time or doing the latest dance trend. It literally—it seemed like it was just a ground and pound approach. Like I think you were in the—what were your hunting grounds? I know you’re in the affiliate owners’ group, I know you’re in the masters’ group. Like were you just going in these Facebook groups every single day and looking for stuff to comment on? Like how were you thinking about it?

Mike Doehla (23:45):
Yeah, so pretty much. And again, these were things I was interested in. So, the main ones were CrossFit Masters. I was in there before I was 35. It used to be 40. And then I think they reduced it to 35. I think I was in there when I was like 33. So, I would always be cool with the admins too. That was a little secret for everybody because these groups don’t want you to go in there and try to sell, right? So, I would go in there and I’d be like, alright, I’m not going to sell anything. There are a few people in here who know who I am. So, when I comment on common nutritional questions, I get a lot of back up because there’s probably someone on my program who has experienced that information. So, they could say, “Oh yeah, listen to Mike, he’s the CEO of Stronger U.”

Mike Doehla (24:29):
And then they get curious, and they look into that. But I would just post random advice here and there. I would get pushback though. I had a few—I remember one guy, I don’t remember his name, but it like, it hurt, man. He was like, “Oh, you’re just a charlatan. You’re just here for business.” And I’m like, “Dude, I started this business because I love talking about this stuff. So yeah, I might benefit from being in here, but I’m giving valuable information to every single one of you, whether you sign up or not.” So like CrossFit Masters was huge for us. I mean, that’s where we probably got in contact with so many of the other CrossFit gyms, not only in America, but Canada, Bermuda, all these different places. And then the Peloton Nutrition, I basically became the dude in there and then a bunch of people—

Mike Doehla (25:18):
Yeah, I was like—if someone had a question and I would answer, it was basically like, “You just listen to what he says.” And again, I’m not this PhD, registered dietician; I’m just a dude with a lot of experience dealing with pretty normal and slightly athletic people and their nutritional problems. So that was really one of the things was I just had so many more reps than most people. Because again, in my first year of coaching, I had like 350 clients. People who coach now maybe don’t have 350 for 10 years. So, again, I know I’m all over the place right now. But our coaches—one of the coolest things about having the coaches at Stronger U was you’re getting a fast track to understanding this job. What you’re going to know in a matter of months will take a solo coach 10 years, and that’s no exaggeration.

John Franklin (26:10):
And so for these groups, was it like you’re going in there and posting, “Here’s my chicken salad recipe”? Or was it like you were waiting for a question to pop up and responding to the question to the best of your ability and knowledge?

Mike Doehla (26:24):
Yeah, I wasn’t—recipes are so, like, I’m not the recipe guy other than making healthier chicken nuggets. Like I’m not the dude posting recipes.

John Franklin (26:32):
Yeah, you have like a named recipe after yourself.

Mike Doehla (26:36):
Yeah, “Mike Nuggets.” Yeah, they were delicious. I would go in and just answer questions, man, because everyone is so confused. And I knew that one, I feel really good when I can help these people. And two, when I answer these questions, I know a crap ton of people are going to see it and be like, “Who is this guy? He’s constantly in here answering these questions, not in a yes or no way, but in a very nuanced way.” Like some of my questions would—or my answers would be 200 words. And I know that’s crazy for some people, but I would think about all the possibilities and everything that these people might be thinking about, and not just the asker, but the onlooker. And of course that would bring debates here and there. People would like to battle me about stuff. And like you said, I was not shy about answering or responding.

John Franklin (27:24):
I think it’s important to note that you’re always in there. So, a lot of people think about like a social strategy or an engagement strategy or an organic strategy as like, “I’m doing zero posts, and now I’m going to do three a week, and I’m going to try it for three months to see how it works.” And so, yes, that’s better than zero. But everybody who I’ve talked to who’ve had insane results like you, it was not once a day. It was like “I was all-in to the best of my ability.” And it was one of those things where in a group like Peloton Nutrition, giving the best answer all the time, every time didn’t mean you were probably getting twice as many leads as the second best nutrition expert in there. You were probably getting a thousand times as many leads because you put in three times the effort.

Mike Doehla (28:16):
Yeah, we were constant.

John Franklin (28:18):
And that was like—it’s one of those things where if everyone’s doing three a week and you’re doing 30, you’re not going to get 10 times the result, you’re going to get 100, 1,000 times the result because you own that. You are—Mike is the nutrition guy in there.

Mike Doehla (28:34):
Yeah. And we would get accused by some people who were just grumpy: “Oh, it’s an MLM. Oh.” And I’m like, “OK, well thanks for the compliment. That’s a testament to how engaged our audience is. They love us so much; they will not shut up about us. And they’re not downstream making money off this in any way.”

John Franklin (28:56):
So let’s talk about things you were doing online to make your audience love you more. So, I’ll pull up an example from your Facebook group that I saw that I thought was cool.

Mike Doehla (29:07):
Are you going to make me cry on here?

John Franklin (29:08):
I hope so. That’s good content. So here is a—oh yeah, yeah, yeah. So, explain what this is to the people listening.

Mike Doehla (29:18):
So, I’m going to give credit to Goodman. Jon Goodman a while back posted how he—I don’t know, he put like 100 bucks on a Starbucks scannable meme or something, posted it and bought whoever saw it $100 worth of coffee. We were like, “OK, we’re a bigger business. We’ve got a lot of people; $100 dollars won’t cut it.” So we went to Starbucks, we loaded up our account with $1,000, and we made a little graphic with the scannable Starbucks barcode and that says, “Have a coffee on us.” Of course, the U was our logo, and we posted it in our group, and I forget if we posted it—I’m assuming we posted it early in the morning. But we encouraged people to post their pictures. Again, get on your newsfeed and spread this shit for us.

Mike Doehla (30:05):
We’re giving you coffee; I want you to share it for us. So, they would go, they would get their coffee, they would post their pictures, and everyone was just so happy. Because I could spend $1,000 on paid ads that would probably flop, or I could buy people coffee, and then they’re going to just share and like our brand even more. So, it was just—this stuff was just so fun to do, and it was so cool to see the engagement. And I’m glad you brought this up because I kind of forgot about this, and we did it a few times.

John Franklin (30:36):
Yeah, there’s just people—there’s just a ton of people posting photos with the coffee that they did. And then there was a message from you here being like, “My bank called me; I think we’re hacked. Coming back online shortly.”

Mike Doehla (30:49):
Yeah. It was connected to our account.

John Franklin (30:51):
And you were big on gifts for members too, right? So, this was just like a little something you did to surprise and delight. Like what are some other things you did to just make your clients happy?

Mike Doehla (31:01):
Yeah, dude, it’s wild. It’s like crazy. I think someone’s washing machine broke one day; we bought them a washing machine. They were just talking about the stresses they were dealing with, and we’re like 400 bucks, like take it. People talking about their pants falling off because they lost weight. “Hey, I’m going to send a belt to you.” Someone’s food scale breaking. One of our coaches would just surprise someone with a food scale. We did vacation giveaways. I had people do a bucket list. Like tell me where your bucket list idea is. And we picked people to live out these bucket list vacations. And it was like—it was just one of those things where it’s really cool to do these things for people because I never in my life had an opportunity to do anything like that. And then you can do it and then you’re like, “Man, this builds the brand. This is just what we’re all about here.” And you know, people could say, “Oh, he only did it because he wanted to build the brand.” Say whatever you want. But it really did feel awesome to be able to do these things. So, we just kept doing stuff like that. And it was— You know, we sent—during COVID, we sent people kids’ books, Lego sets, like all kinds of cool stuff.

John Franklin (32:10):
Here’s one where you ask people to post their Halloween costumes and then the best costume got $100 dollars’ worth of Omaha Steak’s protein macros. But vegetarians could have—I guess they got potatoes from Omaha Steak.

Mike Doehla (32:24):
Yeah, see, even something like that, it was the playful nature of the group where I say, “We’ll send the winner steak,” but knowing that there’s maybe 10% of our membership base is vegetarian or vegan, I don’t want to exclude them. So, I’ll make a joke about how we’ll send you something else because obviously you’re not going to want the steak. And it was just one of those things where people are like, “Wow, he acknowledges the people that are not the main thing while making them feel included and making a joke about it.” Like, I don’t know how to tell people how to do that. It just kind of—it just pops in in your head, you know.

John Franklin (33:01):
Let’s see. Here’s a photo from a toy drive in 2018 where you filled a 12-foot trailer filled with toys. What was this? How’d you get this going?

Mike Doehla (33:11):
This was—I forget what year we started. I think maybe like 2016. We might have started where Alessi and I, my COO, my best friend, we went to Target and filled up a shopping cart, and it was like 600 bucks, and that was on us. And we were like, “Cool.” We took some of the revenue from Stronger U, and we donated like $600 worth of toys. And then I was like, “What if the next year we get the community involved?” So now I probably wouldn’t do it, but I gave everybody my address, and I told them to go on Amazon or whatever delivery site they want to, and send me the toy, and we’re going to donate them locally on behalf of Stronger U. So, the first year I did that, it was piles of boxes here, and my wife was like, “What the—dude, what the hell is this?”

John Franklin (33:57):
It’s like a distribution center.

Mike Doehla (33:58):
Yeah, I had to realize what orders were ours, and what were sent from other people. And that was kind of difficult. The next year we got a trailer, we get did like a pod or something I think, and we filled the thing with a thousand toys, and it brought the community together. They knew like, “Alright, during the holidays in our area, like we’re not in an area that’s like thriving, so like these kids need help. And they were able to help.” And then we were like, “Look, guys like a thousand frigging toys here for the local community.” And we did that for a few years really until I bounced. And I think they still—they still did it. So that was cool to hear.

John Franklin (34:37):
And some of these things, so like these toy drives and Starbucks cards and little things you can do to surprise and delight your members, the gym owner can rip this verbatim, and that’s easy to do. We talked about your group arbitrage strategy where you’re just in there trying to be the number one guy in the group for nutrition, but are you still in Newburgh? Is that the town?

Mike Doehla (34:59):
Yeah, I’m in New Windsor now. So, like next town over new.

John Franklin (35:02):
OK, so let’s say you had—we don’t even have to say you own a brick-and-mortar business. So, once Mike sold, he got into the—he’s in the pasta game now. He’s a carb peddler. You know, if you’re a gym owner listening here and you’re not going to be the nutrition person in the Peloton group, what are some ways you would do that if you’re thinking about generating some buzz, some hype, some community around a brick-and-mortar business that’s location specific?

Mike Doehla (35:28):
One of the things is so many people are a little bit more shy than they should be. I think one of the things that fitness conferences should be—like, someone needs to speak on shyness and how to get out of your shell because we can play on the internet all day long, but there’s nothing that beats, especially for brick-and-mortar gyms, being the person in the local community. So how do you do that? Do you join a lot of leagues? Do you create a team? Do you sponsor a team? Do you get your name out there any way possible? Do you sit on the corner of a busy intersection and give out protein bars and spin a sign that points people to your gym? Like these are the ridiculous ideas that people need to have. It’s do you do a charity 5K that your gym is putting on?

Mike Doehla (36:14):
Like, do you go to the radio station and talk about it? Like you just join the Chamber of Commerce. You have to be out there, or you’re just going to be another business that people drive by. And the most successful brick-and-mortar gyms that I know are doing these crazy things, and I wouldn’t even call them crazy. I would say you’re just getting out there in front of as many people as possible. Like you can cold email or walk up to many businesses in your local community and say, “Hey, I have a gym down the street. I want to give your entire office a free workout. Could I do that one day after work? I’ll come by with some equipment. We’ll do it in the parking lot.” Like you don’t know what these things can do. Most of them will strike out at first, but you have to be persistent, and you have to get creative with it.

John Franklin (37:01):
And it sounds like you definitely got over the fear of putting yourself out here. Here’s one that I love and talk about a lot that would work probably a hundred percent of the time, but it’s just like—you got to have some brass balls to do this. Maybe talk us through what we’re seeing here.

Mike Doehla (37:19):
Yeah, so this one I would spend a lot of time in coffee shops and I was like, well, no one knows who the hell I am. I’m just this dude sitting here all the time, so why don’t I do something to get some attention? So, I created this laptop sticker; I think I uploaded it in Canva. And then I went to I have no affiliation with them by the way. And it said, “Hi, I’m Mike. Ask me nutrition questions, and if you’re shy, go to” So, basically a few calls to action; come talk to me. If you have nutrition questions, I will talk to you. So, I’m not just this guy who’s sitting here who doesn’t want to talk to anybody. And then if I acknowledge that people are shy and they’re—it’s probably weird for someone to just walk up to me.

Mike Doehla (38:04):
So knowing that they’re nosy and they’re shy, I’ll put the website right on the sticker and then they could go to that. So, I figured why the hell not? Like most people have their laptop sticker with—in this world, what a Rogue sticker, or the Apple logo, or I don’t know, some protein company? Like why don’t you just take those off, get the whole backside of your laptop branded with your gym or your nutrition or your company and invite people to talk about it. And I’ve had dozens of people copy off this, and I tell them to do it. I say, “Just do it because what can happen?” You’re just going to sit there and maybe today 20 people will see your logo and your company, and maybe a couple people will talk to you. Like just try it.

John Franklin (38:50):
Yeah. And if you’re a gym owner, you can literally just be like, “Hey, I own CrossFit So-and-So. Talk to me on how to get a free personal training session,” or “I’d like to give you a free session.” Go. And it’s the exact same thing. And it sounded like you would also drop a 20—it sounded like you would pay for people’s coffees. Like just open up a tab at Starbucks and—

Mike Doehla (39:10):
Right, leave 20 bucks, 100 bucks, whatever, and say, “Hey, can this cover like the next five people or however many?” And they usually say like, “Oh, some someone bought my coffee; who was it?” And they’re like, “That guy over there.” Sometimes I would just get like a nod. Sometimes people would talk to me. Other times they would go to the website and eventually sign up. So, it’s like these little things I would go to. I would do it with toll booths. I had someone in a toll booth when people didn’t have E-ZPass back in the day, and they would pay for the next few cars behind me: “Here’s a business card. Can you give it to them?” Sometimes they would; sometimes they wouldn’t. Fast food restaurants. I would go into Barnes and Noble and slide my business card in the books in the diet and nutrition section because I knew these people are desperate for help, picking up probably some garbage book about some nonsense. And I’m like, “Alright, I’m going to do it.” And I would always post about it when I would do it because it might not work. But if I could get 1,000 people to see that I’m doing it and being creative and being playful and taking care of people by buying them, people just gravitated towards that. It would—those were always highly engaged posts on my personal page and in the group when I would be like, “Hey, look at the silly thing I just did.”

John Franklin (40:28):
And you would tape it on candy during Halloween and stuff, right? Like, you were big on taping your business card places.

Mike Doehla (40:35):
Oh yeah. Everyone’s like, “Oh, you don’t need business cards anymore.” OK, create a card and put a QR code on it. And there’s an idea I have now that obviously I don’t do because I don’t work in the field right now, but you could take a card of some sort with a QR code that says something like make a healthy decision on us and tape or staple a $5 bill and just drop these all over the place where you think a potential customer could be. So yes, someone might tell you you’re littering. Who gives a crap? You’re throwing a card with $5 that says, “Make a healthy choice on us,” and a call to action to scan, “Get a free trial,” “Talk to me; ask a question,” “Follow me.” And they’re just like, “Who’s doing that?” What is it going to cost you, 250 bucks? You could get quite a few cards out there.

John Franklin (41:20):
So we’re talking about all these little guerilla strategies you’d post, and you have all these little clever things, and it sounds like it was just kind of whatever you thought of that day, right? It wasn’t like you had a planning meeting. It just—people would be like, “What’s the strategy? What’s the calendar he used?” It just sounded like, “Oh, we should get 5,000 toys, and put in a trailer and take a photo of it. Let’s go.” And it sounded like that was the extent of the planning.

Mike Doehla (41:43):
That was it. And I think that’s why for me it worked because when I sold—and I was kind of used more towards like, “Hey, let’s post this on this day.” I shut down, man. I don’t want to do that. Don’t tell me to post about sleep in three weeks. If you want to talk about sleep, I’ll do it right now. And that was my strategy. It was like, “Oh, a thought came to my head because of something I just saw.” Boom. Put it up. Write it; put it up. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s not. Grammarly didn’t exist when I was doing it, or I didn’t know about it. So, I probably had some errors in there. I didn’t give a shit. It was relative to whatever situation was going on to me, and I knew somebody would resonate with it, and I would just put it up there.

John Franklin (42:23):
And the thing that I think doesn’t get mentioned a ton is that you did this stuff, but you did it for a very long time. So, I think that the three people who are like the—if you’re in the fitness industry, you should look at Mike, you should look at Chris Cooper from Two-Brain, and you should look at Jon Goodman. I think you guys have a healthy social media addiction, which I think is the first piece. But the second piece is you guys did it well before you had successful businesses. So, we pulled up five or six posts so far, and they were all from 2019, 2018, 2020. Every one of them had 700, 800, 900, couple thousand likes within the group. These aren’t public posts; it’s literally within his group. But if you just go back like three years ago, you were still grinding out every day, but these posts are getting one comment, 36 likes, 28 likes with 10 comments. It wasn’t like you started out, and it was this monster thing; like it just compounded over time. Were you thinking long term, or is it just like, “This is what I do; this is how I grow my business,” and it just came naturally to keep doing it over and over and over again?

Mike Doehla (43:35):
Yeah, I didn’t have any foresight into what would happen. Really, the goal was, “Help enough people, so I could maybe quit this job and just pay my bills.” That was it. Because to a fault, I didn’t think it was possible to do what I did. So, I never even thought about it. It would be like someone saying they’re going to build a jet in their backyard and frigging fly to France. Like, that’s stupid. Why would I even think about that? So, I had no foresight; I had no plan. I said, “Alright, 10 people reacted to this; I’m going to talk about that.” And then you would get clients, and it would just kind of roll like that. So, it was very much—again, probably why it worked because I didn’t have any grand plan. And that was kind of weird for a lot of the staff; they’re like, “What’s the strategy?” I’m like, “I don’t know man; just let’s just keep rolling.”

John Franklin (44:27):
Like it’s not—

Mike Doehla (44:28):
Like, cool, let’s take care of them because nothing else matters. If your customers and your coaches are happy, cool; we’re just going to keep doing this. And I’m probably crazy because I never got bored of it until like way later when I had my kid and sold the company. But I did this all day, every day for years. And I think if I’m trying to shrink myself and think about why that worked and how other people can make it work for them is you have to do what you like to do. Like you have to make work play. So, I would, every time I picked up my phone, I was like, “Shit. Positive reinforcement to me. Somebody told me I helped them, got to help more people. Just got another coach to join the team. Got to make sure they’re happy and fulfilled, so they don’t go get another job again.” Like, I was probably addicted to that in some way. And it was—like winning every day by helping people, getting clients, giving people jobs. Like how could I not want to do that?

John Franklin (45:35):
Are you a naturally anxious dude? Like, it sounds like you were just like—it was a healthy scoop of stress fueling you.

Mike Doehla (45:43):
It was productive paranoia because as things started to grow and pretty much tell me like, “Dude, this is a thing. Like you’re doing all right here,” I again thought back to like why—dude, I went to community college. I got some random nutrition certifications. Like I’m not one of these startup founders that crushes it. That’s like, “Oh, Stanford dropout.” It’s like, yeah, “That dude, he got into Stanford.” Like I didn’t even know what the hell Stanford was when I’m starting, you know? So like, these things don’t happen to me. So, I was constantly not like, “Dude, I slept great.” I would every night, pass out. Like not a stressed-out entrepreneur, just very dedicated to what we were doing and always knew—I was very grateful the whole time because I knew it could end at any moment because the nutrition game is crazy. Zuckerberg could change an algorithm and ruin everything. Competition can swoop up, government regulation—who the hell knows? So, I thought that the whole time because I’m still—I still have a lot more experience being a failure in corporate jobs than I did a success. So, if we’re talking like, “Who am I?” I was never this success story as I was building; I was the guy that was hiding in the bathroom, answering clients, trying to get out of his $35-$40,000 a year job. You know?

John Franklin (47:08):

Glad you made it. And glad you’re throwing the ladder down so other people can climb up. We’re going to be talking a lot about like chatting, so DMing people, this week on the Two-Brain thing. So, you had a steady flow of inbound just from being that guy and literally coaching 350 people and sounds like you were obsessive about answering those people quickly. Were you doing any type of reaching out to people who weren’t clients? Or did you just—was your thing just deliver enough value that people would come to you?

Mike Doehla (47:42):
Yeah, I didn’t. Maybe kind of weird and not normal now that I didn’t DM anybody. So like people who would engage with my posts, I wasn’t like, “Hey, thanks for engaging. Do you have any questions about nutrition?” I didn’t do any of that. I was just like, “Here’s some information; here’s a post. Here’s this; here’s that.” And if they DMd me, I would give them the information. But I looked back a while back at some of my old messages; man, it was so bad. It was—someone would be like, “Tell me about the program.” Copy, paste information, next. Copy, paste information, next. Copy, paste information. I didn’t have good follow up. I had systems. We were just very lucky that we were the attractive thing for those people at that time. And they either joined or they didn’t. Looking back, I’m like, man, I wish I had better follow up. But also, maybe as weird as it sounds, maybe that confidence to not go and follow up was attractive for people. They were like, “What is this? Like, he just gave me the information, and he doesn’t care if I joined?”

John Franklin (48:42):
The late 90s, Abercrombie and Fitch grind; just being the cool kid at the bar.

Mike Doehla (48:48):
And that wasn’t purposeful. It was just: I’m busy answering the clients that I have, and the ones who are coming in—I didn’t care nearly as much about the potential customers as I did the current ones we had.

John Franklin (48:59):
So you weren’t doing outbound, but we talk—something that’s talked about a lot in the fitness business: communities like boundaries. Letting your clients know that you have up to 48 hours to respond to a request. It sounds like you were not about boundaries. Sounded like a big part of your strategy was answering people as immediately as possible. Do you think there’s something to that? And do you recommend that every fitness pro has no boundaries? Like

Mike Doehla (49:27):
Like yeah, to start. Until you start crushing it. Yes, and call me controversial: This boundary conversation is such bullshit. Again, it’s coaches and trainers and RDs who just don’t want to do what’s actually helpful for people. They want to build the company that they want, not the company that customers need. And in this world where people are so confused about food, you have to be there. You have to be fast. The best—I mean, dude, I’m so probably annoying to people about it because I’m like, “You have five clients, and you’re telling me it takes you two days to get back to people? You’re not checking your emails because you read some book about how email should go away. Tim Ferriss is your role model for a four-hour workweek. Like, get off that. You didn’t earn that yet. You need to give your customers what they need, and you need to anticipate that because they don’t even know what they need. And a lot of times that takes constant attention. And if you’re trying to make it, I’m sorry to say, that’s what it’s going to take. And the people who didn’t do things like this and still made it out are the survivors who you should not try to emulate, because that’s not probably as likely as being all-in is.”

John Franklin (50:47):
And so, we’re getting close to an hour here. I don’t want to keep you over. You definitely have an untraditional approach to marketing growing a company. You’ve done it differently, and it worked out really well for you. If people are listening to this, they’re resonating with it, they want to learn more, they want to understand a little deeper how to be more like you, where are you sending them?

Mike Doehla (51:11):
I mean, I don’t know. Instagram, but dude, people can message me and ask me any question. And I mean that. Like message me, talk to me if I said anything that you want to know about or you have questions about. Maybe my thoughts on a business decision you ought to make. Odds are I’ve seen some version of it. So just message me. I know it’s not going to be 10,000 of you, so don’t think it’s going to be 10,000. Just ask the question because I love that.

John Franklin (51:36):
Something went really right if there are 10,000 people messaging you after this. So, I hope there are. But yeah man, I appreciate you taking the time to do this. I appreciate you staying in touch with the industry even though now you are officially retired. And if you guys want to reach Mike just @MikeDoehla on Instagram, and you can just put his name in Facebook, and he will show up. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about running a profitable gym, just go to and click the book a call button where you can learn from many successful fit pros. And if you got value out of this, please like and subscribe. It helps us reach other gym owners and share cool stories and cool business systems and people doing unusual things like Mike here. So that’s all for this week. We will catch you next week. Goodbye.

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