Two-Brain Radio: Darren Thornton

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Mateo: 00:04 – Hey, it’s Mateo of Two-Brain Marketing. On this edition of the Two-Brain Marketing podcast, I’m talking with Darren from CrossFit Defy. You’ll learn about his experience transitioning from a Regional-level CrossFit athlete to an owner of a brand-new CrossFit box. You’ll also learn about his experience in the Founder Phase and you’ll hear about how in the last four months he spent $2,500 on ads and made $17,000 in front-end sales. So you don’t want to miss this. Make sure to subscribe to Two-Brain Radio for more marketing tips and secrets each week.

Greg: 00:38 – Two-Brain Radio is brought to you by Two-Brain Business. We make gyms profitable. We’re going to bring you the very best tips, tactics, interviews in the business world each week. To find out how we can help you create your Perfect Day, book a free call with a mentor at

Greg: 00:54 – We’d like to thank another one of our amazing partners, Level Method. As a CrossFit gym owner, I know retention is key to keeping my business going for years to come. Retention is not easy, though. People want to see success, and if you don’t show them early, they’ll find a place that does. This is where Level Method comes in. With Level Method, you are now able to guide your members through an amazing structure that’ll give them a path to success. Once you have success, you instantly have motivation for them to continue, which will now be delivered to your members. Start systemizing the creation of powerful moments for your members today. Go to to book a free call.

Mateo: 01:32 – Hello, welcome to the Two-Brain Marketing podcast. I’m your host, Mateo Lopez. I’m one of the digital marketing mentors at Two-Brain Business. Thank you for tuning in. This is your weekly dose of digital marketing magic. And in today’s episode we have special guests, Darren Thornton, owner of CrossFit Defy, and you want to learn about his experience and how over the last four months he spent $2,500 on ads and he’s made $17,000 in front-end sales. So we want to learn all about that right now. So Darren, how are you?

Darren: 02:04 – I’m good, thanks.

Mateo: 02:05 – So for those listening, tell us a little bit about you, where you’re from and a little bit about your business.

Darren: 02:11 – My gym is in Canada, but I’m originally from England. I was in the British Royal Marines commandos for about six years and I left that to pursue the kind of athlete lifestyle that CrossFit was giving, you know, the old Regionals trip, the competitions around the world, that kind of thing. And then sort of end of last year, 2018 was my best year, but it still really wasn’t accomplishing much long term. So it led me to go onto my next passion, which was, you know, to open my own gym.

Mateo: 02:41 – Wow. So did you find CrossFit during your time in the Royal Marines?

Darren: 02:45 – Yeah, just towards the end. It wasn’t as big back then as it was in the States and the U.S. military. But we were kind of doing it on our own and I really wanted to compete and get good at it. So I actually left the Marines to follow competing in because I would find that I would get into a bit of a rhythm, then we’d go on a deployment or a training exercise and you know, you wouldn’t get into the gym for a month or two. So, you know, I really wanted to kind of pursue that passion while I was young still.

Mateo: 03:13 – Wow. So you’ve been to Regionals and kind of did the competition circuit for a little bit then?

Darren: 03:18 – Yeah, so I ended up Regionals in a team. I didn’t quite make my individual goal of getting there as individual. I was very close in 2018, like top 250 in the world in the Open, but not for my region unfortunately.

Mateo: 03:31 – Wow. I mean that’s still amazing, it’s an amazing feat for sure. OK, so then, so you’ve been in the scene then for a while and then you know, what made you want to take the switch?

Darren: 03:43 – Yeah. My first job actually, I was doing some coaching at my local gym back home, and then I moved out to the Middle East when I left the military. I lived in Kuwait for about almost two years before moving to Canada. And I was—

Mateo: 03:56 – As a civilian, like not in the military?

Darren: 03:58 – That was in the military. I just went over that as a civilian, yeah. Kuwait, you know, a different lifestyle for sure. But it gave that opportunity in the Middle East is very focused towards training. I coached, I trained, I went home, I slept. It’s a good routine to get into there. And there’s no kind of distraction if you will. So that worked well for me. Then, you know, I moved out, I moved to Canada. I’d kinda been, you know, I’ve been involved in like four or five different gyms and I’ve kind of seeing what people do right, I’ve also seen not necessarily done right. And I just felt like I could, you know, hopefully do all the right things and give my members and build something up for me and my family that could, you know, basically sustain us. My wife is also a medical doctor, so for her she kind of sees sick people on a regular basis and she’s very into CrossFit, too, so it kind of went hand in hand that we could do something that is for the people who want to help themselves as well.

Mateo: 04:58 – Awesome. All right. So then you traveled, you were competing, you opened this business. So how long has your gym been open?

Darren: 05:05 – 10 months.

Mateo: 05:07 – Oh, so you’re brand new still?

Darren: 05:08 – Yeah, September. We opened last year.

Mateo: 05:10 – Oh, baby business. It’s brand new. Wow. OK. So then, what motivated you to join Two-Brain? Did you sign up with Two-Brain before you opened the doors or right after or?

Darren: 05:21 – No, unfortunately I didn’t. I kind of knew I needed some help just on, you know, running a business properly. But I didn’t really know much about Two-Brain back then. About a few months into opening the gym, I realized that I needed a bit of direction. So I had some small stints with some other mentoring company; didn’t quite fit me, didn’t quite work for what I was looking for. And then I came across—I actually came across a blog of you guys, the marketing side of the Two-Brain, and I can’t remember which one it was exactly now and then I kind of delved it and found out about Chris Cooper and had a look at one of these books and I was like, OK, this is everything that I believe the gym should be run like. But I just didn’t really have the, I dunno, the competence in implementing it all sort of and how to do it.

Mateo: 06:10 – Well I’m curious to hear a little bit more about how, you kind of mentioned this, being a part of all these different gyms, especially in training in the circuit. You know, you are probably exposed to a lot of different high-caliber athletes and different approaches to training and methodologies. How did all that inform what you wanted to create?

Darren: 06:30 – Well, I’m not interested in creating a gym of competitors. Anybody that, you know, is this business realizes that that’s such a small niche of people. They’re also the toughest kind of people to deal with too. And they’re the ones who don’t necessarily need—you don’t get the same amount of satisfaction of what sort of changing their lives if you will, right? So I find a lot of gyms or some gyms that I’ve been a part of really kind of have that competitive feel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super in for competition and you know, my classes, you know, we work super hard, but it’s not about—that’s not the end goal of black, you know, achieving something like Regionals, or obviously that’s not around, but you know, the Sanctional events or anything like that. So yeah, it was just kinda creating one of those gyms that has that as a mindset, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Right. It’s about seeing people, you know, do their first ever box jump because—and they’ve been freaking out about it for the last two months. That kind of thing kind hypes me a little bit more than, you know, seeing somebody who’s a gr
eat athlete who snatches 275 pounds.

Mateo: 07:40 – Yeah. No, that makes sense. Yes. And it is tough. You can make us successful gym pumping out competitive athletes. But it’s tough, it’s a different approach, right?

Darren: 07:52 – It’s a different approach, and you need to be in the right areas for that, I think, the right niche as well. Right. There’s only a few of them places I think around the world.

Mateo: 08:01 – Definitely. OK. So what was life, like, you know, it wasn’t too long ago, right? You opened the doors in that Founder Phase, so what was life like doing it on your own and then what kind of differences did you see once you started going through the mentorship process?

Darren: 08:18 – The Incubator was amazing. It just laid out the whole steps of how do you set this up? And I had a lot of these things prior set up. I’d started writing system, I’d started doing this. It was a little bit disjointed. The biggest thing for me was having the marketing section of the Incubator because we had a tough winter here in Canada, really, and really didn’t see sort of January, February, March many members at all joining. So I had a few people who’d followed me from a previous gym and we were pretty low on our membership. Doing OK. We have a model where we do quite a bit of private coaching, which helps. It was difficult to see where the next person was coming from. I tried some online advertising myself on Facebook and that kind of stuff. And I don’t really think that it worked because it was the wrong setup or it didn’t work cause we was so young and nobody really trusted us. I actually believe that that was a big part of it too, a new gym, you know, saying click this, you don’t really know much about us, you know, you can only get so much off a website. Just now having ,you know, a steady stream of people coming on board and we can have a chat to, you know, discuss what we’re all about. We have a pretty extensive blog that me and my wife kind of write once a week. And I feel like just having that on the back end, people now come in and they know a little bit about us. Our blog’s pretty personal about what we are, who we are and what we believe in, and I feel like that coupled with, you know, the right approach of doing the Facebook marketing, how it should be done has really sort of helped us to see a nice steady growth, a rapid growth over the last sort of four months.

Mateo: 09:49 – Yeah, that’s awesome. And I think that’s great that you are creating that content. You have insight that not a lot of people have with the methodology, you know, and so I think creating that content’s probably very valuable for people who do want to try CrossFit and who do want to try this and see if it’s going to work for them to reach their health and fitness goals. So that’s great. All right, so it sounds like it was better laid out in terms of how you should approach creating the systems, the staff manual and some of the processes. It sounds like the Incubator helped you narrow the focus and and have a step-by-step plan on how to do some of those things. It sounds like online ads gave you also more structure on how to set this thing up properly in conjunction with all the other, you know, marketing that you’re doing and that’s what blogging is. You are creating content, marketing, putting your message out there. So that’s awesome. In your words then, what is it—I want to hear more about the model that you have and we’ll talk about that right now I think in a second, but what is it that you sell and how do you sell it?

Darren: 10:49 – We sell a way for people to get better at life. And that’s kind of what we come from. And depending on what your goals are, what your lifestyle is like, you’re 55 years old and you’re worried that you won’t keep up to your kids no more or your potential grandchildren that are on the way, or if you’re, you know, somebody who does want to take CrossFit to a little bit of a level of local competition, that kind of thing. And everywhere in between. We have a lot of our members like to play pick-up hockey leagues and baseball and that kind of thing. So you know, having at least three or four workouts with those a week is going to help them get better at that, and that’s kind of what we—that’s the angle that we come from. In terms of selling it, we just want to meet people where they’re at, guide them through the right process. That’s always going to start with some one-on-one training and then depending on, like I said, where they’re at is going to be how much of that we do and then what kind of combination or, you know, hybrid membership we give them or if they’re just looking for kind of group class and they love that experience, we love the kind of skill sessions and just adding to that for people because you know everybody who’s done them can’t rave about them enough not because it’s like just having that one on one, even for 30 minutes is really going to help them progress in everything else at the gym. I think most people come to us with a goal of getting healthier, fitter, stronger. Losing weight is obviously primarily the main focus for most people, but then once they get into it, they want to learn how to do all these CrossFit moves and that then becomes more of a focal point, which is really good, where you can focus more on what can you do with your body rather than what does your body look like or weigh.

Mateo: 12:21 – So how do you structure your service offering, then? You mentioned the personal training kind of bias almost. So how do you set it up?

Darren: 12:28 – So we do have some hybrid memberships. So we have a once a month, one-on-one training plus group classes. We have a two times a month or four times a month. And that obviously would be weekly one to ones and then group training. They’re kind of like our main hybrid. And then we have, you know, some other offerings of just classes only or just personal training only, and it kind of depends on what the member wants. We have a lot of members who would just like to go personal training only. And then we have a lot of members that are just group classes only. So we cater a lot around sort of what the member wants in that terms, you know, for us, the more one-on-one contact we can get with a member, the better we can help them, you know, the more we can help them. I do believe that we are as much of a relationship business as we are a fitness business, right, and if we don’t build that relationship with somebody, there’s no way that I can help them in the long run. You know, I want to know if they’ve got problems at work or at home, family, children because you know, we might be able to offer a different service that still gets them moving towards their goals.

Mateo: 13:32 – Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with that. What is your front-end offer for new people? Do they come in with the hybrid or how do people come in?

Darren: 13:40 – So we’re working with the six-week challenge kind of offer at the front for our advertising. As soon as somebody comes in, I tell them that the six-week challenge is purely a way of onboarding you into the gym and getting to see if you like and understand, sorry, you like and enjoy what we offer at the gym. It’s going to start off with, you know, a number of one-on-one sessions and then it could go into group only for a four-week period or it could go for a mixture of group and one on one. It’s all depending on where the person’s at.

Mateo: 14:14 – Let’s talk about that a little bit more. Cause you know, it sounds like you’ve got a pretty good ROI on your online funnels and advertisements. So what is the process, a lead comes in, they inquire about the six-week offer, what happens?

Darren: 14:31 – Well, I think that the thing I want to definitely make note of is that our process is not perfect. We have a lot of holes because at the moment I’m mainly doing everything. Up until about a week ago I was doing, you know, maybe 27 classes a week and then 20 to 30 one-on-ones a week as well. So my time was pretty limited. I recently just hired—I’ve had a coach f
or a couple of months. I’ve recently hired another guy, but this is less than perfect. Just basically when people come through, I’m going to get a notification straight away. I try and give them a call straight away and then from there I’m going to book them in for the No-Sweat Intro and then basically just go through what they’re looking for and you know, prescribe them what I feel like’s the best option for them. Recently I’ve kind of not brought our sort of offer, sales binder out and I kind of really just go with I’m going to prescribe this to you, and I feel like this is the best way. I don’t have packages that I’m now offering as much. It’s more, Hey, we should do four sessions, three sessions, two sessions, see how we go from there. Then we add another session if we need it and it’s very much, you know, very individual for everybody. It’s not perfect because I could definitely follow up a lot more on the leads that I don’t call and speak with the first or second time. There’s just a time restraint where, you know, I need to kind of prioritize certain things. And as long as, you know, I’m getting a steady stream—and it’s like anything, I find if I sit down for a couple of hours, then my ROI is going to be, you know, a hundred times better than if I’m only doing it once a bit. So the more you hustle with it, you know, you definitely get the results.

Mateo: 16:08 – Yeah. And obviously your gym is so new, you’re still in that Founder, Farmer Phase. So yeah, time is definitely gonna be the limiting factor, which I totally understand. But yeah, I think what you said, you’re not being as strict with the packages that you’re offering and saying, hey, you know what, let’s just start with these two sessions. You know? I think for—let’s just get a sale. Right? I think it’s not always a bad thing to just sell them on one or two personal-training sessions. If that’s, you know, what you think is the best fit for them for where they’re at in terms of just physically but also like in their head space. You know, they may not be able to buy a $400 package right then, but you can sell them on one or two. See how it goes. It’s easier to make that sale on the second time. Especially once you’ve given them a little bit of a taste. You’ve had one more time to build that relationship. So yeah, someone told me just sell them something and that’s still a win and gives you more time to develop the relationship and upsell them for later on.

Darren: 17:15 – Well, for me, if they’ve, you know, if somebody’s walked in the door, then something’s not right in their life. Right. It, whether it’s a really big thing, big emotional thing, or it’s just the fact that they, they just want to do something different. And, you know, they enjoy sweating and working out. Well if I let them go, then I’ve failed them in some way. You know, I thoroughly believe that for the majority of people that come to the gym, we do have the answer, and it’s just, you know, I just need to get them to see that, to understand the value of what we provide. Because you know, you can go to a big-gym gym, and it can be very different. You’re buying access to a facility rather than you know, coaching and mentorship in the fitness space. So yeah, it just see what we can get, some people, you know, obviously budget’s a problem, so it’s like, OK, let’s just do one by one. Let’s do one a week and completely forget the six weeks and just see how we can get you going for this period of time.

Mateo: 18:10 – Yeah, no, I love that exactly what you just said. You said, I was trying to say it, you said better than I just said it and that’s exactly what I want to say. Awesome. So how have you—what is your process for—’cause this is something I think is a challenge for a lot of people. It’s like, yeah, I want to do this, but it’s still just me. I’m still coaching all the classes. I’m still doing all the admin. I’m still doing all the sales. Like I understand I need to follow up more. I understand I need to level up, but it’s still just how do I find that time. So how are you hiring and finding these new coaches as you’re bringing on new help?

Darren: 18:48 – Oh, that’s the—I think everybody knows that’s the toughest thing.

Mateo: 18:53 – Right? And that’s why I, yeah, 100%. That’s why I’m pressing you on it; I want to know what your experience has been like.

Darren: 18:59 – So my experience has been, the first hire I made just fell into my lap. He came to an Open workout back in March or whenever the end of the Open was. We kind of chatted. He was looking to transition from a gym that he worked at which wasn’t CrossFit-based. He’d started a bit of CrossFit. He had a full-time job, so he just wanted some part-time work. So that worked really well for me at that time. He’s ended up being really, really good. The kind of person who I would be happy to be like a general manager eventually when we get to that level, if he ever decides to make it a full-time career. The next person I hired lasted only about a week and I realized just wasn’t a good fit and so mutually we decided it wasn’t going to work because you know, everything on paper was really good. You know, the level of care and understanding of where my gym is at rather than, you know, where they’re at, was important to me. You know, my average age is definitely in the mid-forties. So, you know, because you can, you know, walk on your hands or do a muscle-up or you’ve won the CrossFit Games, doesn’t really matter to a lot of them. Right. So it’s kinda, you know, and then I’ve just gotten another person who I’m onboarding who’s kind of come from within the community but not directly within my community. So I’ve known him for a little bit but he’s been a member of another CrossFit gym. He’s recently transferred over here and you know, he’s in a later stage of life and looking to sort of transition into coaching. And for me it’s been a really good fit right now. And again, it’s just somebody who has a passion for this and a real care about other people as well as you know, what they can do in the gym. So I think for coaching staff’s been the hardest thing. Cause I wouldn’t hire—the biggest thing is I hire myself 12 months ago because I was too focused on the athlete. And I think some people like that in their gym. And I know, you know, the owner of my previous gym liked that, but even though I feel like I’ve always been a good coach and I’ve really enjoyed coaching and put everything into it, the minute that hour finished, I wasn’t—it was about my recovery, my sleep, my food, you know what I mean? It wasn’t so much about the bigger picture. I’m happy to admit that. And that’s all I got paid for. So it wasn’t like I was not doing the job that I was supposedly doing, but I wouldn’t hire that person.

Mateo: 21:24 – I think that’s a great—I’ve dealt with staff members like that for sure. Who, you’re right, it’s like as soon as the hour is done, I’m running the microwave cause I gotta get my carbs in because I have my second training session coming in and that’s tough because yeah, this is someone who obviously knows the methodology and the training and knows how to coach movement. But yeah, the focus is not necessarily in line with what the business’ focus needs to be, which I get, it’s tough. And so when you’re saying you’re onboarding this person, how are you planting the seeds and laying the foundation and saying hey, this is what I’m about. This is my mission. And yeah, if this all works out, this is my grand vision, this is my grand plan. And this is where you could see—like how are you communicating that as you’re bringing this person on?

Darren: 22:14 – Well, the best thing about this person is they’ve read every single blog that we’ve ever put out. I knew that because, I could see who’d been clicking on it. You know, viewing it. And also, you know, the love letters that I kind of write only once or twice a week. I’m not doing every day, but I write them once or twice a week and I could see who was reading them, who was clicking on the link, that kind of thing. And you know, so he’s very—
understands where we’re at. He’s also at the same stage of where our gym is at in life as well. He’s a similar demographic to my members. I’ve had him, you know, we’ve transitioned him as a member for starters, so he’s got to know everybody from that way. And then it’s just about, you know, our weekly meetings, kind of sharing our vision, sharing the way that we see coaching and looking for where they see coaching and see how we match on it and just making sure that everybody’s, you know, fully understanding sort of the way that we operate, basically. Not everybody would like it, some people love it and they’re the people that we want to, you know, I don’t know, I’m kind of willing to wait for them. Put a little bit of extra work in to make sure we get them, you know?

Mateo: 23:22 – Yeah. I mean, I that’s a good little nugget there, but you gotta be patient with it. I’ve been in situations where I’m desperate to alleviate some of the time constraints and find some available extra hours so I can work on the things that I need to work on, and made some hires that, you know, yeah, you gotta you gotta take your time with it because otherwise it’s just gonna cause more time and headache potentially in the long run down the line. So I think that’s great. And it’s also great that you have content, right? You are putting out your message and what you’re about so that it’s already kind of there for people to research themselves and look into it. And I think that’s awesome. So you’ve seen a great amount, an awesome amount of growth in the past, you know, just few months here and your business is new, but already you’re growing, you’re already starting to hire some new people, which I think is amazing. You’re starting to level up through the stages of entrepreneurship. What do you think has been key to your success in your growth so far?

Darren: 24:25 – There’s been a couple of things. Firstly, you know, Two-Brain has definitely guided me to the way that I wanted to run things and the way that I wanted to structure the business, but it’s not a magic pill. You know, you don’t just sign up for it. And it’s a lot of work and we’ve worked very hard behind the scenes to make sure that we’re following, you know all the advice and using the material that’s available. Facebook marketing, I wrote it off prior to Two-Brain. I’d done a little bit of—I think I spent about $800 and I didn’t see or hear one person. A lot of it I was just boosting kind of blog posts and stuff to try and get our message out there a little bit more. So maybe that had some residual effects afterwards. It’s been really good for us. It’s given us a way to collect names, numbers, emails, and follow up with people. So the whole process as a whole, you know, the Incubator, the Two-Brain Marketing and then just working really hard to make sure we do everything that’s laid out there, it’s probably a combination.

Mateo: 25:25 – That’s amazing man. It makes me happy to hear that and I’m happy for you. And if people want to talk to you and learn more about what you’ve got going on over there and maybe if you have advice on how to get to Regionals, where can they find you?

Darren: 25:42 – So yeah, my email is Our website,, that’s got all our content on there and yeah, that’s about it. It’s just head down, eyes forward and keep plodding on for now, and trying to level up and get to where I want to be in the business eventually.

Mateo: 25:59 – Thanks so much for hopping on, Darren.

Darren: 26:01 – Thanks.

Speaker 1: 26:03 – Thank you for listening to Two-Brain Radio. Make sure to subscribe to receive the most up-to-date episodes wherever you get your podcasts from. To find out how we can help create your Perfect Day, book a free call with a mentor at

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