Billion-Dollar Scaling Strategies with Michael Abramson – EP 150

Interview with Michael Abramson

Brian Preston

Billion-Dollar Scaling Strategies with Michael Abramson

In this episode, I’m talking with Michael Abramson. Michael has spent over 20 years in the fitness industry and has successfully scaled multiple fitness franchisees.

He spent just under a decade at D1 Training, where he wore a few hats – VP of Development and General Counsel, and eventually climbing the ladder to President. Under his leadership, D1 skyrocketed to the 59th spot on the Entrepreneur’s Top 500 Franchises list in 2018.

Post-D1, he stepped into the COO role of Xponential Fitness, the world’s premier spot for boutique fitness brands, boasting ten distinct brands and a whopping 2,500+ locations. Michael played a key role in getting the company to a $1 billion IPO valuation.

Today, he is the President of Stark – a fast-growing network of high-performance health solutions which integrate concierge medicine with nutrition, training and mobility.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

✅ Michael’s fascinating journey from powerlifting and music production to becoming a mastermind of scaling businesses.

✅ A blueprint on how to set growth goals for every stage of your business.

✅ A behind-the-scenes look at what it feels like to ring the bell at the NYSE for a billion dollar IPO!

One-on-One Time with Michael Abramson!

Want to get some one-on-one time with Michael? He’s offering a 15-min complimentary call to all Lifestyle Investor listeners. CLICK HERE to book your session today!

Featured on This Episode: Michael Abramson

✅ What he does: With over 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, Michael Abramson is a seasoned leader who has successfully scaled and developed multiple fitness franchises. As the current President of Stark, a fast-growing network of high-performance health solutions which integrate concierge medicine with nutrition, training, and mobility, he oversees the strategic vision, operations, and growth of the brand, while ensuring legal compliance with cogent infrastructure development.

Previously, he was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Revenue Officer of Xponential Fitness (NYSE: XPOF), where he played a key role in taking the company public and expanding its portfolio of boutique fitness concepts. He also led D1 Training’s franchise model from its inception to becoming one of the most successful franchised fitness brands in America. Michael is a highly sought-after advisor, board member, and investor in the fitness industry, with a passion for organizational development and innovation. He is also an active advocate for the care of our veterans, serving as a strategic advisor for the University of Health and Performance / FitOps.

💬 Words of wisdom: You need to know what your your ground rules are for growth. Do you want to build to scale to exit? Do you want to build to scale for an investment, to take some chips off the table? Or are you building to hold in perpetuity and live on residuals? Each one of those goals sets a very different path on how you build the business. So, look at the unit level economics, and then determine what are the rules of the game and what’s my win at the end of this. That creates the trajectory.” – Michael Abramson

🔎 Where to find Michael Abramson: LinkedIn | Instagram

Key Takeaways with Michael Abramson

  • Being a “relationships collector.”
  • Growing up among Hell’s Angels, mafia, and skinheads.
  • Excel at what you do, then pursue your desired roles.
  • $1 billion valuation and expansion during COVID.
  • Ringing the bell at the NYSE.
  • “What’s my win at the end of this?”
  • Joining Stark and team growth strategies.
  • Stark’s competitive edge in human longevity.
  • Rubbing shoulders with Jay-Z’s circle.

Michael Abramson on the Keys to Successfully Scaling Your Business

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Read the Full Transcript with Michael Abramson

Justin Donald: What’s up, Michael? Great to have you on the show, man.


Michael Abramson: You, too. Appreciate you having me on. Looking forward to connecting.


Justin Donald: Yeah. Well, there’s a ton of stuff we can dig into. I think it’s really fun, just some of the circles that you and I run in, some of our mutual connections. One of the cool things about meeting you when we first connected, and I think our first introduction was via The Selfless Givers, right? That’s how we met. And I think we had some mutual friends. But one of the craziest stories is that you know someone from my hometown that I went to high school with, that I’m friends with from back in my childhood days at the church we grew up at. And he’s one of your best friends.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. He was in my wedding. I was in his wedding. I mean, talk about a really small world because we met in Chicago, and then you and I met when I was living in Southern California. So, it’s like worlds colliding.


Justin Donald: Well, that is just such a fun little small-world phenomenon playing out in real life. And I’m excited to talk more because you’ve got such a fun life. I mean, the people that you know, the parties you go to. I mean, I think the other day you were telling me about that you were at a party and Snoop Dogg was there and I think you were hanging, you know, Aaron Rodgers was there. So, I know you’re getting invited to these who’s who parties. How did you make the invite list for these? How do you get to go to all these cool parties?


Michael Abramson: I’m a very cool guy. I don’t know what to tell you. I’m just a naturally charming human being.


Justin Donald: Well, there it is.


Michael Abramson: No. You know, I think you overstate my friendships but I do have a lot of cool friends. I think I’m a relationship collector. I tend to find value in people and just the relationship in general, not what I can strip mine out of the relationship, which oftentimes allows me to have even more bigger and more in-depth relationships, particularly with people that are constantly sought after because people are asking them for things all the time. And I try not to ask people for things.


Justin Donald: Well, that’s the differentiator because for you, you’re always adding value, always asking like, who do you need to know? Who can I help you connect with? And your network is incredible. And by the way, like you, when people say, “Hey, Justin what do you collect?” I don’t collect trinkets. I don’t collect stuff. But what matters to me are relationships. And I do, you know, this sounds funny but I like to collect relationships. I like to get to know people. Like, that’s fun for me. And you’re a master at it.


Michael Abramson: Well, I like the story behind people, particularly people that are accomplishing things because they tend to have a really unique story or vantage point. Bebe 3:00, my wife, used to hate – I think she understands it now. She used to hate when I say I hate nice guys because there’s never anything good to say about them and there’s never anything bad to say about them. They just kind of exist. And I think it really stems from the fact that growing up I had a really colorful childhood. My dad had a lot of really colorful friends. My dad was a bit of a hooligan. I grew up training with him and guys, people on our powerlifting team were in the Hells Angels or there’d be mafia guys running around. I didn’t spend every second of the day with them but I was definitely exposed to a lot of those types of characters. And it caused me to really appreciate unique individuals. And so, I love being around people like that. Not criminals, just interesting people.


Justin Donald: Yeah, you live the life of Sons of Anarchy, I feel like. Right?


Michael Abramson: Yeah. You know what’s so funny, too? I don’t think I ever told you this when I was managing bands, one of the bands that I managed, we placed eight songs on the Sons of Anarchy. I think it was season three. Because it was a Celtic punk band called Flatfoot 56, and it was when they were fighting the Irish Mob that we got eight songs synced down there.


Justin Donald: Wow. That’s incredible. And no, you did not tell me that. And I feel like every time we hang out, I learn these cool new things that I’m like, “How did you not brag about all this cool stuff that you’ve done?” And by the way, you don’t only collect relationships, you collect really cool careers too because we should get into these. I mean, the people that you know from bands to powerlifting to becoming an attorney, to becoming a CEO of a major brand. Like, all the stuff that you’ve done helping take a company public, I mean, I want to get into all of it because your career is incredible.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. So, I was kind of lucky. My dad was a world-champion powerlifter in the 80s and 90s, and a lot of his teammates were also world champions. My uncle’s a country songwriter. He was the bartender at the Bluebird Café in Nashville from ‘86 to like 2000. He wrote Alan Jackson’s first number-one single Here in the Real World in ‘89.


Justin Donald: Wow.


Michael Abramson: Then 25 years later, he had another three or four number ones. He wrote How We Don’t Care for Tim McGraw, which had Keith Urban and Taylor Swift on it, Redneck Crazy, Tyler Farr, Neon Lights. Anyways, so I got exposed to a lot of cool things as a kid. So, I was really lucky. I don’t think everyone gets exposed to as many cool things as I did.


Justin Donald: So, what did that lead to in terms of like expectations for what you’ll do? I know powerlifting was a really important part of your life. Still is an important part of your life. I know that getting into the music scene was important for a period of time. So, what did it look like? When did you decide to kind of pursue those versus pursuing the entrepreneurial ventures?


Michael Abramson: Yeah. Well, with powerlifting, I was kind of born into it. And what I found was, as a 5’9 Jewish guy, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for upper-level athletics. So, if I wanted to compete, I needed to lift heavy things. But in reality, powerlifting has helped me more professionally than almost anything else. When I was in law school, I saw an article about a guy who was raising money like a walkathon using powerlifting. His phone number was there, so I figured he wanted strangers to call him. So, I called him. He knew who my dad was. He had heard of me. We started training together. He turned out to be the president of the Chicago Bar Association and an alum with my law school. Yeah, and he helped open doors for me. And then I started working as general counsel and VP of Development for D1 Training, a high-end sports performance company, co-owned by Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, all those guys. And part of the reason why I got the job was because I knew my way around the weight room and I don’t watch any pro sports, really. So, it was a running joke. I’d meet all these pro athletes but I would only talk training with them. I never talked anything about sports with them and I’d love to throw down in the weight room all the time. And so, powerlifting has been a huge benefit to me. And so, yeah, I’ve been really grateful for it.


Justin Donald: That’s awesome. I love it. And so, for a period of time, though, you thought you were going to get into music or you did get into music, right? You were managing bands and doing some work there. Talk about that season of your life.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. So, music is my true passion. I love music and I love training. And when I was in college, I started to put on a few events, nothing major, and I lucked out. One of the guys, his name’s Josh Kear, ended up becoming a big songwriter and I started doing a little bit of work with him. He’s gone on now to get five Grammys for Country Song of the Year. He wrote Before He Cheats, Need You Now, Two Black Cadillacs, Drunk on You, Drunk on a Plane, anything that where you’re drinking, he’d probably written it, which then led him to a little bit of management but more putting on events. And so, there’s a bar in Chicago called Joe’s Bar. It’s a huge venue for country music. I became friends with the owner, Ed Warm, who’s just the nicest guy on the planet. We started putting together songwriter sessions called The Circle Sessions. We were flying up people from Nashville. Probably the first event we ever did had Shane McAnally, who Shane’s written a ton of big hits. He was host of NBC’s Songland. He wrote Somewhere With You for Kenny Chesney. He wrote half of Kacey Musgraves album, produced her album. Brandy Clark was in that round. Brandy, for the first time ever, played Mama’s Broken Heart, which is a Miranda Lambert number one. And she and Shane this year launched a Broadway play called SHUCKED that was nominated for nine Tony Awards.


Justin Donald: Wow.


Michael Abramson: And so, I just stayed friends with all of them and I got in. Then I started managing bands with Christian Picciolini. Christian is an interesting guy in his own right. He’s one of the founders of the Northern Hammerskins, which is the world’s largest racist skinhead organization. So, me as a Jew working with him, he’s walked away from the movement a long time ago but we were working together to manage bands and he was a great guy to help teach me what to do. We also founded a charity together called Life After Hate. Me, him, Arno Michaelis, Sammy Rangel, Frank Meeink, a few other guys that went on to really work with to help de-radicalize fundamentalists, particularly skinheads but also non-skinheads. And so, music and powerlifting has really weaved its way into my life in a really indelible way.


Justin Donald: Wow. Yeah, that’s incredible. And so, for a period of time, you thought that was going to be the path, right? But then you’re like, “Hey, I want to go to law school. I want to pivot.” You thought you were going to be a lawyer but that was kind of short-lived. You became a lawyer, right, but it was short-lived before you transitioned more on the operations side. So, walk us through that journey of like, what was next after music. And obviously, I know music has stayed your heart and soul but professionally, what was next?


Michael Abramson: Yeah. So, the legal side let me start working with D1 Training and when I was with D1 Training, our mutual friend, Andrew Hudgins, one of the things that he taught me is if you really want to move up and create your ideal role, excel at the responsibilities you’re given and then ask for the things that you think are what you want to be doing. And so, at D1, I was excelling as an attorney and partnership side, which then let me start getting into the operations piece. And so, I started to get to advise them strategically on different things, which allowed a real segue over to ops, which really since then hasn’t stopped because I went from being president of D1 Training to Chief Operating Officer of Xponential Fitness and their Chief Revenue Officer and most recently President of a company called Stark. So, yeah, it’s been great. And when you say I was an attorney, I tell everyone this, I’m like, “I was an attorney. I never said I was a good attorney but I was an attorney. I passed the bar.”


Justin Donald: I think you’re good enough to be given high-profile positions. And it’s powerful to see you pivot from, I mean, I feel like most people get typecast into the attorney role and that’s it, right? Like, it’s hard to get out of it but the skill set does lend itself well to operations. And I think that there are a lot of very successful attorneys or attorney, background of attorney that end up running different companies. So, I think that that’s a common path but I think most attorneys don’t ever fall out of that line of practicing law.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. I think most people in life and attorneys maybe are the most miserable. I think most people in life just accept limitations really quickly and their imagination, no one ever works to expand their imaginations. And I kind of felt this way going into law school and I was President of the Student Bar Association when I was in law school. So, I got to talk to incoming students all the time. And I used to tell them, “Always, there’s two immutable facts. One, only the top 5% can be in the top 5%. Everyone else has to hustle. That’s just a mathematical truth. Two, the law degree is probably one of the most versatile, if not the most versatile degrees out there because it gets you access to rooms, gives you credibility, but lets you get education and business and finance in operations.” I mean, all these different things come alongside of it and if you piece them together, you can really create something powerful but you’ve got to have that imagination.


Justin Donald: Yeah. And so, you started with operations with D1. How long were you there and how did you get recruited to Xponential? Because that’s big time. I mean, D1 is big name, big brand but Xponential is like huge in the space of franchises.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. And so, I was at D1 for just shy of a decade. I met the founder of D1 all because I gave a tour of my law school to a kid that I then became friends with after law school. And when I started my own firm, he introduced us. But moving from D1 to Xponential, a recruiter reached out. I usually don’t respond to recruiters. I said, “You’ve got 5 minutes, I’ve got a couple I can take a call. Otherwise, pounce end.” He called me, let me know what was going on. And they were actually looking for the President of Stride, not a COO at the time. They flew me out for an interview pretty quickly because I just happened to be going to Scottsdale for spring training. And they’re based in California. I’m like, “Hey, guys, if you want me out, do it now. Otherwise, it’s going to be tough for me to get there from Nashville.” I came out, I interviewed with Anthony Geisler, the founder of Xpo, and I got a call. I can’t remember if it was that day or the next day from the recruiter, and he’s like, “I don’t know what happened in there,” but he’s interested in US COO, not as President of Stride, which Stride’s a run-based brand. I am anti cardio anything. I was not really interested in Stride. I really wanted to meet Anthony because Anthony is kind of a legend in the fitness franchising space. And so, yeah.


Justin Donald: Tell people why. I mean, Xponential is a conglomerate of a ton of big brands in the space. So, tell everyone what else is part of it.


Michael Abramson: So, I’ll go a step back from Xponential with Anthony. Anthony founded or he took L.A. Boxing when it had only a couple of gyms, grew it I want to say to 100 or 150 locations, sold it to UFC. That became UFC Gyms. Anthony was then President of UFC Gyms, was leading that. He exited entirely, was sitting around bored, found Club Pilates at about ten locations, bought Club Pilates, started to grow it, and then he had the idea for Xponential, which was a multi-brand consortium with a shared service back end. And Xponential then added after Club Pilates and this is in no particular order added Pure Barre, CycleBar, Rumble, AKT, Row House, StretchLab.


Justin Donald: YogaSix. Wasn’t YogaSix a part of it?


Michael Abramson: Yeah. YogaSix is one of them. I used to have to go by offices because there were so many brands I couldn’t remember. There are ten brands. We grew to 2,500 locations and Anthony was the godfather of all of it.


Justin Donald: That’s unbelievable. Well, I feel like that would be a really fun podcast interview, so maybe…


Michael Abramson: I’ll make a connection.


Justin Donald: Yeah, you should. And by the way, for those of you that get a chance to listen to the Erwin McManus episode, which hasn’t come out yet but that is also thanks to Michael Abramson because he is the master connector and connected us.


Michael Abramson: I love Erwin. Did he tell you? I met Erwin in 2007. I interned with him for a few months.


Justin Donald: Oh, that’s so cool.


Michael Abramson: I graduated law school, bought a one-way ticket to L.A., my roommate threw out all of my stuff because I didn’t think I was coming back and I didn’t pack anything. I had to come back because I needed money but I had to live on some girl’s sun porch for five months and then came back.


Justin Donald: You are just full of stories. I love it. I love it. So, what was it like working side by side with this legend?


Michael Abramson: Anthony is unique. Anthony, he knows this, Anthony is a professional asshole. He is one of the most aggressive business guys I have ever worked with. That said, he’s almost never wrong with the decisions he’s making. And he understands numbers and he is able to distill the business down to very simple concepts, which then allows for really fast replication. And that’s what he does. You know, Xponential sells probably a thousand franchise territories a year at this point across all the brands. Yeah. It’s amazing.


Justin Donald: Unreal. That is a monster machine, if you will. And by the way, you got to go and ring the bell when they went public. So, talk about that because this is, I mean, part of the reason you are brought on is that you had the background to help them scale to a point where they could IPO.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. A key thing when you look at the way Xponential got the brands, every brand was through acquisition. There was no indigenous starting. So, we would take a concept typically at a young age and then grow it. But what it meant was there was not a lot of knowledge share across the brands. And there was a lot of disparity in all the systems the brands were using. And then we had real estate and construction. And you start looking at all the places where the franchisor supports but then you’ve got all these brands under one roof but they’re all using different processes. I’m a very process-oriented person and I, for better or for worse, I’m probably like Anthony, I’m a professional asshole, too. I’ve got very thick skin. If you look at the StrengthsFinders, command is in my top five and command says you feel no remorse imposing your will on other people. That’s the best summary I have of it.


Justin Donald: True story.


Michael Abramson: Yes. And so, I started the process of really trying to weave things together. And it wasn’t just me. There’s a team, right? And so, we spent about 18 months really working on the systems and then we went into IPO prep mode where we hired Deloitte to be our internal auditor, which is the most painful process on the planet.


Justin Donald: I’m sure.


Michael Abramson: They tell you every day you’re doing 20 things wrong and so you’re just constantly fixing things. COVID derailed us. We were trying to IPO in March of ‘20 and then we had to wait until July of ‘21. So, we basically did all the IPO prep work twice because we filed the private S-1.


Justin Donald: Oh no.


Michael Abramson: And then we had to maintain an updated with significant business changes because that brick-and-mortar fitness had some real upheaval during the pandemic. But because and this is really a testament to Anthony. Anthony is so aggressive during the pandemic. Rather than closing locations, we closed no locations permanently. We actually opened 250 locations in 2020 alone.


Justin Donald: Wow.


Michael Abramson: He knew the IPO was coming. He wanted to lean in but other major brands like Dave Long with Orangetheory, great leader but he was pulling back and Anthony’s going, “Yeah, people are pulling back, so let’s lean forward.”


Justin Donald: Yeah. Hey, that’s great foresight right there. What was the valuation? Had you been able to IPO the first time versus what was the valuation at the actual IPO?


Michael Abramson: I can’t give you the actual but it was at least double what we actually IPO’d at.


Justin Donald: Wow.


Michael Abramson: So, the pandemic, we IPO’d at just shy of a billion. If we IPO’d pre-pandemic, it would have been double that.


Justin Donald: Man, that’s a big difference but still that’s a massive IPO and you got to feel good. So, what was it like being on the floor and ringing the bell, having everyone stare at you, having news reporters capturing everything?


Michael Abramson: It’s exciting and anticlimactic at the same time. And if you know me really well, I hate getting dressed up. So, I had to wear a suit, which was torture for me. But it’s exciting because you get there and there’s all this energy and you’re doing these brand activations outside and you walk up. You’re on Wall Street and you walk up and you see the Xponential banner hanging on the stock exchange and these huge stages outside. It’s very kinetic. Then when you get in there, you’re hanging in the boardroom for a while with the chairman of the stock exchange, which is fun. Of course, I bust his balls a little bit because he gives a speech to the company beforehand. And as he’s walking out and I’m talking to him, I’m like, “So, how many times do you give that exact same speech every week?” And it was fun. But the thing is, you ring the bell, which opens the market but it takes like 2 hours for anyone to actually trade your product. And so, there’s a second bell that you have to ring, one’s the first official stock is traded and the actual price is set, which is usually, I mean, it’s televised but there’s not as much theatrics around it because it’s not up on the pedestal or anything. So, you ring them, you ring the bell on the pedestal, and then you sit around for 2 hours like, what do I do? Go outside, do the brand activation, yadda, yadda. But it was super exciting. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to go there and do it and be part of the team that made it happen.


Justin Donald: That’s so cool. And I know there are a lot of entrepreneurs, there are franchise owners, there are people that have multiple locations for their business. You know, maybe it’s not technically a franchise but they have many locations. What are some keys to success that you see as being able to scale profitably successfully? You know, a small organization to a large organization or a mid-sized organization to a large organization.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. So, it starts at the ground floor. You’ve got to look at unit-level economics. Your unit needs to be performing at an optimal level that’s not dependent on personalities inside the four walls because you can’t really replicate the personalities. You’ve got to have the – we used to say there’s three formulas to success in fitness franchising. You’ve got to have sales, marketing, and programming. And as long as you have those, you’re going to win. If you are dependent on a Mike Abramson or a Justin Donald because we’re so charismatic, larger than life, yada, yada, you’re going to cap out pretty quickly. And then you need to have what your ground rules are for growth. What do you want it to look like? Do you want to build to scale to exit? Do you want to build to scale for an investment to take some chips off the table? Or are you building to hold in perpetuity and live on residuals? Because each one of those goals sets a very different path on how you build the business. So, you look at the unit-level economics, and then you determine what are the rules of the game. What’s my win at the end of this? And that creates the trajectory.


Justin Donald: Yeah, that’s good. I mean, I love hearing the true science behind it. You know, what are the technical things that need to be done because was it 2,500 locations?


Michael Abramson: Yeah.


Justin Donald: That’s just incredibly large. And obviously, you can’t run that big of an operation without having many systems in place but your systems are all different because you have so many different brands, ten different brands.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. So, when we started to weave everything together, what we really saw is every brand should have the exact same processes outside of the sales piece because they all have different personalities. So, Club Pilates is a more subdued, refined experience with 12 performers in a studio, whereas a CycleBar is 50 bikes. You need it to be high energy, super active. And so, the sales process looks different. But to open it, to sell it, to find the location, to get into construction, and to open it, that process is effectively the same everywhere.


Justin Donald: That makes sense. Yeah. So, you can systematize part of it at scale for all pieces of the organization and then other things have to be modified specifically for that brand.


Michael Abramson: Right.


Justin Donald: Yeah. And so, at a certain point in time, how many people were being managed, like how many people were part of the infrastructure of Xponential before it went public?


Michael Abramson: I couldn’t give you the exact because I can’t remember but depending on where we were, it was between 400 and 700.


Justin Donald: Yeah. That’s huge.


Michael Abramson: Because we had corporate studios in addition to our every brand having their own team and then Xponential having its own team, that acts as the foundation of each of those.


Justin Donald: Yeah. And so, you’ve got corporate, you’ve got corporately-owned franchises, and then you have your franchisees who you’re probably not even counting in that count because they’re their own business owner.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. If you’re counting franchisees – so we had about 3,000 plus franchisees alone. Then if you count their team members inside of the franchise, you’re talking another 15,000 or so team members in addition.


Justin Donald: Wow. Yeah. That is a massive organization. Now, you had to have had a nice piece of the exit being a COO being brought in. You’re brought in a little bit later stage so they probably don’t have to give up as much equity. But I’ve got to imagine it was not a sad day for you when it comes to being public. And I know financially you had to do well. You don’t have to give us all the details. You can share what you want or not share what you want but you had enough that you didn’t have to rush into anything. And I think you were looking for what was next, right? So, I’m curious what that felt like to experience a windfall of cash. Was it more than you thought you’d get? Was it as cool of a feeling as you thought? Did the luster wear off pretty quickly afterwards?


Michael Abramson: The luster wore off really quick because I’m just not a money-driven guy and I don’t say that to disparage anyone that’s just trying to accumulate cash because I think it’s important to have really good residuals and wealth development. But that’s never my end goal. It’s really more the experience and the accomplishment. And I tend to be really, really bad at celebrating anything. I usually joke around when people bust me for it. I always say Vince Lombardi used to say, “You don’t make someone better by extolling their virtues.” It’s kind of a horsesh*t thing to say but that is the way I operate. And so, I have a hard time celebrating. So, it was exciting for a minute. And then we went through and my wife and I started looking around. We’re like, “Okay. What do we want to start doing next? Where do we want to start leaning?” And I thought I was going to be a social media star, which is I’m saying that half joking. One of our mutual friends, Andrew East, and his wife, have a big social media presence. And so, I was talking to Andrew about helping them with their brand development, which was a fun process.


Justin Donald: So, how did you land on what you’re doing now? I mean, you could have done anything.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. You know, I was consulting with a lot of companies. I was talking to Evelyn Webster a lot. I love Evie. She’s the CEO of SoulCycle. She’s awesome. And so, I go to her talking to Fritz Lanman. He’s the CEO of MindBody and ClassPass, been really kind of tossing around but the thing that was happening with consulting was I had great control of my schedule but I wasn’t building anything. And I like building things. And I happened to meet this guy, Todd Vande Hei, who I’m sure Todd listen to this. Todd is the lesser successful brother of Mark Vande Hei. Todd’s older brother, Mark, is an astronaut who holds the record for longest time in outer space.


Justin Donald: Wow.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. So, Todd can’t live up to that. But I met Todd through a unique organization called Alder, and Todd was running a really values-driven organization which appealed to me that married the medical or clinical side of life with fitness and looking truly at life optimization. So, not just let’s get you a six pack but let’s look, we’re going to draw your blood every 4 to 8 weeks. We’re looking at your hormones, your inflammation markers. We’re running the Boston lab, your micronutrient panel, your food sensitivities. We’re doing DEXA scans every six weeks, which like bone density and visceral fat, like all these things that are objective markers of health that you can’t lie about. And what he was doing was engineering truly healthy, optimized individuals. And I thought that was fascinating. And he was just such a nice guy. I mean, so no offense to you, Anthony. I’m sure you’re going to listen to this at some point. He was the antithesis of Anthony. Anthony was terrible to work with. He’s great to pal around with. Todd is a nurturer. And so, after going through this grinding experience with the IPO and then consulting, coming alongside someone like Todd who is really looking at how do I develop my team members was a really refreshing experience.


And so, yeah, we were sitting there at coffee one day and he just randomly asked me, “Hey, have you ever thought about running Stark?” And I’m like, “Todd, what kind of asshole would I be if I told you, ‘Yes, I have thought about taking your company from you.’?” I’m like, “No, I’ve never thought of it.” And he’s like, “Well, are you interested?” Because he’s thinking Todd personally has taken it to as far as he probably can, and he needs someone with the eyes of scale to figure out how do we grow this larger than it currently is. And so, that’s how I got involved.


Justin Donald: Oh, that’s awesome. I love that. And obviously, earlier stage presents some really cool opportunities for what that role is. And I know that you’re not motivated by money but there are aspects certainly of it that can create good quality of life and cool experiences. And I got to imagine that the package to get you was a pretty nice package.


Michael Abramson: Yes. We went back and forth a few times but he was very willing and accepting of my requests. And it’s nice to have someone whose seat you want to take and so it gives you something good to work against.


Justin Donald: Yeah, that’s awesome. And by the way, for you, when you’re in a position where financially you don’t need it, it makes deciding what you want to do and negotiating for what you would need to get to make it worth it kind of more fun because it becomes a game rather than like a survival necessity.


Michael Abramson: Yeah. It’s not this, “I’m trying to lever up on you because I need to get as much out of it as possible.” It’s, “Let’s create a really positive experience for everyone.” And at the time, I was actually working on a physical therapy concept with Greg Perry, who’s the old Head of Therapy for D1 Training. We sold. I didn’t mention this before. At D1, we sold our physical therapy business to Exos, which is a premier company. Greg went to run that with SVP at TB12. I reached out to him. I was like, “Let’s create a physical therapy company that’s a little bit more nuanced.” I reached out to Hyperice because I knew some of the guys there and was meeting with Anthony Katz, their founder. Anthony is just the nicest guy on the planet. Anthony wanted to do it, met with Jim Huether, their CEO. They went through a financing round. So, we kind of pushed pause and then I started at Stark and now come full circle. We’re in the process of bringing that entire concept back to life. And we’re looking at do we marry with Hyperice or do we marry with Therabody? Because I’ve got some tie-ins with Therabody as well.


Justin Donald: Oh, that’s fun. I mean, sky’s the limit. There’s a lot of, I mean, I believe in what you’re talking about. I mean, I’m a walking example of someone that’s doing all the blood work and is trying to optimize for health. And I just think that that is going to be one of the next huge, majorly commoditized industries.


Michael Abramson: Are you working with Human Longevity or someone like that?


Justin Donald: No. Well, it is someone like that. So, I have worked with Fountain Life.


Michael Abramson: Henry Robbins’ company.


Justin Donald: Yup. And then I have worked with EastWest Health, Regan Archibald, and there are a few others that I have interviewed. And maybe next on the docket for I like having kind of one of these new companies each year so I can see who’s kind of got the edge and what areas. And it’s been fun.


Michael Abramson: The thing that I’ve seen because we’re in the process of talking to Human Longevity about partnership is a lot of these companies, they provide an incredible service but they lack the ability to help you implement. It’s great diagnostics and if you have an issue, they connect you with great practitioners but day-to-day implementation is usually lacking, and that’s actually where Stark shines, is combining all those people and helping people to integrate the day-to-day.


Justin Donald: I love it. And by the way, I feel like the last time we were talking or hanging out, you were doing some sort of cool partnership or some program with Live Nation or you know the people there. You always know someone somewhere. And since I also love music and love some of this, isn’t that a group that you’ve worked with or you know a lot of them well?


Michael Abramson: Yeah. So, it was more Roc Nation. Roc Nation, which is part of Live Nation, one of my best friends who actually was my roommate because as a grown man, I made no money and we shared a bunk bed at the age of 27, Hank Fortner. Hank was the Head of Artist Management for Roc Nation, and we were working on some partnerships with them. I started working with Jay Brown, who Jay’s the co-founder of Roc Nation with Jay-Z, and he’s also one of the founders of Marci Venture Partners with Larry Marcus and Jay-Z. And I did a little bit of consulting work for Jay Brown on one of the companies they invested in through Marcy Ventures. Jay’s the nicest guy on the planet. And so, that partnership actually with Jay and then with Hank continues. I actually have some coaches with the Jonas Brothers right now getting them ready for their tour that they’re about to launch. So, we’re still in the mix.


Justin Donald: I love how you have time for like all these things that you love. You don’t cut them out, you keep doing it, and it’s just awesome. You stay closely connected with music. I’m just blown away by a guy like Jay-Z that can be so incredibly gifted on the artistic talent side of things. I still think he holds the record for most, let’s see, trying to think what it is. I think the most platinum albums.


Michael Abramson: Yeah, that sounds right.


Justin Donald: And just so many top hits to be that good there but to transition from an artist to an entrepreneur to like a true business mogul that has been able to scale Live Nation and other companies, different brands that he’s partnered with. I mean, that story is just incredible. I listened to his book on Audible and just I’m blown away.


Michael Abramson: He’s really sharp. I don’t work with Big Jay, so I’m not going to claim him as my best friend. Hank, though, is real tight with him. And when he was at Roc Nation was doing a ton of work directly with Jay. And he said Jay was so unbelievably sharp when it came to assessing business opportunities, partnerships, and creative structuring of the partnerships where it’s not one winning and one losing but a mutual win. And maybe because of the Jay-Z brand, he ends up a little higher but it’s not at someone else’s expense.


Justin Donald: That’s so cool. Yeah, I love that you can be at the pinnacle of your career and still try to create win-win situations that it’s not a zero-sum game and everyone can win. That’s awesome.


Michael Abramson: Yeah.


Justin Donald: Well, Michael, I feel like we can keep talking about life and travel and everything for hours on end. And I look forward to getting together again soon. We unfortunately have to wrap today but where can people learn more about you and find you?


Michael Abramson: That’s tough because I don’t do a ton on the social medias. I don’t know why. Maybe I just feel like people don’t need to hear anything I have to say. But I would say I’m trying to get a little bit more engaged on LinkedIn. So, find me on LinkedIn. I talked to Justin earlier. I am going to put out something for free for anyone listening to The Lifestyle Investor on five keys to how to franchise your brand or how to start a franchise concept since I’ve now done this a number of times and I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. But, yeah, do that and then I’ll put together a Calendly link. I’m open to talking to anyone, schedule time, and we’ll jump on a Zoom. And if I can help you, great. And if not, hopefully, we’ll just make a good new relationship.


Justin Donald: Love it. Well, hey, thanks so much for your time. Your stories are incredible. Your wisdom, your expertise is next level. And we’re lucky to have learned from you. So, thank you for spending an hour with us here today.


Michael Abramson: Thank you. And I think you overstate me way too much but I appreciate it. It makes me feel good.


Justin Donald: Well, I got to let people know how awesome my friends are. And, man, you are a shining star, and it’s good that people know it.


Michael Abramson: Thank you.


Justin Donald: Yeah. Well, I love ending every podcast episode with a question for my audience, which is this: What is one step that you can take today to move towards financial freedom, to move towards living a life that you desire that’s on your terms so it’s by design, not by default? Let us know what that is. We’d love to support you on your journey. What’s one thing here that you learned from Mike during our time can get you one step closer to where you want to be, to an ideal life, to financial freedom, to scaling your business or your franchise, and hit us up with it. We’ll catch you next week.

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