Ben Francis, Founder and Chief Brand Officer, Gymshark
Athletic Apparel Gone Viral
How Ben Francis and his high school friends used a screen printer and YouTube influencers to build a wildly successful clothing brand
At 16, he began building websites.
At 18, he became a regular at the gym.
At 20, he started sewing and screen-printing workout apparel in his garage.
By 26, when most adults are only on the cusps of their careers, Ben Francis had already launched a viral gym clothing line, served as its CEO, and stepped down in favor of a more creative role in the wildly successful company.
Today, the Gymshark founder works alongside 190 staff, including the high school buddies who partnered with him to launch the brand, bringing this unmistakable apparel line to customers in more than 130 countries.
And while it seems like this former pizza delivery boy magically rocketed to entrepreneurial stardom overnight (OK, he sort of did), his success can be traced back to a dedication to community building and an innate understanding of social media influencer marketing, long before it was a thing.
But it all started with amateur website building, a love for fitness, and a whole lot of YouTube.
Years before he was a CEO, Francis longed to make a name for himself in the fitness space. But the closest thing he had to investors were people calling to order a pizza, so establishing a clothing brand couldn’t have seemed less attainable.
Not to be discouraged by limited funds, Francis and his high school friends began a workout supplement drop-shipping business and quickly realized that there was an opening in the workout apparel market.
Dressing a bodybuilder and a skinny, weight-lifting newbie are two totally different jobs, especially when you’re going for form-hugging designs fit for a workout. Francis and friends, however, believed they could create a line that would be sleek, modern, and appealing to gymgoers of any body type.
“And so,” Francis says, “I bought a screen printer and a sewing machine and started to make the clothes by hand.”
The designs were an overnight sensation.
“People were seeing the clothes, and they were so iconic and unique, that it sort of started to spread like wildfire,” Francis says.
But the real secret sauce was the passion he and his friends had for YouTube.
In the early 2010s, YouTube was rising fast. People passionate about everything from movies to knitting, gaming to, yes, fitness, were creating video content and building communities around shared interests.
Francis and his friends were among the millions who joined online followings based on their hobbies, but stuck around for the personalities in the videos. One such fitness YouTuber who held their attention was Lex Griffin of Lex Fitness, whose channel now has over 440,000 followers. Another was Chris Lavado, whose channel has 65,000 subscribers today.
Realizing they could leverage the followings of others, Francis and his friends pursued a business strategy that put them on the map, and that they still use today.
They sent samples to Griffin, Lavado and other fitness YouTubers they admired, and hoped for a stamp of approval—and a video to prove it.
While the term “influencer marketing” has only recently entered into the pop consciousness, the principle has been around as long as marketing. Attracting the favor of a wealthy or influential person by showering them in gifts that define a brand is as a classic move, a point Francis illustrated by sharing some history of his hometown of Birmingham, UK.
For hundreds of years, the Jewellery Quarter in central Birmingham has been a hub for opulent accessories. Many jewelers open businesses in the Quarter, and the competition is fierce. But historically, there was one way to ensure that a brand’s name would be on everyone’s lips: become the first choice of royalty.
Frances explained that this principle of vying for favor worked then and still works now.
“They would provide a bunch of free jewelry to royalty so that people would associate that jewelry with the royalty and then hopefully back to the brand and go buy it,” he says. “It’s no different to what influencer marketing is nowadays.”
“I think it’s worked forever, and as far as I’m aware, I think it’ll always work.”
And so, like an ambitious jeweler in the 1700s, Francis sent off his product to curry favor with those who had the power to make his brand catch fire. And it worked.
“They absolutely loved it, and they’re still with us today,” he says. “That started, I guess, what you’d now call an influencer market for us.”
Today, Francis continues to leverage the audiences of athletes through an ambassador program that now includes such personalities as bodybuilder Matt Ogus, lifestyle and fitness vlogger Nikki Blackketter, and weightlifter Whitney Simmons.
Because of Francis’s early success in harnessing an influencer-generated market, Gymshark has never relied on investors for capital.
“We never needed investment,” he says. “So why complicate things?”
Francis recognizes, though, that there was also a component of luck at work. He entered the world of social media influencer marketing when it was still a young idea, and those with followings weren’t inundated daily with products in search of a boost.
“I do think it’s a hell of a lot more difficult than when we first started,” he admits. “It’s a completely different place now.”
But if he were to launch a new business today, a venture he says would be a fun challenge with the vastly changed online landscape, he knows exactly where he would focus his attention.
“Product is king at the end of the day,” he says. “I would focus on creating an absolutely brilliant and a gorgeous product because I think from that, it’s like a snowball effect.”
He believes that by designing a remarkable, unique, and stunning product, anyone can rise above the cacophony online.
“If you get someone’s attention with a genuinely brilliant product, people will wear it, people will use it, and people will talk about it.”
But for now, Francis is focused on the current community he has built.
Growing up, Francis loved attending events and expos in his hometown and dreamed of the day he would not only participate, but host his own. His belief in the power of person-to-person advertising was instilled in him as a young expo attendee and has continued to stick with him into his mid-20s.
“Even though the world is becoming ever more online, and 99.9 percent of what we do is online, there is always space for that human connection, and I think that’s really, really important, and it’s a real important thing to Gymshark.”
So in Gymshark’s very early days, when an opportunity to participate in an expo presented itself, Francis says that nothing could have stopped him from finding a way to join.
When he reached out to one of the coordinators to find out how much it would cost to get Gymshark a spot, he was quoted a price far more than they were able to afford at the time. But as Francis likes to emphasize, he plans hyper long-term and hyper short-term and lets the rest in between work itself out.
“This was 12 months in advance of the show, and I was like, ‘Right, yeah. We’ll have it. We’ll get that, and we’ll just sort of make it work,’” he says. “It was our dream to go to an event like that.”
And go they did, beginning a successful string of expo appearances that were initially in the UK, but rapidly branched out internationally until, eventually, they stopped going to expos and started hosting them.
“I literally think, ‘Let’s make the product that I love,’ and by default, I think other people would love, and let’s create the event that I would love to go to, and by default, I think that other people would really enjoy to go,” he says.
He also says that when it comes to events, making a profit is not the immediate goal. Just like the early days spent working a screen printer in a garage, Francis’s motivation is simply a desire to create something awesome. Something he loves.
“We just sort of think, ‘Right, what would we really, really love to go to? Let’s go make it happen. Let’s forget about the profit and loss at that point for that event. Let’s just go make something really, really cool.’”
But rapidly gaining a dedicated following, especially when selling a physical product, has its challenges. Francis says that Gymshark’s biggest challenge at the moment is keeping up with demand, especially when YouTube influencers or expo attendees are hyping them.
“We definitely made massive improvements in the last six to 12 months, but there’s still a long, long way to go,” he says.
Part of the Gymshark’s effort to keep up with growth meant Francis himself coming to terms with his right role within the company. As CEO, he quickly came to realize that he was in a position that he was not suited to fill.
“We were growing so fast, and the role of the CEO is very people oriented,” he says. “I’m very much an introverted person. I’m much more suited, and work better, in either a very small team or on my own where I can really dive into a project, focus on that thing and make it really special.
“As we were growing bigger, it became more and more evident to me that the CEO really needs to be a lot more of a strategist and a lot more of a people person than what I am.”
So Francis made the difficult decision that it would be best for him to step into the role of Chief Brand Officer instead. But the transfer of CEO power didn’t just happen overnight, which he feels helped build trust among himself and the staff. It happened over a period of about a year as Steve Hewitt, the current CEO, slowly took on more and more until he finally stepped fully into the role.
Of course, passing leadership on to someone else is always a humbling and challenging process, but it’s one that Francis has come to embrace as an opportunity to become more fully himself.
“I think it’s very important to be self-aware and to understand what you are good at what you’re not good at,” he says. “I’m a massive, massive believer of that.”
Today, Francis has the freedom to focus on product and vision, gathering small teams together to pursue new designs and strategies for the future.
So what’s next for Gymshark?
Francis says that they are always pursuing innovation and are currently in the process of designing new fabrics, as well as looking to branch out of the strictly apparel space.
And in an effort to keep avid followers and fans of the brand up to date, Francis has recently launched a vlog series of his own, giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Gymshark and into his world.
In the 10 years since Francis started creating amateur websites from home, his world has utterly transformed. But many things remain the same: a love of fitness, a passion for social media, and an unbreakable bond with his high school friends turned business partners.
The Gymshark brand invites each customer and avid follower to “Be a visionary.” And Francis is asking nothing of his followers that he hasn’t done himself. After all, where would Gymshark be without an enthusiastic pizza delivery boy who had the vision to buy a screen printer, and the boldness to show the world what he could create?
Ben Francis’s Tips for Success
Launching a brand new product on your own or starting your own business is never easy. No matter how large or small the venture, it requires vision, courage, and determination. But Ben Francis believes that there are three things any beginning entrepreneur can do to improve their chances of success.
- Surround Yourself With Support
Francis says he was once asked to share a story about a time when he was told that he couldn’t do something. He paused to think, but his mind came up blank. “That never happened, because I never surrounded myself with those people,” he says. Starting a business is a challenge, but with the support of people who inspire and motivate you, Francis believes that mountains are reduced back into molehills.
- Embrace Self-Awareness
Being honest with yourself and clear about who you truly are is one of Francis’s crucial steps to success. “Self-awareness is key,” he says. “I think it’s massive. You can only kid yourself for so long.” Without the ability to identify which skills you have in abundance and which you lack, you’ll be unable to build a team around you that complements your abilities and improves upon them.
- Play to Your Strengths
Once you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, Francis insists on the importance of allowing them to guide your decisions. “Could I do an operational…role for a little bit? Absolutely. I’m reasonably intelligent. I could manage,” he says. “But would I be able to do it for a sustained period really, really well? Absolutely not.”
Rather than forcing yourself to be something you’re not, Francis encourages all entrepreneurs to be honest about their strengths and find ways to play to them, even if that means relinquishing, as he did, the title of CEO.
- How interests in building websites, going to the gym, and sewing and screen printing combined to help him launch a wildly successful business
- How connecting with YouTube influencers helped Gymshark take off
- On using events to build community
- The biggest challenge Gymshark faces right now
- Why Ben traded the role of CEO for Chief Brand Officer
- On separating personal brand from company brand
- Why Gymshark has never taken investments
- What he would do if he were to start a totally new ecommerce brand today
- What his personal life is like now that he’s a successful business owner
- What’s next for Gymshark
Full Transcript of Podcast with Ben Francis
Nathan: The first question I ask everyone that comes on is how did you get your job?
Ben: How did I get my job? In terms of how did I start Gym Shark or in what context?
Nathan: Yeah. Like how did you find yourself doing the work you’re doing today?
Ben: Okay, cool. So when I was like 16, 16 ish I was like obsessed with making websites and things like that. I made a bunch of different websites, fitness social networks, little random generic websites doing whatever, and yeah just continuously did that. Then when I was about 18, 19, basically got into the gym and was massively obsessed with the gym, and lifting, and body building. I just wanted to be involved in fitness in some respect, so I was a delivery driver for Pizza Hut. I didn’t have much money or anything like that, or much clout I guess. I couldn’t afford to put stuff into at the time, couldn’t afford to put stuff up on the website, so what I did was I basically loaded every shop that you can ever imagine onto the Gym Shark website, and dropped shipments. So someone would order off the Gym Shark website, it would trigger another vendor to ship it off to the customer and we’d make a small margin.
After a while, wanting to start making clothes but came to the realisation that no one made the clothes that I guess we wanted to wear. You know that super cool, fit, aesthetic look which was true to body building but equally would fit a smaller guy, I guess someone that wasn’t absolutely huge. So sewing machine, and started to make the clothes by hand and it’s just gone from there, really. It’s been an absolutely mental five and a half, six years now.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. So if we could like go back to the story of you said you were delivering pizzas, and you started to build Gym Shark and start off with drop-shipping. Why drop-shipping to begin with? What pulled you to start an online business, per se?
Ben: In terms of drop shipping, it was literally a case of we didn’t have any money, couldn’t afford to buy stock. It was a case of how can we get a transaction website when you can’t afford stock? So it’s sort of like hands were tied sort of, we were more forced into that decision more than anything else. Then it was as soon as we have the capital to then go make our own products as soon we could, then that’s what we did.
Nathan: Yeah, gotcha. When you say we, did you have a business partner or still do or?
Ben: Yeah, so I was in business with my friends basically. Some of them are still involved, some of them aren’t. Yeah basically just with high school friends.
Nathan: Yeah, gotcha. How many of you guys were there?
Ben: So originally in the business there was two, then that moved on to five very quickly within a few months. Then it just went from there, so it’s been now five and a half, six years and we’re at 190 I think. 190 staff? So, yeah been a crazy growth since then.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. So you started off drop-shipping but then made enough margin to kind of pivot and start moving into screen printing clothing. Gym Shark’s a massive brand, very, very, iconic, like when I go to the gym, it’s quite often here even in Melbourne, I see people wearing Gym Shark clothes. So I’m just curious like what happened next once you started screen printing, and yeah what happened next?
Ben: Cool. So we were screen printing clothes, we were sewing clothes, we were basically trying to get the really cool athletic fitted fit, which no one else did. To be honest, it was as soon as we started making the clothes and the product, it went from strength to strength, because people was seeing the clothes, and they were so iconic and unique that it sort of started to spread like wildfire. Also, at the same time as that we were obsessed with YouTube, and I guess still are today, so it sort of wasn’t a calculated decision by any stretch of the imagination, it was more of an ah our heroes are on YouTube, Matt Ogis, and people like that, so let’s send the product to those guys and let’s see what they think of it. They absolutely loved it and you know they’re still with us today, and that started I guess what you’d now call an influencer market for us. We realised that you know that was a really cool way to get the product out there and yeah that sort of came really naturally to us, and we’re still doing it today.
Nathan: Yeah, wow I see. You know one thing that strikes me with Gym Shark is you guys are very, very good at creating this movement. When you first started the brand did you have dreams, aspirations, you and I guess your business partners or co-founders, did you have dreams and aspirations for it to be as big as it is now?
Ben: It’s a weird one really so like in my head I either think ridiculously far ahead, it’s almost like where am I gonna be the day before I die sort of thing, or I won’t think any further ahead than 24 hours. So yes, there was aspirations for this to be the biggest brand in the world, but equally didn’t ever think more than 24 hours going what are we gonna do now? What’s the next cool thing? What product do I want to wear? So it’s sort of like a yes and no to that. So yes we absolutely did dream of that but didn’t think too far ahead, it was always constantly like what we gonna do now, sort of thing.
Nathan: Mm-hmm, I see, and like would you be able to share kind of … ‘Cause you guys are quite good at tribe building, community building and developing a movement. Can you just kind of share kind of what your strategy is around that? Like I know for example I watched one of your Vlogs, which I found quite fascinating where you actually did a pop up in Melbourne. Man like, there was so many people dude, like lining up, it was crazy.
Ben: Oh it’s insane, it’s so cool. Like I love the events. The thing is as well like I feel like I meet a lot of people and people ask me a similar question, I feel like they sort of get let down with the answer. Because I personally, now there’s a bunch of strategic people around me, but I personally am not, I don’t think in that way. I literally think, right, lets make the product that I love and by default I think other people would love and let’s create the events that I would love to go to, and by default I think other people would really enjoy to go. There’s never a point where we sort of sit down, and we try and strategize like exactly every single cog that is gonna resort in that end event, if that makes sense?
We just sort of think right, what would we really, really love to go to? Let’s go and make it happen, and almost forget about the profit and loss at that point, for that event, lets just go and make something really, really cool. That’s how the events started really, so like I as a kid, before starting Gym Shark always went to events and expos in the city, I’m from Birmingham. I always went to it, so as soon as we started Gym Shark it felt natural for us to go there and again, we had our spin on it. We’ll always have our spin on things. Again, at the moment other people seem to be enjoying it as well, and the events are so cool, they’re so much fun to go to. You meet so many really cool like minded people, it’s just yeah, it’s just an awesome place to be. So I love them and yes, they are really cool.
Nathan: Yeah I see, so did you start doing these events early on? Or like how early on?
Ben: Yeah. Like pretty much immediately, as soon as we could afford to. I remember we went to, again, one of the biggest fitness expos is actually based in the city that we’re from.
Ben: We don’t actually do expos anymore, we do our own events, but at the time we did. I remember going to the guys that run it, Ollie the main guy, and said, I want a stand here, can we get a stand? I remember, I can’t remember the number he came back with, he came back with a number, he’s like that’s essentially the cheapest stand, that’s how much it’s gonna cost. It was like way more than we had, and this was 12 months into, I was like right yeah, we’ll have it. We’ll get that much, sort of make it work. ‘Cause it was like our dream to go to an event like that. Obviously over the next year we just grafted, earned the money, paid for it and eventually managed to get to the event. It absolutely blew up and it was really cool.
Nathan: Yeah wow, so basically as soon as you guys could start you were doing these kind of pop up events. When you started like were you just doing them in the UK, in Birmingham where you’re from? Or did you start, like at what point did you start doing like these international ones?
Ben: Yeah, so in the first year of doing events, I think the second year of actually like being a business, we only did the UK. Then we realised, again I think this the thing that I’ve realised I think since quite early on in the business is that even though the world has become ever more online and again, 99.9% of what we do is online, on social media and things like that, there is always space for that human connection. I think that’s really, really important and it’s a real important thing to Gym Shark and our wider community. So that is one of the other reasons why we do it. So year one we did the Birmingham Expo of Body Power, and then as soon as we saw how well that did, and I think this is again something that we are really good at, is when we see that things work we really double down on them.
The following year we did Germany as well, so we did Germany and the UK. Then the year after that we did like LA, Germany, UK, Melbourne and we did a bunch of different expos. Oh sorry and we did the Ohio as well, in the US. So yeah, we doubled down, and we started to do a lot more events and expos, and ever since then we’ve just done more and more every year.
Nathan: Yeah, wow amazing. So how else do you guys foster the community? Like do you have Facebook groups? Do you have forums? Like what else are you guys doing, out of curiosity, ’cause here you guys seem to have like a very, very loyal rabid community. You guys are very good at that, at building that tribe.
Ben: We have, so we have a Facebook page, we don’t have Facebook groups. We don’t have any forums or anything like that. We’re predominantly Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, now we’re starting to do bits on IGTV now, so yeah we’ve generally used I guess the main social media.
Nathan: Mm-hmm yeah, gotcha. Okay interesting, so like right now you said, it sounds like you’re close to like 200 staff members, like what’s next? What’s the big focus? What’s the big challenge? What are you guys … Like what’s a struggle?
Ben: Well I guess, so our biggest problem right now is stock. Simply put, grown as fast as what we are stock is a massive issue and again, like we talk a lot about the positives of social media and it is absolutely incredible and it’s brilliant. However, when it goes against you like when a product sells out too fast, then you know people let you know about it. That was sent back to us in abundance in the last 12, 18 months. We are just selling out of stock too fast. So again, a lot of those 190 people are in more of a commercial role, which again I’m incredibly weak at, which is planning and strategizing how much stock we need on different lines. So that we aren’t running out of stock anywhere near as quickly as what we are now. We’ve definitely made massive improvements in the last 6 to 12 months, so you know a long, long way to go as well. So stock is a huge, huge issue for us.
Then in terms of the business going forward it’s just like we are trying to innovate and trying to do a hell of a lot more things. So we are now looking at building products outside of clothing, which I’m really, really excited about, I’m working a lot on that. Equally, we are within the clothing market trying to innovate and do our own thing. So what we can now do with our team is we can start to create a lot of our propriety fabric, which I’m really excited about. I guess we’re just trying to do a lot more, like our tag line is Be Visionary, and we want to really, really focus on that in our product layout.
Nathan: So you said that you’re not strong commercially, what did you mean by that?
Ben: Oh so I refer to myself personally, so one of the things as well that I’ve found really useful, and again it’s from watching and reading about a lot of the guys you speak to, is around self awareness, and like understanding what I am good at and what I’m not good at. I’m very good at, I guess planning out events, and products and more the creative side of things. Thinking hyper long term, or hyper short term, but then the whole almost middle ground of 12 to 18 month worth of planning and numbers, and the quantitative side of things I’m not as good at. But I will have an involvement in them as an owner of the business, however it’s not my hyper strong points. So yeah that’s why we’ve got a lot more people in the business now to focus on those sorts of things.
Nathan: Yeah, so yeah I find that quite interesting, so you are not like kind of the … Are you the CEO or I can’t remember?
Ben: No, I’m not. I’m the Chief Brand Officer.
Nathan: Yeah, so you were the CEO at one point though right, and you stepped down?
Nathan: That was because of the self awareness piece. Was that a difficult thing to give up and kind of-
Ben: Yeah absolutely, you know that was a moment that we were growing so fast and there was so much, I think in the role of the CEO it’s very people orientated as well. I’m very much an introverted person, I’m much more suited, and I work better in either a very small team or on my own, or where I can really dial into a project and focus on that thing, and make it really special. Then I think as the business was growing bigger it became more and more evident to me that the CEO really needs to be a lot more of a strategist, and a lot more of a people person than what I am. I think it was very difficult, but the other thing is that because we’ve been building the team for now five and a half, six years, I’ve slowly gotten used to people taking and doing the things that I used to do.
So obviously I had more of a development background as a kid, I taught myself how to make stuff. I remember I built like a little connector between our website and Royal Mail, which is our like National Post service, like a connector between the two. That to me was like, albeit it not something I’m particularly great at, but it was something that I held quite close to my heart. It was something that I really enjoyed messing around with. I remember when we had Chris come in, and he sort of took all that off me, it felt like my heart was being ripped out ’cause that was my little thing.
So I have slowly gotten used to it, and the mental weirdness almost of having someone else be CEO is very difficult. But Steve who’s the CEO I trust him implicitly, so the trust is the main thing for me. If you trust that person then I think you’ll be able to do it. But I do think it is very, very important to be self aware and to understand what you are good at, and what you’re not good at. Just focus on, I think Gary B talks about it a lot, about double downing on your strengths. So I’m a massive, massive believer of that, I think that’s really important and that’s why I’m trying to do more and more, and I think that’s one of the times that I’ve done it and so far it’s worked really well for us.
Nathan: Yeah look I respect that and I think that’s really smart, because you know it sounds like you’ve brought in a CEO Steve who has experience with scaling companies and taking it to the next level from an operational perspective as well. You can just basically go back, like me personally, we’re not growing as fast as you guys, but we’ve got great growth trajectory right now. I’m the CEO, and one thing that I miss personally is the old days where it was just me and I could just work on product and marketing by myself.
Nathan: ‘Cause yeah-
Ben: Yeah that is cool in itself isn’t it, just having that like freedom to do what you want, that like I don’t know, I don’t know what you’d call it. Like just being able to do anything at any given moment, that is super exciting but I think it’s a different kind of exciting. In the job that I’m in now, and for me it suits me a lot more. But yeah, it is cool.
Nathan: Yeah I reckon that’d be fun-
Ben: The other thing I’d say about Steve, ’cause when you first say to people, oh wow that’s pretty intense the way that you’ve just got a CEO. Steve came in, and I know Steve anyway like he’s awesome, but he came in and he did a day a month and then it was two days a month, after a few months it was three days a month, four days a month. It slowly happened over a period of like a year, a year and a half. Like I knew Steve from a while before he became the CEO, it wasn’t like an overnight switch. So again, I think that was really important in terms of that trust factor, it wasn’t an overnight flick of a switch, it was a very slow considered process.
Nathan: Mm-hmm yeah, no, that makes sense. So it sounds like you’re more of a product and strategy guy, and kind of still the visionary within the business right?
Ben: Absolutely yeah and that’s where I want to spend all my time as well. I love the …and again I don’t technically use of all in the CEO, but you definitely sort of like hold you up a little bit more, or tied you down to a lot more. Whereas I can jump on a plane tomorrow to wherever in the world and go there, and get inspiration, or do you know what I mean? Like that excitement to me is really important and I really enjoy that. I love the fact that I can just go to work on projects and products, and just grab like that small design team and just like two, three, four, five people and just focus on that thing for a while. I really enjoy that, that’s really important to me.
Nathan: Yeah man, that’ll be amazing. You making me jealous. That’s awesome, okay so, I’m curious around like I know that you started a Vlog and I started watching and I found it quite interesting. Like why the Vlog?
Ben: Well and so the thing is, so when I was answering a question the other day actually, and it was around like, why did you not almost start it before? So I was recording, and I have been recording everything that I’ve done at Gym Shark, I think one of my first videos, I used a lot of the old footage. I’ve been recording a lot of it since it started, so all the footage is there. It was only about, I think it was about two years ago we did a world tour, we did like meet ups and we met everyone around the world in all sort of cities. Everyone was saying, ah we want to know, there was more of a hunger, a desire to understand what my job was like, what my life’s like, things that I do, things that I don’t do.
There was a lot more of a desire for that, so it was only then that I decided to then start to produce the content that people were asking me for. So it was literally a case of people wanted it so I thought yeah, all right lets do it. I haven’t done as many videos as what I thought I was gonna do, but now we’ve got more of a team and here I’ve got more time, so I’m gonna be pushing out a lot more content now going forward.
Nathan: Mm-hmm, ’cause there seems to be like quite a massive movement as well, or development around like a lot of developing their personal brands. So what you’re finding right now is a lot of people much more interested in the person behind the company.
Ben: Yeah, I think that’s really cool. The one thing as well that I was worried about when starting, not worried about when starting Gym Shark, but I was aware of, and I have been aware, very hyper aware of for a while is that Gym Shark is to improve peoples lives, to better people, to create a community. The one thing I’ve always said is, there’s no individual that’s bigger than the brand or more important than Gym Shark. I would never want my videos, or blogs, or personal brand to be in a place where Gym Shark is almost reliant on it, if that makes sense? Like I should be able to, God forbid be hit by a bus tomorrow and die, and Gym Shark continued to prosper and grow without me. That’s really, really important for me, so I am always hyper aware of that when doing my own personal branding, and that’s I think another reason why it’s good to now start it, ’cause I think Gym Sharks at a stage where that isn’t as much of a risk. I don’t think it’s a risk at all in fact.
So yeah that was another reason why I probably did less of that during the growth stage of Gym Shark, as well as the fact that I was just so, so busy and now I can really focus on that. I’m really excited to be posting more content, I think it can be really fun.
Nathan: Yeah, that makes 100% sense and you want to make sure yeah, that the brand isn’t reliable, your personal brand isn’t too attached to being part of Gym Shark. You want to make it, yeah, like still Gym Shark as an asset based business. So I’m curious, like do you guys have investors? Or are you fully-
Nathan: … booted strapped.
Ben: Yeah no, we’ve never taken any investment from anyone. It’s literally just been a constant graft since day one.
Ben: We’ve never needed investment for one, the fact that we’ve never needed it I think is a really nice place to be. Obviously a lot of people have been in touch and they’ve wanted to, and so on, but it’s just never been anything that’s been attractive to me or to us as a Board. Yeah it’s just something that we haven’t done. I think it literally comes down to the fact that we haven’t needed it. We haven’t needed to so I think just why complicate things? At the moment we just, yeah haven’t needed to so we haven’t done it.
Nathan: Yeah that makes sense. So when it comes to I guess your influence and marketing strategies, and you said you kind of like, it kind of came quite natural to you because you know all of the kind of … I guess the … Like you said like the people that you looked up to on YouTube, or people that you knew of on YouTube, it came quite natural that you would just want to send them product and work with them. I know that this is quite a growing trend, especially for E-Com brands to want to work with influencers, and a lot of people say that it doesn’t work anymore. It’s not as good as it used to be, and all these other things, like I’d just love to hear your take, ’cause you guys are really good at it.
Ben: Yeah, so a lot of people ask me about this as well at the meetings and stuff, ’cause a lot of people are starting up and they’re asking me how to start. If I’m being totally honest and this probably isn’t the answer that they always want to hear, is that I honestly don’t know. Because I haven’t, when I started, or when we started this one, it wasn’t like a popular thing, it wasn’t a considered thing, it was like YouTubers and things were much more easy to get in contact with. Now it seems a lot more difficult, and the other thing is as well is like a lot, well everyone in the Gym Shark I guess, family, or team of influencers, whatever you’d want to call it, were all like a bunch of mates. So it’s not like, it’s a very different relationship to someone that’s basically his own hire experts, and if I give you X will you give me Y, sort of thing. It’s not like that, it’s not a transactional relationship.
So it’s very difficult for me in my position to comment on what it would be like for someone else to try and get into the game. The other part of your question, do I think it works? Absolutely, I think it absolutely works, I don’t think you can just isolate all this influence and market and work now, I think it works and as far as I’m aware I think it’ll always work. So I remember like, so where I’m from in Birmingham there’s an area called the Jewellery Quarter where they made like a bunch of jewellery and stuff. Then there’s these super old, I don’t even know how old, like shops where they would make jewellery for like the Queen. Like we’re talking a long, long, long time ago, and it’s like that’s no different to they would provide a bunch of free jewellery to Royalty so that people would associate that jewellery with the Royalty and then hopefully they’d go and buy it. It’s no different to what influencer market it is nowadays. So yeah as far as I’m aware it always works, and it always will.
But in terms of any individual that wants to, or a company that wants to start doing it now I think, I do think it’s a hell of a lot more difficult than when we first started. It is a completely different place now.
Nathan: So that’s a good question I guess, like if you were to start lets say a totally new E-Com brand, what would you do? How would you play it?
Ben: If I started again, I often think about this you know, ’cause I think it would actually be really weirdly cool to do that. To almost start again from scratch and like you know record the entire thing and see how that goes. If I was starting again, the one thing I would say to add to that point as well, is that I think like you know product is king at the end of the day. If you give someone, or you’re showing someone, if you manage to get someones attention with a brilliant, genuinely brilliant product people will wear it, people will use it and people will talk about it. So I think that’s the one main thing that I would focus on, I would focus on trading an absolutely brilliant and a gorgeous product. Because I think from that it’s like a snowball effect from there, I think people will want it.
That’s what I would focus my time, I would focus it all on product and then after that I would focus on a really nice, cool, clean, clear branding. Yeah I would think by default then people would start to want it. Like in terms of the granular of how would I get in touch with X influencer, I’m not totally sure because we’re extremely fortunate to have a bunch of really, really cool mates that were all in that sort of industry.
Nathan: Yeah that makes sense. I’m curious as well, like you’re a pretty young dude, you’re 25 now?
Ben: I’m 26.
Nathan: 26, so I’m curious like I guess like you know you come from Birmingham, not a place known like you know for I guess … I don’t know, I’m shooting, but I guess like what’s it like amongst I guess friends, people you grew up with, you know you’ve got quite a bit of media attention. Do your friends look at you differently? Do you get people from high school that perhaps contact you that you never heard from in a long time? Like how do you manage all of that?
Ben: Not really, it’s fine, everyone’s really cool. Like everyone’s really cool and they’re really supportive. I think the thing is as well that I feel like I’ve always prided myself on surrounding myself with the right people and supportive people. If people haven’t, I think there’s that saying that people always say, I can’t remember what it is, but something like you’re the average of the X amount of people that you spend your time with. I think that’s always something that’s come naturally to me, it’s never something I’ve thought about on a deep level. But it’s something that’s come naturally to me and I think by default I’ve been around and you know people that have inspired me. So in terms of that I’ve never had any negativity. I remember I did an interview once and someone said, tell me about the time that someone said you couldn’t do it, or someone said that you’re not gonna be anything. I was like, no, because that never happened because I never surrounded myself with those people.
If anyone did ever say that I would instantly forget about it, because it was of no value to be held in my brain, if that makes sense? So you know everyone locally showing support, it is absolutely brilliant, and like even back to school, was I at school? No, I hated it, I didn’t enjoy it whatsoever. However, the individuals and people there did nothing but support everything, it’s really cool. Old teachers, or old classmates will message now I see it as a really cool positive thing.
Nathan: Yeah wow, so you would write back?
Ben: Mm-hmm yeah, absolutely.
Nathan: Yeah amazing. Well look we have to work towards wrapping up Ben, but yeah look this has been a great chat man. I guess a few last questions just around kind of I guess like, you know what’s next for Gym Shark? I know you said you’re doing, you’re moving into I guess other product lines not just clothing. But yeah, just like what’s next for Gym Shark? Where’s the best place that people can find out more about yourself and your work? Then yeah maybe kind of just give us like three action items, or things that you’d like to share to finish off on.
Ben: Okay cool, all right that’s quite a lot. Hopefully I can do it justice. So first and foremost you can find me Instagram, YouTube, things like that, just search Ben Francis and you should be able to find me anywhere and keep on eye on how we’re doing. In terms of Gym Shark going forward I think, well we just moved into a new headquarters, we’re doing a hell of a lot with our production of our products so there’s a huge, huge focus there. Main focus for me is just around just product, making sure that the product is like fine and awesome, and that the product again is a little bit more than clothing. We want to expand out, we want to do more… That’s something is my main focus, and I wish I could talk more about what it is but obviously it’s to be announced, hopefully soon. So I can’t really tease things about that, but there is some hyper exciting things coming.
In terms of three sort of actionable points, or takeaways, I think in terms of like if you’re working in a business, or you want to start a business or anything like that, I think it’s similar things to what a lot of people say. I think self awareness is key, I think it’s massive. I think you can only kid yourself for so long, so like from my point of view could I do an operational, or a numbers based role for a little bit? Absolutely, I’m reasonably intelligent, I could manage. But would I be able to do it for a sustained period really, really well? Absolutely not. So I think focusing on what you love is hyper important. I think as well I’ve watched a few of Gary Vaynerchuk’s videos, and he always talked about patience, and it’s like I think it’s absolutely true. It sounds pretty crazy to come to us being growing this company as what we are, but I do think patience is really important.
When we first started for the first year I remember that I’d be in sales for like three or four months, no one was even accessing the website, no one really cared about the product that we offered. I just think that to be patient and sort of like understand what people want and don’t want, I think is really important. Yeah I’m not really sure what else to be honest. I think it’s just to do what you love, when it comes down to it just do what you love. Because that’s where you’re gonna really do well, and that’s where you’re really gonna succeed. I think, I guess I mean you’ll probably know this as well as anyone it’s like, when you’re doing something that you love, it’s like you’re like incredibly more productive, and you produce much better result than if you’re not doing something you love. So yeah, that’d be it.
Nathan: Awesome man, well look congratulations on all your success thus far and I look forward to keep following along in the journey and see what you guys are working on, it’s really exciting. I really yeah, really appreciate like everything you do. So yeah just want to say thanks so much for your time, and yeah I really appreciate it.
Ben: Yeah, cheers Nathan and thanks very much for your time, and I guess we’ll speak again soon.