Greg Glassman's success took a lot of people by surprise. The 60-year old college dropout wears jeans and a T-shirt with a backwards baseball cap. He swears a lot. And he's the founder and CEO of the massive and growing fitness franchise CrossFit.
People are so obsessed with the exercise regimen that Glassman was invited to the Harvard Divinity School to talk about building a non-faith-based religion.
While CrossFit declines to share profit and revenue figures, there are 13,546 active affiliate gyms in 144 different countries and approximately four million CrossFitters. Each affiliate owner pays an annual due of about $3,000.
CNBC sat down with Glassman at the Iconic conference in Boston. Here are his three best pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Not every business can scale without taking on some amount of capital, but if it is possible, Glassman recommends avoiding trading a portion of your company for cash. The former gymnast and personal trainer owns 100 percent of CrossFit.
If a startup is producing a physical good and can't get to scale without capital to fund infrastructure and materials, then Glassman recommends screening potential investors carefully. Make sure they have something to contribute besides funds.
"I would be loath to take any support that didn't support directly the product or service, someone with an expertise to make the product or service better," he says. "For money alone, that's going to be a scary thing. There is going to be a misstep."
The way Glassman sees it, Americans are in the midst of a health epidemic that is only getting worse. CrossFit pairs high-intensity training with a Paleo diet of protein and vegetables, and Glassman considers it a potential panacea. To Glassman, CrossFit is as much a social mission as a money-generating machine.
"I would do everything I could to be socially active," says Glassman. "Do something you really want for the culture, something you want for society, something you want for health. If it's something you are excited about providing, then the money becomes the thing that makes it all kind of work."
The third secret to success is to give customers something they can't get anywhere else.
"Business is the art and science of finding uniquely attractive opportunities for other people," says Glassman. Deliver a product or service that can't be obtained elsewhere.
"If I provide millions of people with the phone they gotta have, I am rich. If I provide millions of people with a book of sonnets that's just moves them to tears, then I am a rich sonnet writer," says Glassman.
"Each one of those is a uniquely opportunity. For $3 this book. For $800 this phone: 'I don't want any other phone, I want this one!' That's a uniquely attractive opportunity. And it is even, with the iPhone, it's part art and part science. There's a part that's purely an aesthetic element."