Juliet Starrett is an entrepreneur, attorney, and CEO of two world-renowned fitness companies —The Ready State (formerly MobilityWOD) and San Francisco Crossfit. She is the co-author of the Wall Street Journal best-seller Deskbound: Standing Up To A Sitting World and the co-founder of and StandUpKids, a non-profit dedicated to combating kids' sedentary lifestyles by bringing standing/moving desks to low-income public schools.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I am a lifelong athlete, an attorney, and an entrepreneur. I rowed in high school and was on the U.C. Berkeley crew team. I went on to paddle professionally for the U.S. Women’s Extreme Whitewater Team from 1997 - 2000 where I won two World Championships and five national titles. In 2018, I reunited with my team to win another Whitewater World Championship in Argentina, this time as a master’s athlete.
After graduating from U.C. Berkeley in 1995, I earned my J.D. degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 2003. For nearly eight years, I had a successful career as an attorney practicing complex commercial litigation at the large international firm Reed Smith.
I left the legal field in 2010 to run our businesses full-time. I am now the CEO of two world-renowned fitness companies — The Ready State and San Francisco Crossfit. My husband Kelly and I co-founded San Francisco Crossfit in 2005 (as one of first 50 Crossfit gyms in the world) and MobilityWOD in 2008, which has revolutionized how athletes think about human movement and athletic performance.
I am also the co-author of the Wall Street Journal Bestseller, Deskbound: Standing Up To A Sitting World and co-founder of StandUpKids.org, a non-profit dedicated to combating kids' sedentary lifestyles by bringing standing/moving desks to low-income public schools. To date, StandUpKids has converted 95,000 kids from sitting to standing at school (and counting).
What inspired you to start your business?
We didn’t start either of our businesses as a business per se. Instead, we started each one in an effort to solve a problem. In 2004, while seeking more effective ways to train, my husband and I discovered a little known workout program called Crossfit. We started doing some of the workouts and were hooked.
As former professional athletes, the Crossfit program spoke to us because it was so challenging, pushed our athletic limits, and we saw immediate results. And, the workouts were short and sweet so we could do them without dedicating hours and hours to training.
We started training in our backyard and slowly our friends and family joined us. But, we quickly outgrew the yard and realized we needed a legitimate place to train. There were no other Crossfit’s in San Francisco (and very few anywhere at that point) so we decided to open San Francisco Crossfit, which is the 21st Crossfit affiliate (there are now more than 15,000 worldwide).
In addition to classes and private coaching, my husband Kelly moved his physical therapy practice to SFCF. He began to see clients with the same musculoskeletal injuries over and over. He realized that most of these injuries were preventable with better movement or fixable with some simple mobilizations or soft-tissue work done at home.
In response to this clear need and lack of general education and understanding about movement, mechanics, and mobility, we started the “Mobility Project” in 2008 on YouTube. We published a video a day for 365 days on movement, mechanics, mobility, injury prevention, and general health/fitness topics. MobilityWOD was born.
We grew to over 230,000 subscribers on YouTube until 2013 when we switched to a membership business model. Today, we have 14,000 paying subscribers, we have written 5 books (including two New York Times Bestsellers), consulted with over a hundred teams and organizations, and have put more than 20,000 coaches through our training programs.
Where is your business based?
San Francisco Crossfit is based in the Presidio in San Francisco. MobiltyWOD is based in San Rafael, California, about 20 minutes north of San Francisco.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
The first step we took in starting San Francisco Crossfit was becoming an official Crossfit affiliate. We then secured the sanfranciscocrossfit.com URL and built a rudimentary 2005-era website.
Our first step in starting MobilityWOD was publishing our first free video on YouTube in 2008. We didn’t do any advertising or marketing and just slowly built a dedicated audience by offering useful content.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
San Francisco Crossfit has grown almost entirely through word of mouth and by offering consistently good quality coaching and customer experience.
We effectively raised awareness and grew MobilityWOD initially by offering unique, free content that solved problems for people. Whether it was giving people the tools to fix a nagging injury or helping them squat more at the gym, our content has always been oriented toward problem-solving. When you solve a problem for someone (especially nagging pain or injury), they are a fan and customer for life.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
San Francisco Crossfit has been in business for nearly 15 years and MobilityWOD for nearly 13 years. Our challenge has been to stay current and relevant. When we started MobilityWOD as a subscription/membership service in 2013, we were literally the first in the health and fitness industry to even consider charging for content. At that time, it was enough to offer a good product at a good price with a decent website and the customers signed up.
Now, in order to stay competitive, we need to stay current with all of the latest digital marketing trends including things like paid social media advertising, Google SEO, YouTube ads, content marketing, email marketing, split testing, social messaging apps, and even artificial intelligence. As a small and fully bootstrapped company, it has been a challenge to figure out where and how to effectively spend our marketing dollars.
How do you stay focused?
I stay focused by being disciplined about sticking to my schedule and calendar, working really hard to remove complexity and mystery from my businesses by focusing on the fundamentals, and fixating on continued learning and growth.
I’m a voracious reader of the New York Times, New Yorker, Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider and Inc. and I chip away at reading as many business-focused books as I can. I just finished reading Confessions of A Pricing Man: How Price Affects Everything by Hermann Simon. It has been on my list for several years and has invaluable pricing insights for aspiring and veteran entrepreneurs alike.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
Our largest differentiator is our social proof. Over the past 15 years, we have helped and consulted with the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, the All Blacks, Arsenal, every branch of the U.S. Military including special forces, the U.S. Olympic Committee and a host of Olympic athletes, the UFC, the US Ski Team, Tour de France cyclists, and countless university strength and conditioning programs.
In addition, our New York Times bestselling book Becoming A Supple Leopard is considered THE book on movement, mobility, and mechanics.
Our competitors focus on knocking off our techniques but lack the deep underlying experience and social proof that we have earned not only being in but creating this business.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
Our most effective marketing strategy is content marketing. Our goal with our content marketing strategy is to create valuable, useful, and relevant free content to attract and retain an audience. The ultimate goal, of course, is driving customers to eventually purchase something from us.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
“Know thyself” - Socrates. I believe self-awareness is the greatest asset for any new or aspiring entrepreneur. We all have strengths and weaknesses but we must be honest about what those are and be ready to hire people to fill gaps in our experience or expertise.
For example, if you are in a business that requires customer service but can’t respond quickly to email/text/voicemail and/or lack attention to detail, you need to hire someone who excels at those skills. I see too many new entrepreneurs try to do it all themselves, including things they don’t excel at, and it is a recipe for disaster.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
My favorite app is BrainFM. It provides music designed for the brain to improve focus, meditation, relaxation, naps & sleep. I use it to help focus during the day and to drown out office noise. I even use it to facilitate 15-minute power naps and to meditate.
My favorite book of late is Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. I think it is a must-read for everyone. The book is clear and well-written and does the best job I’ve seen of explaining why sleep is THE most important (and easiest) thing we can do for our health.
I’ve been really enjoying the Backlinko blog by Brian Dean. He is one of my go-to resources for actionable SEO and marketing advice.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
I love Asana, the web-based project management tool. It’s intuitive and easy to use and has been the most effective tool in improving my and my team’s productivity.
Who is your business role model? Why?
Arianna Huffington is my business role model. She is obviously the founder of The Huffington Post and one of Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women but I am particularly inspired by her focus on health, well-being and sleep through her Thrive Global platform.
What is your beauty routine? What are some of your favorite products?
The focus of my beauty routine is sleeping an average of eight hours a night and exercising/training 5 days a week. I do love Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30 and Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides.
How do you balance work and life?
I don’t even try to achieve work-life balance. When I do, I feel like its just another thing on my list I’m trying to “achieve” and that ends up adding more general stress to my life. I’m a busy entrepreneur working to grow two businesses and raising two girls. My focus is on my husband, my girls, my health, my businesses, and my community, in that order. I don’t expect my life will always be so full, especially after my daughters leave home, so I’m just embracing and enjoying the madness.
What’s your favorite way to decompress?
In addition to exercising and sleeping, I love to read, cook, be outdoors, and hang out with my kids.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
In September 2019, we are rebranding our company MobilityWOD to The Ready State along with rebuilding our website and user experience from the ground up.
When we launched MobiltiyWOD in 2008, we were the only company using “WOD” in a business title. Since then, the market has become crowded and confusing with hundreds of businesses using the WOD moniker (i.e, ROMWOD, PowerWOD, GOWOD, FaithWOD, etc.).
The name MobilityWOD also does not represent all that we do as a business. We do offer mobility content but we also write books, teach courses, consult with professional organizations, sell gear (and more) and the name MobilityWOD no longer encompasses all of our diverse work. This is the next big step for our company and we are confident it will continue to move our business in the right direction and foster growth.
On the StandUpKids front, we are working with researchers at U.C. Berkeley from the ergonomics and education departments to organize and initiate a 2-year comprehensive study of the benefits of kids using standing/moving desks versus sitting at school. Our goal is to have California-based research that we can share with the legislature in the hopes that standing/moving at school becomes the norm, not the exception.
How can our readers connect with you?
Juliet Starrett, J.D.
CEO, MobilityWOD Inc. & San Francisco Crossfit