Bryan Tayefeh is currently the Director of Alliance Management and Business Development at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, the world leader in RNA therapeutics. Bryan started with Ionis over 12 years ago as a scientist in the pharmacokinetics team and transitioned into the corporate development team in 2013 where he now leads and transacts the largest partnerships for Ionis. Prior to Ionis, Bryan was conducting research at the University of Colorado in Boulder in organic synthesis of natural products and chemically modifying RNA. Bryan has been working in the scientific industry for over 14 years and says his driving motivation is to use cutting edge science to help sick people. Bryan obtained his undergraduate degree in Molecular & Cellular Development Biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Along with his career at a pharmaceutical company, Bryan successfully launched a personal training business in 2018 that is based on incorporating sound science into traditional bodybuilding programs. This started when Bryan began his own fitness journey several years ago and found the fitness world is flooded with misinformation, trends, and people just trying to sell something. It was difficult to sort through what really worked and what is just a new trend that will fizzle. So, Bryan started applying the scientific method to see what would hold up to testing. He started using different training techniques and diets and would compare against himself via % bodyfat measurements, muscle composition scores via a muscle scanner and strength changes. After some confirmatory work with other “subjects” or friends in the personal training world he compiled a critical amount of information to create his program platform that worked for himself and others with measurable biological evidence behind it.
Bryan is also happily married to his wife Alicia who he has been with friends with since junior high. Both Bryan and Alicia love to travel and especially enjoy going to Hawaii. They are the proud parents of three-year old twin boys who keep them very busy.
Outside of family and work Bryan is very passionate about several extreme sports and can be found looking for the next thrill most weekends. His passion for snowboarding transitioned to surfing when he moved to San Diego to work for Ionis and quickly feel in love with the water. After several years of surfing Bryan became curious about what he was surfing over at all the different breaks, so he and friend grabbed snorkels and started to explore the world under surf breaks. This grew into a deep dive (literally) into free diving, spearfishing and underwater photography. In between sessions at the mountain or the ocean Bryan can be found speeding around town on one of his motorcycles or racing around the local street racetrack.
How did you get started in this business?
The idea to create a personal training business was something that evolved over time and rather unexpectedly. I started getting into shape and friends/co-workers took notice and started asking me random fitness questions. A large part of my friends and co-workers are very busy corporate businesspeople, new parents like myself and scientists who had little to no formal training ever. This demographic felt they were all too busy to get in serious shape, but I was a glaring example of how it could be done. So, they started wanting me to give them my workout plans so they could follow what I was doing to see results. However, those friends didn’t show much progress and I quickly realized they didn’t understand some of the basic lifts and principals or how to stay on a meal plan or even what “healthy” eating was. Just giving them names of exercises, splits, reps and sets wasn’t working for almost all of them
I also had some friends come with me to the gym and we would work out “together” but it quickly became me teaching most of the session and talking them through meal plans, macros, supplements and numerous other fitness concepts. Those that worked out with me and spent time getting to ask questions did much better in their progress and it became obvious that the “coaching” was the X factor for most of my friends to get in the shape they wanted.
After seeing the progress made by the friends that worked out with me (and those friends offering to pay me for more training sessions) it all just clicked together to start a personal training business.
How do you make money?
I make money in two different ways and both offer opportunities to grow the business in different ways. First is by in person personal training, which is much more time consuming but carries a higher margin. This includes a few hours a week with each client and some time on the computer generating customs plans. The second way is via virtual coaching by just providing custom plans and a weekly video call check in. The online coaching allows for greater flexibility and less time commitment however I do feel the in-person training is more rewarding as you get to know your clients on a much more personal level.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
It took very little time to become profitable maybe a few months as personal training has very little overhead costs. A one-time website creation and some initial marketing materials was pretty much it and from there it was then based on me getting the word out in the gym, friends and at work.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
There was a point after initially getting started that I saw a drop in clients that had me a little worried about the business. I had a pretty good bolus of people initially when I started in January but then summer came, and most people didn’t want to commit to a training program and/or already completed one leading up to summer. So, during that time I did two things to help drive additional clients. One was developing some partnerships with local gyms, physical therapist and other fitness related business to create a better local funnel. The second was I offered to train a few people for free outside of my typical demographic (working professional males, age 20-40) that I attracted in order to expand the type of people I could reach. Both strategies worked out nicely and, in a month, or so I began to see those efforts pay off by bringing in new clients.
How did you get your first customer?
My first customer was a friend that wanted to get in shape, so it worked out well to have someone I knew but also was committed and willing to pay. After that first several clients where people that I knew and then the next set came from friends of those I was training or friends of friends.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
I think that getting involved with your local community and other synergist/complimentary business is a great way to do marketing outside of the typical social media avenues. For something like fitness and personal training the social media route works but is hard to stand out in because it’s so saturated. So, unless you already have strong personal online following or want to spend lots of money on ads it might not be the best way to go to get going.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Like most people COVID-19 has had a major impact on my business. Between gyms getting closed or only staying open with multiple restrictions this had made my in-person training very challenging. I still have a few in person clients that I am training when gyms are open but because things are so unpredictable, I have had to change focus to create an at home training program for most people. This is not something that I personally enjoy doing as I thrive in the gym and believe it’s a critical part of fitness. So, I had to spend time trying things with limited equipment to find alternatives to some common gym equipment exercises and do it all my self for a full program to determine if this can work. It’s a necessary move in the current pandemic but not one I ever anticipated making or wanted to get into.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I apply a very scientific process to almost everything I do. So generally, that means lots of planning and working things out mentally and even on paper step by step before implementing the process or idea. It helps organize my thoughts and gives me a better framework and structure to work off when I get interrupted by life and then can easily jump back in the next day. This also means looking at data to help make decisions and determining next steps. This could be the something obvious like sales or # of visitors to a site but also something less empirical like reviewing customer feedback collectively then plotting it to give a visual
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
The most satisfying moments of this business is when people reach their fitness goals. People are coming to me for help and each client has a different goal and starting point, which means some people have a much higher hurdle to clear to get in shape. However, when people work hard, and you see them giving it their all and then they make real progress its very rewarding. This really is what it’s all about for me and I focus on making people healthier and encourage via a lifestyle change vs a short term “diet” strategy.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I really am excited about the number of plant-based protein options becoming available and the growing number of people interested in eating less meat. As a bodybuilder protein is king and animal protein is the king of kings. However, as a scientist I also know that heavy sustained meat consumption can have several negative impacts on overall health especially later in life. So, finding ways to limit the amount of animal protein for plant based is an exciting new area for me to work into my programs. I am not a vegan myself, but I have worked with several and, in that process, have picked up new plant-based protein substitutes for some of my own meals to create a more balanced protein intake. In the future I would like to incorporate a lot more plant-based ways to build muscle into my programs since the plant based market is only going to continue to grow.
What business books have inspired you?
There are several great books to read on entrepreneurship but one that resonated most with me was “Crush It” by Gary Vaynerchuk. Essential the premises it take something you love doing and turn it into a business via the internet. Along the way he focusses on things like work hard. work a lot. Work 16 hours a day every day. Also, a large focus on enjoy what you are doing, if it’s a passion it won’t seem like work. The other big message I liked was about being patient and adaptable – and the result will come. So, it might not be in a few months or even a year, but rather in a few years. But if you’re good at what you’re doing, and you do it a lot, you are guaranteed to succeed.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to try and fail. When you are young and don’t have as many obligations it’s the time to be riskier and give something a go. Also, at the same time be realistic if something is not shaping out to be going well move on and don’t beat yourself about and try the next thing!
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
Unfortunately, I am quite busy juggling 2 businesses and family to have much time to dedicate to be a mentor right now. However, I think there are lots of great role models out there for those looking to get into the fitness business. My personal fitness role model is Kris Gethin, he has a great sense of business around his training style and I think he has done a wonderful job of utilizing various marketing and product strategies to build a very successful business.