If my 8 year old daughter can have her own YouTube channel and “vlog” about shopping at Target and playing ice hockey, we should be able to create a blog that has something meaningful for someone 😉 Scott had been talking about it for awhile; with his entrepreneurial brain he has been ready to hit the ground running and start this thing already. I, on the other hand, am much more calculated and have a bit of a need to get organized first. However, in my quest for growth as a leader, and often times out of necessity, I have worked to put aside my need for things to be just so, and sometimes just let things happen without a perfect plan. Hence, our AXIS Blog was born.
We are a one-on-one personal training business in Menlo Park, CA, founded by Scott Norton in 1996. Scott was a football player, turned strength coach, who became a personal trainer. He always had the spark, the passion, the drive that every successful entrepreneur has, and while he always says “I started it, but we built it”, it would never have made it through the many rough patches without his focus, dedication and love for his people and his business.
I started at AXIS in May of 2000, fresh out of graduate school, as a personal trainer. I was so intrigued by this growing business with plans to be nationwide within a few years. I had hopes of having my own AXIS in Boston someday. The irony is that the best thing that could’ve happened to our business, and for my career as well, was to not scale at all, to eventually be back to a one-location, small service business, that would thrive for over 20 years. We have certainly had the opportunity to fail a million times over, and have learned lessons upon lessons about running a business, leadership, and the idiosyncrasies of people.
In the upcoming weeks, months and beyond, we plan to share the real stories and struggles of a small service business, with all of the mistakes, the successes and the lessons learned along the way. We also cannot help but share some of the exciting research in the health field and the passion we have for learning. There is so much fascinating science and new explorations of medicine to help people live, not only longer, but healthier lives. We will bring you our latest learning obsessions and endeavours as well.
It seems fitting to share the real, and previously untold story of AXIS. In some ways, this was kind of like our first blog post. It was shared with our team and clients for the first time in October of 2016 when we celebrated our 20 year anniversary of AXIS. It was the first time that Scott shared just how hard so many of those years had been, and how it was 100% worth every awful minute to get to where we are today.
AXIS, THE UNTOLD STORY (Told by Scott Norton, Founder/Owner):
Thursday, October 6th, 2016 marked the 20th year anniversary of the start of AXIS. It was 1996 and I opened the doors, all alone, scared to death but as excited as I could be since this was my dream coming to fruition. I had envisioned opening a beautiful facility where trainers could learn, share, and create a career for themselves, a career which did not exist at the time. I saw a gathering spot for clients to be engaged, motivated, and taken care of as if they were at a 5 star resort.
Several years earlier I had gotten my start at a personal trainer up on Sand Hill Road, working/hustling 60 hours/week training some of the “movers and shakers” of the Silicon Valley. My first client was Joe Horowitz, who continues to train with me at AXIS today. Since he was my very first, I have a soft spot in my heart for Joe (which is why he gets to do whatever he wants at AXIS!). Joe introduced me to Louis Borders who became a client, a mentor, and a friend. We trained together for many years, even increased his vertical jump by 7 inches (which admittedly was not too difficult as he started from zero). I trained Louis’ entire staff as well and it was during this time that he saw the value in what I offered. The trust and strong relationship that we built brought us to opening AXIS on October 6th, 1996. Louis funded the start of AXIS for which I will be forever grateful.
Within a few months we had hired more trainers and we were a profitable business, focused on a scientific training methodology, teamwork, and exceptional service for our clients. Three years later, during the dot com boom, we were able to secure funding from Sequoia Capital which was to get us started on our path to opening AXIS facilities nationwide. I thought I knew it all at that time and there was nothing I couldn’t do!
The company grew quickly from there, starting with a New York City CEO from Louis Vuitton, the first of a few CEOs that would come and go…This was the start of a crazy roller coaster ride and to this day, I don’t know how AXIS survived it all. As Alli reminds me often, AXIS didn’t die, although it should’ve many times over, because I wouldn’t let it, because I always knew if we stayed true to our beliefs and cared about our trainers and clients, it would all workout (no pun intended) in the end! Maybe I was too young and stupid to know better.
Over the course of the next 8 years, we opened facilities in Los Gatos and Mountain View, and had our sights set on Southern California next. With the excitement of a growing company, came with it more people, more bureaucracy, more challenges, and more chaos. There was never a dull moment! We had an IT staff and a server room that probably could’ve handled the entire Silicon Valley. We promoted from within and created more layers of management. I’d venture to say, we had too many cooks in the kitchen, but it was great to see trainers have such opportunities.
Several times a new CEO was brought in, and several times I was asked to step down from the board, only to be asked back again. At one point I owned only 1% of AXIS. Losing control of the company I started was one of the hardest things to endure, yet I continued training my clients, giving them an amazing experience, and kept the trainers excited about their careers. That’s all I could do.
There were times during those years where we struggled to keep the doors open, barely making payroll at the lowest points, even not paying bills on time because we had no cash left. I can remember meeting with Alli, who was a newer trainer at the time, and she expressed her frustration with how we were not growing fast enough. She believed in what we did at AXIS, she believed in giving our clients the gift of health and longevity, and she wanted people all over to be able to benefit from it. I did everything I could at the time, to keep that passion burning in the trainers, and to shelter them from the scary truth of a business that might not make it.
The economic downturn in 2007 was a blessing in disguise. Our Los Gatos facility had closed a few years earlier, as it never really took off to begin with, and we made an extremely difficult decision to close the Mountain View location in 2008, in order to save the company. Our investors were no longer willing to take the risk on a small personal training business and I was able to buy back 100% of the company that I had started over 10 years earlier with love, passion, knowledge, and not to mention, blind optimism.
The last 8 years have been progressively our most successful years as a business to date. We are 100% committed to giving our team and our clients the best possible experience day to day and for many years to come. We know we would not be here today if it weren’t for the many trainers, leaders, investors, clients, and everyone who has touched AXIS in some way over the years. I am grateful to all of you! The successes and failures have made us stronger and we appreciate every step along the road. As scary as it was, I would not change a thing.
20 years ago I started AXIS but we, as a community, have built it to what it is today. We knew with grit, love, and constant growth and improvement, we would not only survive, but thrive. Thank you for sharing 20 years of ups, downs, happy and sad times, successes and failures. We have loved every moment of this journey which has given us the path to continue our dream.