Business Time

I landed in Christchurch about 2pm in the afternoon.  Four years earlier Sally and I were in same airport; young, free and excited about the next six months.  Which is exactly how long we intended on spending in Santorini, that quickly turned into 4 years travelling the world. Those adventures seemed relatively distant now as the customs officer processed my passport and welcomed me home. Ninety minutes later I was in our very first business planning session. We were so motivated, but also so far out of our depth it was almost funny.

Sally and I always wanted to own our own business. We never knew exactly what it would be, but it was a dream for us to be able to work for ourselves… being in charge of my own destiny was something I was passionate about and it was non-negotiable in my mind.  On the yachts we worked on we were working 16 hour days back to back for our three month seasons, so we knew we could work hard, and we just thought why would we work this hard for someone else? It should be out name on the bottom line, receiving all the benefits for our hard work.  So that was our plan, we just needed to figure out exactly what that was going to entail.  We had kept our ear to the ground for nearly two years now looking for an opportunity that would allow us to move home begin working for ourselves. We had a few options but a friend of ours had opened his own franchised gym a couple of years earlier and done really well, so that was one of the avenues we continued to look at. Others areas we explored were media, marketing, gardening and property development.

A Gym?

We spent months and months sending hundreds of emails back and forth looking for opportunities. Exploring them further, they would fall through or not be right so we would move on. Then when we were somewhere in New Mexico we go an email to say there was a site in Christchurch and there was potential to put a gym there. We had the franchise, a site, and a good looking opportunity. We explored if further and it kept looking better. The franchise suggested we talk to other franchisees to gain a better perspective of how they operate on a day to day basis. We did that immediately and again this gym idea continued to look better and better. One day we were driving though Louisiana and we got a call from one of the Franchisees we had been speaking too. She said  that she had an epiphany… we should buy one of the gyms off her.  It seemed like a fantastic opportunity. We were going to pay more than we would have if we had started one, but it already had members, it was profitable, staffed and ready to go.

As we continued our drive across the United States, we again began to exchange hundreds of emails about this club. Everything was looking good, we had a lawyer and accountant in Christchurch looking over everything for us and one night we were at a Ice Hockey game in New York and the Sale and Purchase agreement was sent to us. It seemed like a wonderful place to start our business, so over a couple of PBRs (beers) and though the infinite wonders of technology we signed it and emailed it back toasting to our next adventure.

We had 10 days once we arrived back in New Zealand to complete our due diligence (a pharse I had only learnt the meaning of 2 days earlier). Our first business planning session was so exciting, and so terrifying at the same time. I didn’t even know what some of the things on our to do list were, let alone be able to do them. We had a plan, some great people around us and the enthusiasm to get it done so we went to work.

I still laugh at the contrast, literally 7 days earlier I was dressed in a woman’s one piece swim suit with my nipple pierced, a cigar in my mouth, and yard of pinacolada in one hand while I posed for photos in the Ceasers Place fountain, before running from security. Now I was sitting in the boardroom of a bank asking to borrow more money than I had earnt in my entire life put together.

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With some very experienced and knowledgeable people surrounding us we contined with our due diligence and feasibility research. The accountant said yes, the bank said yes, the lawyer said yes and all that was required was Sally and I to say the same. The night before we had to make our decision I remember second guessing ourselves. Can we really do this? We know nothing about running a business and nothing about gyms and this has the potential to go so badly. If we did this, there was no option but success.

I thought back to 4 years earlier when we quit our (great) jobs, sold everything and bought a one-way flight to Santorini, Greece. We had never been there before, didn’t know anyone there, and that too could have gone so badly.  Both decision were risks, risks that were entirely necessary if we wanted our lives to change.

I also thought back to when we lived in the Caribbean and getting work was so scarce that I ran out of money.  Literally ran out of money. I had $24 US left to my name, and I bought a $17 round and thought to myself $7 is the pretty much the same as no money so I tipped my last $7 to the bartender. A month earlier when there wasn’t much work I had enough money to fly home, live at my parents and get a ‘normal’ job again, but I learnt that if you give yourself a back up plan, that becomes your plan. If you truly go all in and leave no other option that success then you make it work. I went all in then, committed to finding work there, and the morning after my I gave the Caribbean bartender the hand signal to keep the change, I got a days work, which turned into a weeks, which turned into a month, which turned into a full time position with Sally sailing around the world.


I had taken a huge risk before, and I had gone all in before. Both of those times I made it work, so I believed in Sally and myself to make this work. We said yes, and bought a gym.

Now it begins

We drank champagne and again toasted to the future but we now had 2 weeks until settlement. Which to be honest was just as frantic as the last ten days, if not busier. We transferred everything over from the old owner to us, everything from the electricity to the toilet paper deliverer.  We bought ourselves uniforms, met all the staff, - one of whom cried when we told them we had bought the business of the previous owner, we did everything that we didn’t even know we had to do. It was chaos, but really exciting chaos.

Despite the franticness everything had gone relatively smoothly and felt like we were doing the right thing, which is a big thing for me, I always trust my gut instinct and the universe, I feel like they naturally guide you in a direction your meant to be heading, and this was most certainly the case for us, it had been a very fluid process with not a single hiccup, so I knew we were making the right decision. This was meant to be. The first day however was a different story…The software system that ran the entire club was down… the company had not activated my login and it was a Saturday so no one was there to reply to my 100+ emails or phone calls.  It’s funny looking back, but not so enjoyable at the time…It was also the last day of a really good sale, so we were flat out. In one day we signed up 30 people which is huge, but it was all done on good old fashioned paper and pen. It is to this day one of the best sales day we have ever had! It was stressful but awesome.  Really stressful, but really really awesome!

Learning to Swim

The analogy of learning to swim in the deep end epitomized us in beginning. It’s not easiest or safest way to learn to swim, but you also learn the fastest because again you have no other option. To stick with the analogy you can give yourself floaties by surrounding yourself with smart, successful people who know more than you, and by asking questions, and learning from people who have done it before; this will help you stay afloat at the start, but ultimately you are going to need to learn to swim.  I can imagine everyone feels like this when they go into business for the first time, but that doesn’t make it anymore reassuring. I had never even been a member of a gym before, now we were running one.

After nearly 4 years of travelling the world, we were now settled back at home and after  a lifetime of dreaming about it we were now business owners. We were our own bosses, our future was in our hands, no one else could decide what our reality would look like, how much money I could earn, or how much time I could spend with my family. I was excited by the fact that I had decided I would never ever work for somebody else again, the quote that had resonated with me so clearly once before was now my truth in all aspects of my life… I live in a reality of my own design!


Thanks for reading



Key Learnings

  • Surround yourself with smarter/ better/ more experienced people
  • Risk is inevitable
  • If you give yourself a back up plan that becomes your plan - go all in, burn the boats!
  • Trust your instinct!
  • Its not easy, but its worth it!
Matty LovellComment