How Sam Wood went from trainer to tech entrepreneur
His life has – in the scheme of things – taken an uncommon path. But even though his high school career counselor probably wouldn’t have advised a young, skinny Sam Wood to start a career in personal training, you can’t deny that the story of Sam Wood is one of success, hard-earned.
Sam Wood is first to admit that he’s walked an uncommon path.
It only took him a few minutes into our discussion for him to acknowledge the fact: “look, I’m very aware that I have an amazing life.”
While it’d be convenient to point to Wood’s reality stardom stint on the third series of The Bachelor as the impetus for his multi-million-dollar fitness empire that encompasses the phenomenally popular 28 by Sam Wood and The Woodshed gym, the roots go much deeper than that.
Making personal fitness child’s play
After studying Human Movement at university and working in the industry, Wood soon started his first business. And his first business wasn’t your usual personal training program. Instead, Wood launched Gecko – Australia’s first-ever kids’ fitness company.
“No one had ever launched a kids’ fitness business before a kids’ gym ever and thought it was a bit of a crazy idea way back in 2006 – there was a lot of ‘what’s the world coming to when kids have personal trainers’ kind of comments, and I totally get that point of view,” said Wood.
“But it was the start of us realising the impacts of screen time, poor nutrition and clever marketing around sugar.
“Ten years on and we’re a lot more aware, but back then it was pretty new.”
The result was a project gave him a lot more than experience in starting a business.
“I loved having an impact on children’s lives in such a formative stage of their life – you know, healthy kids typically become healthy adults.”
Gecko quickly found itself in 40 locations across Australia, but success wasn’t without its challenges.
“It was a really steep learning curve – I’m definitely a much better and more successful person now because of the Gecko days, but we had a lot of ups and downs,” said Wood.
“It was a great kids fitness business, but everything revolved around me. I was exhausted.
“I knew I wanted to expand, but I didn’t know how. So we started off licensing the Gecko program to existing gyms which had the infrastructure, but that was hit and miss, if the passion wasn’t there in the licensee team, it kind of fizzled out.”
As it turned out, a strategic pivot was just what the doctor ordered.
“Then we took a franchising path, which meant we attracted teachers and personal trainers who loved working with children. That was a game changer.”
Bulking up on business nous
The passage of time also allows Wood to look at his first business a little more objectively; “I absolutely wanted to make a difference and I kind of had the blinkers on”.
“I was so determined to make it work. I wouldn’t hear from people that would tell me that it wouldn’t,” he said.
“I kept spending, and lost track of how much money I was going to pour into a business that was perhaps not going to show a return.
“I wish I’d surrounded myself with better advisors.”
But now Wood’s a different, more mature businessman, and 28 by Sam Wood is a different business entirely.
Billed as a personal trainer in your pocket, the subscription app offers online training, nutrition and wellness support, built around the premise of a 28-minute workout.
To date, he app has worked with over 150,000 people, employs 25 full-time staff and is expanding into other markets. And Wood is adamant that 28 was a much better business from day one because he surrounded himself with really good people.
Though the success of 28 could also be due to its ability to scale sustainably, something that he is very conscious of.
Wood explains that the offering is about progress and not perfection, and about having a realistic approach to fitness — and while the statement is clearly about the people using the app, it also rings true for the business itself.
In the past, Wood admits to being very reactive, and avoiding his accountant, knowing he would only be bringing bad news. With 28, it’ a different story.
“There’s lots of forward planning and forecasting, we’re really in tune with live data from the program, and that develops into financials that are tracked on a monthly basis,” he said.
“Our accountant comes in monthly to make sure we’ve hit targets and we’re tracking the right way.”
Using tech to do the heavy lifting
And this dedication to data and accountability is one reason Wood has been with MYOB for over 15 years — he loves the immediacy and has full faith in the numbers.
“There’s no guesswork, and that’s critical when you’re running a multi-million-dollar company.”
In some ways the Sam Wood you see in 2019 is very different to the Sam Wood who stepped out on The Bachelor in 2015. He’s found love; he has a growing family as well as a thriving business.
So the obvious question is, what’s next for the personal trainer who’s now running a tech business?
“We’re excited about this online space, I mean the scalability just blows you away.
“We want to grow 28 to be as big as it can become.”
What shape will that growth take? For now, Wood remains circumspect about giving us a specific direction.
“We have the ambition to launch other programs that are aimed at other markets. It could be a kids program or older adults program or a male bodybuilding program,” he explained.
“I mean, there’s a whole other set of challenges, but I just like that you’re in control of your own destiny a little bit.”
We can’t wait to see what’s next.