How Jason Khalipa Built CrossFit Into a Business Goliath

How the entrepreneur learned from his failures to sustain success

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Founded back in 2000 by Greg Glassman, CrossFit has become one of the most impactful fitness brands in the world. Utilizing a strength and conditioning approach to working out, CrossFit heavily emphasizes the idea that the brand is a lifestyle and community intensive experience. The success of CrossFit led to the brand being valued at $4 billion in 2015 by Forbes. There are over 15,000 CrossFit affiliates as of 2018.

Though CrossFit has a stranglehold on the fitness business, it’s also created many interesting fitness personalities. Jason Khalipa is one of the success stories from the CrossFit world. The 2008 winner of the CrossFit Games, Khalipa has built a fitness empire. Before he had won the CrossFit Games, Khalipa had started his own gym in the same year. From a young age, Khalipa knew that he wanted to own a gym.

“When I was 16, I started working at the health club,” Khalipa said by phone. “Then when I graduated from high school, I started working full time at the traditional health club. I was doing sales and marketing and things of that nature, and that’s when I knew that I wanted to open up a gym for sure.”

Instead of opening a regular gym, Khalipa decided to start a CrossFit-themed gym. 

“When I founded CrossFit, its idea of kind of a more community-based, having a coach boutique-style, it aligned really well,” Khalipa recalls. 

Though his reputation as a CrossFit champion helped Khalipa, he still had to build his gym from the ground up. This involved building the right relationships in the CrossFit space and curating the right programs that attract customers. After developing his first gym into a success, Khalipa expanded. Now, NCFIT has gyms in five locations. 

Khalipa has always had his hands in various projects. At a young age, he started investing.

“The first major investment I made was, I was 17 or 18 actually,” Khalipa said. “I invested in a company called Batter Blaster and at the time I think some friends recommended it.” The investment initially seemed to be a success. Batter Blasters took off early, earning $15 million in revenue in 2008. Though there was hope for growth, Batter Blasters faltered and went out of business in 2012.

After Batter Blaster and a land investment that went awry in Idaho, Khalipa learned that he needed to readjust his investment strategy. The financial losses inspired gains in knowledge. He realized one common factor in his failed investments. “I have a whole slew of [investments],” says Khalipa. “But the ones that didn’t work out, generally I didn’t align with the product or I didn’t align with the individual head of it.”

Now, Khalipa’s investments generally center on products that he uses himself. He cites RockTape as an important brand that he invested in that took off. A kinesiology tape company, RockTape was eventually sold in 2018 to Implus.

In CrossFit, there are multiple avenues to invest because of the culture and lifestyle aspect of the brand. Shoes and apparel are the first product-based brands that come up. Nutrition has become an important space for companies to attack in CrossFit as well.

Khalipa has built a strong portfolio with numerous ventures into other platforms. He wrote a book, As Many Reps as Possible, in 2017 and hosts his own podcast, AMRAP Mentality, where he offers advice to other gym owners. Khalipa also shoots video constantly. His YouTube channel has nearly 52,000 subscribers.

Khalipa also is an adviser for numerous companies. He advises the clothing brand Mizzen+Main and the skincare company Huron. Started by Matt Mullenax, Huron offers quality products in the bathroom (face and body wash) at a reasonable price. Mullenax was a member of Khalipa’s gym and the two met through the gym. “It was pretty organic,” said Mullenax. “When I was in [California] for business school, I joined a local CrossFit gym that happened to be under the NCFIT umbrella. I met him kind of early on in my membership there, and we quickly hit it off.”

Huron fits with Khalipa’s mantra of working with brands that have a product and company leadership that aligns with his vision. “I’ve been that guy who just used a bar of soap for years as my shampoo,” says Khalipa. “My face wash, my body wash, my everything wash for years.” 

The partnership is an example of the power of the CrossFit community and culture. “[The community is] just very close-knit,” said Mullenax. “Oftentimes, people will tell you what new CrossFit shoes are out there, what new apparel brands are out there or you talk about what you do for work outside of the gym.” There’s potential for opportunities to arise from the relationships that develop naturally and organically in the CrossFit community.

CrossFit is in an interesting spot right now. Can the brand sustain itself after consistent growth over the past decade? Khalipa believes the gym model is what makes it all work.

“We’ll see what happens in the Crossfit mark,” said Khalipa. “We’ll see what happens with brands aligning themselves across. I don’t know at this point. But I do know is functional training gyms, strength and conditioning is going to be around forever, and it’s alive and well and good.”

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