Coming Back

Of the hundreds of interviews I’ve done, do you know which one I keep referring back to mentally? My original interview with Luke Burgis. He talked so openly about the closure of his previous company that the message behind is stories stuck: don’t do too much.

Well Luke is back with a new company, ActivPrayer, a faith-based fitness program. I invited him to Mixergy to talk about how he’s applying the lessons from his previous company at ActivPrayer.

Luke Burgis

Luke Burgis


Luke Burgis is the founder of ActivPrayer, which develops lifestyle and faith-based fitness programs.



Full Interview Transcript

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Here’s your program.

Andrew Warner: Hey everyone, my name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of, home of the ambitious upstart. And everyone always asks me,

“of all the interviews that you did, what’s your favorite? What’s the one that changed you?” Well, there isn’t a single one, but there is one that I just haven’t been able to stop thinking about. It’s my interview that I did about a year ago with Luke Burgis. And Luke came here to talk about how he had to shut down his previous company, FitFuel, and he told the story of jumping on so many great business opportunities that he just lost focus. And every time that a good opportunity comes my way, and I want to jump on it and take advantage of it, I think about the lessons that Luke taught me in that first interview. So, I’m so excited that I get to actually even talk to him again after that last interview, and we’ve exchanged emails, but now I’m going to have a real long conversation with you again. And I’m also looking forward to finding out what Luke’s been up to since our last conversation. He’s recently launched a new company called ActivPrayer, and ActivPrayer offers faith-based fitness programs. Luke, welcome back, man.

Luke Burgis: Hey, good to be here, man. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already.

Andrew: Yeah. Really not a single week has gone by, not a big decision has come up that I didn’t think back on your experience and what you said. It stuck with me. The more I put myself out there, the more great opportunities come my way, and I want to jump on them all! But I think about what you said. You’re so open, you’re so good with your stories, and the stories stuck with me, and I just keep remembering, “No, remember when he did that? Back away.”

Luke: I appreciate that. You gave me a lot of encouragement, because I had actually been asked to speak at a few universities. And I thought to myself, my company just went bankrupt. I’m basically an unemployed entrepreneur right now. What do I have to tell these kids about being an entrepreneur? Who are they to listen to me? And after I did the interview, I realized how many people out there actually needed to hear the stories, so that was a great encouragement for me, too. So I appreciate the opportunity and it’s good to be back.

Andrew: Oh, cool. I’m really glad that you did that. Yeah, I could hear somebody talk about how he raised a billion dollars and sold for $1.3 billion. I could hear it all day long, and those are great stories for getting traffic, and great stories for making news maybe, but they don’t influence me as much as your story did. Okay, so, here’s the thing that I’m wondering. I’ve signed up for lots of gyms, I’ve signed up for lots of training programs, and inevitably, I give up. Before we even get into what ActivPrayer is, don’t people leave? Isn’t there a bit churn in businesses like this?

Luke: There’s a huge churn. Absolutely huge. And I sometimes wonder if the fitness industry, whether it’s gyms or whether it’s nutrition companies, almost count on that. I think your typical gym purposely signs up more people than they can really truly handle, because they know, and they count on the fact that 80% of those people are not going to be there. If a gym had a retention rate of 85%, like we do, they’d be breaking fire code.

Andrew: [laughs]

Luke: Yeah. So I think that’s the nature of the industry. What we’ve found is that the reason that people don’t stick with gyms – you know, it’s like anything. I mean, I think we’re trying to feed people something that they inevitably are going to get hungry for again. Nothing will truly satisfy them if it’s just treating symptoms. You’re overweight, probably a symptom of some underlying mindset, or something deeper than that. Almost any physical issue is usually rooted in something that we believe is much deeper than that, perhaps spiritual, psychological. So if you don’t treat the disease, if you’re only treating the symptoms, I think you’re going to lose people every time. And they can have short-term success, but we’re not interested in giving people short-term success. I want to give people the tools so that they can build a lifetime of fitness. And that’s really the difference between ActivPrayer and any other fitness program that we’ve seen.

Andrew: All right. So, my goal for this interview is to find out what’s happened since our last interview, and hear how you got here, but I’ve got to talk a little bit more about where you’re at right now, because I’m curious. You said 85% of the people who sign up stick with ActivPrayer.

Luke: That’s right.

Andrew: All right. And I agree with you that if everyone who signed up for a gym actually went to the gym, the gym would have to shut down, there wouldn’t be any room for people, and like you said they’d be breaking fire codes. So how do you do it? How do you get people to stick around? What’s the process here with ActivPrayer?

Luke: ActivPrayer is really a two-piece program. We have a 40 day jump start transformation program that we run for everybody who’s new, and we have group fitness classes. At ActivPrayer, everything that we do is centered around prayer, naturally, or the spiritual life. We start every class with prayer, we end every class with prayer. We integrate meditations into every class, and I think people leave the class being nourished with more than just a great workout. And don’t get me wrong, we have people that come just for the workouts, and I think we give people a heck of a workout. But they leave with a sense of peace, with an energy, and hopefully some spiritual nourishment. So I think that’s a big factor.

Then we also have, in addition to the class, ActivPrayer groups, and I think that’s the key to the retention rate. We organize all of our members – and this is optional, but almost all of them choose to do it – into groups of five to eight people. Those groups can meet outside of class. We encourage them to meet once a month, just for support, for accountability. They share their goals with each other. They call each other up. Somebody didn’t make it to class, “Hey, hope everything’s going okay.” It’s similar to a Jenny Craig, it’s similar to even an AA type concept. You know, in any twelve-step program, having the group is critical. So we have the active portion, which are the classes with the actual training, and then we have this whole community social fitness concept, and that to me is really the key to our retention rate.

Andrew: I’ve done interviews now with at least a dozen entrepreneurs who’ve gone through accelerator programs, and I keep asking them, “Why did you join? What did you get out of it?” Because if all that it is is about the money, $20 000, you could put that on your credit card and start your company. That’s all that these accelerators invest in the companies. And they say, “No, Andrew, what you don’t get is we are in a program where everyone’s building a company. If we go for a whole week and don’t do anything, we’re going to be embarrassed when we sit down with all the other guys who are getting stuff done. And just being in a culture where everyone’s getting things done, where everyone’s building their company, forces you to bring more out of yourself.” So I can see how that’s worked for entrepreneurs, and I can see how that’s true for people who exercise.

Luke: Absolutely.

Andrew: Okay. One more thing before I go back. Maybe this is nitpicky, but ActivPrayer. There’s no E in Activ. Why?

Luke: I think it was a brand issue. I thought about it, and I think I’ve seen a lot of companies use the “Activ-something.” One of them was a software company, and they put the E at the end of it. I didn’t see anybody that used an E, and I thought, you know, building a long-term brand . . . I mean, I see ActivPrayer as a spiritual Nike, 20 years from now. It just seemed like it fit. I asked a ton of people, and everybody agreed that it was a little more catchy that way.

Andrew: Okay. I notice also that you . . . sorry?

Luke: There’s really no profound explanation or spiritual reason for that.

Andrew: I thought that you were going to say, “I couldn’t get with active spelled with the E at the end of it.” But no, I typed in, you own both versions of it, you own the actual spelling, A-C-T-I-V-E prayer, and also without the E.

Luke: That’s right.

Andrew: Okay. Let’s go back and find out how you got here. I know that I got a lot out of hearing your story, and I know that my audience got a lot out of your interview. You told me about how you spoke to audiences that got a lot of value out of it. What about you? What happened to you after you were as open as you were about what happened to FitFuel?

Luke: Well, the more I talked about it, the more I got out of it. Talking to people, getting feedback from people – it was a great experience, a life-changing experience for me. I realized at the time that I was never going to be the same. Never going to be the same. And what I did, I mean . . . probably the biggest thing that I realized was that I started FitFuel without truly thinking about why I wanted to be an entrepreneur and why I started the particular business that I did. I was more . . . it’s kind of like we hear the saying “art for art’s sake.” I was an entrepreneur for the sake of being an entrepreneur, because I could set my own hours, because I didn’t really like working for anybody else. Those are not bad reasons to be an entrepreneur. I would call those perks of being an entrepreneur, but they’re not reasons to be an entrepreneur. I didn’t truly love what I was doing. My goal was to sell the company and to be able to retire. I kind of was into fitness stuff, because we sold nutrition and fitness products, but not to the extent that I was willing to dedicate my life to it.

So after the company went down, I took about six months, a lot of prayer, talking to people, and I was quiet. And people kept asking me, “Luke, what are you going to do, what are you going to do next?” And I felt this pressure to give them something. I think you actually asked me at the end of the interview, “What are you doing? What’s the next thing?” And I said I don’t know. And I had to get comfortable with saying I don’t know, because I realized that the next thing that I decided on was going to have to be something . . . I asked myself two questions. What would I do for free? And what would I be willing to do for the rest of my life? Because both of those things, it’s possible that they may happen. I may be doing something for close to nothing for the rest of my life if it’s something that I truly love. And I wasn’t going to do anything else until I was able to answer those questions. And ActivPrayer came along, through meeting a series of people, through really reflecting deeply on what it was that was important to me, fitness, my spiritual life. And it just so happens that I think there’s a great way to combine those things as a vehicle to give people something that’s very valuable.

Andrew: So, I started Mixergy as an interview site after admitting failure with a past issue. And I always thought that if I had to admit failure publicly that I would just be depressed and embarrassed about it, but what I noticed was that as soon as I posted that video, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. The world of possibilities was in front of me. I wasn’t exactly clear on where I was going, but I knew that what I didn’t want to do was over, and hiding from not wanting to do it, and hiding from not wanting to do it, and hiding from everyone thinking that . . . hiding from wondering if everyone saw this as a failure or not. Just, all that weight just disappeared. What was it like for you after you talked publicly?

Luke: It was a very similar experience. It was cathartic. I actually got to the point where I really enjoyed talking about FitFuel and the failure of FitFuel. At one point I wondered, what’s wrong with me? I enjoy talking about my failure more than I enjoy talking about our success. And we had a lot of success at FitFuel before we ended up closing down. But I thought, there are plenty of people who are out there doing that. Usually when I go and there are speakers that are featured, it’s always a success story. And I don’t think that we get enough of the other side, and it’s a reality. I think that often we have more to learn from those people than we do from the people who are successful. I mean, I feel, after I closed up FitFuel I truly got to feeling that my entrepreneurial life was just starting. I felt this renewed sense of energy. I knew how much I’d learned. A renewed sense of purpose. And I was thankful. I was honestly thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of FitFuel and to have come away from it with as much enthusiasm as I had.

Andrew: You used the word bankruptcy earlier and I wrote it down to come back and ask you about it. How does that impact your life day-to-day?

Luke: I think it was a blessing. I mean, there are clearly impacts. I mean, I still don’t have a credit card. But that’s a good thing. I will be happy if I never own another credit card in my life. Other than that, because we’re raising equity, it hasn’t affected my day-to-day life that much. And maybe I just haven’t seen it yet, maybe I’m just not to that point. I mean, I haven’t had to buy a house, or buy a car, and I’m sure if I had to I would remember it, and it would sting. No doubt about it. But up until now, it’s been thank God in this country we have a pretty favorable system for entrepreneurs who go out there and put up the risk. And this is why we have so many entrepreneurs, because the system really gives us a way to get things back on track, to put our past behind us, and to move on.

Andrew: I was talking to an entrepreneur in Japan, where I guess the laws aren’t like they are in the U.S. Poor guy was just a little bit behind, and now his life is just completely changed by it. I think he said – I don’t want to get this wrong, I’m hesitating because I don’t know the laws in Japan, I don’t know what he’s going through – but he was basically saying that he can never climb out from under it, so he has to just sit and live with it somehow, and he’s under the thumb of the person who lent him money, and now he’s . . . well, I don’t know how tough it is. I don’t want to get it wrong. But I do know that in this country, you can turn . . . you can make that go away, you can start life fresh. It’s not something that stops everything. Okay. And you also mentioned prayer, that you turned to prayer. What happened? Were you always someone who . . . were you religious your whole life?

Luke: I was. I mean, I grew up in a home that was a spiritual home. We prayed before meals. When I went off to college I got away from that, I went to NYU and I was in the city. As I, you know, even during FitFuel I sort of went back to my roots, my spiritual life. But I think it was that FitFuel experience that really got me asking the question why. Why am I doing what I’m doing? And what’s really important to me? And I think it’s when we start asking those types of questions, why, what am I here for, it sort of leads us back to, you know, those issues, those metaphysical, spiritual issues that are really at the root. And I went back to all of those things that I had grown up with, but I understood them in a deeper way, as an adult. But yes, I always have been, but I would say that FitFuel really brought about a strength in me and a conviction that I never had before.

Andrew: Was it just a what am I here for, or was it also a Lord, get me out of this! Be there, solve this problem for me?

Luke: Yeah. Well, I think more than anything it was . . . I believed that it had happened for a reason. And I firmly believe, you know, that everything happens for a reason. And I don’t think that FitFuel was where God really wanted me to be. And I viewed it as providence. I viewed it as here’s God smacking me in the side of the head and saying, “Luke, I’ve got something, I’ve got a bigger mission for you, I’ve got something else that I want you to do.” So it was a very positive way of taking it. And it wasn’t immediate, it took me a while to realize that. But when I realized that, it was a great sense of relief. It was like, here’s God showing me a path. I was not on the right path before; I was running really fast in the wrong direction. And luckily, you know, he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Turn around. This is where I want you to be going.” So I think that having faith that he had a plan for me was very important, and I just trusted in it.

Andrew: I should address why sometimes I stutter in this interview. I could do an interview now . . . earlier this week I did four in a day, for other sites, for my site. I can knock them out very comfortably because I have a lot of experience with them. But when there’s one that really moves me, and one that really means something, it’s like a whole other thing. I now have to pay attention to every word that I say. I want to make sure that I get this right, that I do justice to how important that one interview that you did was to me. And I don’t want to ruin the significance of it for me by saying the wrong word here, asking the wrong question. Anyway, that’s why. I just want to address that, because I feel like once I say that I am stuttering and I acknowledge where it’s coming from, that I can at least put my mind at ease and not think about it so much, and just accept. I accept that this is happening, the audience accepts that this is happening, we’re just going to plow right through it.

Luke: No problem.

Andrew: All right. So, we talked before this, we did a pre-interview, and you were telling me that you were working as a personal trainer and you had an experience with someone that led to ActivPrayer. What happened? In fact, before you tell me about that person, what were you doing? Set the stage, what was the work that you were doing?

Luke: I actually was doing . . . one of the competitors of ours at FitFuel, one of our biggest competitors, after he heard that I’d closed down FitFuel, he hired me to do some consulting work. And I wasn’t spending a lot of time on the consulting work, 10 hours a week. It was enough for me to get by. So, that allowed me, and I did that for about six months, so I had, 95% of my time was dedicated to meditation, prayer, reading, just being quiet, being still. I’d been go-go-go my entire life, from Wall Street, living all over the place, 100 miles an hour, and having those six months to be still was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I actually wasn’t working as a personal trainer, and that’s what makes the story more interesting. I’ve never worked as a personal trainer. However, I’ve been certified. But I’ve never once trained anyone in my entire life. I’d just been informally consulting people. I was in the bookstore of a church here in Las Vegas. And the pastor of the church saw me, and he said, “You look like you work out. You know, I’ve been trying to get back into shape. What are the odds that you’re a personal trainer?” And I said, “Well, I’m not a personal trainer, but I’m very much into fitness. I’d be happy to help out. Here’s how you can get a hold of me.” Never expected to hear from the guy again. He calls me up early the next morning and says, “Hey, can you go to the gym with me tonight? I need somebody to get me back in shape.” Long story short, we end up becoming workout partners. And this guy is a priest. And I thought to myself, you know, this is a little awkward. I had never in my life thought that I would be workout partners with a priest. But it was a beautiful experience. We ended up doing this for three months. He got into fantastic shape. I was getting, just in the conversations that we would have in the course of the workouts, I was getting a spiritual workout. And through that relationship and some other things that started happening, I think the spark for ActivPrayer was set off. And he’s been very influential in helping shape all of these ideas. But that’s really the seed of ActivPrayer.

Andrew: If somebody just came up to me at a bookstore and said, “You look like you work out, do you want to get together tomorrow night,” I’d be a little nervous about it. What was it about him, in that conversation, the way he introduced it that made you think, all right, this is legit, he really does just want to work out?

Luke: Some people can get away with stuff like that, and I can tell . . .

Andrew: What do you mean? I’ve noticed that too, what do you mean?

Luke: Yeah, well, he was a pastor. And I’d known him for a while. I knew what kind of guy he was. He’s this, genuinely loves meeting people, loves, you know, making progress, just, improvement. He’s the kind of guy who will meet a stranger and ask to go out to dinner the next night because he just loves meeting new people and doing new things. Had it been somebody that I didn’t know at all, yes . . .

Andrew: I see, I see.

Luke: . . . I absolutely would have been a little skeptical at that.

Andrew: Okay. There’s a section in Dale Carnegie’s book, “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” where he was just telling a clerk, “You have good hair. I like the way your hair looks.” And he moved on with his day, and I thought, all right, I could see that, that would make sense coming out of Dale Carnegie. He’s just like a guy who would say nice things to people out of nowhere. Coming out of someone else, you might wonder, what’s the intention? That’s why I said, “What is it about him?” There are certain people who have something that makes us feel more comfortable around them. All right. I want to dig into some of the other things that you said here, starting with consulting. What kind of consulting work were you doing?

Luke: This was another . . . this was a direct competitor, an e-commerce nutrition company. They came to me and they said, “Luke, how were you able to build FitFuel so fast and so short of time? Can you do that for us?” And I said sure, why not. I mean, I looked at their site, I looked at what they were doing. They hired me to basically come in and make recommendations on how they could get their business in order. And I won’t mention the name of the business, because honestly it was a mess. I mean, from their books . . . they didn’t know how much money they were making or losing, so I helped everything from the accounting, to the marketing, to redesigning the website.

Andrew: How are they doing now?

Luke: They’re doing very well.

Andrew: Do you have one example of one thing that you did that had high impact for them?

Luke: High impact? Sure. I think, trying to think something in terms of the marketing, something that we did. We put in a new backend to their system, so this is more on the backend. They had no good way to keep track of the orders they were getting, to order inventory. They had no idea how much inventory they had of anything. So we basically installed a backend system that allowed them to track their inventory in real time, so that when customers came to the website and ordered something, they would always be in stock. From a customer service standpoint, that was absolutely huge, because in the past they’d disappointed a lot of people, because they had 5,000 products on the website, and at any given time maybe 500 were actually in stock. So just getting back to the basics, I think.

Andrew: How did you know how to do that?

Luke: From FitFuel, and especially from my relationship with at Fitfuel, who essentially partnered with Fitfuel. At one time they were considering buying FitFuel. And I learned the way they ran their website, inside and out, and I applied a lot of those things to FitFuel. And that was one of the things that Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, actually told me: “Never have anything on your website if you can’t actually sell it.” I mean, it’d be like walking into a shoe store, and you see this display of a great shoe and you ask the clerk to run to the back and get you one, and oh by the way we don’t carry that. I mean, it’s disappointing. So, just those simple, and it’s all common sense, but I think that just came from Zappos and from Fitfuel.

Andrew: Okay. It’s common sense, but I’ve got to tell you that even basic shopping cart software is hard to find, and it’s hard to figure out which is the right one. We were looking at it right now, before our interview started, for Mixergy, and I could see that this stuff is tough. And I could use somebody who’s actually sold something like what we’re selling now to tell us about shopping cart software and help us out. All right. Again, back on track. You said you were still. What does that mean, to be still for a few months?

Luke: To have an open mind. Just to block out all of your worries and anxieties. I feel like I had a fresh start, financially. I could do anything I wanted to do. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders. So instead of trying to impose my own ideas of success or what I wanted to do, I just listened. I tried, I listened to people, I listened to friends, I listened to God with a completely open mind, and didn’t jump to conclusions. I mean, patience was a big thing. My instinct was to go out and start another company two weeks after I had filed for bankruptcy. And I had plenty of ideas. It’s not that I didn’t have ideas. I was actually, the first thing that I did was run around telling everybody about the next thing that I was going to do. And people said, “Wwow, that’s a great idea, Luke, but you know, you just closed up FitFuel, shouldn’t you take some time?” And I realized they were absolutely right. And it turns out, if I had just sort of chased those things, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I would really love to be doing right now, which is ActivPrayer. I mean, it took me a good six months to come to that conclusion. So being still is, I think, just about listening.

Andrew: Why were those the wrong decisions? Why were those the wrong companies?

Luke: They were good ideas, but a good idea in itself is not enough for me. Again, it comes down to, “Luke, what would you be happy doing for the next ten years?” And when I really looked at those ideas and evaluated them from that perspective, it really added a depth to them, and I was able to see more clearly that I don’t think that I’d be interested in running an e-book reader service for the next ten years of my life. I’m just not that passionate about it. So even though the financial picture looked great, I mean, I had investors interested in some of this stuff. Everything about them looked attractive. But at the end of the day, if the founder, if the entrepreneur himself is not going to be able to put his heart and soul into it, if I was an investor, I wouldn’t want to invest in any entrepreneur that didn’t have that passion.

Andrew: I have another note here to come back and ask you about “and other things.” You said, through the relationship with the pastor and other things, you ended up on this new path. What were these other things? It seemed like there was something there.

Luke: The other things were . . . I was on a deep spiritual journey of my own. And I was also getting in the best shape of my life at the same time. So it’s interesting, because those are the two components of ActivPrayer, you have the physical element, and you have the spiritual element. So in my own life, I saw those two things, I saw the way that they affected each other, and I saw the relationship between my physical life and my spiritual life and the similarities. The similarities between an athlete, the discipline that an athlete has to have, and some of the discipline, and running the race of the spiritual life, and I saw the similarities. I think that the main thing that really made me realize that ActivPrayer was something that God was calling me to do, I was sitting in the back of a Bikram’s yoga class. And I love yoga, okay. I’ve been doing yoga for close to eight years. Sitting in the back of a Bikram’s yoga class, 105 degrees, a little uncomfortable. I don’t know all the poses. I think the instructor had said something of a spiritual nature at the end of the class. Neditate, lay on your backs, open yourself up and experience that peace and serenity. And it certainly was a spiritual talk that she gave. And I thought to myself, wow, you know, I love yoga, but there’s got to be an alternative for the people out there like me, perhaps from [??], that gives people a way to get a great workout and have that same spiritual fulfillment that yoga gives. I feel like there’s something there, and I knew it while I was sitting there in that class. And I walked out, and I talked to Father John, and I said, “There are 20 million people in the US who are doing yoga, and all 20 million of them will tell you, very few will tell you, at least, that they do it for only the physical benefits. Those are people who want the stress relief, they want the peace. They want that spiritual nourishment that they get from it. But yoga’s a very specific form of fitness, and it’s not for everybody. So what if we designed a class that was fun and that allowed people to explicitly bring in other faiths, for example Christian prayer, Muslim prayer, directly into the class, and just be open about it?” I think a lot of times, God, spirituality, people want to relegate it to just Sunday mornings at church, but I believe that people have a need to express themselves spiritually in other areas of life. And I believe that if we open the door, sort of, if you build it, they will come. If we showed people that it was there, that yes, people have a need for this, and that they’ll come.

Andrew: What about the idea that, for many people, and maybe this is what you meant, for many people yoga is, the spiritual side is threatening or uncomfortable, because it’s not their religion? Is this also a way of saying, look, if that didn’t touch you spiritually, here’s a way of bringing your current faith into an exercise program?

Luke: Absolutely, absolutely. And that was my experience. Because I was a little bit, I wished that I could openly express my faith in the back of that class, but I couldn’t. And it was a very I would say generic form of spirituality. Yoga, its roots are in the Hindu faith. However, in America, it’s really become less about that and more about just getting a good workout. But I think that anybody who knows yoga can’t deny that originally yoga started out as a spiritual practice, as a spiritual exercise. And I think we’ve lost that here, just because marketing has taken over. It’s become something very commercialized. I think if we got back to the roots, I think there is a genuine desire for that. And especially, like you said, for people to be able to bring in their own faith, especially in a community with other people who have similar beliefs. And there’s also the social aspect of that too. It’s a way for people to get together with other people of the same faith in a place outside of church, in a place where they can have some fun and get a good workout. And I think that’s missing.

Andrew: All right. So you have the idea, Father John’s helping you think it through, the world is showing you that there’s an opportunity here. What’s the first thing that you do?

Luke: The first thing that I did is ask everybody that I know, “Why do you work out, and what are you looking for in a workout?” Especially the people that I know who went to group fitness classes, all of the the performance coaches, the group fitness instructors who I know. I spent about a month asking questions. If you could have something more out of a class, what would it be? And it really reaffirmed the belief that people don’t necessarily go to a fitness class just to get a workout. They go for the community and many of these people, they do seek a better relationship or a closer relationship with God, or spiritual fulfillment. And it reaffirmed that, yes, people want this, but nobody’s really giving it to them. Because, you know, in public society we want to keep these things separate. But we are, I believe we’re beings who have both a spiritual and a physical nature, and if we keep those things separate all the time, we’re almost cutting off parts of who we really are. So it was a relief for me to see that it’s not just me. This is something that I think this is a fundamental human need, and that people were saying, “Yes, I would go to one of these classes. Where do I sign up.” Then the issue was, okay, where do we go from here? How do we design the best fitness class possible and make it something that people enjoy?

Andrew: How do you design a fitness class?

Luke: I had never designed a fitness class, up until that point, so I reached out to everyboy I knew in the fitness industry. I called up every performance coach who I’d been in contact with over the years, especially the ones who I knew were interested in deepening their spiritual life. Who I’d had conversations with in the past and I could tell there was something more there than just the desire to train people physically. And the response was amazing. I said, “Can you help me design the best, just from a physical standpoint, the best physical fitness program possible in a group fitness environment? Let’s do that first. And then after we do that, let’s find a way to make it more meaningful and purpose-driven for everybody in that class.” So I just reached out. It was not something that I was really capable of doing on my own at all.

Andrew: And so you reached out to them, they gave you help, they didn’t want a piece of the business, I don’t imagine, they didn’t want you to be obligated to them in any way, they just gave you feedback. You guys designed the class together. The first version of what you designed: what was that like? Where was it, how did you recruit people to take it, how did it go?

Luke: The first version was in a park, and everybody in that class was from my church. You know, that’s a big form of marketing for us: telling pastors what we do, and getting people in the churches involved, and then from there it spreads to the public. But it usually starts with the communities in the churches. So it was in a park, about 20 people. The first version went very well. I had a boombox, I used, you know, contemporary inspirational music. The problem with the first class was that it tried to do way too much. It was like, do an exericse, say a prayer, you know, while you’re doing this exercise, meditate on this, and I realized that people just can’t have that much thrown at them at one time. However, everybody walked away from that experience saying, “Wow, this is, you know, when’s the next class?” It was definitely something that nobody had ever seen before from a fitness class. And it was a learning experience. What’s interesting is that people stayed after the class and talked for 15 or 20 minutes. I could tell that there were connections being made, that there was something more happening than just a good workout.

Andrew: And they hadn’t met each other and talked before? How big is your church?

Luke: My church is 5,000 families.

Andrew: I see, okay.

Luke: It’s about 15,000 people. So I just put it in the bulletin, I’d got up and I’d said something after the service on Sunday, and 20 people showed up. A few of them knew each other, but most of them didn’t.

Andrew: Oh, wow. Okay. How did you change after that? What did the second version look like?

Luke: We stopped trying to be so structured. And I think the philosophy of ActivPrayer became simply invite God into the workout. Invite the Holy Spirit into the workout, and just kind of let it take over, just let the Spirit move us, rather than having this very structured program. And I think when we did that, we cut out a bunch of stuff, and just made it very simple. We’re going to start the workout with a prayer, we’re going to end it with a prayer and a meditation, and other than that, we’re just going to just leave it open to inspiration. With a general format, but we realized that the only way that we were going to be able to spread ActivPrayer and train other coaches and allow them to make it their own, and infuse their own personality and their own skills and talents into it, is if we kept it flexible and we kept it open. Because at the end of the day I think the reason, and the thing that separates ActivPrayer from other fitness programs is that there’s an intangible element to it. And the only thing that we can attribute that to, that power and the success and the retention rate, is really inviting God into the workout. It’s not us. That’s why I think the best fitness trainers in the world can put together a group fitness class, mechanically sound, fundamentally, all of those things, but that’s that intangible thing that we have is that we’ve just opened ourselves up to that, and it really transforms the nature of the workout. It’s nothing we can do on our own.

Andrew: Right. There are a lot of people in your church, but it’s still a limited number of people. When it was time for you to reach outside of that pool and go somewhere else, what was the first place you went to?

Luke: The first thing that we did is we got a website up.

Andrew: Okay.

Luke: And it just explained, hey, this is a new methodology, a completely new philosophy of fitness. It’s grounded in these concepts. We run group fitness classes, and we opened it up to new coaches and said, “If you’re a new coach, if you’re somebody who’s interested in bringing this concept to your community, we will train you to be an ActivPrayer coach and begin forming these communities in your location.” Whether it’s a church, whether it’s a city, you can run these classes anywhere you want, you can run them out of a park, if you want to go ahead and buy a storefront or a location, you can do that. We just kept it very open. And it’s sort of a grassroots type of movement. And we had a lot of people say yes. This concept is nothing new. People have inherently tried to infuse some spiritual elements into their workout, but I think we were able to give them some tools and a program to actually make it happen. A little bit of structure. And to give them the courage to say, “Yes, I now know how to market it. I have some support from ActivPrayer as an organization.” And people came. We had 20 new coaches come to us in the first couple of months.

Andrew: Really?

Luke: Yeah.

Andrew: Just because you had a website? How did they find out about you, how did they know that they could trust you, how did they know that this was something that they’d be interested in?

Luke: Aside from the website, we had some articles that were written on ActivPrayer from the local press that were distributed nationally. So people heard about us that way. A lot of people would stumble on us. And I wonder the same thing, how did these people ever find us? Some of them, I ask, and they would always have some crazy story of how they were searching for something else completely unrelated, maybe related to prayer, and they stumbled on the ActivPrayer website and they said, “Wow, this is something that I’d be interested in.” So it’s interesting. But I think that everybody basically said that it was something that when they saw it, they immediately felt as if it was something that they had to do or were called to do, almost as if it was already there and we had just awakened it, in other words. Like, it’s not like we’re, it’s not a novel concept. I mean, it’s something that really is very simple. I mean, start your workout with prayer, end it with prayer. And we gave people the tools to do it.

Andrew: Did you raise money for the business?

Luke: We are still in the process of doing that. We haven’t needed a lot of money. It’s a very simple operation. But now that we’re to the point where we want to start training people and holding national workshops to train instructors on a mass scale, we’re going to need some capital. So going back to the whole patience concept, I mean, I’ve had four . . .

Andrew: Going back to the what concept, I’m sorry?

Luke: Just having patience.

Andrew: Patience.

Luke: Having patience. I have had, and this was not easy for me to do, I mean, four potential investors come forward at various times. And I’ve ended up walking away from those deals, because I didn’t feel that it was just a good fit, long-term, for the business. Now we’re talking to some people that, because we’re a social business, right, we’re looking for somebody who, yeah they may want their money back, and they may want a little return, but we’re looking for people who are in it at least as much for the impact that this can have socially on peoples’ hearts and minds as they are for the financial impact. And I’ve had to feel good about that. And I think we’ve got to the point now, we’ve got some individuals that I think are a good fit, and we haven’t brought them in yet, but we’re probably going to do that soon.

Andrew: All right. What did you learn at FitFuel that you’re now using at ActivPrayer?

Luke: In terms of the online marketing, I’ve been able to take a lot away from FitFuel. A lot of the other spiritual/religious organizations out there seem to be lacking a little bit behind when it comes to marketing, especially online marketing. And I think I’ve been able to take some of that experience from FitFuel and use it in a positive way to get the word out there. Granted, FitFuel was 100% internet, online-driven. ActivPrayer is probably 5% online-driven. So I’m not able to leverage it as much as maybe I would like, but it’s definitely been a benefit. I mean, everything from Google AdWords to just getting traffic to a website, I think, has been a help. Forming relationships with customers, I learned a lot from Zappos about this, the way that they form those relationships with all of their customers, and from Tony, and I think we’ve been able to apply a lot of that to the relationship forming that goes on in ActivPrayer. For instance, one of the concepts, and I think you and I talked about this last time, always overdeliver. I think for Zappos and for FitFuel, we did the same thing. We would promise people five to seven day delivery on their packages and we would get it to them in two. And people get their packages sooner than they expected and they’re happy. They’re elated. I think that we do the same thing for the classes. People come to the classes, and my goal for every single class is that people who come to the workout expecting to maybe get a good workout, maybe meet some other people, but we always want to make them leave saying “Wow. That was way more than I ever expected to get out of a group fitness class.”

Andrew: How do you do that? How do you give them something that’s the extra mile in person? I could understand if you’re shipping faster, that’s very clear, if you’re adding a free gift, that’s something tangible, that’s easy to do. How do you do it in a program like this and still let people know, this is valuable, what I’ve just given you, this is an extra bonus that’s extra valuable?

Luke: Yeah, it’s definitely not as objective. It’s certainly a subjective thing. But I think the way we do it is focusing on each individual. And getting to know each individual and making them feel like they’re the center of our world. A lot of fitness classes, take a spin class, or even a yoga class, people walk into those classes, and there’s a good chance that they’ll put their mat down, grab their towel, do their workout, and then clean up and leave. And they’ll never have really talked to the instructor, and there’s a good chance that they didn’t know the names of the people who were sweating profusely three feet away from them for an hour. Our classes start with five minutes of socializing. Our coaches talk to every single person in the room before they leave. When you sign up with us, we do a detailed pre-workout questionnaire which asks questions, not only about, what are your fitness goals, do you have any health risks, all of those basic things. We also ask questions, which are optional of course, just to get to know them, about their personal life, about their family. And then obviously following that up with really getting to know people. What are your dreams? What are you looking to get out of this, not just physically, but spiritually? And I think that people see that we take the time to get to know them one-on-one, and that is really where they feel like, “Wow, I mean, these people care about me, and I’m not just a number in this fitness class.” And it takes time. It takes time, and sure, we could probably churn out more classes, and it’d take up a lot less of our time if we did that, but it’s just too important. That’s the fundamental, most important thing in our classes is to get to know people.

Andrew: I’m thinking of what I learned from the past and said I’d never do again. What am I saying? What I’m trying to say is this. It’d be nice if we made mistakes, we learned from them, and we never repeated them again. But what I notice in myself is that there are a few that I just keep going back to, even though I know I shouldn’t, even though I know I shouldn’t be a workaholic, I’ll end up working until midnight. Even though I know I should go and explore the rest of my life, like exercising, I’ll put of exercising when I should be doing it. Are there certain things that you’re catching yourself, now, repeat, even though that they’re mistakes that you’ve made in the past? What are they?

Luke: Yeah. And I think the biggest one for me is focus. Still focus. At FitFuel specifically it was trying to do way too many things at one time. So we ended up selling way too many products, you know, we expanded way too quickly.

Andrew: It was like dog viagra you guys were selling I think.

Luke: Exactly. All kinds of stuff like that. I don’t even know, I don’t even want to know half the stuff we were selling. And I think at ActivPrayer as well, there are a lot of ideas. A lot of ideas. Because I think that we see the future, and we see what ActivPrayer could be, 10, 15 years from now. So it’s difficult not to think about some of those things, I mean, I think about an apparel line. I think about ActivPrayer workout mix music that we could be selling. So these are brand extensions, these are things that I think, sure, they’d be nice to have. But not now. Just stay focused . . .

Andrew: Did you go in that direction once? Was there one thing that you did, and you said, “Whoa, wait, I’m doing it again”?

Luke: I started developing an ActivPrayer nutritional supplement line.

Andrew: Ah, I see, okay.

Luke: And I actually went down that road. And I got to the point where we were almost about to do a production run of a bunch of supplements, thinking, okay, it’s just natural, we can sell these to the people when they’re leaving the class, we might as well have our own brand. And I stopped it, and said, you know, I’m not going to waste the money and the time doing this. Because we are not a supplement company. And I thought about how much time I had already spent dealing with that, and it was way too much. And I said, “I need to dedicate 100% of my time to developing the best fitness program on the planet, and we just don’t have the resources to be doing that right now.” So yeah, so that was absolutely that fundamental, and it’s probably going to be something that I do for the rest of my life as an entrepreneur. I don’t think it will ever go away. I always need to just get drawn back. And that’s why it’s important to have good partners, people who know how to reel you in, and say, “Luke. Focus.” And I count on them to do that.

Andrew: Yeah, I feel like I could use that too.

Luke: Yeah.

Andrew: All right. Finally, how about one actionable advice, one piece of actionable advice that we can give our audience? If you could say go and do this or stay away from that, what would it be?

Luke: Well, I think, if you haven’t yet started a business, I would ask yourself the question, “Could I do this for the next 15 years?” And really take that discernment period very seriously. Because once you get into something, you know, you may be doing it for a long time, and if you’re not thoroughly passionate about it, when times get rough, you just won’t have the energy to stick with it. I think from an execution standpoint, if you’ve already started your company, your organization, you’re plugging away, my biggest advice would be along the same lines. I think that I’ve learned patience. I’ve always been going non-stop, 100 miles an hour, I’m a type A personality. But with ActivPrayer I’ve learned to stop when there’s a big decision to be made, ask a lot of people for their advice, spend some time in prayer just thinking about it before I make any decisions. I’ll do the old, I think it’s the Ben Franklin test where I divide a sheet of paper down the middle. And in the year that ActivPrayer has been up and running, I believe just taking just taking an extra few days or a week has saved me from making some bad decisions. And I think as an entrepreneur, we’re just inherently, we’re built to just go and just get it done. You know, get to it faster than the competitors, and just get it done. But I think that we will in the long run save ourselves a lot of trouble and be a lot more effective if we just take the time to really prudently make those decisions.

Andrew: That’s great. That’s great advice. Especially the part about know that you’re going to be there for years. This isn’t a burger-flipping operation, we’re not just flipping the business and moving on to something else, we’re connected to it. All right. The website is

Luke: Without the E, you got it.

Andrew: Without the E, and if they spell it with the E, they’ll take it out of there too. Really nice design. Who designed it, you guys, internally?

Luke: Yeah. Internal. We actually used for most of the graphics that you see, for the logo. 99designs, I would highly recommend for anybody who’s looking for good design work.

Andrew: The site looks great. Congratulations on the new business,, guys, check it out, come back, give me feedback on it, and Luke, thanks for coming back and doing an interview.

Luke: Thanks buddy, appreciate it. Have a good day.

Andrew: Bye.

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