#135 How to start a gym and become the best version of yourself with Keith Keppner

Show notes from Episode #135 of the Sweaty Startup Podcast.

Battling adversity his entire life, Keith Keppner seemed to have found his outlet in boxing, until a neck injury kept him away from the sport. Now, he operates a boutique boxing gym in Athens with 300 members, and tells us not only how he got his business where it is today, but how he’s become the best version of himself.

Starting Small

In 2013 Keppner opened his first boxing studio, after three years of coaching in the business. He saw that unprofessionalism in the industry was the unfortunate norm, and started to dream of owning his own facility. His first studio amounted to just 15 clients, barebones equipment, and Keith’s insistence that he did everything wrong in operating the business other than providing professional and quality service.

After starting out solo, Keith brought his future wife on board to help work in the business, and they grew to 75 clients by the end of 2014. They moved to a new location closer to downtown, which soon started to get crowded at 200 clients and spurred them to move again to a 6000 sq foot gym with roadsize exposure while expanding to 10 team members in the process. Keith says the passive advertising provided by the billboard along the road helps immensely, as it keeps you in your market’s mind.

While there wasn’t much interest in boxing to start out, membership grew as HIIT workouts became more common and people started looking towards smaller gyms. Keith says that early customers came by chance, and the emphasis was converting and maintaining them through quality service. Membership interest grew considerably when Keith added a call to action on his website for potential customers to inquire for more information. The quicker you can reach an interested customer, the higher your conversion rate will be; one of Keith’s staff members either texts or calls every lead immediately within minutes of them requesting information.

Modeling Success

When starting at ground level, Keith maintains that the biggest lie you can tell yourself is that you don’t need to get better at your weaknesses. In reality, you can’t rely on employees to fill in what you’re unable to do successfully. When hiring and training staff, you as a manager need to be able to model the behavior that you want to see. Keith can’t ignore his own development in gaining trust with clients, selling leads, or coaching, because if he does then his employees won’t be able to model his behavior when they’re asked to do so. Being able to delegate and duplicate yourself is a key to self sufficiency.

Living Success

Success is determined by your self-dialogue, and people sabotage themselves by saying they can’t do something. We all have reasons why we aren’t where we want to be in life, but if other people in worse circumstances are succeeding, then you can too.

Keith’s biggest success in his life has been overcoming lyme disease. Before being diagnosed, his disease drove mental health issues, weight loss, drug abuse, and failure in school, and he had no idea why. Determined to get better once he realized there was a reason for his struggles, he took up boxing and became the healthiest he had been in his life. Despite his lyme disease and subsequent neck injury that forced him to quit boxing, he’s thankful for his struggles, because they gave him opportunity to grow. He goes on to say that it’s not the easy things in life that make us better, but the hard things, and that finding success is about mastering your mindset.

Goal setting is a key habit of Keith’s, but he emphasizes that he avoids making the metric the goal. People lose weight to be healthy, but if your goal is to reach a certain number on the scale then you can reach that goal while harming your health. Don’t ask yourself if you read today, ask yourself if you grew and learned, and let reading be that medium. Framing your goals this way will not only set yourself up for success long-term, but it will create more sustainable habits.

In their final thoughts, Keith and Nick both warn us from thinking that one person has developed the path to success. There are many gurus that can lead you astray, and they’d rather prescribe their exact formula rather than try to find a solution that fits your needs. Take advice from anybody that will talk to you, but be careful with what you accept. 


Marketing and converting leads 12:15

Keys to success 22:00

Powerful habits 39:55

Also Referenced

Atomic Habits by James Clear

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

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About Me

I started the Sweaty Startup in December of 2018 because I believe the Shark Tank and Tech Crunch culture is ruining the real spirit of low-risk entrepreneurship.