The plot twist…that moment in a story when an event or experience dramatically shifts the future direction of the storyline and all the characters involved. I’ve always found these moments fascinating in real life, and so I started this new, recurring series—called “The Twist”—where I talk to entrepreneurs and explore the plot twist that led them to start their businesses.
Peter Brasovan and Jared Byczko are two Kelley School of Business graduates and former scholarship soccer teammates at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, who decided one night over beers to bring the first CrossFit gym to downtown Indianapolis. Since then, the founders of Naptown Fitness—which have known each other since the age of five—have opened two other gyms in Indy.
We all recently met at their Capitol Avenue gym to chat about their real-world entrepreneurial training, the business of CrossFit, and using their competitive spirits for good.
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Joe: Share a little bit of background on where you grew up, your families, etc.
Peter, Naptown Fitness: I grew up in Merrillville, Indiana, also known as “The Region.” I was always pretty physically active and playing sports. In high school, I played soccer and was pretty successful, which led to a college scholarship at IUPUI. I ended up at the Kelley School of Business there and got a degree in Marketing, International Business and Supply Chain Management. I played soccer for five years at IUPUI—took an extra lap to enjoy the experience a little bit.
Joe: And you, Jared?
Jared, Naptown Fitness: Peter didn’t mentioned this but we’ve known each other since we were five or six years old. We played on the same soccer team as kids, then in middle school, and in high school. We went to the high school state championship game a couple years in a row, which—as Peter said—got us a couple scholarships.
I too ended up at the Kelley School of Business, with a degree in International Business Management and HR. I didn’t take the victory lap he did, and graduated in just four years.
Joe: And then how about after college?
Peter, Naptown Fitness: I moved my stuff to my mom’s house before working with PlayStation through a marketing company outside of Chicago, called Marketing Werks. That allowed me the opportunity to travel the country and knock off some major bucket list items.
We traveled the country with a huge PlayStation rig that had 20 PlayStation 3s and 20 flat-screen TVs in it. We just went everywhere from the Indianapolis Air Show to the X Games to the Dew Tours to the Rose Bowl, to the BCS National Championship to MLB All-Star Game and the MLB Home Run Derby two years in a row.
Joe: Wow, I can’t believe you remember that many events.
Peter, Naptown Fitness: I went to Coachella and Lollapalooza. Massive events that people pay a lot of money to go to. I was able to go and work them. Had a really great experience doing that!
Jared, Naptown Fitness: I finished school in December 2007 and moved to Chicago. After taking a month off, I started a job at a logistics company in February 2008—mostly sitting inside a cubicle and wearing a headset. It was rough. But I always tell people it was the best thing for me, because I learned exactly what I did not want to do in life. Doing something I didn’t like helped me to truly enjoy what I’m doing now.
I lasted there for nine months before working for Aramark as a contractor. But all along, Peter kept calling me and tell me all these stories about how he’s doing this for Playstation and doing that. Traveling here, meeting all these people, doing all these cool events. It sounded like the coolest thing in the world and I wanted in. He got me the job, and I ended up working underneath him for a year. It was the greatest experience because you get to meet a lot of people. You’re thrown into so many situations at such a young age. You have to grow up pretty quickly.
After a couple years there, I ended up taking a reverse retirement. One of our college teammates lived down in the Virgin Islands, working as a contractor for an oil refinery. He called me up and offered his open bedroom. I quit my job, packed my bag, and ended up living on St. Croix island for about six months.
Joe: Give me the quick sales pitch. Why is CrossFit the best fitness option out there for people?
Peter, Naptown Fitness: That’s a great question because I don’t think CrossFit is necessarily the best option. I think doing something is the best option. We’ve always said CrossFit can be for everybody, but it’s not for everybody. That’s why we’ve evolved with our company and why we’re not just specifically a CrossFit gym anymore.
There are a lot of gyms out there who do really, really well and focus on the CrossFit principles, and that’s all they do is CrossFit. We’ve sort of decided to branch out a little bit and widen the spectrum to give an offering to more people who need help, as opposed to just those people who want to do CrossFit.
Jared, Naptown Fitness: CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied, functional movements at high intensity. We put our own spin on it and refer to intensity as relative intensity.
But simply put, we’re incorporating everyday movements—like sitting in a chair (squatting) or reaching overhead objects (pressing)—into a program that our programming director changes on a daily basis through micro and macro cycles. So it’s constantly varied, but always with an end goal in mind. Finally, during the actual workouts, we perform those movements at a higher intensity level, which varies per each one’s skill level. For example, a Division I athlete right out of college will most likely be lifting more and moving faster than a 72-year-old grandmother. However, they both will be in the same class doing the same or similar movements, just at a varying intensity.
The beauty of Naptown Fitness is that CrossFit is only one aspect and one entry point of fitness. If you’re motivated and want to push yourself as hard as you can, then CrossFit may be the best option for you. But we know not everyone wants that style of fitness, and so we created our SWIFT class for those who want to focus more on bodyweight movements (instead of barbells) for 45 minutes, as well as our full-time yoga program—Practice Indie Yoga.
It’s pretty to common to hear, “you do you,” at any of our NapTown locations, because we know that each person has his or her own individual goals. So if the workout calls for heavier weights but you’d rather move faster with lighter weights, then do it. If you don’t want to keep score, then don’t. It’s all about the individual and what he or she wants from their workout. The same applies to our yoga studio and the way the teachers teach.
Joe: Tell me how you got first connected to CrossFit.
Peter: When I was traveling, I would try to workout as much as I could. And one day I tried to go into this gym because I saw some barbells and a pull-up rig through the storefront windows. It was all I needed. So I walked as asked if they’d let me workout. Jared was actually with me that day.
Jared: That was Phoenix wasn’t it?
Peter: Yep, we were in Phoenix. But this gym told us, “No, you don’t know about CrossFit.” It was pretty annoying that they wouldn’t let us workout.
Then, in the winter of 2009 we moved to Breckenridge, Colorado for a month and became members of the local gym just so we could workout when we weren’t skiing and drinking. Because that’s all we did: ski, drink, and sit in the hot tub. But while we were there we kept hearing about this other gym—CrossFit Breckenridge—but still didn’t know much about it.
Finally, after I moved to Chicago in the spring of 2010, I was determined to figure out this CrossFit thing. I ended up joining CrossFit Chicago because I could tell there was something different about it. It was community driven. I started telling Jared more about it then.
Jared: Yeah, he kept talking about CrossFit. He wouldn’t shut up about it! He was actually working his way into kind of an internship/part-time coaching position at CrossFit Chicago, which was one of the first 20 or 30 CrossFit gyms in the world. Now there’s 14,000 in the world.
Peter: In 2011, I signed up to compete in the CrossFit Games. It was the first year that they held the games in a formalized, structured format. At that time, it was kind of a big deal, but no one really knew about it. I qualified for the regional, which is the second level of it. I think I finished in the top 30 something. Of course, Jared thought it must be super easy if I could make it that far, but when he moved back to Chicago from the Virgin Islands he realized how hard it was.
Jared: Yeah, in 2011 I moved back to Chicago. That’s when he was a part-time coach at CrossFit Chicago. I didn’t have a job yet and couldn’t afford the monthly membership, but I tried to get in with the owner. He let me start working around the gym.
Joe: Tell about when you started thinking about making CrossFit your career.
Peter: While Jared was getting more and more involved with CrossFit, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. And one day over beers in a bar, he said, “we should open a CrossFit gym!” I’m like, “You’re nuts.”
Peter: Yep! So we started talking to Rudy, the owner of CrossFit Chicago. He sat down with us a couple times and kept giving us all these books to read. He was pushing for us to open up a gym in the South Loop area of Chicago, but we felt the expenses would be too high. It didn’t make sense to us. And one day, when Peter was talking to Shannon, his girlfriend at the time, if she’d come with us if we moved outside the city. She said yes, but it had to be south of Chicago–someplace warmer.
We initially were looking at the Carolinas or Georgia, but we didn’t know anyone down there. And eventually we landed on Indianapolis. There wasn’t anything like it in downtown Indy.
Peter: This was just before the Super Bowl.
Jared: Yeah, that was a huge hit for us. We started looking downtown, sure enough there wasn’t a CrossFit gym downtown. And things were starting to pick up about that time. We started taking Megabuses down to Indy from Chicago and sleeping on a friend’s couch. We were just trying to figure things out and look at spaces. At one point, we had a lease in hand from one site and a letter of intent from another building. But those fell through.
Then one day we were driving by what’s now our 609 North Delaware building. The space was huge. Way more than what we needed. But I suggested we call the owner and see what happens. We got super lucky. He told us we couldn’t make any modifications and that he’d give us a six-month lease. If we were able to make something happen, he’d be willing to renegotiate a longer lease.
From there, we had two friends join with us. Then two turned into four, and four turned into eight. The numbers have gone up to where we’re sitting around 500+ members now amongst the three different locations.
Joe: Help me understand the business model. Is it a franchise?
Peter: The name CrossFit is trademarked. It’s an affiliation. I think one of the reasons that CrossFit helps people become entrepreneurs is because of the ease of access. You simply need to pass a few courses, uphold a couple standards, and pay an affiliation fee. It’s then up to you to create what makes your CrossFit gym better than a different CrossFit gym or another fitness facility. The barrier for entry for someone to become a CrossFit gym is pretty simple. What you’re going to create out of your gym and how you’re going to create your own space is what makes it a really unique opportunity. That’s where people really can succeed.
Joe: You clearly have a competitive spirit between the two of you guys. How does that work well for the business? How do you make sure they stay in check?
Jared: Yeah, that’s interesting. I honestly think Peter might be the only person I can go in business with because he’s the only one that can deal with me, and I’m the only one who can deal with him. We’ve known each other for so long, and we have that dynamic where we’ve been best friends for a very long time.
From a business aspect, our competitive energy has actually been pretty helpful because we’re always pushing each other. I’m sort of the gambler. I like to take risks. I’m the one that wanted to have five different spaces. He’s the one that didn’t want to because he was looking at the numbers.
It’s really neat to have that back and forth competitive spirit. We’re not afraid to call each other out. I think that’s one part that has made us super successful. We’ve done it our whole lives, and that’s just a thing that’s worked well for us. We get it off our chests quickly so it doesn’t blow up into something bigger. And then 15 minutes later, all’s well again. That’s how it works.
Joe: Not everybody has that ability to not take things so personally.
Jared: Yeah, we can blow up and then come back and say, “That’s my bad. That was on me.” Then boom, we’re on to the next thing!