From Gym Owner to Remote Tech CEO Kaleda Connell

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Tiffy Thompson: (00:04)
I’m Tiffy Thompson and women in fitness business is my deep dive into the industry. From the female perspective in each show, I talk with fitness entrepreneurs, coaches, and executives about why they got into the industry and what’s keeping them there. I ask about the unique challenges, women in fitness, the balancing act of career and family, and the different strategies for success in a tough field. I’ll present big wins lessons from failure and real conversations with real women who are improving the health of their clients around the world. It’s a spotlight on the great work of the women who know working out I’m Tiffy Thompson, and you’re listening to women in fitness business. Today, I talked to Kaleda Connell Kaleda is a former CrossFit gym owner, a two brain business mentor and the CEO of the web design and marketing automation company, Jim lead machine, which is currently in the process of expanding into a gym management software platform called kilo. Today. We’re gonna talk about what it’s like to go from gym ownership to the CEO of a startup tech company. What she’s learned in these last couple of years that have helped her grow as a leader and her secret hack for a better work life balance. Hey Kaleda. Welcome to the show.

Kaleda Connell: (01:23)
Thanks so much.

Tiffy Thompson: (01:25)
So you have been a gym owner, you retired early at a fairly young age, and now you’re the CEO of Jim lead machine in a, in a landscape where women are really underrepresented as CEOs. What does it take to be one? And, and what have you had to learn?

Kaleda Connell: (01:46)
That’s a super tough question. Um, and I think it really depends on like the BI, like the, the industry that you’re in the business that you’re running. And I think it’s really just gonna depend on the person, uh, too, but I think like there’s, there’s a couple of, you know, kind of hard, hard and fast skills that you should learn going into to management of any kind. Um, you know, I don’t really think it’s particular to women. Um, although I think maybe this is a little bit difficult for women cuz we tend to like take on a lot and um, you know, think that we can do it all. And, and quite honestly we can, uh, but I think for us, like you really need to, to figure out like how to create your own opportunity, right? So no one is going to create the opportunity for you to level up in your career or for you to, um, you know, take that next step or become a CEO.

Kaleda Connell: (02:48)
You have to create that for yourself. And so it’s about putting yourself in the right position and saying yes to the opportunities that get put in front of you. Um, you know, there’s a lot of times where, you know, I was away from home and I was, um, you know, traveling a lot and making sure that I was putting myself in the, the spot where I knew I’d be seen. I knew my work would be appreciated and you know, I could get to say yes to the next opportunity. Um, and I think like a couple other things, you know, if, if you’re not confident in your work, if you’re, you know, questioning like, did I do a good job or, you know, when you present something to somebody be like, you know, I, I made this for you. Here’s what I have for you and deliver it right.

Kaleda Connell: (03:36)
And be confident, be confident in your own work. And I think that’s important and it takes time to get that skill. Um, because you know, we, we question ourselves a lot. Are we doing the right thing? Is my work any good, but um, I think if you’re confident in your work and presenting that to someone, um, you know, they’re gonna see that it’s good work and they’re gonna see the opportunity that we’re or the, um, essentially that next step for you be like, oh, you’re the right person for that next job. And then I think the third thing, you know, that I thought of when, when I was reviewing the questions that you sent to me was, um, like setting, you’re setting others up for success. So if you’re able to empower others, um, to grow in their jobs, like you are gonna grow in yours, right?

Kaleda Connell: (04:29)
So managing people is about managing people and making them successful. And, and the more you make others successful, the more that you are able to level up in what you’re doing. And like a specific example of that is so as simple as like one of my favorite things to do, which is writing an so P right, right. When we first started Jim lead machine, we didn’t know, to be honest, we didn’t know what we were doing. Um, we, we had a pretty good, you know, idea, but none of it was on paper. Um, me and, and like two other people spent hour countless on zoom, just kind of like figuring out the process and making mistakes and, and, you know, sometimes you’d have angry customers and that’s okay because they were helping you, you know, develop these SOPs. So the next time that this didn’t happen. And so we were able to get to a point where those people felt empowered and I, the, and then once you get that level empowered, you can level up again and start work on the things that, that,

Tiffy Thompson: (05:34)
Um, experie as a owner impact on your, on your skill development. And as a, as a

Kaleda Connell: (05:45)
It’s tough because those are two, like really, really different businesses. Um, you know, running a gym, you have to essentially be there every day. Um, running a remote company, you can be wherever you want and you don’t know where your staff are. And if you’re, um, I don’t wanna use the term micromanager, but if, if you’re a manager who likes to see your staff work, I mean, that can be that that can be hard to figure out. So I think it, it helped for sure. I mean, I had Chris Cooper as my mentor, um, in both situations. So, uh, that was helpful. Um, I did learn how to manage staff. I learned how to empower people, um, you know, through systems and processes and, and make sure that they felt like they knew what they were doing on a regular basis. And if they didn’t, they knew where to find the answers instead of, you know, waiting for me to show up every couple of days. Right, right. Um, so that’s good, but it didn’t help me figure out how to asynchronously, um, communicate with staff. And it didn’t help me figure out like, you know, how to run a tech company or how to run a remote company or anything like that. So those are skills I’ve had to learn. Um, but I will say like the management of people, I think, no matter what business, either, if it’s your own business or a different business that, that you’re managing a, a group of people, um, will always be a good transferable skill.

Tiffy Thompson: (07:21)
Chris talks a lot about the love and loathe list, making a list of the, the tasks that you really love to do and wanna do more of. And then the lo list has that love section gotten bigger as you’ve grown in your career? Or how does that sort of played out?

Kaleda Connell: (07:38)
Yeah. That’s, these are hard. You’re, you’re asking all the hard say, but, um, so I think, I think, uh, like as you start every new business, like, you kind of start at the bottom each time and you’re gonna do stuff that you don’t wanna do. So when I ran my gym, you know, I did all kinds of stuff. I don’t like to do. Like, I’m not a particularly good cop. I’m funny in classes and I can entertain people, but I’m not technical. Um, and I, I knew that. And so being able to get somebody in that, that liked to do a little bit more technical coaching and that kind thing was really beneficial. Cause I could take that off my, um, I think no matter what job you’re in and no matter what level you’re at, you’re always gonna have some stuff that you loathe, um, maybe loathe is a strong word, but stuff you dislike doing.

Kaleda Connell: (08:34)
Yeah. Um, but when, you know, when I, when I was ready to sell the gym, like there was not a lot of stuff on my loathe list just because I had gotten to the point where I didn’t have to be there every day, I could do the things I really like to do, which was like manage the, the backend stuff, uh, manage my team. I loved managing my staff. Um, I still love managing my staff, but I, I really, you know, I liked my team there at the, at the gym. So that was really cool. But then you move into a new business and it’s startup and you’re back down to, you know, what Chris calls the founder phase. Um, and so you’re doing everything. Um, and like I said, this is very different, you know, it’s not, it’s not only my business. Um, so, you know, I have two founders that, um, I have to report to and that kind of thing. So like, I don’t really have the luxury of taking a lot of everything that I dislike reading off of my, my plate. Um, I don’t have the luxury of, you know, I typically use the 11 load list list with employees because they’re specialists and CEOs or, or upper level management are usually generalists. Right. So you do have to kind of do some of those things you don’t like doing, although I will say, you know, I’m in Brazil right now. Um, I’m not in cold Canada, so

Tiffy Thompson: (10:00)

Kaleda Connell: (10:00)
That’s pretty great. And there are a lot of things I love about, um, you know, being remote and being able to, to, you know, run the business at a high level. Um, I don’t particularly like doing little stuff, you know, like reviewing tricks and, and, you know, like preparing the monthly town meeting, like they’re like tiny little jobs that just kind of like add up. And I had an assistant and I recently lost her. So I have to do those things again. But at the same time, I’ve kind of realized like, those are really important things for me to do, because if I’m not paying attention, you know, I’ll get a report sent to me and be like, whoa, what, what is happening there? Right. Right. So I kind of changed my mindset about the loads list a little bit, because I know it’s super important for me to do. Um, some of those things,

Tiffy Thompson: (10:53)
It it’s been a, a admittedly hard year for Jim owners who you, you primarily work with. Um, what have you learned in this, the like over this pandemic period, that’s kind of helped shape who you are as a person and how you’ve grown as a leader.

Kaleda Connell: (11:11)
Um, so through the, through the pandemic, like we had to move very quickly. Um, we, when we first started G lead machine, of course there was like a little bit of talk of COVID. Um, but we didn’t like everybody else in the world, or most people in the world, we didn’t think that it was gonna become such a big deal. Right. So when we met in December and January, me and me and my team, we kind of laid a plan, a growth plan, how generally machine was going to grow over the next year. And our plan was to do five websites a month. We’re only gonna sell five a month. Uh, it might have actually been four cause we were gonna do one a week. Um, and you know, everybody knows when, when America shut down and, you know, I, I was in Berlin when that happened and I had to figure how to get home.

Kaleda Connell: (12:06)
And like we were in a crazy time. And so I finally, um, was able to get home and Canada, you had to quarantine for two weeks. And so that was great for me because, um, we decided that we were just gonna go full steam ahead. And we ended up selling four websites per day versus four per month. And so we really had to figure out what was absolutely essential and only deliver best on those things. And so we, we, we like really paired down and, and like trashed all the, the unnecessary. And so it was really cool to see the team come together and figure out what do we need right now in order to serve Jim owners best and what can we like scrap and what expectations do we have to set for these gym owners, um, that are coming on board. So they know exactly what we’re going to deliver now and what we will deliver on later.

Kaleda Connell: (13:06)
And so that was really interesting, like figuring out what to say yes. And say no to, and trying to explain that well, and I think, you know, for any business, like looking back, I think, wow, I wish I would’ve done that for my gym when I first opened, like only offer what’s absolutely necessary right now. And then build on that later. And it’s made me a better, a better mentor. Um, at two brain it’s made me a better CEO when we launch new products, um, and really like pairing down that offering to only the essentials and then setting the right expectations, um, for clients has been a really interesting and, and cool experience.

Tiffy Thompson: (13:50)
That’s really interesting. Like a, a lot of the stuff that Chris is doing now is very paired down and, and the liberal and intentional, and, and I think it leads to people getting better, faster results because they have that focus. Is that what you find?

Kaleda Connell: (14:08)
Yeah, that’s, it’s absolutely correct. Like, um, you know, have a, have a plan of what’s what’s absolutely necessary. And I think, you know, I used to run the, the two brain marketing, um, course mentors as well. Um, and I would take on clients that, uh, had issues, right. Because, you know, just like any like program or any, you know, you have this with the gym, people aren’t seeing results when they sign up with you, they’ve spent $400 and they’re like, well, what the heck? Right. And so you have to have someone on a team that can take on complaints and problems. And that was me. That was, that was my job at that point. And so I would take on, um, some clients that hadn’t had optimal results and we would take a look at exactly what they were doing. And I would find things like, oh, so you added this to, you know, your marketing copy, or you used this photo or you used, and they kind of strayed from the program.

Kaleda Connell: (15:09)
And so what we had to do was like, RI them back in and say, I only want you to do exactly what I’ve laid out for you. If this does not work, then we will try different avenues. Right. But let’s like stick to the basics. Let’s stick to exactly what the plan is. And then let’s, let’s branch off. And I think like a, and it worked usually like nine times outta 10, it would work. And so, you know, you’ll, as a manager, you’re gonna have staff, that’ll say like, let’s do this, let’s do that. And their ideas are all usually really good, but we have to figure out what to say yes. And what to say no to, in order for, you know, that quick growth that a lot of come

Tiffy Thompson: (15:53)
Kinda spell it. Like what, what do you do every day? And like, are you in your perfect day? Essentially every day? Like, it sounds pretty idyllic to me. Um, being able to work, live and work wherever and have that flexibility.

Kaleda Connell: (16:09)
Yeah. Um, you know, there there’s a lot of times like there, people will ask me like, oh man, like running your gym must have been like, so great. You like work whatever you want and like train whatever you want. I’m like, yeah. But like the reality is like, that’s not true. Right. Right. Um, you know, when I, when I ran my gym, like I was so busy that I didn’t have time to work out or eat properly. And I gained a lot of weight. Like that is not, you know, typically what people would think that would happen when you start a gym. Right, right. Um, but this is a little different, I mean, I’ve, I’ve had a go or two around, so, um, you know, figuring out, you know, what I wanna do every day and, and you know, how to get it done is, has been difficult, but it’s become easier, you know, over the last two years, once you get staff and, and systems in place.

Kaleda Connell: (17:00)
And I mean, this is the quickest I’ve ever grown a business. So, um, on a daily basis, I guess, like it’s usually putting out fires and, and having meetings, right. Like any CEO that you talk to, they’re just like, yeah, I just do meet all day. But the reality is like, um, you’re unblocking people a lot of the time, right. So you’ve got, you’ve got direct reports and you’ve got, um, you know, their reports and they will have questions that they might not know how to answer or problems that they don’t know how to solve. And it’s up to you as a CEO to, or, or may manager of any kind to unblock those people. And so you’re the decision maker most of the time. Right. Cause people are just bringing your problems all day long, all day long, and you have to have good judgment in order to solve those.

Kaleda Connell: (17:48)
And some, most of the time you do have good judgment some of the times you don’t and that’s okay because you’ll learn from that. Um, but yeah, like, you know, in, in terms of like details of what I actually do, you know, like I answer a lot of emails. I live by my Google calendar. Um, it really does change, you know, the time of year, the products that we’re offering, you know, what we’re doing, for example, we’ve acquired five website companies over the last two years. Wow. Um, so I mean, that’s another learning experience. Like I had never acquired a company before. Um, and after the first one, you know, we created systems around how we were gonna do it and they’ve evolved and grown after that. And every time we acquire a company, you know, I don’t want anyone to feel like, Hey, Jim lead machine just bought like this, this company, like our service is gonna get worse.

Kaleda Connell: (18:43)
Like I should jump ship or whatever. So I offer meetings to every single one of those people that we’ve, that we’ve acquired their websites so that they can put a face to the name. And so that I can put a face to the name. Right. Like we’re not, we’re not this like faceless company. Um, that, that doesn’t care if, if that makes sense. So some weeks, you know, I’ll have 20 meetings, 20, 30 minute meetings with, um, um, some gym owners, which is awesome. Right. Like it’s, it’s exactly what I wanna do. So it’s very tiring, but it’s, it’s awesome.

Tiffy Thompson: (19:18)
What would you say is your, uh, super power as an entrepreneur?

Kaleda Connell: (19:23)
I get it’s organization. Like yeah. Um, if, if you’ve, you know, listened to other podcasts or read anything that, that I, or, or if, you know, you’re involved in the true brain world at, at, in any capacity, you kind of know that, um, I like to write, so, which sounds like the most boring thing on the face of the earth, but it’s really my happy place. Yeah. Uh, you know, I can just like put on my, my like flow electro music and, and just really like figure out process. Right, right. Um, and it’s not because I want our company to be overprocessed because that’s not fun either. And, and doesn’t allow for a ton of creativity, but I do want people to know what to do. Right. I want them to, to, and I’ve said this before, like said this so many times, but like, your staff will feel empowered if they know where to look for the answer to their question. Right. And eventually you won’t need the SOPs quite so much anymore, but it makes it really easy to train people. It makes it really easy to take a holiday. It makes it really easy to, to have management like, and have those layers if you’ve got those, those systems in place. Um, so yeah, it’s, I guess just,

Tiffy Thompson: (20:38)
It takes time to do, but you’re buying yourself time later, basically.

Kaleda Connell: (20:43)
Yeah. Yeah. Like when we first started gym lead, I remember like we would try, we would try and have our staff like work as regular hours as possible. Um, you know, with, with remote staff, it’s, it’s hard to tell when people are working, um, which is like good and bad, right. These people are adults. Like, I’m not baby. I don’t wanna babysit people. Like, you know, I have nieces and nephews for that. Um, but I, I really wanted like them to feel like they could work whenever they wanted, but I was working, you know, on the front lines from nine to five. And then on like to book end my day, I’d be up at, you know, four or five, six and the morning. So I could write, you know, at least one, like FAQ answer to a question or get like some kind of process built out from a question that had been asked yesterday so that they don’t have to ask me again. Cause they don’t with a remote company, people don’t, they’re like, oh, sorry to bug you. Oh, sorry. You know, I know you’re busy, but it’s like, no, I want you to ask these questions so I can process this out for you. So you feel empowered to do your job.

Tiffy Thompson: (21:55)
Have you read anything or listened to any podcast or anything recently that’s kind of resonated with you?

Kaleda Connell: (22:01)
Um, the, the Jason free books. Um, a couple of them that I’ve read it wasn’t super recent. It was maybe six months ago or something like that. But, um, remote and rework, and they’re both very similar. So, you know, if, if your listeners decide to, to read these, like you can read one and get most of what you want out of them, but, um, they’re really like, they kind of flip and maybe not now with, with COVID, um, you know, transitioning a lot of companies to more remote work, but at the time that they were written, it did sort of flip the traditional Workday and, and work style on its head. Um, and it was, it was honestly, it was like comforting for me to read these and be like, oh, you know, I clearly, you don’t have to be online 24 7. Like you can block off time to get things done. You can like offer these like interesting and fun things to your staff. Um, and I realized that the hardest thing in running a remote company was getting your staff to stop working.

Tiffy Thompson: (23:08)
Hmm. Interesting.

Kaleda Connell: (23:10)
Yeah. So because, you know, I give them the flexibility to work when, and wherever they want to, sometimes they will overdo it. Right. And I don’t want them to get burnt out because that’s a very, what many of us seen? It’s a very real thing that can happen. Yeah. Um, and if you don’t, you don’t protect yourself and you don’t protect your staff, it will happen. Um, and, and people will be unhappy and it’s, it’s very real and it’s probably happening in every single company in the world right now. Um, are

Tiffy Thompson: (23:44)
You able to do that for yourself though? Have create that delineation between work and off time? Because I personally find it really difficult, especially it slacks on your phone, you know, it’s, it’s always kind of just running in the back of your mind, like a computer program and it’s, it’s very hard to kind of shift gears. Do you, do you have any hacks for doing that or have you figured that

Kaleda Connell: (24:10)
I have one? I have one. And it’s, uh, it’s on your cell phone. So, um, well, I actually, like, there’s some things that I do to get myself away from work and, and make myself happy. And one is like, um, have somebody in your life that likes to take holidays and forces you to do it. So that’s been great. Um, but the other, the other that’s on your cell phone is like, there’s a sleep mode or a focus mode on your cell phone and it will actually shut all of your apps off after a certain time. And I’ve done that. And it’s awesome because when you click on the app to like use base camp for a, all of our communication and, and at two brain, we use slack at, you know, GM, we use Basecamp and other things, but, um, you know, when you go to click on that, that app, it’ll actually a little notification will come up and it’ll say like, do you want to unblock this? Or whatever for one minute 15 or nevermind, and I’ll click it out of habit and it, and then I’ll realize what I’m doing and I’ll, I’ll hit nevermind. Right. So it’s like, it makes you more conscious about what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. Right. Um, so mine shut off at seven. They used to shut off at eight, maybe in a few months I’ll get to six

Tiffy Thompson: (25:27)

Kaleda Connell: (25:28)
Um, and then the other thing is like, do something for fun. Like figure out what you like to do and, and do something for fun. And honestly, I haven’t had a hobby in years, um, because I, CrossFit was my hobby and then I had a CrossFit gym and it was no longer my hobby. It was work. And so I didn’t understand, I didn’t know really what a hobby was like. Yeah. You know, we used to play soccer in school and we used to like, do all these things, and now you’re an adult and you like, don’t have time for stuff. It’s cause you’re not making time. Right. So like for me, I take language classes twice a week for two hours and like, I know I have to focus and I know that like, it’s something that I really enjoy, even though it’s kinda late at night or whatever’s on an ideal time of day. I just make sure that like, you’re, you’re focusing on this and I’ve made you friends. And like, I feel like I’m learning again. And it’s exciting. And even though I’m trash at it, like it’s, it’s super, um, it’s super great. And like getting you away from work.

Tiffy Thompson: (26:30)
Yeah. So where is I have a final question. Where is GM headed? And can you tell me a bit more about kilo? I’ve heard whispers in this company

Kaleda Connell: (26:45)
You’ve heard the rumors heard the rumors. Yes. Um, so GM, like for, for people who don’t know, like we build websites and, and automation software for gyms, like our, our customers are like super small, maybe not super small, but smaller gym owners. Um, and we, we create, we created this company because we wanted small Jim motors to be able to compete with the well-funded competition. Right. So we know that well-funded competition like these big box gyms, like they can outspend us in a matter of minutes. Right. And so Jim owners in our realm need to be able to work smarter and not harder. And so we spend a lot of time figuring out how to make Jim owner’s lives easier. Like it’s as simple as that we make Jim owners lives easier now in terms of like where we’re headed, um, you know, we are, we’re building software, we’re building software that makes running a gym easier and more profitable.

Kaleda Connell: (27:51)
And that’s our vision for the next, you know, foreseeable future. Um, which means that we’re going to be adding to our stack. Uh, and kilo is a gym management software that is super brand new. Um, you know, really we’ve only told our clients about it. So this is like the first start of public. OK. Um, announcement about it. So congratulations, Tiffany, you got that one. Um, but yeah, it’s, it’s currently in development. We are taking our first testers, um, on March 10th, we’ve got five people picked out to, to test the software. And we’re really excited, you know, we’re, we’ve all of us, myself, John and Mateo, we’re, we’ve all been gym owners. We’ve got staff that have either worked in our gym or have owned gyms themselves or worked in other gyms. And we all now have difficult is to use some of the management softwares that are out there. Right. They don’t give you what you need in order to actually run your gym on a day to day basis, make decisions that are important for your business. I mean, I don’t really care how much money I brought yesterday. Right? Like that’s not a meaningful metric, but what might be meaningful is figuring out, Hey, what’s my least attended class over the last, you know, four months. And should I cancel it

Tiffy Thompson: (29:15)

Kaleda Connell: (29:16)
Or, you know, what’s my revenue today compared to a time period that I actually care about. What’s my goal for this quarter and how close am I to hitting that? And being able to see those things like at a glance is ridiculously important and we haven’t seen it in other software.

Tiffy Thompson: (29:36)
So when, when do you have it slated for release tentatively?

Kaleda Connell: (29:41)
So 10 of release will be for, um, the two brain summit, which is the beginning of June. Um, so we hope to have something ready to launch. I mean, we’re, you know, if, if you paid attention, uh, during the last, I don’t know, 30 minutes or so here, you know, it’s gonna be a product, but it’s gonna be paired down, right. That only has the essentials and we’ll, we’ll lay out the expectations as well. But, um, as with any software, it’s just gonna continue to get better. Right? So while it may not have every single piece of functionality that, you know, you might wish for in a gym, it’s gonna have the pieces that you need and it’ll continue to get better and better. And, and we’ll be able to, to take Jim owner’s wishlist and actually act on them as well.

Tiffy Thompson: (30:26)
Very cool. I’ll be looking forward to that. Um, thanks for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure as usual.

Kaleda Connell: (30:34)
Thank you. Thank you for having me on this was fun and, uh, I’m, I’m sweating now cause it’s very hot. If you’re in Brazil

Tiffy Thompson: (30:41)
Well and enjoy, are you headed to the beach later or

Kaleda Connell: (30:45)
Uh, I dunno what we’re doing later. It’s uh, it’s a, it’s a free afternoon. So we

Tiffy Thompson: (30:51)
Should, uh, and it’s not minus 20.

Kaleda Connell: (30:54)
That’s right. It’s not minus 20 and there’s KHA somewhere. So we’ll, uh, we’ll get some of that. Thanks

Tiffy Thompson: (31:00)
Later. Take care. Thanks.

Kaleda Connell: (31:02)

Tiffy Thompson: (31:05)
Thanks for listening. For more episodes, subscribe to women in fitness business, wherever you get your podcasts.

The above transcript is generated using AI technology and therefore may contain errors.

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