Body Boss failed. This is the first time that I’ve typed those words. My co-founder, Daryl Lu’s newly released book, Postmortem of a Failed Startup: Lessons for Success, goes many steps further. He exposes the intimate details of Body Boss from “cradle to grave”. The book is overflowing with actionable lessons for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs alike, all while revealing the human side of co-founding a business.
You can download the book from Amazon here.
I had the distinct honor of authoring the foreword in Daryl’s book. The foreword (excerpted below) details the genesis of Body Boss from the inception of the idea to the growth of the team, member by member. Enjoy.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
– Thomas A. Edison, Inventor
By Don Pottinger
A dream team must be 10x greater as a whole than the sum of its parts. 20 years after THE Dream Team dominated the Olympic Games, a different sort of dream team would be formed – the Body Boss team. Unlike The Dream Team, there were no superstars like Michael Jordan. None of them were household names with a long résumé of success like Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. In fact, the team was made up of 4 young and unknown entrepreneurs named Darren, Don, Andrew, and Daryl. They came together with a singular purpose: to disrupt the fitness industry with a revolutionary product called Body Boss. In pursuing this goal, the team members transformed from upstarts with raw skills into startup superstars. This dream team wasn’t born but made through their pursuit of greatness, and it all began with Darren, the brainchild behind Body Boss.
Body Boss began with Darren. He was an industrial and systems engineering (ISyE) student at Georgia Tech learning how to improve complex systems by formulating and analyzing abstract models. In essence, Darren was learning how to make systems more efficient. Darren also followed his high school passion by wrestling at Georgia Tech.
When he wasn’t training, he spent hours thinking about wrestling – ways to improve himself, ways to gain an advantage on his competition. One day it hit him: why not apply ISyE concepts to a system he was very familiar with – his own body? He could build models instructing him what to do to maximize his strength and conditioning. This was the beginning of the idea that would eventually morph into Body Boss.
He formulated models using an elaborate spreadsheet. Like a mad scientist, he began testing the model on first himself and then his closest friends. They would meet in the gym, perform the prescribed workout, and record their performance. Darren’s spreadsheet would instantly tell them how much weight they should be using against target reps to maximize gains for each exercise. The idea behind Body Boss was conceived in Darren’s dorm room, transcribed into a spreadsheet, and tested in the Campus Recreation Center at Georgia Tech. That is where it would have died if it wasn’t for the next person – Darren’s brother, Don.
Like his brother, Don is a Georgia Tech alum. He graduated 3 years prior to Darren with a degree in Computer Engineering. In contrast to Darren, Don had no interest in his major post-graduation, so he decided to dive into a career as a management and IT consultant at a Big 4 consulting firm. Don quickly realized that big corporate consulting work was neither challenging nor rewarding.
Don took note as his brother began hacking on a program that would take the confusion out of working out. Really, Don had no choice – whenever he and his brother hung out, Darren would talk of little else.
Darren submitted the idea of Body Boss to the InVenture Prize competition at Georgia Tech that showcased ideas of current and recently graduated Tech students in an innovation competition. Darren’s pitch was ambitious – Body Boss will tell users what exercise to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Even though Body Boss was nothing more than a glorified spreadsheet, he made it to the semifinals of the competition. However, the judges wanted more.
Darren recruited a developer to build a prototype iPhone app. On the day of the final presentation, Darren and Don arrived 30 minutes early waiting to see the prototype app for the first time. They waited impatiently for the developer, but the developer would be a no-show. Time was up, so Darren stepped onto the stage and delivered his pitch – most of the judges loved the presentation. However, one judge was unconvinced. The judge looked at Darren and asked incredulously, “But can you build it?” The lack of an app prototype was Darren’s undoing – Body Boss didn’t make it to the finals of the competition.
Don was sitting in the audience and watched Darren exude confidence throughout the entire presentation until that very moment. It was excruciating to watch his brother stumble. “But can you build it?” reverberated in Don’s mind. It was less of a question and more of a challenge. That challenge would serve as a rallying cry for Darren and Don. They promised never to rely on a third-party to determine their fate.
Don and Darren dedicated themselves to learning how to build web and mobile apps. Don dove headfirst into web application development with Ruby on Rails. Darren, not to be one-upped by his brother, began learning mobile development with Android. They spent countless hours together learning and building. Body Boss became a family affair.
While Darren is a brilliant and mercurial thinker, Don is more even-keeled, methodical and consistent. His natural charisma endears him to everyone, and this characteristic would be important as the Body Boss team took shape. The next team member to join, Andrew, would make Body Boss look and feel beautiful.
Andrew has a background in graphic design with a focus in web and app design, frontend development, user experience, and branding. Prior to Body Boss, Andrew plied his trade at a digital agency in Washington D.C. He gained valuable experience in his role there, but the rigidness of the company had begun to stymie his creativity.
Andrew and Don had known each other since middle school, but they hadn’t spoken since high school. Don had stumbled across Andrew’s personal website and was incredibly impressed by his portfolio. He reached out to Andrew in the hopes that Andrew would be interested in doing work for Body Boss. Although it had been almost most 8 years, they caught up like it was yesterday.
Don demoed an early alpha version of Body Boss to Andrew. The backend was impressive, but the user interface looked rough. Neither of the brothers were designers, so they relied on a pre-built theme that just didn’t fit. Andrew recognized the brothers’ intelligence, passion, and vision for Body Boss. In addition, Andrew saw Body Boss as the creative outlet that would finally push him to full-time freelancing.
Andrew joined the team as the Creative Director. He created all the visuals and designs that would transform Body Boss from a hobbyist project held together by duct tape into a visually stunning and impressive product. Now, the product team was complete with coverage across backend, mobile, and frontend development. There was just one piece missing for the Body Boss team. The one piece that would make them complete would be Daryl.
Daryl and Don had been best friends since college. Their bond was formed on the soccer field playing collegiate soccer together and being roommates throughout Georgia Tech. Upon graduating, Daryl began a career in consulting and quickly became a highly skilled and sought after consultant. His first taste of startups came when he joined a small boutique consulting firm. It was there where Daryl learned what it took to build a business from the company’s founder. After the company was acquired, Daryl decided to pursue an MBA. He wanted to add business skills like marketing and finance to his consulting experience while adding structure to his freestyling work style.
Daryl had been keenly watching Darren and Don hurtle themselves into web and mobile development. Body Boss intrigued Daryl enough to help out from time to time. His consulting background proved to be a strength, but his heavy travel schedule prevented him from fully committing.
Everything changed after the Body Boss team competed in a pitch competition called Startup Riot in early 2012. Daryl pitched Body Boss to investors, entrepreneurs, and anyone who showed interest. When Body Boss finished in the top 4 of the competition, Daryl was hooked. Now in business school, Daryl wasn’t traveling anymore. When he wasn’t in class or studying, he was working on Body Boss. He even used Body Boss as the subject of several group projects.
After graduating from business school, Daryl dedicated himself full-time to Body Boss. He became the driving force behind Body Boss because he could do everything. He easily maneuvered between managing sales, marketing, customer support, finance, and product. He created a sales playbook, handled all legal and accounting matters, and created and maintained strategic partnerships. In fact, Body Boss’ first customer was Daryl’s high school.
Daryl provided much needed structure and balance to the team. Through his Body Boss experience, Daryl became the all-purpose executive.
The roles within the team solidified organically – Darren led mobile development and built the workout engine Don led all other technical development. Andrew led creative efforts. Daryl led everything else. The Body Boss team was ready and equipped to disrupt the health and fitness industry.