Happy Monday Team!
Today is almost exactly seven years since we opened our doors here at the North Star Academy. On February 11th, 2017, I ran an open house out of our former location inside of Balance Chestnut Hill. This event featured two guest instructors (Sam Oropreza and Joe Stripling) with over forty people in attendance! It was pretty awesome.
So, gather round kids, Coach Jackson is gonna tell you all about how North Star MMA came to be.
In 2004, I began formally training in both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai kickboxing. Having had some wrestling experience under my belt, grappling came quick, but I always struggled with striking. In time, though, I did manage to figure some of it out and had a pretty successful competitive career as both an amateur and professional fighter.
In 2012, I received a pretty serious injury to my arm that nudged me towards retiring from competition, and I took on the role of big brother and, eventually, coach at the academy I was working and training out of.
As a fighter and coach, I had always dreamed of opening my own gym and finally, in 2016, I made the decision to get started. I only had about $4000 available to invest (read: to my name) in opening up so I really had to be creative, but I found a great arrangement renting space out of Balance Chestnut Hill and between rent and new equipment, had about $1500 left to spend. So, because I have a hard time doing anything half-assed, I decided to throw a massive open house.
And it was massive.
I distributed flyers up and down Germantown Ave, invited all my friends, spent a few hundreds on internet advertising, and also spent a few hundred on snacks (including a cheese plate, lol), all in preparation of my big open house. I was, after all, going to sign up my first students there! So I spared no expense.
$1,500 later and the day of the open house arrives. We have a great time — the guest coaches did an amazing job, everyone had fun, and the snacks were enjoyed. When it came time to give my pitch, I hit everyone with an amazing offer. An offer so good, nobody could resist! My lovely wife was at the table (where the cheese plate was) ready to receive the rush of new students enrolling, and I was going to make that $1,500 back in spades so I could start really investing into my business.
Well, nobody signed up. $4,000 spent, and not a penny to show for it.
Although, shout out to Ken Mosely — he won the free membership raffle — so at least I had one student! Although he wasn’t paying 🙂 Ken is still part of the academy today and is literally the OG-est of the OGs here.
After everyone left, my wife and I cleaned up, and I just sat at that enrollment table with the cheese plate on it in silence and wondered if I had made a huge mistake. It was one of the lowest parts of my adult life and I considered just packing it all up and quitting. What business did I have opening a gym, anyway? Sidenote: I still ask myself that question daily, ha!
I had no idea what to do next. Where would the students come from? Who in their right mind would join this program? I tried everything I knew and I had failed.
Well.. quitting wasn’t an option (literally, I had bills to pay — the only guarantee of entrepreneurship is that you are gonna owe people money) so I just went home, got back to work, and kept chugging along.
And, little by little, the program started to gain traction, and some really amazing people joined up. Some of them are still here now (Colleen, coach Bill, Angus, Pedro, and definitely a couple more I’m forgetting off the top of my head), and helped build this really cool community we now enjoy.
It’s easy to look at the program now and just assume everything was figured out from the start, but that was definitely not the case. Whatever success or accomplishments the gym has had over the years have largely been the result of failing forward and learning from a ton of mistakes.
Anyway, I think we’ve all had our “cheese plate” moments. Times when we feel like we’ve exhausted all our ideas, our resources, and our energy. But I also think that stumbling around blindly in the dark is better than calling it quits, and this initial experience really formed some important life and business lessons for me that went on to help me get through some other tough times (COVID, for example, when we lost 90% of our students — a story for another day).
Anyway, happy anniversary to North Star MMA and thank you to all the amazing people that have been a part of the journey past and present. You all rock and I wake up every day feeling an incredibly amount of privilege and gratitude to be able to do what I do for a living.
See you on the mats!
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