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LIKE A BOSS: Jesse and Sarah Holguin

Q: Tell me about your business.

Jesse: What we do is self-improvement through the body. I feel like fitness is a gateway drug to improving your overall life. Having a better relationship with your body generally means taking care of it from the standpoint of nutrition and stress and sleep, etc., and people come in here because they want to lose weight or get stronger. But that’s not going to be the answer to what they really want, which is to feel better about themselves.

Sarah: They think they’re learning how to properly move their body with weights, but …

Jesse: It’s more than that. Why do you want to do it? Why is it important to you? There’s always a deeper meaning behind the motivation. You think you’re coming in to learn to squat better, get healthy, lose some weight, but what you really want is a transformation. You’re looking outside yourself for some help, and this will start to create the change, the domino effect.

Sarah: On the outside, we look like a typical strength and conditioning gym. We help people get strong and fit and healthy. But on the inside, we’ve just created a safe and supportive environment for when people want to transform their lives.

Q: How long have you been in business?

Jesse: I have been working as a trainer since 2006. The WellRock came in 2009, but at that point I was working from my garage.

Sarah: 2013 is when I quit my job to help grow the business, and 2016 was when we moved into a brick and mortar location.

Q: Is this what you imagined yourself doing professionally? If yes, when did the vision for this business form? If not, what were you doing before and why did you decide to strike out on your own?

Jesse and Sarah Holguin at their gym, The WellRock Wellness, Strength & Conditioning, in Altadena

Jesse: Yes, I did (want to have a gym). What was holding me back was just fear. I had a part-time gig that was supporting me, and I just worried that if I went full bore with the gym stuff it might not work out. One of the main things that motivated me to go for it was my best friend. He’s played a really critical role in my life with this kind of stuff. I like challenges, so I was kind of like ‘Aight motherfucker, I’m gonna do it.’ … At the time I was making more money than everybody I knew.

Sarah: Same.

Jesse: But I also realized I hated it.

Sarah: Same.

Jesse: I was starting to realize the quality of life for how much money I’m making is just not worth it. And I thought, ‘There’s no way I‘m going to spend the rest of my life being unhappy.’ That was another conversation with my best friend. At the time, we were living together with his five-year-old son. He had just started his own business and was broke, and I was paying a lot of our bills. But he was like, ‘So what. We’ll figure it out. Who cares. Your happiness is way more important than money.’ That was a Thursday or Friday and the next Monday I went in and quit. I told myself, ‘This isn’t going to be the rest of my life and if I don’t do this now I’m going to get more and more comfortable.’ I had enough money saved up for like six months.

Q: How did you get the idea for your business or decide to go into business for yourself?

Sarah: I was the manager of a research department at a commercial real estate company. I was doing data analysis, data mining, that type of stuff. It helped me develop a ton of skills that I use now. Business skills. Administrative skills.

Jesse: Originally I had more of a 24 Hour Fitness vision. But then I realized I cared a lot more about the human in front of me. It wasn’t about squatting, it was about eating and sleeping and stress management and relationships – that spiritual and mental development. That’s where Sarah and I clicked a lot. We would talk about some really deep emotional stuff, and it was like ‘Yeah, this is how you really get better.’ Aesthetics are not what motivate people. If people would be more vulnerable they’d admit it’s not about having bigger biceps or a better butt.

Sarah: (Being a business owner was) not at all the plan. I started out as a client. I was looking for a trainer because I wanted to get healthy and strong. Through our client relationship we became really good friends and then that blossomed into something deeper. After we started dating, that was at the peak of my really falling in love with health and wellness. At some point he was like, ‘What if you quit your job and we grow this thing?’ I love it but I never thought about doing this as a career.

Q: What’s the best thing about being the boss? What’s the worst?

Sarah: Not having a boss. The freedom to create whatever you want for your business, since you’re the one who gets to call the shots.

Jesse: I don’t look at it as being the boss, but the best thing about owning what you do as far as your business is that you have the ability to create it into anything you want it to be. What we have both found, myself and Sarah, is that just like fitness, owning your own place is very much a personal development life trajectory. So if we want to grow the business, if we want to create more freedom, get more locations, clients, whatever, it’s just about us growing as individuals. It’s about acquiring the mindset to get where we want to be. That constantly drives us every day. In fitness there’s no limit either. You can develop and develop and develop. As a business owner, there’s no limit. Amazon started in a garage, so did Apple. So did we.

Sarah: The worst part is the pressure to do well. And basically everything is your fault. You’re responsible for everything, which can be really overwhelming sometimes.

Jesse: The hardest thing, and I wouldn’t really say there’s a ‘worst,’ is looking in the mirror and really taking ownership of what’s happening in the business. If we think we’re working too hard or want more freedom, it’s our fault for not creating the systems and structures for that. We have some really honest moments where we look in the mirror and say, ‘If we’re complaining, it’s our doing and we have the power to change it.’

Q: How has being a business owner changed you?

Jesse: It gives you more confidence in life. We’ve been through so many scary things getting to where we are now. And every year has just been better and better and better. And that’s because we’re better. If we were to lose it all next year I think we could create something new really fast. And that’s because of the people we’ve become.

Sarah: You develop a ton of grit as a business owner. It has changed me completely. So much so that it’s hard to answer that question. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t own a business or hadn’t chosen this path for myself. Everyone has this idea of the kind of person they are or want to be. But as a business owner you have to live that out. You actually have to be that person who is responsible and does what they say and takes ownership of things and is resilient and a good problem solver. You have to actually become that person.

Q: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Jesse: Ourselves.

Sarah: That’s a good answer! I’d say self-limiting thoughts. Learning to not compare yourself to other business owners or what other businesses are doing in your field. Accepting that you can’t help everyone even though you really want to. Embracing risk.

Q: What do you wish you knew more about?

Jesse: I think at this point, marketing, especially through social media. That side of things is the next step for us, and it’s just storytelling but we’re going to have to start doing that more in terms of how we want to run the business and grow it.

Q: Tell me about a moment that stands out in your business history as particularly triumphant.

Sarah: There are many. The first six months (in their Altadena location) were pretty difficult because we were so scared. I remember I had written down some monetary goals for us to hit and it was something I would go over constantly, how we would grow and the rate we’d grow and making sure we were going to be okay. At the six-month mark we had sold one of our largest personal training packages and I just felt so proud of myself. I was constantly thinking in worst-case scenarios because I was so scared, but that was a huge weight off and I realized ‘We can do this!’ It wasn’t just the monetary goal, it was my mindset at the time. A lot of people say ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ But for me it was the opposite. I had to believe it to see it.

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