Throw out the name of a top thought leader or brand in the health and fitness industry and I bet you they have been involved at PaleoFX. Every year thousands of health enthusiasts spend 3 days in Austin, TX to get the scoop on the latest trends and developments in the fields of fitness, nutrition, and personal development.
This is one of the biggest events in the game, and in this episode we are interviewing the founder to hear how he built the thriving brand.
Keith Norris, along with his wife Michelle, started Paleo FX in 2011 with no business plan, but with the realization that there is a pressing need for a conference that helps people understand how to apply the insights of the ancestral health perspective.
Since then PaleoFX has grown to be one of the biggest events in the industry with speakers, interactive panels, fitness seminars, and endless amounts of grass-fed jerky samples.
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In This Episode Keith and I discuss:
● What it is like managing an event business
● The power of influencers to build your brand and spark growth
● How to monetize an event (aside from ticket sales)
● Philosophies of a “Mission Motivated” Entrepreneur
0:00 – 5:00 The Value Of Community & The Birth of PaleoFX
5:00 – 10:00 What’s It Like Starting An Event Business?
10:00 – 15:00 The Power Of Influencers
15:00 – 20:00 How To Gain Your Momentum When Starting
25:00 – 30:00 “Mission Motivated Vs Money Motivated”
35:00 – 40:00 The Systems & Processes Of An Event Company
40:00 – 45:00 Monetizing An Event Company & Rapid Fire Questions
What You Missed:
In the previous episode, we heard from Rob Grupe who went from 7 years in prison to having the #1 Crossfit Gym. Rob’s story is riveting, compelling and inspiring and is unlike any story you’ve heard before.
Hey guys, Yuri here—Hope you’re having an amazing day. I think it’s about to get better after you listen to today’s episode because I’ve got a very special guest. All my guests are special, but I’ve really enjoyed the conversation I’m about to share with you, with Keith Norris.
Keith Norris is the co-founder of Paleo FX—which is the world’s largest paleo event. So what we’re going to discuss today is really the journey that he’s gone on with these events over the past seven years and he’s going to share some of the challenges, the struggles that they had when they first got going, to the massive run and success they’ve had recently.
There are some really cool nuggets, takeaways and important reminders—no matter where you are in business—that I think you’ll really appreciate from this episode. He’s also going to share the one person who made all the difference in that very first event back in 2011 that Paleo FX probably wouldn’t be in existence without—so you’re going to want to find out who that person is.
So let me officially introduce you to Keith.
He is a serial entrepreneur, physical culture enthusiast, lifelong learner and explorer of consciousness. He is an owner and co-founder of Paleo FX, as I mentioned, which is the largest event in the world. He’s also a partner at as Efficient Exercise and ARX Fit, as well as being a founding partner at ID Life.
He lives in Austin, Texas with his beautiful wife Michelle—who’s also the other co-founder of Paleo FX—and their four rescue mutts. I think you’re gonna enjoy this one guys, so buckle down and get ready to be inspired. Let’s get right to the interview.
Yuri: Hey Keith, how is it going my friend? Welcome to the Healthpreneur Podcast.
Keith: Yuri! Doing fantastic here in Austin, Texas in the heat.
Yuri: Yes I know it’s great. I’m talking to a lot of people that are in Florida, Texas—so they’re just melting in the heat, and I live in Toronto where it gets pretty hot in the summer as well, but wintertime not so much.
That’s awesome. So what’s new and exciting? What are you jazzed about these days?
Keith: Well, as always, I’m jazzed about Paleo FX! Paleo FX has become pretty much my 24/7 business endeavor right now. I do have a few other business endeavors that I’m involved with, but Paleo FX is taking the lion’s share of my time at the moment.
Yuri: Oh, I can imagine. For anyone listening who has not put on a big live event—it becomes a full-time job. If you’ve been to Paleo FX, you know what’s entailed. There’s some amazing speakers, amazing opportunities for connecting with some of the biggest leaders in the Paleo space and the health space, and you guys have done an amazing job.
So how long has Paleo FX been going on now? For four years?
Keith: Six! This will actually be the seventh iteration coming up, which is amazing to me it’s like a child, when you turn around and go, “Oh wow! They’re seven years old.” Yeah. How did that happen?
Yuri: Well I’m a huge fan of experiential events like that. Because I think when humans come together, that connection—you can never replicate that online. And I’ve actually had an event planning company university, and it’s funny that almost 20 years later I’m doing more events and small workshops in the health and business space.
So I’m fascinated by all this kind of stuff and how you can build out a great event. Now, why did you start paleo effects, like seven years ago?
The Value Of Community & The Birth of PaleoFX
Keith: Yes, so to your point, it really has boomeranged back into a personal experience thing, right? We can get all the information we want online and a lot of times that information is free—and it’s good information if you know how to sift through and you know how to parse the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.
But one thing you cannot replicate is a live audience with people who are like you, coming together and networking, interacting, sharing ideas. As human beings, we need that tribal connection, and I don’t know that we knew that outright when we started Paleo FX.
I mean we did want to get together with our peers and rub shoulders, sit down and break bread—which is probably not a good paleo term… Break bacon, maybe—across the table with our peers and share ideas and just be with the tribe.
As this show has matured, we found out that attendees come to the show primarily for that reason—because let’s face it, they can get the information online, they can read books.
And all of that is fantastic, I mean thank god we live in this day and age now where that’s possible. But it has separated us a bit and individualized us a bit from the tribe. And it’s good to have events like this where you can come together and actually be with people and interact.
Yuri: Yeah, totally. It’s something people look forward to on a yearly basis—it’s kind of like Christmas! Like, hey we’re going to get together with the family again and see all the distant relatives that we haven’t seen since last year.
Keith: Yeah, absolutely.
Yuri: So what was like, the seed? Was there a moment in time where you like, woke up out of bed or were taking a shower and you thought, “Oh my god we should do this!”
Was there an exciting moment, a pivotal moment, where you guys decided, “this is something we should do”? Is there something that stands out?
Keith: Yeah, in fact, there is. So my wife Michelle is actually the CEO of Paleo FX.
Yuri: As she should be.
Keith: Yeah, she should be. Keep peace in our house and keep everything peaceful. You know she’s a fantastic CEO—she’s made for that position. I am not. I’m more of the creative visionary type and day to day operations are tough for me to do.
So we fall into our natural abilities quite well, and we complement each other quite well along with the Paleo FX team. But to answer your question how did this all kick off…
Michelle and I were at the Inaugural Ancestral Health Symposium, which is a sister conference of ours—a much more academic leaning conference. When you go to an AHS event, it is an academic event. And we need that in the paleo-sphere—we have to have that academic credibility to keep us afloat.
Our motto is soul and sustainability backed by science. So we have to have this continuing science coming out, and we have to have a mechanism to support that. So that’s just a shout out to our friends at Ancestral Health for putting on that symposium.
So anyway, 2011—the inaugural event is at UCLA in Los Angeles, and I spoke. Michelle and I went out, and this was the first time that many people in the paleo community had actually seen one another up close. We, of course, had a big online community by that time, but many of us had never met one another in person.
So that was a fantastic event. Again—very, very academic.
I’m also involved in Efficient Exercise—I’m a partner in Efficient Exercise, here in Austin, Texas—which are brick-and-mortar gyms. And the whole time I was at this conference I was thinking, this is just fantastic, this information is so good and so deep, so vibrant.
But how am I going to relay this to my clients?
My clients really don’t care about the specifics of the science. They just want to know it works and they want to know that I vetted it and that’s all they really care about. And if they choose to deep dive into the specifics here and there, they can. Because I can send them literature to read and whatnot. But really on the day to day basis, they just need to know how much to work out, how to work out, what to eat, and how much to eat. And that’s really what they need.
So we were actually sitting on the plane in L.A.X.—on the tarmac—getting ready to take off and fly back to Austin… And we were just kind of de-briefing, chatting, and we thought, “what if we put on a very, very small show that was just that?” It was a theory to practice show, or a rubber meets the road kind of idea. A very practical side of what we just went through for the last three days.
And that was that was the birth of Paleo FX.
Yuri: That’s awesome. That’s such a good lesson, I think, for anyone listening. Because a lot of times people struggle with like, “What do I add to the marketplace?” What you just mentioned there is a prime example that you took, in some way shape or form, complexity and you kind of distilled that down for the everyday person and you said, “Okay, why don’t we create this thing that can kind of meet them halfway?”
And that’s beautiful. I think that’s why business is amazing because you look at a potential problem, and you look at the market you want to serve, and there’s a disconnect—so let’s kind of fill that gap. I think what you guys have done with this is terrific.
Keith: And that’s business and entrepreneurship—”how can I solve somebodies problem?” You solve a problem, and you solve it in a very simple way—something that can be replicated, something that they understand—and you instantly have a business model.
Now all you have to do is take it, out market it, and you know, the yadda yadda yadda—what we all know as entrepreneurs. But the initial seed has to be, “what problem can I solve?”
Yuri: Yeah, totally. And so starting year one, how did you fill the events? How did you start getting in front of the right people, getting the right speakers involved, when you weren’t the prominent figure you are now in the paleo scene?
What’s It Like Starting An Event Business?
How did you start to get the word out about the events and how did people start to, kind of, mark this on their calendars as something they have to be at?
Keith: Yeah, so one thing I didn’t know before going into the event space was how crazy you have to be to get into the event space. So being totally naive helped, right? We had no idea what we were getting into.
Michelle was a chef—or is a chef—and she has done events, and she knows what goes into event planning, although not nearly to this scale. And so, of all of us, she was like, “You know I want to do this, but this is going to be an undertaking—I don’t think you guys understand how much of an undertaking this is actually going to be.”
And at that point, it was Michelle, myself and my partner at Efficient Exercise and at ARX Fit—which is an equipment sideline that we had going on. Actually, I shouldn’t say it’s a sideline, it’s a full-time business for Mark Alexander—for me it’s way on the periphery.
That’s just to say; we were totally involved in other things. And Mark and I thought, you know, “How hard can this be?” Michelle, on the other hand, is trying to bring us to reality and go, “No, it’s going to be hard! Events are hard to do.”
So we went full forward.
Michelle had to take on I would say… 99% of the of the work leading in because Mark and I simply didn’t have the time nor the expertise to pull it off. We’ve since learned, we’ve come a long way and now… Myself specifically, I can speak that I’ve put a lot of my vision into Paleo FX, but Michelle had to do the heavy lifting.
The Power Of Influencers
To put on a show like this, you have to have that initial seed to get things started because nobody knows what you’re doing—nobody has any clue what you’re trying to put on. It just so happened that we were good friends with Robb Wolf, who was prominent in the paleo sphere. Your listeners might not be real familiar with Rob…
Yuri: Shame on them—Rob is the man!
Keith: Yeah, he is a luminary in the in the paleo world. And we just caught up with Rob and kind of gave him a 30,000-foot overview of what it was we wanted to do. And we said to him, “We need a headliner to get this thing kicked off. And we realize that you have no idea what we’re doing. But can we sign you up as a headliner to kick this thing off?”
And he said, “You know what—you’re right. I have no idea what you guys are doing. But I love you guys and whatever you’re doing. Absolutely, sign me up.”
And so we did, and we were off and running with Robb Wolf as the headliner. And we have worked him to death every year since. [laughing]
Yeah, so we blame Robb for the craziness that is Paleo FX now, because really without Robb or someone of that caliber we were not going to be able to get this thing kicked off.
Yuri: Yeah, that’s pretty cool—because that’s not easy to do! It’s a very different animal because social proof is really important, I think. With live events people want to see who’s speaking at it, and… If I’m going to spend three days there and take time out of my life and spend the money—Am I going to be surrounded by the right people? Are the speakers going to be people I want to hear from?
Now when you have someone notable like Robb, it’s not only beneficial for the attendees but also for speakers in future years—you’ve probably noticed that everyone’s jumped on the bandwagon now because they want to be at Paleo FX and that kind of all started because Robb took a leap of faith and saw what you guys wanted to do and that probably helped out a lot.
Keith: It did. I cannot understate his contribution to Paleo FX because it really—and I do not exaggerate—without him it would have never gotten off the ground. All the best planning in the world would not have compensated for not having that headline speaker to kick things off.
And, you know, he supplied that for us. And he has been at Paleo FX every year, and we work him hard every year. For people who have not been to a Paleo FX event—our speakers don’t just come in and give one talk in there. They give talks, they’re on panels, they are “assaulted in the best way” by the attendees, and there are thousands of attendees. And every time they walk off stage, they are just surrounded by people who have questions and comments and people who want to thank them for changing their lives.
And it’s a beautiful thing to see, but it is taxing for the speakers to do three days of that. In fact, we have to assign handlers to the speakers to make sure that they can break away from the crowds in a decent amount of time—because people like Robb and most of our speakers would spend all day on the floor talking to one attendee after another if they did not have an exit plan to take them to the green room and let them recover a little bit before we work them again on a panel!
So yeah, it’s a beautiful event. I can tell you that people have asked me before, “What is the thing that you regret most about the show?” Because that’s kind of an unusual tact, right? You know, I love this. I love Paleo FX; I love the message that we’re putting out.
And I can say that the biggest regret I have, or the hardest thing that Michelle and I have to go through every year is turning down speakers.
Because we get over 500 applications every year for people who want to speak and I can tell you that some of these applications are just out of this world good. There are so many smart people out there. Oh my god, it really… On the one hand, it makes me thrilled for humanity that there are that many passionate, intelligent people out there who want to spread this message.
But on the flip side, we can only take like 25% of that at best. And that’s that’s a tough decision to tell somebody who has just sent you an application that’s out of this world—that, you know, we just don’t have room this year.
Yuri: It’s such a good lesson in perspective. Because here you are a couple of moments ago, saying you had no speakers the first year and thankfully you had Robb Wolf—and now you’re turning down most of the 500 applicants every year.
And for everyone listening, you know, if you’re starting your business or looking at others—I always tell people, don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Because when you see someone launching successful events or a product, or a course, and they’ve got this massive following, and you’re not there yet…
Be realistic about the journey that’s involved in getting there, right?
Keith: That’s so true. I mean, it’s a hackneyed saying, but the saying that “It took me 20 years to be an overnight success” is so true in entrepreneurship. And sometimes it’s longer than 20 years. We just have to be willing to do the grind; you have to believe it.
It’s not an easy endeavor, it’s not at all.
And the marketing side of it makes it look like it is, right? I get it because I was there too—I used to be in the in the corporate world, and I would look to these people like Tim Ferriss, at that time, and I thought “Wow, that looks cool. That looks like what I want to do. I want to be in that realm.”
Now, I was older and wiser and I kind of understood, “Hey, that’s probably not as easy as he’s making it look. I get it that there is a lot of 16 hour days involved.” But the upside is those 16 hour days are pointed towards something that I truly, with all my heart, believe in—and that makes it so much easier.
Yuri: That’s great. What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about putting on their own event? Small or large. Maybe three tips or mistakes to avoid.
Keith: Yeah. Wow, so Robb Wolf is at the top of my head right now because we just talked about him, but you have to come in with… Whatever your topic is, whatever that event is going to be about—you have to line up that first headliner.
That has to be number one on the list because you can have a fantastic venue, it can be in a great city, you can have all of this background… But unless you have that first speaker to come in and believe in your message too—then you just can’t get going. You can’t get momentum; you can’t get that first turn of the flywheel, so to speak.
That person has to come in. Because in our case, for Robb, it wasn’t just attracting attendees. It was attracting other speakers. So other speakers were like, “Huh. What is this thing that Robb is doing? What are Keith and Michelle doing down in Austin and why is Rob involved in it?”
And so then we started getting contacted by other speakers, “Hey, what are you guys doing?” But you have to have that number one going in.
The venue is hugely important, the aesthetics of the venue. As long as we can, we will resist going into a big convention center type of thing.
Yuri: Why? Those are amazing! They’re so… intimate. [laughing]
Keith: [laughing] Exactly! So, I love Austin, but if you go to Austin’s main convention center, you might as well be in New York or Chicago. Once you’re inside the convention center, there is no feel of anything Austin in there.
Which is why we stay at the Palmer Center—which is part of the convention center business in Austin, but it’s a very distinct building. It’s right on the lake, it’s got a beautiful view of the downtown area, it just has the aesthetics going for it.
Now, on the backside of that—it’s a very difficult space to work in as far as putting on a show that we want to put on. So we have to jump through some hoops to do that. But the aesthetics part way overrides any of the negatives of the location and the technical side of it.
“Mission Motivated Vs Money Motivated”
Yeah, and then it comes down to marketing. Most people putting on events are going to be mission motivated versus money motivated, right? These are the type of entrepreneurs who come in with a message that they want to spread. That is already in them. They don’t come at entrepreneurship looking to necessarily solve a problem.
And there is nothing right or wrong about either path. It’s just they are a different breed of entrepreneur. They are more of the message spreaders versus the entrepreneurs who are more bottom line motivated.
Yuri: Sure—the Messiah’s.
Keith: Right, yeah. And they are. And the downside of that is those people generally aren’t as business savvy as the other branch. For myself, you know, thank goodness Michelle did have a very good business mind going in.
But yeah, you see this happen many times. I mean I’m in the strength and conditioning field, and you see this happen many times with trainers who are very, very passionate about training—but they’re not necessarily business people. You see it with chefs, especially—very, very passionate about the art but they are just not business people.
So all of that is to say that if you’re not a business person at heart you better partner with somebody who is in a hurry because believe me, this is a business. You can’t just throw up a tent and put on an event. I mean, there are lots of subtleties to it, and I have seen event after event after event just bleed to death. All the passion in the world but no business underpinnings and they’ll just bleed to death.
Yuri: That’s so true.
Keith: So yeah, those would be my big tips.
Yuri: That’s awesome. And that’s one of the reasons why I started Healthpreneur. Because I noticed, as you said, there’s so many amazing strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, natural path doctors… Who have an amazing gift to transform people’s lives and they’re great artists. They’re great at what they do. But putting on the CEO or the entrepreneur hat is not their thing.
Keith: Yeah, it’s not. Nor the marketing side of it. And you’ll find that many of these people are a bit allergic to marketing, right? Because they associate marketing with a negative kind of used car salesman type thing.
And I did too, to a degree—but then I finally came around. I understood that if I have a fantastic message and I have the best marketing possible behind it, that is a home run.
Keith: You know, shame on me if I have a crappy product and just a fantastic marketing machine behind it. But what if I had a fabulous message and a rocking marketing machine behind it—and that’s a winning combination.
Yuri: Yeah, totally. I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I love things like this podcast, right? Because this is essentially marketing, where we’re just informing, teaching, sharing inspiring stories… And at some level, it’s kind of motivating people to move in the direction of a better future.
And it’s not salesy, you know, it’s just like, “Hey, we’re having a conversation, providing some value…” and it doesn’t have to be like that car salesman stereotype.
Keith: Yeah. And people are savvy to that now too. I mean, the consumer is savvy—they can read between the lines. And so it behooves people who are marketing to come at people like the intelligent consumers that they are.
Yuri: Yeah, absolutely. So over the past seven years of Paleo FX, what lesson did you have to learn the hard way? And how can you help others avoid that mistake?
Keith: Whoa. There were sooo many. Let me tell you this—we have a saying here in Texas about getting drug behind a truck.. And we were drug behind a truck many, many times.
Well, I’ll tell you about a funny story that, which was a lesson learned. So the first year that we had Paleo FX, it was in 2012 and we thought it would be a fantastic idea to hold the event in conjunction with South by Southwest.
And I don’t know, many of your listeners may or may not be aware of South by Southwest, but it is the biggest music, technology, movie festival I would imagine in the U.S. It is a massive event. And it will shut down Austin for three weeks.
People who live here in Austin—those who can will actually just Airbnb their houses and just leave.
Yuri: Smart, might as well—right? High demand?
Keith: Yeah! Oh, super high demand. That is to say that this city is just throbbing for that two and a half, three weeks.
So we thought that would be a great idea because “Hey, we’re going to have this massive influx of people into Austin. Why not have the event right during South by Southwest?”
And we were not sanctioned by South by Southwest in any way. And not that they shunned us, it was just too late to be sanctioned as a South by Southwest event. So we were like “Okay, well we’ll go ahead and do it anyway.”
Let me tell you, that was the worst mistake.
We went so far in debt the first year just because of little things that we didn’t think of like… “Oh, we have to get hotel room blocks.” You can’t imagine how expensive those were during a period like South by Southwest, when you can’t even find a hotel room in this town.
At one point we needed a transportation van—just a 20 person van, just a simple transportation van to shuttle speakers back and forth. And we called one of the rental companies here, and they laughed at me.
They’re like “Do you realize what’s going on in Austin?” And I was like, “Well, surely there’s a transportation van.” They said, “You will have to go to Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio to get a van.”
Yuri: Oh my goodness.
Keith: Which is—that’s far. Geography-wise from where we’re at, that’s a trip—that’s a few hour trip.
So anyway, yeah to get a van we had to drive down to San Antonio, which was a two-hour drive down and two hours back, just to get a van.
I mean, but everything… Lighting for film crews, event space. I mean you just name it—we ran into a roadblock at every turn.
And did we benefit by having the show during South by Southwest? I don’t think so. I don’t think we benefited at all. But we did go into debt—pretty big time debt—and we always laugh and say there was only a Paleo FX 2 because we had to climb our way out of debt, so we had to have another event. [laughing]
Yeah. It’s funny, but there was a seed of truth in that—it was like, “Well, we’ve got to roll the dice again because we just can’t let the ship sink.”
Yuri: [laughing] Yeah, that’s a good tagline—“Paleo FX 2, birthed out of necessity.”
Keith: [laughing] Yeah, it really was. I mean seriously—and this is probably another lesson for entrepreneurs too—If we looked at the first Paleo FX purely through business eyes, it was a failure.
But we knew, subjectively, from being at the event… That we have something here. And we just have to go back and turn the knobs a little bit, regroup, have this during a different time—obviously, we’re not going to repeat this during South by Southwest—but we’ve got something here.
I mean every person, every speaker was so enthused, we were like “We have got something here. We have got to figure out a way to get this thing limped through the next edition.”
And we did.
I mean, we took on personal debt—which, that’s a whole other entrepreneurial study. You know, time and time again entrepreneurs take on personal debt—especially mission-based entrepreneurs because they believe in what they’re doing. And that’s risky. That gives you gray hairs, and it keeps you up at night because not only is your LLC close to bankruptcy, but personally you are as well.
Yuri: How did you get through that time? Like, I mean, I’ve definitely been there several times, and I love that. I would rather go through those ups and downs than have a steady paycheck working 9:00 to 5:00. That’s just my DNA.
In those moments of despair, like “Holy shit, we’re in this much debt,” or “Damn, I gotta take out a second mortgage and invest in the company,” what’s the thinking there? What’s the belief system? What are you saying to yourself as you’re going through this process?
Keith: You know, Michelle and I talk about this, and so that’s one thing—that’s an added stressor when you are a married couple in this business as well because you can’t get away from it.
I mean it is our life. It is like having a child, really. It’s part of your household, and it is tough. And there are periods of time where you’re like, “Do we really believe in this enough to continue going? Or should we do the smart thing and cut ties while we’re ahead?”
And we’ve had that discussion over and over again, and it always comes back to… What do we believe in? Do we believe in this message enough to go through this hardship? And again it’s like a child, if you believe in that child enough—and obviously, you do, parents love their kids, they’ll go through anything for their child.
But I really think that in this particular business, in this situation, Michelle and I are both, so mission motivated that, yeah, we’ll go down with the ship.
And not to be overly dramatic, but we’ve been very close a couple of times to going down with the ship. But we believe in the message so much, and it always comes back to that. Do we believe in the message? If yes, then continue forward.
If not, then we need to fold up the tent and go do something else. But it’s always come back to—we believe in the message this much.
Yuri: That’s awesome. That’s a really powerful lesson. So if you were to kind of culminate all your years of experience, and knowing what you know now… If you had to start a new Paleo FX for a new company, what would be the first thing you’d start doing or maybe what’s something you do differently?
The Systems & Processes Of An Event Company
Keith: Uhhh… I think—and this can only be done after the fact, but—we went into this process for the first couple of years with really no business plan. We just had an idea and a mission, and we put it out there, we really didn’t have a business plan, and we didn’t have any systems and processes set up beforehand.
I can say that now Paleo FX is a pretty tight run machine. We have systems and processes put in, but it was a lot that way before.
Yuri: Just like McDonald’s wasn’t, right?
Keith: Right. And I don’t know, in an event, if you can go in with systems and processes because each event is so unique in and of itself.
Now, surely we could have had some rudimentary systems and processes. But we didn’t even go in with that.
I mean, we really didn’t expect this Paleo FX event to turn into what it is. I mean it was a total surprise to us. We thought going in, you know, we’ll have this and then maybe we’ll have another one in a couple of years… It’s kind of like one of those, “When we feel like it” things, we’ll do it.
But we did not realize the magnitude of the enthusiasm of the attendees and the speakers until after we actually put on the first event.
And yes, it was a financial disaster. But the other side of that was, “We have something here. This is something we can work with. Let’s run with this thing.”
So, systems and processes. I think if there is a way to bring those in beforehand that would be a huge help, because we beat ourselves to death the first few years trying to put together these systems and processes.
Yuri: That’s a good lesson. It’s funny because a lot of people don’t think about systems and processes until they get to the point where they are making a lot of money. But they’re still working their butt off in the business, and they’re like, “Holy cow, how do I get more freedom?”
But guys, if you’re starting a business from scratch, just start documenting what it is that you’re doing. Even if you just put aside one hour a week, it makes such a huge difference, because as you mentioned, it’s like you have a well-oiled machine afterward.
And that’s a true business, right? It’s not a business really when you’re grinding way every single day, doing everything yourself. And the only way to remedy that is to have those those processes documented, which is so powerful.
Keith: And I would say another thing is not to be afraid to pivot away from what your original idea is. So we went in thinking that we would film every session, every speaker, film all of those and that the real money would be made on the selling of this digital material that we had.
And we couldn’t have been more wrong.
We did not think, going in, that vendor sponsors would play even a minor part in the show. And that was totally wrong. Vendor sponsors now drive this entire movement. They drive the show.
Yuri: Yeah, well it’s beneficial for everyone.
Keith: Yeah, it is. It totally is.
But, you know, when we went in in 2011—when we went into this there were very few vendors or sponsors who we would have considered to be paleo. There just wasn’t that many. And so when we went in, we thought, “Well there’s not that many, we’re not going to make any money off of the vendor sponsor deal. So we’re going to have to make money on ticket sales and digital sales.”
And we have totally revamped that idea.Like I say, now vendor sponsors drive this show.
Yuri: And it’s probably a lot easier now as opposed to year one, where you had no proof of concept.
Keith: Oh yeah. I mean—I laugh—the first year we had 12 vendors. I don’t think we had any sponsors, so to speak. We had 12 vendors on our little mini vendor floor and maybe two or three of them paid to come in. And it was minimal, minimal pay to come in. The rest we just begged to show up and put up a table—so we some space to fill.
But the good thing about this is the entrepreneurship that took root after that first event was amazing because we went from 12 in that first year—and nine of them came in free…
Last year we had 150-ish sponsors.
And we turn away vendors and sponsors repeatedly—just like we turn away speakers—but we turn away vendors and sponsors because they don’t fit our paleo criteria. If we were just to open up the floodgates, it would be amazing the amount of vendors and sponsors we would have, but we have to keep very, very tight quality control on who comes on the floor. And that’s an undertaking itself which is a whole other arena of processes and systems to try to get control of that.
Yuri: That’s amazing. I mean there’s been so many great lessons in this conversation so far but, for me at least, I think one of the big threads has been this idea that there’s a big difference regarding supply and demand as you go through the journey.
Starting off—it’s not gonna be easy, guys. Once you get to a point where you’ve done seven successful events, it becomes a lot easier to attract the people into your world. So if you’re starting off selling a book or course, or putting on events—give it some time.
Because as Keith has talked about, I mean, look what is possible when you have a good track record behind you.
Rapid Fire Questions
So Keith, as I always like to do, I want to finish off with a couple of rapid-fire questions. I’m going to throw five of them at your away, you have no idea what they are, and just give whatever response comes to mind first.
Keith: Sure. Yeah!
Yuri: Your biggest weakness?
Keith: Biggest weakness is… I work too hard.
Yuri: Biggest strength?
Keith: Biggest strength is my passion.
Yuri: One skill you’ve become dangerously good at in order to grow your business?
Keith: Public speaking.
Yuri: What do you do first thing in the morning?
Keith: I have a cup of coffee. Strong, black.
Yuri: Bulletproof? [laughing]
Keith: No, [laughing] just straight up black.
Yuri: Complete this sentence: I know I’m being successful when…
Keith: I know I am being successful when I have—oh how can I say this in a very concise way—when I have affected public policy.
Yuri: Beautiful. Awesome. Dude, this has been great. So you guys have, obviously, the Paleo FX conference coming up in 2018. People can get their tickets now I’m assuming.
What’s the best place for people to check out the conference, grab spots, and keep up to date with what you guys are working on?
Keith: Yeah, the clearinghouse is at www.paleofx.com
Yuri: Awesome. There you go, guys. Any final words of wisdom?
Keith: Yeah. You know, I always tell people that we evolved as a species as obligate movers and opportunistic eaters. And if you put that in the in the context of the Paleolithic period, you know that movement and diet mean everything.
And if you don’t have that health underpinning, that will really hamper you in any outside endeavor you want to do—whether that is studying, whether that’s academia, whether that’s entrepreneurship or whatever it is. But you really have to have the underpinning of health to be able to truly flower and to be whatever you’re going to be.
And so my passion is to unlock all that human potential that’s imprisoned in poor health.
Yuri: Amen, brother. That’s awesome. It’s a great message.
So, everyone, I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Check out paleofx.com and grab a spot for the next one coming up in 2018. Keith, once again, thank you so much for taking the time. And I will talk to you guys later.
Keith: Right on Yuri. Thank you.
Talk about a great interview, right? Like, amazing stuff. I don’t know if you found that as insightful and inspiring as I did, but as I mentioned in my conversation with Keith—this underlying thread of trying to really do your best to avoid comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle…
Because remember, we look at Paleo FX as it is now and we completely lose sight of where it was in year one. And the same thing goes for your business, for your life. If you’re doing very well in your business, if you’ve had a lot of success—obviously you’ve had a lot of ups and downs on the way, but—it’s very tough to remember where things started out.
I remember in my business—and I share this all the time—when I first started online, it was a struggle for three years. I mean barely making enough money to pay the bills and to see where things are now is quite amazing. In contrast, it’s also very dangerous for people to model my business or look at someone else’s business and be like, “That’s where I need to be today.”
Because we tend to forget the number of hours, years, the time that goes into this journey called entrepreneurship—and there are ups and downs all along the way.
There are successes, many more failures and hopefully a lot of learning in the process—and that’s really what I’m trying to bring to you and extract out of these conversations…
No matter where people are at, they’ve gone through a journey, and a lot of them have been where you are or have gone through a path you’re going down right now. And I hope that these conversations will stimulate an idea, some type of ongoing energy motivation to keep you moving forward in the right direction.
Because what you’re doing really does make a difference in the world.
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