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Fitness, Nutrition, and Content Marketing Guru
Episode 15

Fitness, Nutrition, and Content Marketing Guru

CI to Eye with John Berardi

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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Erik and John discuss the philosophies that make Precision Nutrition's coaching so effective, how their company uses content and permission marketing, and how focusing on and prioritizing marketing channels leads to success.

Erik Gensler: Welcome to CI to Eye. I’m Erik Gensler. I’m an entrepreneur, an arts marketer, and on a lifelong quest to learn and grow personally and professionally. In this podcast, I interview leaders and thinkers inside an outside of arts marketing to understand how we can grow to be the best we can be. My goal: to see eye to eye.
I sat down with John Berardi, co-founder of Precision Nutrition, the largest private nutrition coaching and education company in the world. For over a year, I have been using Precision Nutrition to help focus my exercise and nutrition efforts, and it has been hugely impactful on my body and my life. I learned about PN from their stellar digital content on exercise and nutrition. Not only am I a fan of their work, but I’m also a huge fan of their marketing, which is almost entirely permission based. Using permission marketing, John and his co-founder have built a $35 million business.

John Berardi: We have 1200 articles on our website now. We’re going to publish regular content that adds value. We have a particular, if you want to call it a marketing cadence, and it’s give, give, give, give, give, ask. So the idea is we’re going to give four or five times as much as we ask for things.

Erik Gensler: In this episode, we talk about the philosophies that make their coaching so effective, how they use content and permission marketing, and how focusing on and prioritizing just a few marketing channels has led to their tremendous success.
I’m so looking forward to this conversation. I get an email with your name in it first thing every morning. So it’s really truly an honor and a pleasure to get to speak with you today. To set the context, I want to tell you really for the first time a little bit about my experience with Precision Nutrition, which is why I’m so excited to speak with you. I first learned about PN through an infographic, the cost of being lean, and I was remembered just being amazed of the level of detail and the thoughtfulness around that piece. And then it led me to read a few more of your other super well researched and thoughtful articles, and I was someone who for years worked out regularly, ate healthy most of the time, thought I knew about nutrition, but was never really getting the results that I wanted, and I jumped on and off diets and exercise plans.
And a year ago, last June, my husband and I both signed up for PN and over the last year achieved these results that we were absolutely thrilled with and I didn’t even feel it happening. It just sort of subtly happened and I now feel more fit and lean healthy than I ever have in my entire life, and I’m full of energy and I just feel so great. And the amazing thing was, like I said, it just sort of happened slowly over time following the lessons and habits at pn. So I wanted to thank you so much for just creating this incredible program.

John Berardi: Well, thank you. First of all, I appreciate all the kind words. Sounded a little bit like I paid you to do a commercial for PN there because you kind of hit on a lot of the key points that really resonate with us and make us feel so good about the work that we do. The idea is that change can be very hard. People talk about change being hard all the time, especially when it comes to more ingrained habits like whether it’s eating or alcohol consumption or the way you structure your day. And we don’t actually believe that change is necessarily hard. We believe that change can be hard when you’re doing things that aren’t in line with how humans work and when you’re doing things that aren’t in line with who you are and your core values. But we believe that change can be incredibly easy when you do things that you find alignment on, that when you do things that serve your deepest purpose as a human being because they are connected and the things that work best with human psychology, the things that allow you to get out of your own way. It sounds like that’s happened for you guys. And so I’m just so pleased that we get a chance to connect like this and that you had that kind of experience.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, it’s really, really wonderful. And I think my team here is I talk about my PN cult, and I think I’ve been talking actually quite a lot about it, but most of the listeners may not know about PN. So can you explain your approach and what PN offers?

John Berardi: Yeah, so I mean, my background is I did an undergraduate in pre-med and I thought I was going to go to medical school and at about the 11th hour I realized I don’t even think I like this. And I was really passionate about fitness and nutrition because I didn’t grow up an athletic kid. I was actually premature and I was sick. And so I actually was kind of like a nerdy high school student with this stuff. And I read about all this stuff on my own and I kind of fixed some of my own problems with food and exercise. I was like, man, this is awesome. I want to learn more. I want to go deeper. So I did a master’s in exercise science and then a PhD in nutritional biochemistry. And I thought, okay, cool. Now I’m really well equipped to help others because that was my path.
I didn’t necessarily do this to get into academics. I really, really just loved the idea of helping people. And I graduated with all these degrees and it started to occur to me that the people that I worked with weren’t struggling with the finer details of understanding their biochemistry. They were struggling with behaviors and habits, the way that they live their lives each day, and this disconnect between self-care and the rest of their lives, whether that’s their work ambitions or whether that’s their relationships or whether that’s their view of themselves as a partner or a traveler, whatever it is, they saw exercise as something in nutrition that they grafted onto it rather than something that was an integral part of it. In other words, they all had to plan nicely together or else it wouldn’t be sustained. And so then I took this deep dive into human psychology, and so looking into counseling techniques and behavioral change and change psychology, and that led to Precision Nutrition.
So Precision Nutrition is now has become the world’s largest nutrition education and coaching company, and we essentially do three things. One is we coach clients, as you mentioned, every year online we work with a large cohort of people. We connect them with highly trained coaches who work full-time at pn, and we take them through a year long change process and sometimes the risk of sounding a little new agey, we like to think of it as a becoming process. We often talk about how people generally don’t want to learn how to be fit, they think they might want to, but I think the language is important. People don’t want to learn how to be fit. They want to become a person who’s fit. And I think that sounds like semantics, but it’s not. When you want to learn something, you generally think of an academic type approach where you read stuff, you might watch videos, you might attend lectures, but none of that actually changes the core part of your brain that governs behavior.
So we call that thinky brain stuff. You do thinky brain activities when you want to learn a new thing, but you don’t become a new person unless you engage in totally different types of activities. The things that govern habit and routine and your emotional decisions rarely overlap with the things that govern learning. So we take a totally different approach when we coach clients. We believe that goals are achieved when you build specific skills. So we break down, let’s say eating better or losing weight or getting stronger into a series of skills that lead to those outcomes. And then we even chunk it down further into the practices that you’d have to do to build those skills. So if you think about learning to speak another language or playing an instrument, it makes more sense. You’re like, oh, yeah, yeah, you can’t play the piano or the guitar by just wishing it into existence.
You actually have to build neural connections between your brain and your fingers, and you have to practice those time and time again until they become second nature. So we know this about music, we know this about language learning, but we don’t apply what we know to nutrition and fitness. We think somehow we’re going to learn our way into it as if reading books about playing the piano would make you a great pianist. So that’s our kind of approach to coaching. We build these practices and that we walk you through them with coaching and accountability that lead to skill development that then in turn lead to your goals and there’s no other way to jump or leapfrog the process. You have to practice things to build skills, and that’s what our programs are. They’re practices. So that’s the coaching part. And after doing that successfully for a number of years, a lot of professionals, so everything from personal trainers to chiropractors to physicians to manual therapists we’re like, how are you guys achieving such great results at scale? In other words, we’re coaching 10,000 people a year to dramatic body transformations reliably. How has that even happened? How do you do that? How do you work with that number of people without losing quality? So basically PN is three things, coaching for clients, education and certification for professionals and software for those professionals to use once they’ve learned our method.

Erik Gensler: One of the major lessons that sticks with me that I think has been profound in how I think about my choices now is your focus on the growth mindset. And that’s something I always encouraged professionally and with my team, but never around diet and exercise. And I thought that was really a game changer for me.

John Berardi: Why do you think that was — there was that little bit of a disconnect for you?

Erik Gensler: I think the idea, one of the ideas I really love about PN is there’s no sense of good food and bad food. You’re not on a diet path or off a diet path. And so if you make a choice that may not be in your best interest of your health to not get down on yourself or not to then just keep making bad choices because you fell off, but to say, okay, what was the environment in which I made that choice? Where was my head at the time? Where was I really hungry or was I making this choice because I was stressed out? Or there’s some other external driver or social situation, which is truly a growth mindset. It’s like I’m not judging myself and blaming myself for making the choice, but really seeking to understand why I made that choice to be able to grow to perhaps make a different choice next time.

John Berardi: Yeah, I love that. So in other words, this deeper narrative like, oh, I’m a dumb ass who makes bad choices here and I can’t be fixed. And maybe you’re not that uncharitable with yourself. I don’t know if anyone remembers the gunnery sergeant from full metal jacket, but this guy was just a terror. And you just imagine that guy is living inside their head, so there is no amount of ass kicking drill sergeant that you can give them that is worse than what they already have. And by doing that, you’re not the pattern interrupt, right? It’s just more noise against the background noise of I suck. People who choose to work with us invite us into their deepest lives, you know what I mean? They think they’re getting an exercise in nutrition program and they are, but they think that’s it. And when you haven’t had success in the past or you’ve interacted on a surface level with these kind of things in the past, you’re like, no, no, this doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of my life.
Just tell me how to eat so I can take care of this thing as if it were a little tiny hobby, compartmentalize from the rest of you. But as you’re talking about there, you’re like, whoa. They got into my head and it became part of this whole decision-making structure for my life. And yes, it’s amazing, it’s wonderful and we feel lucky to be able to do it because we get to go that deep with our clients and it really does affect everything. For some people in your case for example, you’re like, I preach growth mindset. I believe it in my career, but I just wasn’t quite able to master it in this other domain. And that’s super common. Another common experience is people don’t have a growth mindset anywhere in their lives. They develop it through exercise and nutrition with us and they’re like, whoa, I started using it in my career for the first time, and both experiences are normal and wonderful.
So I mean I love that part. And for anyone listening, the idea is just that who you are around exercise and food, maybe who you felt like since you were little. And so they’re like, oh man, this has never been my identity, so I’ve wanted to get in shape, but being a jock has never been my self definition. And our whole thing is, well, that’s a bit of a false construct, and if we can get past that and realize that you’re not trying to achieve jock status here, you’re simply trying to have a growth mindset and say, well, what can I learn? How can I become a little bit better in this domain and move along a continuum, which is a concept you’re very familiar with now versus this binary thing. I’m either a healthy and fit person or not, rather, there’s a continuum with a hundred gradations between fit as person on earth and most unfit person on earth, and all you’re trying to do is figure out where you are today and how do you move a couple notches over?

Erik Gensler: Yep, absolutely. That’s sort of the cost of being lean, right? Then that infographic.

John Berardi: That has been far and away our most popular piece of content. I mean, I think 3 million people have downloaded the PDF now of the infographic. And for those listening, I mean this piece basically explores this notion of fitness being a series of trade-offs. Like everything else in life, you’re curious as to whether you should get married or not. Well, it’s not just one is universally good and one is universally bad, should we have kids or not? Same thing, right? Well, if you get married or if you have children, you get these good things, but you give up these other good things and then you just take a sober look at that. And the same thing with fitness. If you want to get to the next stage of fitness or leanness, it’s the same. It’s not just universally good. It’s not just like your life gets magically good and there’s rainbows and unicorns and it’s phenomenal. I’m actually going to have to give up a few things, so I’m going to look at those in a sober way. I’m going to look at the things that I might get in a sober way also rather than it’s just magic land and then I’m going to decide is that for me?

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and it’s interesting because I think that infographic is looking on the other side of PN and having gone through it, it’s sort of not the framework that you present through the habit based changes. In fact, it almost seems a little more colder and more judgmental than the more gentle way that the program presents itself. But having looked at it before and having looked at it now, I still think it’s an incredible piece because it shows a different framework and a smart framework and a realistic picture of trade-offs that does tie into what you guys do. So I think it’s interesting to look at now. And then as I went further down the program and really started to see major results, there was a couple of weeks where I was like, you know what? I’m just going to try this and I’m going to be super regimented and see what it does to my body.
And it’s pretty amazing. And it goes back to one of the frameworks that you do present in the program, which is the habits versus outcomes framework, which is another thing along with the growth mindset that when I was thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about that was it, where it’s like you can’t necessarily control the outcomes, but what you can control is the habits. And I think what often threw me off in the past around this diet based mentality was like you say, I’m doing all these things, I’m not eating and the scale is not moving, but that’s creating this false sense of expectation. And now, so I went through the program, I got down to God 12% body fat, which for me was very low. And then I got married this summer and after I got married, I was, I let my habits go consciously and by letting my habits go, the outcomes changed.
And now I’m on the other side of that, and I’m certainly not. I’m just a little less habit focused and I’ve recommitted myself to my habits in the last few weeks, but the outcome changed. And now as I recommit myself to it, I’m not going back to the scale being like, oh God, I just need to starve myself. So I get back to where I was. I’m back to, okay, I just need to double down on my habits and probably over the next month or so I’ll get back to where I was, but I just look at it so differently. So I’d love for you to talk about the, if I didn’t give too much away in my own experience, if there’s much left to talk about, but the habits versus outcomes is brilliant.

John Berardi: I mean, ultimately people are going to learn this, whether they choose to embrace it early in their lives or careers or not. We humans are soothed not by control, but by perceived control. So if we look at things that generate happiness or contentment in the psychological literature, one of the strongest ones is this notion of perceived control. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking perceived control is actual control, but nevertheless, we don’t need actual control to feel content. We need perceived control. And that’s a double-edged sword because there are a lot of things in life as we know that we can’t control, and it’s in every domain, including fitness and nutrition. You can work very hard at this and for some period of time see no results. And that can feel frustrating if you attach all of your self-worth and the value of doing practices to the outcome.
So the only reason I would ever eat healthy is to lose weight. The only reason I would ever exercise is to achieve this particular outcome. And we know that that’s a not true. There are a host of outcomes that you probably aren’t even thinking about. Things that are changing, like wonderful changes to your body, to your health, to your lifestyle, to the way you think, the way you are in the world that are independent of whether you lose weight or not. And most people aren’t even looking at those and thinking about those. So that’s part one. It’s actually a false construct to tie eating well, exercising to one particular outcome. The second thing is you have no control over the pace of the outcome. Some people can exercise and eat well for a month and see dramatic results. Other people will see almost no external results in terms of let’s say fat loss after one month, but three months is their magic number.
So if you attach to a particular outcome or a particular timeframe for that outcome, the probability is just so high that you’re going to be disappointed. There’s another problem with it, which is that once you’ve tied exercise and eating well to losing weight only, for example, there’s a whole bunch of wrong stuff that comes with that too. For example, it’s not fun at all for you. You haven’t found any way to experience the inherent joys in choosing whole natural unprocessed foods or moving your body in a way that gives you joy. And incidentally, if the exercise that you’re doing gives you no joy, there are a thousand other ones you can choose that do bring you joy. So at PN, we just look at the behaviors and we track monitor and reward those. So for example, if someone comes to us, and this may sound like a weird example, and they’re like, Hey, I lost 10 pounds.
Isn’t that great coach? Even subtle rewards, that’s phenomenal. You look incredible. High fives hug, here’s a reward. It rewards the wrong thing. It’s not that you lost 10 pounds. That matters to us. So we usually refocus the person on what they’ve done and how they feel about it. So I might ask the question is, wow, that’s really great. How do you feel about your progress? Tell me more about that. How do you feel about your habits or the practices you’ve been doing in your life? How have they changed the way you interact in the world? And so we take the focus off the 10 pounds because they could have a twin brother or sister having done the same exact thing and not lost 10 pounds. The practices, the behaviors are what’s really important because we know that correct or more beneficial behaviors always lead to better things in the long run.
So that’s what we need to focus on and practice. And as I say, this isn’t nutrition, this is life. This goes for work. If you’re creating work, if you’re a creator, is fanfare the mark of your pride? How many people buy or tell you it’s awesome? Or is there an inherent joy in waking up every day to create and then having created something good that you’re proud of? And I think it’s true in work, in our hobbies, in our relationships, the focus has to be on the behaviors with some kind of release of our emotional attachment to the outcomes.

Erik Gensler: Definitely. It’s funny —

John Berardi: That’s what we teach and practice and get reps at. That’s the whole point of coaching. We get reps at that. You will never just be like, that makes so much sense, JB, I’m going to live that now. You know what I mean? You have to rep it.

Erik Gensler: That definitely came through because when I was thinking in the intro, I didn’t say to you I lost X amount of pounds or I lost X amount of inches. I said, I have so much energy, I feel so good. I know that deeply down now. And that’s why when I went through this amazing last month in my life of getting married and traveling and being away, and I am not down at myself for gaining pounds because I know all I have to do is put back on the habits and having layered on those habits again the last time I’ve been back, I feel great.

John Berardi: You know what, that was the other thing I wanted to talk to too. What you just said is the coolest part is when you can do things with intentionality where you say being strict about let’s say exercising and eating Well, when I have a wedding coming up when I’m about to travel doesn’t make any sense. That’s what a sane person says. You know what I mean? So what I’m going to do is relax some of my habits, not all, because relaxing all of them means no self-care, so you didn’t do none. I’m going to relax them so I can enjoy this other part of life that’s normal to enjoy, natural to enjoy, important to enjoy. And then when the time is right to like you say, double down on my practices, they’re available for me because I’ve practiced them for a year. I’ve gotten reps.
I have those skills now. And I wrote an article recently that’s probably our number two most popular article called the Pause Button Mentality. And in it I create this idea of dials for people. So if you think of your nutrition, your self-care and your exercises dials with zero being turned off completely and 10 being totally pinned maximum, and you think of your life as adjusting the dials as appropriate based on what else is going on, it becomes a much better metaphor. So on and off the wagon, it’s bullshit. You don’t ever want to be on or off a wagon because you’re always on a dial. We talk about that construct being so important, and that’s why I love the fact that you brought it up because you’re like, I’m going to dial up the husband and the honeymoon and travel dial, and I’m going to dial down the fitness and nutrition and never turning it to zero, right? I’ll just keep it at a two or a three, and you know what the outcome’s going to be. You’re not going to be magazine cover ready, wherever you guys went, touring through Europe or whatever. And that’s okay. That’s a conscious, intentional choice. It’s beautiful to have ownership over that.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. And without judgment, without feeling bad about it, and also knowing that I have the skills and the ability to go back and turn it to 10, and I have to say it felt really good to go back to my routine because I know if I just follow this routine that I’ve learned through PN and developed for myself that I will go back to achieving the results that I want to achieve if I look at it that way. And that’s so empowering. It’s so empowering. Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. I want to talk about another thing that I thought was so great about P’S approach and then I want to move into the marketing. I think our folks will be really interested in the marketing piece, but I love how PN is not about, we talked about this, this food is good, this is bad, or you have to go kill yourself with the gym every day. It’s about that deep down changing as a whole person, which I think you’ve touched on a number of times here, but what really blew my mind, and it’s so obvious now, is how you focus on sleep, mindfulness and understanding what is holding us back from changing as humans. And once I put sleep and mindfulness into the equation, I have to tell you that’s when it really all clicked for me. And I just think that’s so awesome.

John Berardi: That’s great. I appreciate that. I mean, I believe that is so fundamental because the idea that our, and I said this earlier, the idea that our fitness and our exercise, our nutrition lives independent of our psychology of the rest of our life is false. And I think that’s why we have all the yo-yo dieting, successes, failures, learnings that we have false starts. It’s because we don’t think this is part of the whole thing. We don’t think like, oh, if I have children, how will this affect them and how can I build this into my identity as a parent or as a professional or as a friend or as a daughter or son. And so those become all of our big friction points, the things we haven’t thought about because we thought this was separate. So you’re doing your diet or whatever you want to call it and your exercise, and then the holidays come and you’re spending a tremendous amount of time with family and you’re like, oh man, this doesn’t fit with any of that.
And then whatever you call it, you backslide or you give up or you have these moments. If you have children or a partner who isn’t following the same sort of goal set where there’s all these friction points and you’re like, I don’t get it. Why won’t these people support my thing? And we externalize the blame, but we have to take some ownership for that because we never treated this as if it were to be something that affected our whole life. And then when it is, we blame other people because we’re like, why won’t you just support my goals? And the answer is because you never took two seconds to think about how it might influence their goals, which are different from yours. And we’ve had many lessons in our coaching and practices around this, but the idea that A, we get our heads right around this.
We understand it’s part of the bigger picture. B, we learn that stress affects our eating sleep affects our eating. I mean, very few people outside of the nutrition world realize that let’s say for example, a chronic under sleeping, so being in a sleep deficit chronically increases your cravings for calories and carbohydrates markedly. So you’re like, no, I’m not changing my eating. My sleeping’s just not so good lately wrong. It’s false. Unless you have a Jetsons style robot that doles out your meals in exact portions each day you will subtly be influenced by your stress and your sleep to eat a little more or eat a few more of the less desirable choices. And subtly, subconsciously, without even knowing it, you’ll be changing your energy balance and gaining weight or gaining fat or reducing your health. So if we don’t deal with sleep and stress, there’s nothing much we can do with exercise and nutrition that’ll overcome those limiting factors.
And in PN, that’s like the crux of our whole thing. Limiting factors like the log and a log jam that prevents all the rest of the logs from floating downstream. Usually you don’t have to tear up the river. All you have to do is move the one log or the three logs that have jammed. And that’s what we’re looking for here, what jams the process. And generally we look at not enough sleep, too much stress, particular nutrient deficiencies. These are the log jams, and if we can eliminate them early on, let’s say in your coaching experience, then the rest of it gets so much easier and you’re like, wow, that wasn’t hard because I’m an idiot. It was hard because I was in a physiological state that made it hard, almost even impossible.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. I remember last December we went to Australia and I, it was around the holidays and we closed our office up for the two weeks around the holidays, and I was in a totally different world. My stress level after an intense period of work went down to almost zero because I was in the mountains and at the beach, and I realized that I live in this elevated state of stress, which was then driving me to have alcohol to deal with that stress, which was then letting me make choices that weren’t great in terms of how I ate. And then it was affecting my sleep, which was then affecting my desire to go to the gym and the next morning. And so once I put all of those elements into the equation, particularly the stress piece and says, okay, these are all related, and so if I can now I don’t feel any stress, and I felt fundamentally different in the food choices I was making that allowed me to finally better conquer the eating slowly and eating to 80% because I didn’t have stress. So I realized none of those things operate independently. Totally. And so once I saw, okay, stress is the driver of this, so now I’ve gone from, that’s no longer a blind spot in this equation for me. So it’s like, okay, I need to manage my stress because that’s going to then help me meet my nutrition and fitness goals, which I had never known before. So that was huge.

John Berardi: It’s all connected. I mean, it’s one of the harder lessons. It feels like one of the easier lessons you feel like you could find a Buddhist saying about this and you’d be like, oh, yes, sound far off. Gong resonates with me deeply, but when it comes to actually live it, it’s super hard for people. This is so hard to deal with the idea that the eating problem is just a symptom. And in life we try and treat symptoms way too often instead of looking for the root cause, right? You’re talking about you’re like, I was able through some practice and coaching and mentorship trace back, okay, I have this thing with my body. Okay, well that’s obviously related to my eating and my exercise, but that’s off because I’m not sleeping that well. Oh, but that’s off because of my stress and that may be off because of the fact that I’m over committed at work and I haven’t quite learned how to prioritize yet. And you’re like, oh man, it’s all connected.

Erik Gensler: One just final point that I’ve heard you talk about before that I love is people subscribing to the cult of say, paleo or the cult of Atkins or the cult of Veganism. And everyone gets, or someone will get results from one of these plans and then they’ll say, oh, I found the magic bullet. It’s paleo, or the magic bullet is not eating meat, or the magic bullet is some other diet. And I love what you say. It’s like, no, the magic bullet is you’re eating whole foods and you’re paying attention to what you’re putting in your mouth.

John Berardi: Yeah, totally.

Erik Gensler: It’s that same thing of the digging up one step deeper, what is actually happening.

John Berardi: That’s right.

Erik Gensler: It’s not magic science.

John Berardi: One of my goals always is to transcend the details and look for the principles. And I’m sure that’s the same for you with marketing because marketing tools come and go, but the principles behind getting attention and creating value are the same regardless of the tools. And it’s the same with nutrition. Paleo and veganism and ketogenic dieting have much more in common than most people are willing to accept. And if we extract ourselves from the details and how that person’s wrong and this other person’s right and I’m right and whoever’s wrong, and look at those larger principles, there’s many they share in common. And if you’ve ever known a healthy vegan and you’ve ever known a healthy paleo person, you can’t using a intelligent human brain believe that one of them is wrong and unhealthy or the other one is right. And healthy actual observation and just not even graduate level human brain can say, oh, wait, there’s vegans who are healthy and strong and paleos are a healthy and strong.
So it can’t be that one of them is right and one of them is wrong, it just can’t be. So if that’s true, then what are the principles they both share? And so that’s what we share in that article. And one of the dangers is that when we have personal success with a thing, we ascribe a little bit too much maybe magic to it, and then we get pretty vocal and vehement like a new convert to a new religion might and tell everyone about it. And that just kind of muddies the waters a little bit.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, definitely. I think you set a good bridge to the topic of marketing, and I learned about PN from your amazing infographics and articles. Like I said, I’m curious when and how did content creation become a cornerstone of your marketing strategy?

John Berardi: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, it was never not there. You know what I mean? PN actually, there was a precursor to PN Science Link, and even before Science Link, I was writing for a website when I was a master’s student called T Nation. So in the earlier days of the internet, there was sort of one source where fitness, nutrition, strength oriented, bodybuilding oriented, healthy eating for performance oriented people would go. It was this website, T Nation hardcore Jim bro kind of vibe to it. I see it, I can picture it. But again, in the early days of the internet, it was the aggregator for anyone who wanted to learn this stuff and people would put up with the heavy broadness simply because the smartest best writers in the field were writing for them. So I started writing for them. Early on in those days, there was really no such thing as individual experts who had websites.
I mean, most people were still on dialup back then. My business partner now who co-founded Precision Nutrition with me, he was a systems design engineer, so he built websites and web interfaces for companies like IBM, and he was like, we need to get you a website. You have such a unique voice and you’re such a good writer. We need to build you a website. And being a visionary, I am. I was like, no, that’s dumb. I was, no, everyone’s on dial up man to get on a website. I have a textbook or a novel sitting next to me, and I read it while the page loads. And fortunately he convinced me, but I was producing content early on. Then we started our early version at and we wrote articles for that back then. I don’t know how well this advice the tactics apply today because it’s a different world, but the principles are the same.
Back then all you had to do was put a little newsletter thing on your site, a little thing off to the margin that said, and there was no mobile friendly design or whatever. People saw webpages on personal computers. And so you had a sidebar there and it said, Hey, you like what you read today? Check out our newsletter. So after just two years of doing that, we had built a newsletter of 30, 35,000 people. And at this point we were both getting ready to graduate from school and we were out looking for jobs. And then one of our friends who happened to be business savvy was like, there’s a business sitting right there for you. You have a mailing list of 35,000 people. You guys don’t have to get jobs. We’re like, what do you mean? And so fortunately he convinced us to give it a go, and we ran Science Link for a couple years and then that morphed into nutrition.
But content creation has always been part of our DNA, which is I think a principle. It’s a unique ability of ours. And as Precision Nutrition has grown, we started with the two of us. We didn’t live in the same town, so we lived about an hour and a half apart. He would drive down to the house I was renting when I was a grad student, and we set up the basement as our little office and we would work together Fridays and Saturdays on the business while we did our school and whatever else we needed to do to make money during the week.
The idea was that writing content in this space was our unique ability, and so we built the entire business on that unique ability. So I think we’ve grown now, we have nearly a hundred team members. PN’s grown beyond my wildest dreams, and there’s sometimes pressures as new people come on and new ideas and new technologies emerge to slowly erode at content creation for us. And it’s just something that as long as I’m still here, I’ll keep beating the drum on because it’s what we’re good at, it’s what we hired for. It’s creating content. Now, not everyone will be equally good at creating the same kind of content. And some businesses maybe they have no unique ability around content, so they shouldn’t try to. But for us, that has been our, I think the cornerstone of our marketing. The idea that we are going to publish regular content.
We have 1200 articles on our website now we’re going to publish regular content that adds value. We have a particular, if you want to call it a marketing cadence, and it’s give, give, give, give, ask. So the idea is we’re going to give four or five times as much as we ask for things and gives maybe free content. I mean, our articles and infographics are definitive pieces. Our infographics cost us quite a bit to make. Our articles are super well researched and we create what we think is the best content in fitness and nutrition, and we give it away for free and we create free courses, stuff that other people would charge 299 bucks for, and we give all that away for free. And then a couple times a year we ask, so twice a year, we ask if those people who’ve been consuming our free content would like mentorship and coaching the program you did another two times a year.
We ask if they’d education and certification. And another two times we ask them if our software, so the rest of the year is sped giving and a couple strategic times each year we ask for something in return, we ask if they’d like to level up their training, their education, get some help, and would they pay us for it. And that’s sort of our marketing kind of in a nutshell. And obviously we can break out any of those things much deeper. But yeah, that’s kind of it. Content creation though, underpins the whole thing because we’re so good at it because we started out good at it, we’ve hired for it. If it was me and Phil at the beginning, before we had an HR department, we were doing the hiring. So whether we sought it out intentionally or not, we were biased towards it. So our whole company was always skewed, intentional or not towards creating great content.

Erik Gensler: And I have to say, I followed the exact same model in creating my company. It’s so funny you say give, give, give, ask, because I say that every day. We’ve framed it a couple different ways. One is the give ask, the other – two other ways I frame it. One is we call it the 70-30 rule. 70% of your content needs to be about giving the people what they want, which then earns you the right for 30% to be asking. So in the case of our clients, which are mostly arts organizations, it’s give the videos, give the behind the scenes shoots, give the gorgeous shots of your building or the gorgeous shots of your dancers or performers. And then if you do that well, people will raise their hand and then you’ve earned the right to now ask them to buy a ticket.

John Berardi: That’s right. That’s so important. I have a friend who we’re on a few advisory boards together, and I keep thinking recently, but it’s probably two years now, was hired to direct the health technologies division at Apple, and he taught me this thing about permission, which is what you just brought up, permission marketing.

Erik Gensler: It takes me back foundationally and Seth Godin’s book in 1999, Permission Marketing. It just fundamentally changed how I think about marketing and is a real framework for how we work here. And one of the things I often say is when you think about permission, because that’s the currency we’re trading in now, it’s hidden everywhere. And I totally agree with that and you ask, I think permission is something that’s hard won. You have to give a lot before you can ask. And I think mistakes a lot of companies make is violating permission. For example, who has permission to call me on my mobile phone? It’s maybe my parents. And so my close friends who has permission to text me, who has permission to be in my social newsfeed in a way that’s not annoying. And you have to really be thoughtful how you obtain that permission and then what you do with it.

John Berardi: It makes me think of the latest one where people are automating Facebook messaging. So instead of ads appearing on people’s Facebook wall, for example, you can now hire a service that will send messages and essentially ads to people’s messenger as if it was a private message or a direct message. And as I’ve been hearing about that, obviously the people who want to sell you advice on that and the services who want to sell you their service are like, Hey, open rates are like 80% click-through rates are like 60%. It kills traditional advertising. And you’re like, okay, cool. Now that’s only one perspective though. Do people want these in their direct messages? How long will this last before people just stop using them? If Facebook advertising on people’s walls was once very powerful and now it’s diminishing, well, it’s diminishing because you made it an ad space.
You know what I mean? And so we’ll always be chasing things, but it gets back to that fundamental question of permission. And at piano at least, I will take sometimes trade-off lower open rates and click-throughs for the right thing to do. Totally. And it may mean we grow a little bit slower, but I think the trade-off isn’t just fast or slow growth. Now, it’s also longevity. I expect most of the people who are using this stuff won’t be in business in five years, and I expect we will be in business for much, much, much longer than that. So that’s the other thing you’re talking about. Again, the cost of aggressive marketing, if you want to call it that, versus the cost of getting lean. What are the trade-offs?

Erik Gensler: It’s like Gary Vaynerchuk says that marketers ruin everything. It’s like email used to have 50, 80% open rates, and then the marketers got ahold of it and polluted it with just non permission based marketing messages. And then open rates now are in the 20%, and then it happened on Facebook and now it’s happening on Instagram. And it’s like you have to keep finding the next place. That is a place that authentic conversation before the marketers ruin it.

John Berardi: Or not, right? Or not. And this is a fundamental question that I continually have. I’m like, yeah, that feels truthy. But a good friend of mine, John Goodman, who runs a company called the Personal Trainer Development Center, he always talks about not chasing the newest thing, but just really, really doing the one thing that you’re good at and is your unique ability. Well, because even though open rates for email may go down on average, if you are awesome at email and you have the right audience and you have the right message, yours will beat the average and you’ll be working within your unique ability. So I mean, he did a big post yesterday on Facebook about us because we finally got an Instagram. I saw that.
So this isn’t an accident. This is actually my thought process. We are very good at email marketing. We have a list of about 600,000 people now. We got very good at Facebook, and I wanted to get good, really good at these things. And how does that happen? It happens through focused, intentional, repetition, practice, just like the rest of our coaching. So let’s get really good at that. And everyone has been in my ear for years, and it’s fascinating because there was once a time when we were really starting our Facebook thing and everyone was in my ear about Google Plus. Does anyone remember that? Of course. And one of our team members was literally standing in front of me at a team meeting. We work virtually, so we’re not in front of each other all the time, so we sometimes only see each other once a year. And I could tell he was just looking at me with this disdain, I don’t understand how you’re so successful because you’re so stupid and you don’t get it. I could just read that in his face because I didn’t think we should be doubling down on Google Plus.
And I’m just like, in my mind, I see this look, and I’m like, he doesn’t understand my philosophy. I’d like to share it with him. And as I was explaining it, I could tell there was no room for that and then whatever. Then Google Plus has never been a factor. And then Snapchat came and everyone’s like, you got to be in Snapchat. And that’s not a factor. And now everyone’s been talking about Instagram for a while, and I was like, no, we’re not going to do Instagram guys. And I know there’s some people in this room who think I’m dumb and I don’t deserve any of the success that I’ve had because of this. You think there’s a flaw in my thinking, and I need you to understand we are so good at certain things. If you don’t continue to do them, you fail. There’s no guarantee that we’re going to be good at Instagram or that Instagram will matter.
Those are two unknowns that are low probability pieces of attention to put your work into. There’s these other domains that are killing it for us. I will not sabotage those in favor of this new thing. So all this to say, it’s taken us a while to go on Instagram because I finally gotten to the point where I’m like, the probabilities of Instagram important are starting to go up. I mean, they’re owned by Facebook. There’s deep Facebook integration. Now it makes sense. Okay, cool. Do we have the resources to invest in that, to hire someone to manage that exclusively, to pay the right people, to create the right kinds of graphics and imagery and all the stuff that we can actually win there? Yes. Okay, cool. Then we’re going to do it. And so we finally have, and the great part is we had 10,000 followers before we ever even put up a post.
That was the third thing that really helped me decide. There’s people just sitting there tenting their fingers on the Simpsons and waiting for P to post on Instagram. So I’m like, okay, these things have led to me wanting to do this rather than just a bunch of pundits or marketing writers talking about it. And then, so my friend John, I know I’m making a long story even longer, but my friend John posted about it in his group. He’s got a Facebook group with 25,000 people in it. And he was like, Hey guys, just wanted you to know Precision Nutrition started their Instagram account today. Tell me again why you have to be in all social media channels at the same time. In other words, precision Nutrition is the most successful company in our industry, and they just got an Instagram today. Why do you personal trainer with eight clients feel like you have to be on Snapchat, Insta, Twitter, Facebook, and so on?

Erik Gensler: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And I say that all the time. In fact, one of our most popular pieces of content is a blog post I wrote called Your 2017 Digital Marketing Priorities. And it starts with the idea that we talked to all these organizations and they say, oh, we’re on Twitter, we’re on Instagram, we’re on Snapchat, and this board member sent about this new channel and we have to be doing this, this, and this. And it’s like, no, here are the five things you actually need to focus on. And if you’re in a culture that is constantly chasing the shiny new object, you’re not going to be as successful as someone who does exactly what you’re saying, which is focus on where you can win, where your users are. When Instagram got interesting to me, once they passed the 500 million user mark, and last year if we were having this conversation about Snapchat, you would be looking at their growth.
And I would say, okay, we don’t have to all be on Snapchat. There are still more millennials, which is what people were chasing on Facebook than they were on Snapchat. But once they started getting to 200 million users and growing, but then when Facebook tried to buy them and then essentially replicated them through Instagram stories, that Facebook is so powerful now. And I totally agree with your idea of once you have that expertise in Facebook, that is very translatable to Instagram, particularly through the ads platform because it’s really powered through the same. So I understand your decision to go there, and I love, love, love, love that you have that sense of prioritization, and I’d love you to talk about that of really understanding the limitations within your organization of staff and focus and how you make those decisions around prioritizing.

John Berardi: Yeah, I mean, we embarked on a project a few years ago that we learned from some mentors of ours around unique abilities. And so the process started with just our executive team, then it went to our whole organization, then it went to the organization as an entity itself, not just the people within it. And the idea of a unique ability is what is the thing that I love doing that I am world-class at or could be? And that helps move the organization forward. So we want people in our team to be working within their unique abilities 70 or 80% of the time. No one’s going to be working in them a hundred percent of the time. That’s a dumb false hope. But if you’re working within them 70 to 80% of the time, you’re going to have a team that is doing amazing things, punching above their weight if you’re doing stuff that you love, that you’re uniquely good at, and that helps the organization in a powerful way.
And there’s a hundred people doing that all side by side, holy shit. And then the next question becomes, what is the organization’s unique ability? What does it as an organism, which it is, it’s a complex one, but it’s still an organism uniquely good at love doing and can change the world, move the needle, do great stuff with. And so this is not an easy process to do. I mean, when we do it on an individual basis, it is actually the triangulation of the people who are closest to the individuals that we’re doing a unique ability assessment on. So for example, if we were doing one on you, we would take five or eight or 10 people that you’re closest to, and we’d have them fill out these surveys and they would talk about you. They would talk about what you’re really good at, what you’re passionate about, what you aren’t very good at, where you spend your time when you think no one’s looking.
And it’s amazing if you get enough data points, it usually takes eight people. These themes emerge, and then you can make these quadrants. So you say, here are the things that this individual is good at and loves, isn’t good at and loves, doesn’t love, and so on. And so you have these quadrants, and then you ask them to write in or make a prioritized chart or maybe even a time journal on how much time they’re spending on each of the quadrants. And then you find out if someone is actually matching their unique abilities or they’re not. And when we do this as an organization, it leads to a lot of great insights. For example, one person may need to stay in our company, but work in a totally different role. One person we may need to help transition out of the company and find them a better place for them where they can work in their unique ability.
And some people are working in their unique ability, but they have way too many distractions. They’re holding too many other roles that aren’t within their unique abilities, and it’s hurting their ability to do the thing that could help the team the most. So I mean, obviously this is not a quick fix or a company hack or whatever. This is a deep commitment to the project of creating the right kind of team of people doing the right kind of work. So we think about this same paradigm when it comes to marketing. So what are our unique marketing abilities? What do we world-class at? What do we enjoy? And this one’s important. I think a lot of companies totally forget that, right? They’re like, oh, we’re at this. Let’s grind everyone into total hatred of their work by doing that thing. So the enjoyment important, and then what would actually make a difference?
And with our marketing, that’s the question all the time. And we often end up with a list of opportunities that’s far longer than we could ever do. And I just have this paradigm where we don’t take any ideas off the table when we’re in legit brainstorm sessions. All ideas make the list, then we prioritize them. And anything lower than three, you might as well say it’s not on the list. You know what I mean? Because no, you can’t handle all those things. And if you do, you’ll do one, two, and three badly. If you try and do one through 10, you may pick away at all 10, but one, two, and three, which are the ones that matter, you won’t do well. So for us, it’s getting really, really rigorous in our prioritization of valuable opportunities and then making the hardest choice of all, which is we’re not going to do anything below number three until one, two, and three are done. And I’ll give you a really concrete example. We are good at email. We are good at content on our site. We are good at Facebook. We’re about to get real good at Instagram. We suck at YouTube. And so the other day we were in a meeting and our CEO, who’s awesome close friend of mine, really smart dude, was just getting pissed about YouTube.
For example, if you search on a term that people should find precision nutrition on the second hit is a video of some dude in a beanie hat talking about precision nutrition. In a way we wouldn’t want anyone talking about it. He’s saying positive things, but I mean our brand is pretty polished and this is not it. And it’s the second hit on Google. And so obviously we should be upset and frustrated by that is the logical next step to go fix YouTube? No, no.

Erik Gensler: It’s the opportunity cost.

John Berardi: Exactly. We are not in a position, there’s no one dedicated to that. There’s no expert on our team on YouTube, which is why our YouTube sucks right now. So where are we going to take that person from or whose attention are we going to take off a number one, two, or three to do this number five or 10 thing? It’s the hardest thing to do because you’re sitting there looking at an embarrassing thing in the world. I mean, this guy’s video, this isn’t an influencer, but his video on precision nutrition is like 20,000 views. Here we go hard to let these things go because it’s not a rational thing. It’s an emotional thing. It’s the same as nutrition. We can loop back to that. It’s not our rational brain. We need to teach how to be healthy and fit too. It’s our emotional brain. It’s not a rational brain. We need to teach how to prioritize. It’s our emotional brain. So we just say, okay, YouTube, we’re not going to touch right now. We will just continue to be embarrassed by it. Let it go because we’re going to go win on Instagram now and we’re going to have a couple hundred thousand followers within the next 18 months, and that is going to have a much bigger impact than this sort of shotgun type of approach to marketing opportunities.

Erik Gensler: That’s so smart. It’s so smart. It’s sort of a framework that I’ve tried to apply in my life that I actually learned about from a Tim Ferriss episode interviewing Derek Sivers who says for his personal choices of his time, because that is the most limiting factor for everybody. And it’s when you’re faced with a decision, you ask, is it a hell yes or is it a no? And if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no. Right? It’s the same thing.

John Berardi: Yep. I love that one so much because it speaks to two things. It speaks to forcing you to make a decision, but it also speaks to something I think is way more important, which is finding a way to tune into your unique abilities because that’s what a hell yes. To me, this is the hard part. Another challenge of being in an organization where you’re like, we have to constantly remind each other and hold each other accountable to what we decided in our best, most lucid thinking moments. This make a decision, it’s best. Then something comes up and you’re like, ah, you’re about to undo what best you decided.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. It’s a laser focused precision and building systems to reinforce that. That’s right. So powerful and so true. I love that. And after we get off this interview, I’m going to look into unique abilities.

John Berardi: There you go. That’s great. I think it’ll be great for you and the team.

Erik Gensler: I want to be respectful of your time and I so appreciate your generosity with it. I’d love to ask you just a few more questions.

John Berardi: Yeah, no worries.

Erik Gensler: I’ve heard you talk about the fog test and I just love that framework. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

John Berardi: Yeah, so the fog test, it’s an acronym. It stands for fact opinion or guess, and it’s just a great way to have a conversation with yourself, which I think is the first important conversation to have. And then with others, whether it’s teammates or family members or whatever, oftentimes we start debating points of view, opportunities, whatever the case may be, whatever hot topic it is. It could be in politics, it could be in religion, it could be in nutrition. And oddly enough, there are people who work and interact in nutrition who are more vehement about carbs versus no carbs than they are about the particular choice of God or whether there is one or not. And I like to start these kind of conversations with the fog test, and it’s not necessarily a test, but it’s just a reminder. Hey, everyone in the room, if we’re about to make an important decision about our business, before each of us speaks, I’d like you to just share whether what you’re about to say is a fact, an opinion, or a guess.
And it really is a great personal litmus test because sometimes I can talk more than I should. I find myself talking and talking. I’m like, I should really be listening right now, but I can’t stop myself. And it’s a great litmus test for me because I’m about to say some words and because I’m in a position of authority here, people will treat these words differently. And I need to know personally whether this is a fact, whether I know this, whether I have data support it, whether we know this is true, whether it’s just an opinion. So it’s like I think this or whether it’s a guess, I have no idea. But if I were to make a wager this, and I think everyone in the room has to do the same before they speak, because if everyone starts talking as if everything they say is a fact, we’re in trouble.
If don’t know what they’re saying, whether it’s an opinion, a fact or a guess, we’re in trouble. So it’s just a way to calibrate our discussions. And so sometimes we’re very explicit about it, other times we’re not. And I really found it helpful, valuable for let’s say younger team members who are prone to just kind of sharing ideas. And it all feeds into a larger principle, which we talk about very often, which is believability. So we borrowed this from Ray Dalio, who’s a billionaire hedge fund manager. You’ve probably heard of him. He’s close friends with Phil, my co-founder at pn, and he’s an advisor to ours and one of the principal for people who run businesses. If you’ve never read his principles, which is sort of like his operational principles for how people should be together at work, or at least how people are at his company, it is amazing. It’s just, it’s a PDF you can download for free from the Bridgewater Website.

Erik Gensler: It’s actually a book. Now I heard you talk about it and I looked for the PDF and realize you have to pre-order on Amazon now. Okay, alright, cool. Maybe your talking about it made it too popular and now it’s published.

John Berardi: There you go. I know, I know. I have it free on my desktop right now. And that’s where I first found it. And the idea of believability is just one of the many things I took out of it. And the idea was if you’re going to be successful in this world, you have to know that you don’t know stuff. You have to just deeply accept that you don’t know things, and that’s okay. And then when you want to do things that you don’t know, you have to find people who know. But there are people everywhere who tell you they know how do you know if they’re believable? And so he has this test, right? And it’s basically step one is has this person done it before? If the answer to that’s no, we stop here. Okay, they’ve done it before, great. But that’s not enough.
Have they done it repeatedly in multiple contexts? So in his case, he’s a hedge fund manager and investor. So has this person done it in different market conditions where the market was strong, where the market was weak, where these conditions were different than they are today and they’re different from they might be tomorrow. Okay, cool, they’ve done it in all those conditions and had success, now I’m interested. So they’ve done it, they’ve done it multiple times in different conditions. And then the third criteria is does it make sense to me? Now, you probably, if you’re hiring someone for expertise or seeking out expertise, don’t have all the frameworks to understand whether the idea is right or not. You don’t know stuff. But does it make sense in that I can wrap my mind around it, that I can prioritize it and that we can execute it in our organization?
And so that’s the criteria for believability. So in our meetings, we often start with high five people here. Each of us is here for the following reasons. Person one, you’re here because you have technical expertise that I don’t, can’t write code like you do. I can’t lead a technology team like you can. That’s why every meeting, yes. Yeah. I mean now there’s certain standing meetings where we’re just what a checking in or whatever on work that we’ve already agreed to. But whenever we’re doing kickoff meetings or special topics meetings, we make sure everyone knows why we’re having the meeting. We are having this meeting today, which I may be called. Okay, so let’s say I did. So I’ll be like, we’re having this meeting today that I called because I have a particular need. I need to know what you guys know about a certain thing or we need to sync up on a certain thing or whatever.
I need help making a decision or whatever. First thing we start with, why is this meeting happening? So everyone knows if it’s a brainstorm, then we say it’s a brainstorm. If it’s not a brainstorm, we say it’s not a brainstorm. It is. So you can help me get to a decision and other people will call me into meetings the same. jb, you have a lot of thoughts on a lot of things, but this meeting is about me getting to a decision. Alright, cool. So we know that right out of the gate sets the framing. Then we go person one, you are here because you’re technical expertise. So the subtle messages, don’t talk about marketing today, even though I know you have pet theories on that because the person number two sitting next to you is a believable marketing expert. You know what I mean? They get to talk about marketing.
You get to talk about tech and person number three, you’re here for finance. We need to know if you blah, blah, blah. So then everyone in the room, it’s like semantic priming, right? Anyone who studied psych knows, if I were to give you a word and then later ask you an association, you’re much more likely to associate things that I primed you for in advance, right? So if let’s say I were to say the word cat and then a minute later there was a visual word test, you would be much more likely to respond to the word dog than you would be to coat wreck, right? Because cat is in the same category as dog. It’s called semantic priming. So this is what happens with these kinds of meetings. You prime people early. You don’t say, don’t talk about marketing, you idiot. You’re not believable. You say you’re here to talk about this.

Erik Gensler: Is there an author or a resource that you could recommend that helps with this framework or something you guys came up with?

John Berardi: Well, a few years ago we adopted a organizational practice called Holacracy. You may have heard about it in the media. It got a ton. Ton of attention. So we had been using it years prior and we actually were consulted during the Zappos implementation along with Dave and Allen Group and a bunch of other companies. The guys who started Medium were all using Holacracy, and so they all brought us down to Zappos to help because Zappos was the biggest company trying to implement it. So a lot of this stuff we learned from Holacracy, it is a unique way of organizing a company that’s different from a traditional hierarchical organization. Preloaded with that is a whole set of assumptions and viewpoints about your work, but also is a certain discipline about how you can work together, how meetings should look, how you should structure things so that the right people are at the right meetings and how the meetings should run so that they’re effective and efficient.
And I think just like everything else, Holacracy can’t be an out of the box thing that every company implements the same exact way. You have to figure out within those principles, which tools will you use and how will they be individualized for your company? And I think we’ve done a great job of that. Some other companies haven’t, whether their leadership team didn’t have the appetite to, or quite frankly maybe Holacracy implementation was number five on their list of priorities. And we know that five is a zero. You know what I mean? And so it could have never worked because not enough people were committed to making it work. We actually took two years where it was like our number one priority ahead of sales, ahead of marketing ahead of content. Everything else took a backseat to reorganizing so that we could have a hundred team members one day and that it could work. Hard to do too.

Erik Gensler: Scaling, it’s so hard. And just at each next level of employees, it just changes everything, especially at certain break points. You know what I mean?

John Berardi: The numbers. 33, a hundred, 10, 30… And that’s exactly when we implemented Holacracy when we were 30, we were about 26 people and we were thrashing about, Phil and I were in a hundred meetings, we’re doing no creation. Still the organization wasn’t in sync. We were stressed out, we hated our jobs. This fun thing, we originally started sucked, and then we just got some advice and people were like, oh, and this is one thing you probably noticed from our PN coaching. We thankfully had some mentors who normalized it for us who said, wait, wait a second. This isn’t a unique problem that you’re having. This is normal. You have 26 people go read these 100 books that say 30 is the threshold. And we’re like, oh, this is normal.

Erik Gensler: It’s the rules that — the one I’ve heard is the rules of threes and tens.

John Berardi: Yeah, that’s right. And so then we’re like, okay, by telling me it’s normal is great because it means it’s a solved problem, right? So let’s just go find the solution. It’s great. Someone solved this already. Everyone knows about this too. I’m the only idiot who didn’t.

Erik Gensler: I was too, and it was brutal. But on the other side of it, it’s nice. I’m like, oh, we got a while before 90 if we’re even ever going to get there. So I could relax for a second at least, at least in that area. That’s right. I am so appreciative of your time and you doing this for us and just the work that you do, and I just really thank you so much for doing what you do and talking to us and really changing my life, I have to say.

John Berardi: Well, thanks. I appreciate that. That’s awesome. I thank you for reaching out, for inviting me on the show. I dunno how many nutrition, health and fitness people you have on the podcast, I’m never sure if my stories and rambling on ever holds value for people. But if it does, that’s really humbling for me. I thank you for hanging out with us and I hope it did bring something to your life.

Erik Gensler: Did you enjoy the podcast? Please join Capacity Interactive on email and on Facebook so you could be the first to know when we release new episodes. You’ll also get content all about digital marketing for the arts, and you’ll be the first to know about our webinars, workshops, and our annual digital marketing bootcamp. Thanks for listening. If you’re enjoying CI to Eye, please share it with a colleague. I also invite you to please rate and comment on iTunes, which helps us get discovered. We love hearing from you on Twitter, Facebook, or the contact form on the Capacity Interactive website. Please don’t be shy and thank you so much for listening.

About Our Guests
John Berardi
John Berardi
Co-Founder, Precision Nutrition

John Berardi is the co-founder of Precision Nutrition, the largest private nutrition coaching and education company in the world. Erik has been using Precision Nutrition coaching for over a year and it has made a huge impact on him both personally and physiologically. He first discovered Precision Nutrition through their stellar digital marketing content- so not only is he a huge fan of their work, but also their marketing- which is almost entirely permission-based.

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