Jason Williams has a lifelong quest to find the world’s perfect burger.
From Napa Valley to the United Kingdom, Williams has scrounged the food industry for a sandwich deserving of that title. “Every place has a different take on the burger,” he said. “That basic thing, meat between a bun, tells you a lot about a restaurant, like how much care they put into that thing.”
Williams’ ability to read a restaurant based on its attention to the burger draws an interesting parallel to his own devotion to his businesses, CrossFit Hale in Richmond, California, and CrossFit Thames in London, England.
Like a burger isn’t a burger without the patty, Williams’ businesses wouldn’t be what they are without their philosophy: “You can live a better life if you really are willing to put in the effort.”
It’s a philosophy Williams developed overtime. Despite having an early childhood dream of wanting to own a gym, an ACL injury and a desk job led him to a sedentary lifestyle. “As a result, I did very little fitness for almost seven years and got fat. Really fat,” said Williams. “I was 315 pounds before I looked up and said, ‘I really need to do something about this.’”
He tried the gym and various boot camps, including one that later converted into CrossFit Oakland. The Box sent Williams newsletters for 18 months before he and his wife, Tina, finally gave the fitness regimen a try in 2007. He lost 45 pounds in the first four months.
In 2008, Williams’ career took him and his wife to London. And when Williams couldn’t find a CrossFit gym, he and two other entrepreneurs opened CrossFit Thames in 2009 as a part-time gig.
While in England, Williams’ daughter was born, which was a game changer. “We decided it’d be easier when our daughter was younger to take a risk like [working full-time at the Box],” said Tina.
Leaps of faith — like Williams quitting his job and hoping CrossFit Thames would support his family within six months — are what have helped grow both of the Boxes. Those risks, said CrossFit Hale Coach Mike Lee, don’t instill fear in Williams. “He’s a confident guy, but in the right places, so his risks tend to be things that he’s generally certain that if he were to spend his time on it, he would be successful at it,” said Lee.
Another clear example of this is CrossFit Hale. In 2013, Williams and Tina, both who were working at Thames full-time, moved back to California. While they had every intention of returning to the U.K., Williams said that changed. “It was March in California, and the sun was shining, and we were sitting outside in the backyard getting sunburned and we were thinking, ‘This is awesome,’” recalled Williams, the image a stark contrast to living in London. So, they decided to open CrossFit Hale in California that same year.
Williams had confidence in building a second successful gym. He even had membership projections for the first year. However, those forecasted numbers were not met. “It was convenient to be able to do it all based on what we knew, but it was a different market,” he said.
Despite having hardships, Williams found a lot of what he learned at Thames applied to Hale. This includes one of the largest fundamental pillars that makes Williams’ Affiliates thrive: “We don’t want everybody.”
Williams explained that reasoning is counterintuitive to most business owners. “One of the big struggles with most people when they start their business is they think the best way to grow the business is to try and serve everybody,” he said. “You have to start by trying to service a specific population … Yes, it will limit you, but limits are good.”
It’s not that CrossFit Hale and CrossFit Thames have the rule, no “dicks at the gym,” explained Lee. Rather, CrossFit Hale and CrossFit Thames limit who joins by catering to a specific type of client.
The idea of such specificity was firmly grasped by Williams after reading, “The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field” by Mike Michalowicz. The author shares how growing an award-winning pumpkin parallels growing a thriving business. For example, when you want to grow a giant pumpkin, you need to focus on growing the best two or three pumpkin prospects. You water and nurture only the most promising pumpkins, trimming away the unwanted squashes.
How does Williams trim away the lessor pumpkins? Well, it comes back to Williams’ philosophy and how it has permeated the rest of the business. Because, as Tina put, like attracts like. “Who do we want to cater to? Who do we think is going to walk into our doors?” she explained. “I think the most basic way to look at it is we built a place we want to be, where we feel comfortable.”
Lee also shared CrossFit Hale’s members are the main source of marketing. And people tend to only refer people they would like to work out with. “I think the cool thing is even though we’ve been growing, the core fundamental tendons of the reason we opened the gym in the first place has stuck around,” said Lee.
On top of this, every three to six months Williams and his staff will pick their favorite 10 to 20 members. They will take the members to coffee, asking them questions about their time at the gym and what the Box can do to better their experience. They will take that feedback and put it to use in the business. And if he’s tailoring his business to meet his best clients’ needs, then similar clients, the clients Williams loves, will flock to his Box.
“Your best clients are generally just mirrors of what you believe in,” he said. “I think it’s really important to focus on the fact you’re doing this because you want to do it. And, you are choosing to do it, so you should choose the people that you work with.”
Because when Williams left his job in London for CrossFit Thames, the last thing he wanted was to create a job for himself. And he explained one way it would feel like a job is if he worked with the wrong people. “The more I focus on working with the right people, the happier I am and the better my business does,” he said.
When asked to describe CrossFit Thames, Phil Morton, a co-owner of the Box and the general manager, instead spoke on what he cares about the most: true success.
“For us, success is not about a score on the whiteboard,” he said. “True success lies much deeper within ourselves. It is an expression of the intense effort, determination and mental toughness that we demonstrate, regardless of whether we ever actually achieve a particular goal or not. Fulfillment lies in the journey to the goal.”
And Williams is constantly bettering his business in order to give members a chance at finding true success. Although that mission is not as delicious as trying to find the perfect burger, the journey Williams offers is much more satisfying.
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