As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Gregory.
Vitruvian, founded by physicist and financial trader, Jon Gregory, is a technologically advanced fitness company that has launched the V-Form Trainer, the ultimate revolutionary, powerful, and luxurious all-in-one resistance training device. For more information, please visit Vitruvianform.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I have a degree in applied physics and that’s what shapes the way I think. It’s what I like to do, and ultimately, it’s what I’m good at. I’m interested in learning about and understanding a whole system, and then finding solutions for problems. So, that’s really what I’ve done for my whole career. Wherever I’ve worked, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
So, my first career was in finance and trading. I was doing algorithmic trading and high frequency computing and ended up working for myself, running my own trading company. I was solving problems around how to trade.
The big technical problem that I had to solve was how to be fast and how to trade quickly. Then I had to build the infrastructure and the software that made it work, and run it to make money. I did pretty well at it, which gave me a lot of freedom to sit back and think, What’s the next big problem that I really want to invest my life in? What do I want to invest my thoughts, my energy, and my family’s time in?
It was five or six years of thinking and looking for something that was a big playground, and something that I felt I could solve to some extent myself, and then build a company and an opportunity around. So, that was what I was looking for and that’s what Vitruvian is.
I initially saw a problem back in 2008. At my trading company — where we were doing high-tech, cutting-edge trading — we had a training room with only a bunch of metal weights. And I thought, Surely, we can do something better. Surely, in the 21st century, we can throw technology at resistance training and make it engaging, dynamic, more effective, full of data, and make it a more efficient and beneficial experience.
I had found a problem that technology could solve. Then I spent five or six years kind of part-time, ad hoc looking at, and actually trying to figure out, how to build that. I made lots of progress along the way and developed proofs of concept. Then in 2016, I saw Peloton for the first time and that’s what made me realize that there was actually a big business here, and not just a cool product. Peloton had turned hardware into a subscription and that was obviously going to be a great business. It turns out, it really was a great business, and still is. (Smiling)
Seeing Peloton and the rise of the fitness influencer in 2016, and seeing what I had come up with in my garage around how to do dynamic, electronic, adaptive resistance, it just all came together kind of in a flash. So, I told myself, I have to do this because it’s possible! I can do it, it will be engaging, and people will love it!
Then there were a couple more years of inventing, tinkering, and proof of concepts, which led to founding the company at the end of 2018. From there, it has been a story of fundamentally just building belief. Firstly, building belief that I could do it. Then building belief in investors around me that I could do it, and that it was worth doing. And then building belief in the team — that I was going to have to build — to actually do it. You know, you can only do so much as a single person. (Laughing) You can do a lot. You can found a company, but you can’t build a company with just one person. So, from 2018 on, the main top-level line has been: Building Belief.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Every day is just incredibly interesting to me. From the minutiae to the macro, I’m just really surrounded and embedded in interest. One of the fundamental things that keeps me going is that I’m curious. I like learning and I like understanding things on a deeper level, and there’s an opportunity to do that every day.
From how an employee thinks, and then realizing, Ah, I need to do this for him! Or, I need to give her this so she can be her best! I find that interesting. And how investors think — talking to investors and understanding what their challenges and problems are — I find that interesting. Or what a customer really wants, that’s fascinating.
So, my life is full of interest. Maybe the most interesting thing is just that once you get going and start doing stuff, you’ll never be bored as long as you’re open, and you like the world. Just everything is fascinating to me. Watching a company grow and watching people come together to work on a problem, that’s fascinating and exciting to be a part of.
In the early days, we made what I would say is a full-blown discovery that we were not expecting to find. I had thought that we could make a product that worked, and I thought it would be engaging, interesting, fun, and that people would like it. But I didn’t think it would be more beneficial than traditional ways of training. That was a full-blown discovery. I had no idea that being able to adapt weights so fast and train algorithmically would actually be a way better, more efficient, and more effective way to train.
I didn’t know the real benefits of effective eccentric training because it really hasn’t been done before this. Sure, there are eccentric training machines, but they’re a bit fringe and they’re not in wide use. It’s kind of like a little side part of physiology. But just out of the box, the equipment that we have is naturally very effective at doing eccentric training. And I built this machine, and I trained with it for about a month, just by the by, and I was like, This is amazing! We just discovered something!
That’s exciting. (Smiling) It’s really exciting to discover something and give something to the world that is far out. It doesn’t get much better than that. (Smiling)
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Yeah, okay. (Laughing) So, one of my very early prototypes was a big machine. It was the size of a squat rack and it was kind of cool. It lifted a bar up and down and it put force going up and going down. And I had a demo booked for some people at a local university who were offering research assistance to come and work in businesses.
I had been tinkering with the machine and wiring it up before they came just to make sure that it worked so I could impress them with this demo. And I switched one of the wires around, which was an important wire not to switch. (Laughing) And what this meant was that the force and everything worked backwards on the machine. So, instead of the force naturally working with the user, it did the opposite. It worked against the user and it kind of went on a runaway force.
So, I was showing how the machine worked and how it was fantastic and everything. Then the force started kicking in and it just sort of ramped up and it got heavier and heavier and heavier, but the force was going upwards. So, I was holding this bar and I was hanging onto it the best I could. (Laughing) Then it started lifting me off the ground and then I was like, This is not good. So, I had to let go. The bar hit the roof and exploded. It nearly hit me in the head, and the machine was trashed. I couldn’t wait to leave. (Laughing) I never saw them ever again. (Laughing)
What was the lesson? Well, it didn’t kill me. So, I guess it was probably okay. (Laughing) The lesson is really that it didn’t matter. Yeah, we didn’t get any interest from those people, but it hasn’t stopped the company from growing and succeeding. If you’re going to be creating cutting-edge technology and innovating, it’s probably not going to be right all the time. In fact, it probably never will be right most of the time. But if you keep pushing, and you have a good enough idea, you can get through that stuff.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are a few people actually. Our current lead investor is one of those people. He’s just a brilliant investor and is full of knowledge and experience. He’s not judgmental, not overbearing, and asks me what I want to do, which is amazing. He’s the type of person who can just fill you with so much confidence. When someone with the amount of credibility that he has believes in you, and is there to say the right words at the right time, it just means the world.
And there’s also another person who I’ve only met once. I saved his name in my phone and put ‘god’ as the company that he works for because when god calls, I pick up the phone. (Smiling) I speak to him maybe once a quarter. He’s the sort of guy I should actually never speak to. He’s one of the wealthiest and most successful people in the country.
And again, he doesn’t tell me what to do. He just tells me I can do it and fills me with confidence. You can tell that every word that comes out of his mouth is full of wisdom, knowledge, and truth. The one time I did meet him, he looked straight through me. He gave me an hour of his time and I was like, Why is this guy talking to me at all? He’s one of the most successful and powerful people in the whole country. But he gave me an hour of his time and he looked at me, talked to me, and asked me about my family, how I was feeling, and what I was good at.
He completely read me and gave me a little bit of advice, but not really. And now he always picks up my calls. So, once a quarter I’m like, I should really talk to this guy because he’ll have a bit of insight in this area. His personal assistant books the meeting and I talk to this guy. He gives me an hour of his time. So, that’s another one of these guys that I don’t know how they help, but they just do because they have so much credibility. And they don’t tell me what to do, they just tell me I can do it. That’s pretty nice to be told, right?
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
We’re an early-stage company with a small team. When it comes to building out our executive team, or hiring anyone for that matter, I look for great people. Who are smart, hardworking, respectful and share our vision. Talent attracts talent and diverse and inclusive cultures create an environment for that talent to thrive. Where people with different lived experiences provide different perspectives, where diversity of thought and opinion leads to different ways to solve problems. As we grow it’s something we’re cognizant of. It’s important to me from a personal point of view and a no-brainer from a business point of view. Study after study shows that diverse and inclusive cultures produce higher performing teams, and we’re no different.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
I think you build a company around a vision. So, you take the focus on the individual away and you put the focus on everyone for the vision.
At Vitruvian, our company is building technology that is inclusive of all our customers. We want to build technology that lets anyone — any age, gender, or demographic use the equipment and get a benefit. And if that’s the product that you’re building as a company, that naturally builds an inclusive culture in the workforce.
Over two years ago, my daughter and I went to a local sporting event and there were thousands of people, all types of people, everywhere. While we were wandering through this crowd, all of a sudden it hit me that we created a piece of hardware that is going to deliver a benefit to everyone — whether you’re a kid, an adult, or are elderly. The magnitude of that moment — realizing right then and there that we’ve got something for the world — was overwhelming. I actually almost fell over. And day by day, we’re getting closer and closer to actually bringing it to the world.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
It’s a very good question. I think it is actually responsibility that is the biggest difference. An executive needs to be comfortable while making the calls, and do the emotional work around handling that and not having it turn you into a despot or a maniac. That’s something that I do feel a lot because making the calls is one of the main things that I do that no one else in our company can do anymore.
Below the executive level, they take technical responsibility. At the executive level, you take on the burden of responsibility of getting it wrong and getting it right. You make calls and you have to be decisive. You have to make a lot of calls and some of them are very, very big and can impact the company wildly in terms of where the company will be in a few years’ time. And a lot of those decisions are very expensive, and most of them can bankrupt the company in some form at some time in the future if it goes wrong. I spend a lot of money each week and that’s quite difficult. But I’ve had a lifetime of training on how to handle money. In my previous career, I worked with a lot of money and I think that I can handle that quite well. At the moment, I don’t think anyone else in the company could really handle that.
Long ago, when I got the company to the point where it was just me, and here’s the product, and I think this going to work — I had done all the engineering, all the programming, and everything — I got to the point where I needed to hire people to professionalize the engineering, professionalize software, professionalize marketing, and professionalize everything. So, theoretically I don’t have anything to do anymore. (Laughing) But what I do that none of those people can do is bear the burden of responsibility.
So, you steer and you take responsibility for getting it right and wrong. And you take the responsibility off of the people actually doing the work because you don’t want them to be clouding their own judgment or clouding their technical work with that.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
You don’t have to know what you’re doing. (Laughing) In all seriousness, you don’t have to have everything worked out. If you’re a high-growth company in particular, you’re probably not going to actually have a clue what the company is going to look like in six months, 12 months, or two years. And that doesn’t mean you’re a bad CEO, it probably means that you’re a good CEO. But what you’ll always know is what the next thing to do is.
In a high-growth company, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of uncertainty. You’re going to be out of your depth in almost every area. And that’s okay because you’ll always know what to do today. You’ll always know what the next step is, even if you don’t know where the staircase is leading.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I don’t think I’ve ever really spent any time thinking about what the job will be. That said, I spend way too much time emailing. That’s actually my job. (Laughing) As someone who doesn’t necessarily love to write, I don’t know how I ended up spending most of my day writing now. How did that happen? (Laughing)
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Know yourself. You’ll be an executive if it’s who you are.
There’s a guy at my company now who’s the CEO. He just is, and he probably will be the CEO of Vitruvian. But he is because that’s just who he is. No amount of aspiring to be like that guy would make you into that. In fact, don’t do that. (Smiling) Don’t aspire to be an executive or a CEO or anything because you want to do that. Just aspire to be yourself. You’ll be way happier and you’ll be great at what you do.
You know, CEOs and executives are just being themselves — if they’re any good. And that’s why they’re happy. It’s not because they’re getting prestige and power and things like that. It’s just because it is who they are.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
At Vitruvian, the basic plan is to hire the smartest and the best people that you can find, and admit that you’ll get it wrong sometimes. But, on balance, you’ll get it right.
Drive home a culture of respect and appreciation for each other. You’re all smart, hardworking people who have turned up to work on a shared vision. Appreciate that all of you are doing that and that all of you are making sacrifices in your own way towards that collective vision.
Respect and appreciation. Those are two words that I say a lot at the company when I speak. I try to be respectful and appreciative of every single person who turns up to the company. I still walk into the office every day and I’m just like, I’m amazed that all of you are here. I just really appreciate that because I have this vision of where this company can be and where this technology can go, and all of you have turned up to agree with that and joined the company to make that happen. I respect each person as an individual and understand that everyone has their own intelligence and right to do whatever they’d like to do. The fact that they chose to work at Vitruvian, I just really appreciate that.
And then daily, I try to do radical decentralization. I’ll say, Go and do what you need to do. Obviously, that only works if you hire smart, motivated, and good people. Then you can just tell them to go. And I’ll even say to them, Don’t tell me what you’re doing. I don’t care. Just wherever you are and whatever you’re doing for the company, make decisions and take responsibility.
If you get it right and hire the correct people, it really works. Occasionally, it doesn’t work. Like one person may be doing what they think makes sense and another person will be doing something else and they might be working at odds. But, on balance, it allows you to grow and run faster because everyone’s making decisions and not having to constantly check in regarding them. So, that’s how we do high-growth culture — radical decentralization and then overcommunication. I tell everyone to go and do what they like, and also make sure that everyone is talking a lot about what they’re doing.
Sure, it’s a bit chaotic, a bit wild, and we all get annoyed with each other at times. It’s a lot of Slack because we’re all over the place, as well. Sometimes the communications get afraid and tense, but on balance, I don’t think there’s any other way to do it.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I want to say, Ask me that in five years’ time! At the moment, we’re using the success that we currently have to reinvest in Vitruvian, and use Vitruvian to make the world a better place. I’m trying to grow a company that makes the world a better place, that makes human lives better, and that makes my employees’ lives better, as well. Right now, I’m focused on the company. In five years, we’ll look back and see if we achieved that.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Five things that I wish someone told me before I started Vitruvian are…
1. You’re going to be writing a lot of emails.
I currently write emails for six hours a day and I can’t write to save my life. (Laughing)
2. You’re going to have a full-time job raising capital.
It didn’t occur to me that high-growth means very fast capital raising rounds. By the time you finish one, you’re starting the next one. So, if you want to do high-growth, that naturally means raising capital almost every six months.
3. It’s going to be way more fun than you would’ve thought.
If you do a lot of things around team building and give people the respect of their own humanity, they do respond. Although the company is at times stressful, and things don’t always go the way that we want them to, we have a blast! I love turning up to work every morning. (Smiling) I love dealing with challenges with all of these people. We get to do it together. It just really is fun.
4. Competition is going to be less of an issue than you think.
If you’re doing something truly innovative, what you think is obvious is not. You have a lot more white space than you think in developing and innovating products.
You should just focus on the product, focus on the team, focus on your customers, and don’t worry about the competition because the world is a big enough place. If you get those things right, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
5. The bigger the vision that you espouse, the more everyone will become interested.
When I first started out, I tried to be modest. I was a bit embarrassed about saying what I really wanted to say, which is, I think we’re going to train the world. Instead, at first, I was like, Oh, we have this technology and we’re going to make 10 machines and then we’ll give them to people. Then we’ll get feedback and make another 20.
When I finally decided, I don’t care anymore what people think of me. I’m just going to go for it and tell people what I actually want to do. That was when everyone responded. Investors said, Okay. Employees turned up and said, That sounds fun.
So, just be a bit nuts. It’s okay to be a bit nuts. (Smiling) In fact, be bold and be ambitious. People like that. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It’d be Vitruvian. (Smiling) You know, I think the fitness culture has been too narrow and too unachievable for far too long. To me, the word fitness means something more along the lines of fit for purpose. Like, we don’t need to be an elite athlete in order to be considered fit. We just need to be able to walk down the street and get a cup of coffee, or be able to play with our kids, or run a 5K with our friends. We just need to be fit for whatever is important to us in life. Vitruvian can very nicely and effectively make you fit for your purpose.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The only solid piece of advice that I ever took out of my trading career was from a wise old trader. I asked him, Rich, how do you make money? I’m sitting here at my desk ready to trade. How do I make money? And Rich said, You just put yourself in the position to make money.
The wisdom that I think he was trying to say is that there’s a whole bunch of things that can go your way and there are also things that won’t go your way. But you don’t have a lot of control over those things. What you can do is put yourself in a position that if something does go well, then you’ll be able to be involved in it and capitalize on that. And if a bunch of things go wrong, it doesn’t kill you. It doesn’t wipe you out. (Laughing)
But I’ve ended up kind of skewing that view on life to a lot more than just money. I’ve used it in regard to opportunity and even enjoyment. Like, don’t be overly ambitious on just one thing. Or say, I have to do this, it has to work this way, and then everything will be great. Just chill out a bit. Focus on what you can do, which is to put yourself in a position for something to go right. Then if everything lines up, that will be great.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Oh, wow. Probably Elon Musk. He seems like a pretty cool guy. I’d like to have lunch with him.