How Tone It Up's Founders Created A Fitness Empire
If you've turned to Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or YouTube for fitness and wellness inspiration, it's very likely that you've been introduced to Tone It Up. In 2009, after meeting at a Manhattan Beach gym, Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn invested $3,000 of their own money and founded Tone It Up, a fitness lifestyle brand that has turned into a multi-million dollar business that inspires millions of women a year
The duo started by filming workout classes and uploading them to YouTube, fast forward to today and they have a membership-based workout and nutrition plan as well as products. Tone It Up has turned into an online and offline community with members supporting each other on social media and at Tone It Up events including local meetups, retreats and, soon, their 15-city Tone It Up Tour.
What inspired you to start Tone It Up? What was your career path?
Katrina Scott: Inspiration is built into the DNA of what we do at Tone It Up every day; it is also what led Dawn and me to each other. When we met, we were both at forks in the road in our career paths. I could have continued to pursue personal training, and she could have kept with sports and fitness modeling, hosting and triathlons. But we knew we could do more and had more to offer as a duo.
Together, we combined our passions, dreams and interests and consciously decided to move forward with our vision to build something bigger than ourselves. Today, the Tone It Up community has become a source of inspiration, motivation, and positivity for millions of women, but in the beginning, all Dawn and I had was each other. Now, we can turn to the Tone It Up community for inspiration, and millions of women around the world are doing the same.
What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting Tone It Up?
Karena Dawn: We like to view Tone It Up as a small business with "big business" challenges. A considerable challenge — which is also an opportunity — has been scaling the business to keep up with the hyper growth of the Tone It Up community while continuing to deliver an intimate, high-touch and remarkable experience. One of the most rewarding aspects has been our ability to attract, hire and work with some of the most amazing professionals in the world to share our journey and offer their perspectives and expertise. The reciprocity, positivity and engagement we receive from the Tone It Up community in return for sharing our lives through authentic, heartfelt content keeps us feeling inspired and rewarded. We love your #TIUteam check-ins, running into you at the Manhattan Beach pier and hearing about how you met your best girlfriend through the Tone It Up community.
What advice do you have for other women who hope to start their own multi-million dollar businesses?
Scott: Don’t set out to start a business. Find your passion, and then build it into a brand. There are a few things you can’t fake in this world: passion, integrity and authenticity, to name a few. Think back to that awkward conversation with your high school guidance counselor when he or she asked a 14-year-old you, "If you could do anything and money didn’t matter, what would you choose to do with your life?” How did you answer back then? How does that compare to the way you’d answer today? Some of the most wildly successful businesses began with a spark of passion in a parent’s garage or on the back of a cocktail napkin. As a founder, the passion you have for your brand translates directly to the passion, engagement and trust you will receive from your community and customers.
What is a workday as Scott and Dawn like? Please walk me through a day!
Scott: Whatever the day will bring, we always start out with a Booty Call workout, take a few minutes to set our goals and intentions and check-in with our community on Instagram. Seeing their dedication and commitment always inspires us. For us, no two days are ever the same, but you’re sure to find us creating content in one way or another. From the time we wake up in the morning, we’ve set an expectation for our community that remarkable content is on the way. Whether we’re hosting an Instagram Live workout for a quarter million viewers, or dreaming up our next challenge, we’re always working closely with our team to create content that will inspire and uplift our community. That could be anything from creating site and social media posts, developing new workout programs, overseeing the creation of videos and developing new products for our community.
Elana Lyn Gross is a content manager at mllnnl, journalist, and founder of Elana Lyn, a personal and professional development site that provides actionable career, job search, and wellness advice.
What are your responsibilities as cofounders and trainers at Tone It Up?
Dawn: When we founded Tone It Up, we had no idea how many different hats we’d wear and directions we’d be pulled in, but our core responsibilities have always remained the same: to provide motivating and empowering content for millions of women and clearly communicate our creative vision to our incredible staff of nearly 40 rock stars. Over time, we have been able to professionalize the business through hiring key individuals, and this has enabled us to stay focused on our core responsibilities as founders.
Tone It Up has more than a million Instagram followers and hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Thousands of people share their daily check-ins, workouts and meals with Tone It Up hashtags or specific accounts for sharing their Tone It Up progress.
What is the role that social media has played in Tone It Up's success?
Scott: Tone It Up is in the business of content and connectivity, and there’s no denying that social media has played a huge role in the past, present and future. As one of YouTube’s original fitness experts, I realized that social media gave me the potential to reach thousands of women in the same time as I could train one client at the gym. This “force multiplier” effect and viral connectivity is what has enabled the Tone It Up community to scale to millions so quickly. We personally have our hands on all of our social media channels so our millions of community members can hear directly from us and our voice is infused in everything we do.
Taking it a step further, late this summer, we are launching the first social fitness app for women, which is sure to change the way we work out together digitally and in-person.
What advice do you have for other founders who hope to create an engaged community?
Dawn: Strive to create quality content that is fun, authentic and effective, and viewers will naturally convert to passionate community members who then share it with their social networks. Before we upload or publish anything, we’ve trained ourselves and our staff to ask, “Is this remarkable? Would I share this content with my closest girlfriend?” Another amazing by-product of engaged communities is that they will find ways to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds.
Every week, thousands of Tone It Up community members are organizing their own #TIUmeetups, trying out a new fitness class together, or meeting in the aisles of their local Target store as they pick up our newly launched Tone It Up proteins and bars.
For us, the most rewarding feeling is connecting in person with the community, hearing their stories and sharing their success. We’re excited to meet more than 30,000 Tone It Up girls this September when we go on our 15-city Tone It Up Tour!
What are the most important skills for doing your job and how did you develop them?
Scott: The most important skill we continually hone is our ability to communicate a clear sense of passion and purpose to the Tone It Up community and our team at headquarters. In a landscape that is changing so rapidly, adapting to change, keeping an open mind and tying this back to the underlying vision is essential.
What's the biggest lesson you learned at work and how did you learn it?
Dawn: Aside from authentic and rapid content creation, effective recruiting and hiring is top of mind for us right now. It may sound like common sense, but we’ve found that the best candidates and staff are the ones who naturally believe in your mission and vision. These people also need to be far better at what they do than you are. As we professionalize the business, we’re looking to hire smarter in ways that free us up creatively to do what we love.
What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were starting out your career?
Dawn: As a young professional, I had always known that if I followed my passion, I would be truly happy. What we aren’t told is that our passions don’t always align with set career “paths.” There’s a lot of pressure to jump on a career path and stick to it, but remember that for every exit ramp on the highway, there’s usually an intersection, bridge or entrance ramp up ahead. Capitalize on these forks in the road. Use them as a chance to pivot. Always remain consistent and true to yourself and the passion that drives you.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
Scott: Greg Pickett, the founder of CytoSport, and a close friend, gave me some valuable advice as we were watching a Golden State Warriors playoff game last season. He passionately exclaimed, “Katrina, every business owner knows how easy it is to walk into the office, get pulled in 20 different directions and the next thing you know, you’re sitting down for a 3 PM lunch asking yourself, ‘Where did the day go, and what have I accomplished?’ You need to break this vicious cycle and take back control of your time. I want you to go into the office in the morning and invest your first three hours to focusing entirely on doing the mission-critical work that will grow the business. The planning sessions and staff meetings can wait.” Amen.
What is your business advice for other young professional women?
Dawn: Don’t be afraid to take a risk in your career, whether it’s taking a new job, forging a new career path or starting your own passion project. If you’re not a little scared, you’re probably not challenging yourself to reach your full potential. If you truly believe in yourself and your dream, you will make it happen. And bring a sense of purpose and passion to everything you do. If you can positively affect one person’s life, that is truly powerful.
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