Cooper Mitchell is a graduate of Missouri State University with a degree in Finance. He found his love for fitness while training for hockey, a sport he played with various teams throughout his career, including Lindenwood University, St. Louis AAA Blues, and the St. Louis Jr. Blues. At IFP, Cooper focuses on the training layout and client experience. In addition to co-owning Intentional Fitness & Performance, Cooper runs the website and associated channels for Garage Gym Reviews. He now runs a YouTube channel with 300k subscribers and an Instagram with 295k followers. When not eating tacos or staring at a screen, Cooper can be found with his Wife Mollie, son Ezra, and dog ‘famous’ Amos.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Cooper Mitchell: I’m Coop and I founded Garage Gym Reviews back in 2014, and I now work on my brand full-time. After going to school at Missouri State University for Finance I started my own advising business. I also started a blog, Fed Retirement Planning, where I started making YouTube videos to help Government employees. This had some initial success, but after a while, I knew my real passion didn’t lie in finance. I eventually started Garage Gym Reviews as a hobby, something I could work on that I loved. I made a logo on some free design websites and started making videos from there. I never imagined it would become what it is today but I’m grateful for the journey.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your viewpoint, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Cooper Mitchell: Entrepreneurs have to be both born and made. The born aspect comes with the drive to work hard and the disposition to be able to take risks. This alone doesn’t make an entrepreneur, though. There are a ton of people across industries who are employees that put in the hours for their company and do great things. There’s nothing wrong with having a great career as an employee, as entrepreneurship isn’t the best path for everyone. For a lot of people, having the stability of working at a company is the right choice.
The made aspect comes when someone who has the work ethic and can take risks pulls the trigger and starts working for themselves. They either do it on the side or take the leap of faith to do it full time. A lot of people can talk about their dream of owning a business or blazing their path, but it’s very different from actually doing it. The final piece is being able to stick it out. The first couple months and years of entrepreneurship are tough, and you have to be able to put your head down and keep working. So entrepreneurs are both born and made. You have to have the disposition and you have to execute.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Cooper Mitchell: I would say passionate and competitive. Passionate seems almost like a cop-out answer because every entrepreneur would probably say that, but I think it’s especially important for what I do. I review gym equipment, so for the audience to trust me they have to see that I care about the products I discuss. When they see the energy I have for barbells, dumbbells, and all the other stuff you find in a gym, they know that I’m a reliable source of information. I also produce videos for my YouTube channel, so I need to be entertaining.
I’m also really competitive, which comes with being a fitness fanatic. This bleeds into how I run my business because I always want to be the number one authority on gym equipment. I’m always energized when I see large media companies putting out gym reviews that rank over mine. I know mine is better, and I know that I’ve tried more equipment than they have, and this just pushes me to keep working to beat them out.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Cooper Mitchell: Garage Gym Reviews has changed drastically over the years. It started with me, my iPhone, and a tripod in a garage gym. I’d write reviews for my website, publish videos on my YouTube channel, and I’d do it all myself. I started with the equipment I already had and I went from there. If you’re able to look at my early videos or even find an early version of my website, you’ll see that they’re not great. The information is great, but the presentation was lacking. I didn’t know everything I needed to be successful at the beginning but just getting started allowed me to gradually improve. I bought many products to review but over time companies started sending me stuff. This was a big shift, as I was no longer losing money every time I wanted to make a review. I was also able to join some affiliate programs, and I started to make some money. Initially, this wasn’t much, but now Garage Gym Reviews was self-sustaining and could grow more consistently.
I was eventually able to hire a videographer who would film and edit my reviews, and this made a big impact. It was no longer me doing all the work, and I was able to produce more content. So the quantity and quality of my reviews went way up and the money followed. Not too long after Garage Gym Reviews became a fully-fledged business. I work on it full time and have a variety of team members who work on the website and YouTube channel. It’s crazy how the brand went from me alone in a Garage to a legitimate business.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Cooper Mitchell: There are 3 things I’d say an entrepreneur must assume. The first is that growth, in the beginning, will be slow for a long time. Especially with a digital business, your content will go largely unviewed for months and even years. Most people use the analogy of exponential growth for businesses, and this is very true, but it’s much different when you’re living through it. You will work tirelessly and you likely won’t reap any reward for a long time. So, an entrepreneur has to be ready to work for a long time before they become profitable. It’s very discouraging, but if you keep going you’ll eventually see some growth.
The second is that you and the business will have to change at some point. If you’ve come up with a business idea and how you’re going to execute, you’re likely incorrect about what will happen. This isn’t a slight, this is the reality of business. Over time you’ll see what is and isn’t successful, and you need to pivot to focus on what works. so, an entrepreneur shouldn’t grow too attached to any one aspect of their business or brand. If you pay attention to feedback and can adjust, you’ll eventually land on a successful model. Lastly, an entrepreneur can’t do it alone. You can go very far by yourself and make some money, but if you want to build a true business you will need the help of others. Once you get growing you’ll reach a point where you need people with skills who complement your own.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Cooper Mitchell: Garage Gym Reviews started as a hobby and everything that came after was a great surprise. I was following my passion, and I think that’s why everything worked out. My first business, Federal Retirement Planning didn’t work out the same way. I chose finance as a career path because it’s an in-demand, well-paid industry and I enjoyed it. When I say I enjoyed it, though, I mean I enjoyed it in the sense of liking a career. I liked financial advising, but I wasn’t truly passionate about it. I started making YouTube videos to market my brand, and I assumed that I could keep this up.
The channel grew and I continued to make videos, but over time this wore on me. Making YouTube videos takes a lot of work, especially emotional work. You sit in front of a camera and talk about one topic, and I came to learn that I wasn’t passionate enough to keep this up. I eventually stopped working on this channel and shifted my focus to Garage Gym Reviews. So I paid for my mistaken assumption in wasted time. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing as an entrepreneur.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain.
Cooper Mitchell: My main advice would be to take myself seriously. When I started Garage Gym Reviews I saw it as a hobby, which isn’t a bad thing, but the casual mindset influenced how I represented myself. If you look at any of my old videos you can see that I come across almost like just some guy who has tried out some gym equipment and is giving his two cents. Again nothing wrong with this because you have to start somewhere, but over time I learned to represent myself with some authority. I realized that I do know a lot about gym equipment, I am passionate about fitness, and I have what it takes to be an influencer and business owner. You can see in the progression of my YouTube channel that I begin to speak with authority and polish up my branding. Taking myself seriously from day one would have sped up the growth of the business. The quality of my videos would have been better, the design of my site would be improved, and I would have had the confidence to reach out to brands and make things happen. So, you don’t have to wait to reach a certain milestone before you start acting and presenting yourself as a genuine business owner. Do it from day one and you’ll make progress much faster.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Cooper Mitchell: The worst advice I’ve received is to focus on the money. Early on after I had some reviews up on the website and YouTube channel a lot of people would ask me how I was making money. At that time I wasn’t making any money and I wasn’t focused on that. I wanted to create quality content that helped people, and I also wanted to be working on stuff I enjoyed. This mindset allowed me to continue working and be able to reach the point where I could monetize my reviews. Even now there are opportunities to make a quick buck, but they often don’t align with my brand. Companies will want me to make sponsored content or pay for positive reviews, but this would hurt my integrity as a reviewer. Also from numbers since, it would be in my best interest to push products that make me the most money, but again this isn’t what my channel is about. For me, the most important thing is to create content that helps people. If I do this the business will be fine and the money will come.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Cooper Mitchell: Covid-19 has changed how the world functions significantly, and these changes seem like they’re going to be here to stay. A lot of this revolves around working, specifically working from home. So, offices and cities have a lot less traffic, meaning businesses around them are going to have a much more difficult time. Businesses like restaurants especially that benefit from crowds are going to have a hard time getting people in the door. I think the general takeaway from this is that businesses need to have concrete plans for how they’re going to get their name out there and drive sales. Covid-19 has led people to have the freedom to stay at home and use the additional free time to pursue their interests. So, digital marketing is going to grow even more than it has been. The new assumption and which has been building for a long time, is that digital is a must. What hasn’t changed is the need for easy experiences. The “Amazon experience” has been the standard for a while now, and companies are still expected to meet or exceed this. So even though many businesses have changed or hopped online, they’re still expected to provide a seamless process. This means an easy-to-use website and simple shipping. If you don’t provide this consumers will go to someone who does.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Cooper Mitchell: A common myth is that you need to have one great idea when you start. You hear this all the time in conversations, people talking about the “million-dollar idea.” This sounds nice, but it isn’t the case at all. Most businesses work like this: You have an idea, you try it out, and it doesn’t work. You come up with another idea, you try it out, and it doesn’t work. You keep doing this until you eventually reach the idea that people respond to, then you run with it, Entrepreneurship is really about iterating and listening to the market’s feedback. I would give aspiring entrepreneurs the advice to just start. Take the general idea you have and just start doing something. You’ll begin to learn some skills and understand the industry you’re in, and this will allow you to make adjustments to get to your next idea. If you keep working and listening to feedback, you’ll reach success.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Cooper Mitchell: The most important trait is passion. You have to like what you’re doing. You likely won’t find any success for a while, and passion will keep you going. It will allow you to roll with the punches, be open to feedback, and persevere through failure. After this, I would say openness is the second most important. Successful businesses address a need in the market, so you have to be able to listen to what the market is saying. I’ve said this a bit already, but entrepreneurship is a journey. You don’t open up a business and have a profitable venture on day one. You have to work continuously to grow your brand and adapt to the changing world.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Cooper Mitchell: There are plenty of resources an entrepreneur can find, and the best part is that most of them are free. The internet, especially YouTube, hosts tons of free content that shows you how to do whatever it is that you want to do. My recommendation would be to start building a business and learn what you need to along the way. For example, when I started my business I wanted to make a website and YouTube channel. I didn’t know how to build a website, and I didn’t know how to edit videos. All I did was google what I wanted to learn and tons of free guides came up. My business is digital, so I can recommend some of the resources I used: Ahrefs (blog and Youtube channel) and Backlinko (blog and YouTube Channel). Overall the best experience is doing. Entrepreneurship requires you to be a jack of all trades and address issues and opportunities as they come up.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Cooper Mitchell: This is kind of a cop-out answer, but I would want to work for one of the fitness companies that manufacturers equipment. Being able to be a part of the fitness community is great and it’s cool to be able to play a role in giving people quality products. I think I would want to be one of the people that listen to customer feedback and helps design new products.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Cooper Mitchell: Martin Luther. He started the church reformation with his 95 Thesis and caused the Bible to be made available for people other than priests.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Cooper Mitchell for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Cooper Mitchell or his company, you can do it through his – Website
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