Dr. Darian Parker, Co-Owner of Epic Leisure Management. Darian has almost 20 years experience in the exercise industry as a corporate executive, personal trainer and education provider.
Ramesh: Hello everybody. Welcome to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host, Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is for people who want to start and build their own businesses with purpose, passion, perseverance, and possibilities. Today I have a guest in an industry where somehow, we end up in whether we like it or not. So I would like to introduce you to Dr Darian Parker. Dr Darian Parker is a co-owner of Epic leisure management. He has almost 20 years’ experience in the exercise industry as a corporate executive, personal trainer and an education provider. So Darian, welcome.
Darian: Thank you so much Ramesh. I appreciate you having me on. I'm looking forward to speaking with you.
Ramesh: Excellent. Excellent. So Dr Darien Parker. So what's your doctorate in Darian?
Darian: It is in sports education leadership. I got it from the university of Nevada, Las Vegas. And the emphasis of it is in behavior modification and sports and exercise settings.
Ramesh: Excellent. So it's interesting when I looked at your company's name, Epic leisure management, so that did not ring a balance. That's okay. So they are in the leisure management. Then I went and started reading more into it. You're in the exercise industry, you provide consultation to entities about health and wellness. So what's the leisure about it?
Darian: Well, most of the people we work with, they're in the leisure industry. Leisure, meaning that they're basically in the amenity business. So they have health and wellness amenities either in hotels like hotel gyms, spas, private residential communities where there's a private gym or a combination spa fitness facility or in kind of your corporate campus setting. And we're even working in kind of your high-end boutique fitness facilities as well.
Ramesh: So essentially, you're working with entities who don't have expertise in building these kinds of facilities, but you have the expertise, so you provide your expertise in terms of conservation. Is that how it works?
Darian: Yes. Yes, definitely. What's interesting is we're always kind of, you have to explain a lot about what you do when we're doing it because people go, well, you have a gym or you have a spa, you know, we just hire some people to run it. But generally what happens is these spas, these fitness facilities, boutique facilities, but primarily let's say your hotels, private residential facilities are owned by developers and the developer, their business is not health and wellness amenities. They just know that they need that in that facility. So often what happens is they just hire somebody that they think would fit that and they say, Hey, run this spa, run this fitness facility. And then generally what happens is they recognize that they weren't really understanding how to actually hire somebody to increase the revenue, provide really great customer service, because their area of expertise is hotel management or, and land sales or development. So we come in equations say, Hey, this is what we do. We actually specifically recruit, hire, consult space programs, audit pro formers, five-year business plans for that particular space, your health and wellness space.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, Darien, if I could ask you questions about your entrepreneurial journey, when did you guys start this company?
Darian: We actually very new, we launched last November, so we're coming up on a year. We launched it and really the, I would say my business partner and I, we are probably the last people you would think would be entrepreneurs, but we enjoyed working for, we worked for the same company for a long time. Me for 12 years, him for 20. And I think we were company guys. You know, we really enjoyed working and learning under the total of job. You know people who have owned a larger company. I think, you know, for me, I was looking to, I'm always looking to expand and grow, and I said, you know, maybe it's time to do something different and I'm 41 and I said, I think this is the time to make it happen.
Ramesh: I see. And then how was the transition? So you thought about doing it and then did it jump with both feet in it or did you take some time to figure out what you're going to do? Can you talk about the transition?
Darian: Yeah, I think it definitely took me some time. When I knew I wanted to do it I gave myself a good six months or so where I was kind of like, okay, how do I want to do this and how can I continue to have income as I'm going to become my own boss? And so that's really what led me to kind of a different business in conjunction with that, which is a live online, personal training business. And so I figured, you know, this is something that I could do while I'm building the other business that will sustain me financially while we're getting, I'm getting the other business up and running. So it was definitely a plan of like, okay, I'm going to be doing this other business primarily first while getting Epic leisure management up and running. So I definitely had a plan. But I thought it wasn't seamless, I would say, but it was as seamless as I think it could be for me. So the transition was, wasn't rough in that sense. And I went from going from working, you know, running a high-end gym for over a decade to working from. So I became a remote worker immediately, like immediately. And that was very different.
Ramesh: Yeah. So I mean, could you have started this as a side hustle while you were working full time?
Darian: You know, the Epic leisure, no, because it's the very similar to what I was doing in my previous, yeah, it was like, it's the exact same thing. Except we want it to be a much smaller version of that. We were in a company that was, gosh, in 33 countries, huge. Yeah and we were just wanting to be on the West coast, take a small piece of the pie. We're not trying to conquer anything. We're not super like, Oh, let's just get so many properties and manage all these things. We just want to have a nice simple life and have a little bit of the pie.
Ramesh: Okay, great. So then let's talk a little bit about the first paying customers. That's one of my fascinations which is that there are two elements. One is, you launch your business, you start your business. That's one aspect of it. And then the second one is actually start getting the customers in who in turn might refer you to other customers kind of stuff. So how did you nice get your first paying customers?
Darian: Yeah, it was much sooner than we thought actually. Getting out I had no illusions that it would be, oh my gosh, we're going to come into all of these clients because we have all these connections. I mean we are very realistic. Like we're going to take our time. We actually ended up, one of my connections who I’ve known for probably over 10 years was letting me know that he had a friend of his that was opening a gym in Houston, Texas. And he really needed help with the financial planning of it and the pre-opening. And so we just had a conversation. We got in real tight with the guy and it was very seamless, honestly, after that and did a site visit down there and we helped them to open their gym and do the five-year programming or the proformer for that. So that was our first paying customer was really, it was really fun because it was kind of like, man, I'm out of my own doing this, you know, this is like my company. I'm not traveling for somebody else. So that was pretty neat.
Ramesh: Excellent. So after you got the first paying customers, did you get reference to them or how did you expand beyond your first paying customer?
Darian: Well, we have a pretty unique approach I think in that. We were not trying to expand, which sounds weird. That was very unintended for us. It was definitely a huge referral. It was good business for us, but we actually tried to slow down after that on purposely and say, no, no, no we want to really continue to build the back of the house. Really makes sure that we bake the cake completely instead of kind of just doing stuff and figuring it out later. I feel like that's done a lot and we decided to not go for the money grab, just go for, let's get our systems in place. And once we did that, then we kind of sourced a little bit more of our referrals. And then we had another project where we worked on a dance gym, which is complete opposite of what we are doing with the other project. So we really, and the other thing is we kind of do one project at a time. We want to make sure that we're giving enough attention and quality to a project. So currently we try to keep things kind of one at a time, maybe two max.
Ramesh: Okay, I see. So your pipeline is essentially it's not full of prospective customers and you're whittling them down to one or two. Essentially you have a design cycle at most probably to start engaging with two or three and then you're managing only at most two looks like.
Darian: Yeah. And I think that's very opposite of the approach in our business, which is get as many projects as possible. And we had experienced that. And I'm not saying that that's, well I'm not saying it's as bad, I'm just saying this like it's not for us. You know, we would much rather take our time. Do a really great job, focus on building the personal relationship with our, with the project, you know, the developer and then move on and do what we can actually handle. It's just two of us. So we're not going to take on so much that we can't handle it ourselves.
Ramesh: Actually you're bringing up a very, very good point, which is growth for growth's sake can actually burn companies, right? There's so many stories where people went after growth could not sustain the growth for whatever reason. And then they just took on a lot of debt and took a lot of things and then just got busted.
Darian: Yeah. And I think for us we just, we had seen kind of that churn and burn mentality just like take whatever comes your way, take any projects, get them, get the fees for it. And again it's, I guess, you know, that works for some companies as big companies. They want to continue to grow and you know, we're not looking for a lot of overhead. We are just two regular guys with a lot of expertise in this area. And the goal is just to, okay, who are we working with that makes sense, that aligns with our values and how can we give them a really close working relationship, provide what they need, and then we move on to another opportunity after that.
Ramesh: So Darian now, my next question is that do you consider yourself to be in the service business where you get paid for the number of hours or is it like a package deal where you just take the engagement and then you just get paid. The number of hours is left up to you.
Darian: I would say it's both. You know, a lot of what we do is about the number of hours. It depends on how much time it's going to take us to say for instance, if somebody says, Hey, I would like to, I would like to have a programming audit. You know, I would like to do a five-year proforma and maybe a competitive analysis. And so then we tell the client, Hey, this is how many hours we think it's going to take to do this based off of the size of the property, the amount of information they already have available to us, how much we have to research on our own for that. And so we can either say, Hey, this is, this is a flat fee. What we'll do for all of this work, here's a flat fee or here's the minimum that will do the work for and then anything over that, we'll add onto it for that. So it can be both ways. Yeah.
Ramesh: And the reason I'm asking that question is many service companies they want to go away from the service model, and they want to productize the service in some form or fashion. So is that, is there a part off productizing your service or you already think you have enough of a business model where you have a combination of a service and the package deal?
Darian: I think, you know, I think it's case by case for us, I think we have to be whatever works for this situation. So we can say, Hey, this is our business model. This is how we price things. But we actually can't do that because we are working with such a variety of different developments that it just won't make sense. Like, if we're working for a client who has a 5,000 square foot yoga studio versus a client who has a 50,000 square foot clubhouse that's going to have a dog spa, concierge, grocery lockers, all just, it's just going to be a very different, and how we're, what we're doing.
Ramesh: I see. So Darian going back to how you acquired customers, and I think I'm a really, it's good to know that you relied on your network. Which is what I keep hearing again and again either first customers are for you know, prospective customers, people keep relying on your network do, do that. So, is that network is still the main source for your customers? Or how are you reaching out beyond your network to get newer set of customers?
Darian: I would say initially right now it's all referral based or people that we have had relationships within the past that are not, I would say they're, they're not part of people like who are, like if they were a part of the previous company we were with, we are not reaching out to them. We want to be respectful and we don't want to, we don't want conflict. We're not, we're not about conflict. You know, we want to be respectful of the previous relationship we had with the company we're with. So it's more of just like people we've networked with that, you know, it didn't have anything to do with the other company, just that they have their own projects going on, things of that nature. This year though, in 2020 next year I guess, that's where we're going to start our push, where we're going to start getting out to conferences, load more of like an introductory to who our company is to the world. At this point it's been very underground for us.
Ramesh: Okay. I know it's relatively new, it's a one year under your belt, but what's your sales cycle like? How long from a prospective customer to an actual customer, how long does it take for you guys?
Darian: Oh man, I got to tell you it could be, this is not even a joke. We could get a call about a project that is going to open in one week. And that's the cycle. Like we got to get it done in one week or it could be literally now I haven't experienced this with our current company because we've only been around a year, but in the previous company, which is very similar business, we could have relationships for seven, eight years before it actually becomes an actual sale. It's just really going back to the city, Hey, I know you've got a project. Sometimes a developer has a project 10 years down the road and they really mean 10 years. So you're just, you're just developing the relationship over the course of that 10 years. And hopefully when they, when they get the green light to start moving, they'll continue to think of you to do that project for them.
Ramesh: So the other thing I think I observed from my prior engagements with other entrepreneurs is a business like this where you are part of a larger project like real estate development and things like that. So these they have established relationships and like for example, I’ll give an example, it’s an elevator, so the company is selling elevators to real estate project. They already have established for a new company to come into that and then try to get the business away from established. It's difficult. Is that how it is in your industry?
Darian: Yes, yes and no. I would say we're competing against on some level. The former company we're with, cause there, they've been around for 45 years. It's very well known. But on the other level I was even more, we're competing with companies not even know that what we do exist out there. They just think, you know, we have this amenity and you hire somebody to work in that area, so like say a hotel. They go, okay, yeah, we have food and beverage, we'll hire a food and beverage director. We don't really know anything about it, but we'll hire them to do that and we'll hire a spa director because that's what we need for the spa. Whereas your, you know, for us, you're outsourcing the running of that facility to a company like ours, even though they're our employees, they're still working underneath the cover of the, let's say the hotel.
If they're a Hilton employee, if they work at the Hilton, the people there think that that person works for the Hilton when they actually worked for us, it's basically like you don't see that, you don't see Epic on their shirt or anything. You see the Hilton for that. So many ways the companies that might say, Hey, why would we source this out? We can do this ourselves and it may be cheaper whole thing. But we always counter it, well you can do that, but usually what happens is you have a tremendous amount of turnover in that department, because they don't know how to hire the right person, that person doesn't know how to create sales revenue for that space. And we teach that to the directors that we hire for that.
Ramesh: Excellent. Actually, that's good to know. So Darian now I would like to switch gears a little bit. I want to go into Darian Parker, Dr Darian Parker as a person. And so you've done your PhD in sports and related stuff. So what was your motivation? Like why you got motivated to get into sports and then if you could talk a little bit about that.
Darian: Yeah, definitely. So I grew up in a very athletic family and sports was always a huge part of what we did as a family. My father was a collegiate athlete and football. My brother was a collegiate football player and I was a collegiate track and field athlete. And so I was wanting to do something in exercise and sports. I thought sports primarily. But I was a track and field coach for a little bit and I just realized I did not want to work 80 hours a week and travel every weekend. And then I was initially thinking, well, I'm going to get my PhD so I can be a professor and teach. And then I found out teaching's really not a huge part of it. It's a lot of is research and a lot of kind of bureaucracy and grant writing. And I was like, Oh, I don't want to be involved in that. So much you know, I'm like, I just want to teach. I love teaching, I love people. I love conversation. So it just basically personal training was always part of my life, always from the beginning. It was kind of a side thing for me. And as I kept moving through my education, I continue to train people and I started working vocational schools that certified personal trainers. So I was teaching trainers and I just wanted to be anywhere I could be that was related to exercise or sports. Because it just had been such a big part of my life and it wasn't something that I was like, Oh, I'm going to go into this and I'm going to like to make all this money. I just wanted to be happy. I just wanted to have something I enjoy doing in my life. So that was the motivation.
Ramesh: Yeah. So I mean, you're growing up as you are doing, working for the corporate, even going to education on that stuff. So who are the people that might have inspired you or motivated you to keep excelling in what you are doing?
Darian: First and foremost, my parents are amazing. They are incredible people. They are ambitious people and my father is in the military for 28 years. He was a Colonel and incredible veteran served in desert storm over in the middle East and a just huge inspiration. Survived the nine 11 attack. He was in the Pentagon when the plane hit, Pentagon. Just amazing stories like escape death so many times. And just an amazing person that I look up to. My mother is very strong, very independent. And so they always pushed me to explore who I was as a person and take that and that I was always good enough that I would find something that I enjoyed, and they never pushed me to like be in a certain career. You know, some parents do that. They say, you have to do this, you need to get in this position. They never did that. They said whatever you would like to do that you feel good about doing, we want to support that. And so that gave me a lot of freedom initially.
Ramesh: I mean, I have a huge respect for people who serve in the military. Definitely a lot of thanks to your dad for his service. I mean, escaping death is many times you don't think about it is it's so close for people in the military.
Darian: I tell you, like, my dad doesn't talk a lot about his military service. I think there's just a lot of things he saw that were pretty rough. But I can remember during 9/11, I was at James Madison university where I was doing my master's degree there and I remember I was teaching and they came in and said, Oh, you know, a plane, you know, hit into the towers. They brought the TV in and then they said the Pentagon. And I knew exactly where that, where I saw where the plane is, my dad is in that area. He's literally in the area. And my dad always tells the story of how basically, you know, when you are evacuating a situation in military, you evacuate by rank. My dad was Lieutenant Colonel. My dad's a Lieutenant Colonel. So when he, when they were leaving out of the office area, he saw the, he saw the roof caving in with the plane and he could not leave. He couldn't just, it's not a free for all like that. He gets out. So he's second in command. He barely gets out. The general who he serve for died. So he didn't make it. So my dad, my dad would have been the leader, the general, he would have passed away. He would have died for that.
Ramesh: That's amazing stuff. It's like, it's so real and so close.
Darian: Oh man. I just, I was, I was hysterical, you know, and you know, we got word later on that day that he was alive because all the phones were down. This wasn't the cell phone era, you know, you couldn’t just call people, landlines and stuff, you know. So I didn't, I had no clue for probably a good 12, 13 hours if he was alive or not. I had no clue.
Ramesh: What a story. Thank you.
Darian: Yes, of course.
Ramesh: Yeah. So now switching gears a little bit again to the business side of it. Having looked at your journey you worked for corporate world for quite some time and then you decided to start it. Could you have done differently? Is looking back, anything that you think you could have, this is more not as a regret, but more as a learning experience for others.
Darian: Good question. I'm not sure, honestly, I'm really like thinking about it. I think when, you know, at least the past 12 years, I maximize it, I think to my full capability, I really do. I don't think I left anything on the table. I moved up through the ranks. I tried to do as much as I could with the former company, I thought, I just felt like I was at the end of what I could accomplish. And I think sometimes they were very gracious about it with me. It was very nice. But I think sometimes we think, wow, I could have done more. My life has never been about that. I usually max out everything I do and I'm like, well did all that. So kind of going to move on from that now, you know.
Ramesh: Okay. So I know your journey is just starting as a little under a year, but based on all the experience that you had working for somebody, working for a previous company because you are participated in its growth, what kinds of advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Darian: You know, one of the biggest things I would say is, actually I was just, I was just doing my podcast yesterday and I was talking to somebody and we were having kind of this conversation is, I think you got to be careful about stepping into something just because you're passionate about it. I think passion is like, like I like music, but I'm not trying to be in the music industry. You know, like, you know, I think it's sometimes, because sometimes the thing you are being entrepreneurial about is something, you're just very passionate about. It's a hobby. And that sometimes when you get into, when you start monetizing that, it changes the relationship that you have with that passion that you have with it. It becomes different in that sense. And so I think a lot of people, they think, Oh, I'm doing this now. Like I should just love doing this to do it. But now it's like running my life. I got to always look for sales, cold calls, all this stuff. I'm constantly doing it. So be careful about if you want to actually take your passion and monetize it because it might change the relationship you have with that passion.
Ramesh: Excellent advice. Because I was talking to yesterday Darian, the gentleman talked about a book called E myth, it did came out in 1950s or 1950s. It's a story of a Baker who wants to start a business. I mean, he was very passionate about baking, but once he got into the business of baking, he realized that he needed to be a salesman. He needed to be an accountant. He needed to be a lot more than just the baking aspect of it. So same thing with any business, which is the passion is fantastic, but passion would alone would not bring, you know, the food on the table.
Darian: Yes. I think a lot of people, they're doing something and let's say they're not making money at it. It's just doing it for fun. You know, like an artist, you know, they do paintings and they're like, man, I just love painting during my free time. It's really nice. But as soon as you have to actually monetize it and you have to get people to buy your paintings and stuff, well you still have the same love for it because now becomes a business, it's becomes marketing and sales and the whole cycle behind that. So I think it's good to think about that ahead of time. For me it was easy because I was already doing what I'm doing now. It was something I had been doing for a long time. It was just, I wanted to have my own version of it. I didn't, I wasn't just like starting, I was already making money doing the thing I'm doing now. It's just I was working for somebody else.
Ramesh: Yeah. Excellent Darian. And actually a couple of things you really brought out as to I want to summarize towards the end of this podcast. One is, you started a business of something that you already know. As opposed to going into totally different like digital marketing from tomorrow. That's not what you do. So I mean that is, I think aspiring entrepreneurs should take something out of it. Because if you can do a business out of things that you already know, your skills or your other assets that you have, like a network and all that stuff, it's much easier to transition. That's one thing [16:51 inaudible] right? And the second thing that I’ve learned is that first prospective customers are always, you know, explore your network, because you may not know it, but they are most likely will refer you to your first paying customers.
Darian: Yeah, definitely.
Ramesh: And the third thing is, passion is fantastic, but you know, don't jump in with the blind passion to build a business, because it takes more than a passion to build a business.
Darian: Yes. For sure.
Ramesh: Excellent. Thank you very much you know, Darian and this is fantastic advice. Dr Darian Parker Epic leisure management. Good luck to you as you're building out and in a very thoughtful, methodical way. I think that is the way to do it. Thank you for your time Darian.
27:35Darian: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
I am an entrepreneur, writer, and blogger. I build businesses and love to share my experiences of my successes and failures. My mottos is: Live with purpose, Be Passionate about that purpose, Persevere through ups and downs and keep exploring Possibilities.