“I knew I was an entrepreneur the second I made the cover of (body-building magazine Sportstyle), and I said, ‘How can I turn this cover into money? How can I parlay me being on this cover into the next idea, the next venture? I knew it right at that moment,” says Steinfeld, chairman of Body by Jake Global.
But the road from $200-a-half-hour fitness trainer to global business leader was fraught with mistakes. And Steinfeld has heard “no” and experienced skepticism more times than he can count.
His goal when he came to Los Angeles was to win the Mr. America bodybuilding competition, but when he came in second in the Mr. Southern California competition, he knew he wouldn’t realized that goal. Not wanting to give his former girlfriend and friends back in Brooklyn, NY. who predicted his return in six months the satisfaction of an “I told you so,” he decided to give it a go in the City of Angels.
A chance meeting with a B-movie actress ultimately led a career as a personal trainer for a host of the movie industry’s biggest names. And although he didn’t know it at the time, it was the launch of his fitness empire.
He spent years working with Hollywood’s power elite as a personal trainer, absorbing their secrets. And he parlayed that knowledge along with his “Don’t quit” attitude and a little bit of fame into several successful businesses, including FIT TV, which he sold to Fox Network’s Rupert Murdock for $500 million in 1997.
Steinfeld spawned the personal trainer industry, helped found Major League Lacrosse, has peddled more than $600 million in a line of fitness products that bear his Body by Jake brand and is in the process of launching his second fitness-themed television network.
“Once I was able to hang with these rich and famous people, I discovered these people are no different than you and me,” says Steinfeld. “The only difference is, they had a dream and they never quit on a dream and never took no for an answer.
“I might never direct ‘ET’ but I’m going to have my own successes in life. And I was able to feel like I can do whatever I want in my life as long as I put my head to it. I parlayed that famous-by-association into videos and books and television shows.”
Of course, fame does not guarantee success. Despite the fact that the past decade has brought Steinfeld, a chubby Jewish kid from Brooklyn, more wealth, success and fame than he might have ever imagined, he still regularly hears “no” from people.
“We live in a world where there’s a lot of crap out there,” he says. “People have to move through it in order to get to the right thing. I’m a big believer in keeping that uniform on because you never know when they’re going to put you in the game. I’ve always kept that uniform on; I’m always working at my craft. I’m always working to reinvent myself. I proved that with Body by Jake to FIT TV to Major League Lacrosse.
“Now we’re launching another fitness service called Exercise!TV, which is a video-on-demand service I’m doing with Comcast, which is extremely exciting. It’s all about futures.”
It’s about working toward the future and the willingness to fail. Steinfeld’s first attempt at creating a Body by Jake brand was an idea to put fitness centers in hotels and country clubs around the country.
“I was able to raise 200 grand,” he says. “We hired a PR firm and all kinds of stuff. We went around, went to the Hiltons ... Everybody loved the idea. But the recession was just hitting. Everybody was more interested in heads and beds. Everybody said, ‘It’s a great idea. We think it’s fun, but we can’t do it right now.’”
It was a troubling moment for Steinfeld and one of the first make-or-break moments of his business career.
“I ran out of money,” he says. “I could have said, ‘That’s it.’ But fortunately for me, (I have) a great wife who’s a big believer in me.”
Steinfeld and his wife had just purchased a home, and they agreed to take out a second mortgage to finance another attempt at the business.
“We had to take another hard look at what Body by Jake was,” he says. “Obviously, we had a good idea, but it wasn’t going to work.”
Whatever disappointment Steinfeld may have felt after that first venture was short-lived. Instead of retreating, he turned the experience into a lesson.
“As an entrepreneur, if you’re not failing, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough,” Steinfeld says. “A lot of people equate failure with death. The great thing about failing is that you get up, you wipe yourself off and you go, ‘Hey, at least I did it my way. I gave it a shot. Now let me learn from those mistakes. Let me get with some different people. Let me try it a different way.’ If you’re passionate and you believe in yourself and your idea, you’re not going to let anybody throw you off course.”
It was about that time that Steinfeld finally agreed to enter the world of infomercials, something he’d been reluctant to do because of the stigma he felt consumers attached to the programs.
“I was not a believer in the infomercial business because I thought it was really cheesy things that were on television,” he says. “I said, ‘I’m not going to get involved in that kind of game.’ Then I sat down and said, ‘Wait a second, if we do it, do it with my passion, do it with the brand that we were building and make sure that we underpromise and overdeliver, we’ll have a shot.’
“That’s when we took a shot with the infomercial business. That was a major moment for me, a major moment. That gas tank was on ‘E,’ baby.”
Not one to waste a moment, even today the hold music on the Body by Jake telephone system includes inspirational messages from Steinfeld. In one, he counsels listeners to embrace their fears. And true to form, Steinfeld shares his own.
“The fear was committing that this was what my life was going to be,” he says. “I was not cut out to work a 9-to-5 job. I was not cut out to work for anybody else. I was not cut out to do mainstream anything. I’m going to set myself up. I’m going to put everything in this game. I’m going to make this work.
“The fear was not succeeding. I love what I do so much, whether it was going to someone’s house and doing a workout with them or doing my first book, my first video or television show. I had no training in any of it it might show. At the end of the day, when you’re watching or reading or perusing, especially television, you can see honesty in someone’s eyes and if they’re bullshitting you or not. I’m as straight up as it gets.”
And Steinfeld confesses his deficiencies as a businessman.
“To say that I had this plan no, no way,” he says. “I got more and more courageous, more and more encouraged, felt better about myself every step of the way with everything that I started to get involved in and making sure that I was keeping true to what the core idea, the core business, was.”
A good understanding of the core business keeps Steinfeld focused even as he is inundated with offers for new business deals.
“If you can imagine Body by Jake Global as a film company where writers are sending scripts in, we are inundated with fitness product ideas,” he says. “We look at everything because you never know. ... I feel I’ve got a pretty good gut. And I go on my gut. Sometimes I’m wrong. I’ll always take a meeting because you never know.
“You can’t forget where I started. I would think, ‘I wish somebody would take a meeting with me so I could pitch that idea.’ I’m a big believer in (the fact that) there is a whole lot in the new generation of fitness talent out there, which is why we’re starting this management company to create the next generation of Jakes. There are no new big names in fitness anymore outside of locally or regionally.”
And while he now has a recognizable name and brand, Steinfeld knows he still has much to learn as an entrepreneur.
“Experience makes a leader,” Steinfeld says. “The company goes as you go. If you’re walking around in a pissy mood all the time, everybody in the office is in a pissy mood. If there are challenges, you’ve got to rise above the challenge. You’ve got to find solutions, and if you can’t find solutions, you’ve got to be smart enough.
“Everyone’s human. Everyone makes mistakes, but I really believe it’s all about you need to understand and have a lot of years under your belt to make a good leader. I’m a whole lot better today than I was at 23 or even five years ago.”
Steinfeld bills himself as a street-smart entrepreneur, and after 24 years of learning on the job and finding a way to make money at most everything he touches, he is sharing his business acumen in a new book, “I've Seen a Lot of Famous People Naked, and They've Got Nothing on You! Business Secrets from the Ultimate Street-Smart Entrepreneur.”
Steinfeld is also looking for the next great idea and sponsoring a contest in which he will provide the winner with $200,000 and $50,000 worth of flying time on a Marquis Jet to help someone establish a business. He’ll have no ownership in the new company; he is simply trying to find a way to bring another healthy business into the world.
“The fun thing about being an entrepreneur is waking up in the morning and not knowing what’s going to be happening today but feeling it’s going to be good,” Steinfeld says. “Just waiting for the day, coming into the office and making things happen; that’s what it’s always been for me.”
HOW TO REACH: Body by Jake, www.bodybyjake.com