SUCCESS BEYOND THE GAME
Defying the Odds:
Will Bartholomew's Path to Success
By: Julie Nelson
What does it mean to “defy the odds?” It’s often used to describe an accomplishment of something that is seemingly improbable or succeeding in something where people thought you would fail.
For Will Bartholomew, ‘defying the odds’ has been a common theme throughout his life.
From suffering a devastating knee injury in eighth grade to being recruited to the University of Tennessee to play football to signing with the Denver Broncos to tearing his knee again and then suffering the same injury for the third time while rehabbing and five knee surgeries later, he has managed to turn career-ending injuries into a multi-million-dollar company – D1 Training.
The concept and name ‘D1’ means to train everyone, youth or adult athletes, like a Division 1 athlete. The same things that players experienced in college, D1 does to give back to the community in an energetic and motivational environment.
The former fullback always had a passion to be around athletes and impart wisdom from being associated with great coaches who helped him get through tough times, and he wanted to be that for others.
“I had amazing coaches and I wanted to emulate that,” said the founder & CEO of D1. “What I found was there are a lot of places that do training. They do sports training, performance training. There are a multitude of gyms. But our tagline is ‘the last thing this country needs is another gym.’”
Despite what the headlines might read, the Nashville, Tennessee native’s journey to success has not been an easy one by any means. Yet, he has set the standard in what running a successful business looks like.
“Adversity has always set me up for something great,” said Bartholomew. “Nothing in life that’s worth something comes easy. I know most players would resonate with that. That means you have to put in the sacrifice, the hard work, the effort…the rewards have been beyond what I even could fathom as a young adult.”
What seemed like a huge setback in 2001, has turned out to be an opportunity that propelled Bartholomew’s life into living out the mission statement he built his business on which is “to inspire and motivate athletes to reach their goals.”
“My journey as a businessman started young,” said the former fullback. “I had a newborn. I had a lot of desire to prove myself again. I started out in my young twenties. I was the guy who did everything. I was the guy who showed up at 4:30 in the morning and unlocked the door for the 5:00 am workout. I was the guy who put together the marketing. I was the guy who did the sales. I literally hung the pictures on the wall, rolled out the flooring, put the racks together, unclogged the toilet, all the menial things of running a business, I did, and I did them for a little over a year.”
“We turned a sixty-thousand dollar profit that first year, and I took that figure to my dad and as a young twenty-year-old who’s got a baby and was getting to wear t-shirts and shorts and listen to music all day… I thought, ‘this is the dream. I hit the jackpot.’”
His dad was quick to show some tough love though. Although supportive, he expressed to his son that he better learn how to scale his earnings or get a ‘real’ job.
Bartholomew took his dad’s words to heart and tried to figure out the model. For the next 15 years, he opened corporate gyms around the country. He bought real estate and became owner of the buildings. In 2015, he decided that he needed to exit the real estate industry to focus on the core operations. He had also built another company, a therapy company that had done really well and sold it to focus on his passion. He did not decide to franchise D1 until 2017 and did not officially launch franchising until 2018.
“I say that because as it relates to players who have a lot of success in sports, they will need to learn how to transition and learn new skills, I’ve transitioned myself and my business career three pivotal times,” said Bartholomew. “The reason I’ve done that is because I’ve become smarter and more experienced and learned a better way. When I was in my twenties, I didn’t surround myself with smart enough people. I thought I was the smartest guy in the room. In my thirties, I would say I look back on that block of time and that’s when I realized I needed to develop more skills to become great and learn more things. Then in my forties, it’s been more about executing and being patient because as we’ve exploded around the country, it wasn’t by happenstance. It was all those years of buildup.”
Bartholomew credits a lot of his success to his mentality of being a former fullback. You have to have a lot of patience. You cannot force things. You have to be, calm, deliberate, thoughtful, all of those things which requires an extreme amount of discipline.
“I would credit my success to one I’m a fullback, so I never feel like I am the success,” said Bartholomew. “That is something that is a little bit engrained in me, and I love it because it kind of puts a chip on my shoulder. I work a little harder and humble myself. You have to be humble to be a fullback. I’m never satisfied with where I am.”
As far as his vetting process of new owners, it is simple. The former Volunteer says that all owners must abide by the D1 core values system – the same values he holds himself to.
“We have four core values. One is be a team player, meaning we can have tough conversations if we’re on the same team but at the end of the day, we’re after the same goal. If the franchisee makes more money, I make more money. They lose money; I lose money. We’re in it together. They have to be passionate about our work. I say this for potential franchisees that my ‘why’ in what I do is I want to inspire them and motivate them to reach their goals.
“The third one is find a way to make a smart play. We look for people that can make smart plays in the business sense. From our standpoint, we have a lot of different opportunities coming at us. D1 represents a lot of different things to different people. We want to make sure our franchise owners can make smart plays. The last one is having D1 character. We are looking for the qualities of fearlessness, perseverance, being respectful, being disciplined, and having integrity in everything we do. We know if they have those value systems then we can get through anything.”
The CEO & founder expressed that those interested in owning a D1 franchise should know that D1 is not for individuals that want to just own a gym. D1 is not for individuals that want to own a gym just to make money. D1 is for individuals that loved the gym, loved working out, were passionate about working out, and that are passionate about their community. D1 is for individuals who want a proven process and a proven system.
Bartholomew believes the difference between football and business is that football you need talent; business you have to have a process with effort and work ethic.
“I wish someone had told me this when I finished football…I call it the two ‘P’s’,” said Bartholomew. “Number one, you must have great People, not friends – great People that you want to emulate. And two, get involved in great Processes. You have to follow a system and a Process. Then create Processes of their own – whatever those daily habits are that will make them successful.”
Just as he led the play as a fullback, Bartholomew continues to lead the way to success with his D1 franchises.
“I also have former players that know how to bet on themselves, pick great people, and do well in the business world,” said Bartholomew. “Peyton Manning, my former teammate, is the best example. He told me this, ‘We aren’t betting on the plan because we think the plan will change. We aren’t betting on the brand because that might change. He said we are betting on the ‘jockey’.” That put a lot of pressure on me that I have to go win. We are still in business together twenty-something years later. I say all that to say to former players, make sure you pick the right ‘jockey’.”
“At the end of the day, I say this a lot of humility… I have on all the walls of every D1 ‘Iron Sharpens Iron’ the verse from Proverbs. The reason I put that on there is because I think you do have to be sharpened and you have to go through it. I say that with humility because I’ve been through it, I’m on the other side and I’m still leveling up.”
All Graphics Courtesy of D1 Training