Forrest Walden sits down with Ray in Birmingham, Alabama to discuss his unique story of early success, starting over, his struggle with depression, and how he connected his business blessings and gifts to his kingdom purpose.
In 2008, fitness industry veteran Forrest Walden founded Iron Tribe in his 400 square foot garage. Initially, it was just a place for Forrest to do group based workouts with his friends because he couldn’t find anywhere locally that offered the right amount of space and equipment.
The demand quickly grew, and in 2010, Iron Tribe opened its first official location which reached max capacity before the end of the year. Iron Tribe began franchising, and now has locations all over the country dedicated to creating fitness communities that change lives.
“Our identity is so much more than our ability to create.”
“As God blesses, be a conduit; don’t store it up for yourself.”
“Jesus never told us not to seek treasure; He told us to seek treasure that lasts.”
1. You can’t trade time for money and build anything of lasting value.
2. What are you really living for?
3. Be transparent with your pain.
4. It’s not weakness to say that something is beyond your ability to recover from.
5. Four B’s: Body – Being – Balance – Business
6. What’s your bottom line?
Iron Tribe on Amazon
Ray: Hello everyone, this is Ray Hilbert and I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith. And this is the program where we get the opportunity to travel the country North to South, East to West. And we interview some of the most amazing followers of Christ who love Jesus and who are living out their faith in business and in the marketplace. This is the place where we discuss eternal business and real life. Because there really is that, I guess I would call it that tension that as Christ followers in business and in leadership, we want to do things in a way that honors Jesus and brings glory to his name. And those are kingdom eternal perspectives.
And at the same time we are citizens of this earth and we’ve got real deadlines, and real needs, and real finances, and real challenges and issues that we face while living real life in this world. And so that’s really that conversation we’re going to have here at Bottom Line Faith. And so I am in, I sometimes feel it’s like my second home. I’m in Birmingham, Alabama. If you’re a regular listener here at Bottom Line Faith, you know that I’ve interviewed just incredible guests from this amazing city. And today we are back in Birmingham and I am going to have a conversation with Forrest Walden.
He’s the founder and CEO of Iron Tribe Fitness. And I’m just going to tell you right now he’s got a book out called Iron Tribe: From Garage Hobby to Fitness Franchise. And isn’t that the case that every great business seems like it started in a garage?
Ray: So Forrest, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Forrest: Hey, thanks for having me on. Excited to join you this morning.
Ray: I have been looking forward to this conversation. And why don’t you take just a moment and just give us a quick glimpse. We’ll come back and more detailed but give us a quick glimpse of Iron Tribe.
Forrest: Yes. So we are a group personal training franchise started right here in Birmingham, first location just about 10 years ago. So coming up in February will be our 10 year anniversary. I have had a long history in fitness and franchising. So knew I wanted to start my own franchise concept.
So at this point I’ve been franchisee, master franchisee and now franchisor. And we launched and wanted to show that we had a concept that was easy or could be scaled. So we did it and scaled it and Birmingham, multiple locations and then franchise two years later in 2012, and now we have 37 locations in 11 States.
Ray: Okay. I want to come back, we’re going to unpack that story in lessons learned, some things you talk about in the book, but I just want to hit rewind just for a moment. So I’ve learned here in Alabama there’s really only one or two choices. It’s either war eagle or it’s roll tide.
Ray: And you are?
Forrest: I am war eagle through and through.
Ray: There’s never gray in this answer, right?
Forrest: No, zero.
Ray: You went to Auburn.
Forrest: I did.
Ray: And you studied?
Forrest: Exercise science.
Ray: Exercise science. And so did you anticipate that someday you would own a chain of workout and fitness facilities or did you think you were going to just become a school teacher? What was it when you were in school, what’d you think was going to happen?
Forrest: Yes. I was not the quintessential entrepreneur who dreamed about opening his own business. I mean, that was not even anywhere in my plan or dreams. I was really trying to figure out how do I take a love for fitness and make money with it? And none of my professors could tell me they were all saying things like corporate wellness, cardiac rehab, physical therapy. None of that appealed to me. And essentially I started personal training just because people ask me how to get in shape. I was doing it for free. And then when I realized I can actually make money in a career at this, it’s a pretty young industry. I mean, back in the late nineties there was hardly anything going on. But it was just following my heart, following my passion and one day figured out, okay, I read a book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
Ray: Oh, yeah.
Forrest: And it was the first time I realized you can’t continue to trade time for money if you want to build anything of lasting value. And my biggest goal at that time was for my wife to be able to be a stay at home mom. And I thought, you know what, I’m probably not going to get that trading time for money. And so that led to opening my own business.
Ray: Okay. And so coming out of school, not many business classes?
Forrest: No, hardly any. In fact, it was all physiology and anatomy and all that type
Ray: And so you began reading this book, you talked about Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
Ray: Were there other books that influenced kind of your mindset and your thinking that transitioned you into this entrepreneurial worldview?
Forrest: Yeah, I’m a prolific reader. I’m never been a great student, never loved the whole normal school setting. And I think I had thought, “Well, I’m a C student. I’m not going to be that successful in life. That’s for the A people.” I’ve since learned that C students are the ones who own all the businesses most of the time.
Ray: They usually hire the A students.
Forrest: That’s right. That’s right. I tell my kids don’t make such good grades. But I just started reading and I figured out like once I got the business open, I realized I really liked the business side of it. But the book that probably had the biggest impact other than Rich Dad Poor Dad, was the E Myth by Michael Gerber.
Forrest: And it was an eye opener for me because even when I opened my first personal training studio, I was still the product. And I had no vision bigger than being the guy delivering the personal training sessions. But I thought now I have my own business, I’ve arrived and in that book, just hit me between the eyes that my proficiency at my product actually is a liability, not an asset, because it’s going to keep me from doing all the things I need to do to scale. So that began a long process of figuring out how do I scale and get out of the way, I’ll still be involved because it’s my passion, but actually realized, you know what, it’s more fun to not be the guy delivering the workouts and to be able to impact thousands of people instead of 20.
Ray: And I’m going to come back to the scaling of business and taking that, Michael Gerber refers to it as the technician, right? How do you become that? From the technician to the true entrepreneur. But I want to get us to get a snapshot of your faith journey, and then we’ll come back to business. But did you grow up in a Christian home, or how did you come to a relationship with Christ? Help me understand that.
Forrest: So grew up in a Christian home. My parents were very rooted in Briarwood Christian which is a big church and school here. My dad actually taught Bible at Briarwood. So I grew up in devotions around the family breakfast table and all that. I remember praying to receive Christ at nine years old with my mom.
Really felt like I understood my sin problem and the gospel, they did a great job of impressing that upon me. So at that young of an age, I never really had that experience of, you struggle with the way I was living and coming to Christ. But I will say in sixth grade, my dad had a very public affair and it destroyed our family. My parents got a divorce.
Forrest: I never strayed from my faith, but I think it started to lay the foundation of, is this all really true in what else is out there? So I began a search. I went to Briarwood high school. Graduated, went to Auburn, but the whole time I was still living a double life. Like, “Yeah, I’m a Christian, I’m doing these things. But men, I kind of want to experience it.” I always say I was a pretty poor carnal Christian because God just wore me out. I mean, I’d be at a party trying to drink away these thoughts and these insecurities, and God was always in the back of my mind saying, “Don’t you know you’re different, don’t you know your mind?” And ultimately my junior year at Auburn, I got on my knees and I literally said, “Either everything I’ve been taught is fairytales or you’re real. And if you’re real you’ll change my life.” And that was really the defining… I really do think it was a rededication. I think I was saved, but from that moment on, my life’s never been the same.
Ray: It became real?
Forrest: It became real.
Ray: And it became yours?
Forrest: It became mine. It was no longer my parents’ faith.
Ray: Yeah, that’s incredible. I’m just kinda curious too, because I came from a situation where my real father was an alcoholic and so on and so, never recovered from that disease. And that experience with my dad shaped my view of my heavenly father. Did that play a role for you at all? Just kind of working through some of that pain and the brokenness of deception or whatever that happened with your father there? How did that impact your faith journey?
Forrest: I think it was just a really tough time and that’s, middle school’s tough anyway. And then just to what we thought was an ideal family to see it disintegrate and then we no longer had the money for me to go to Briarwood and all of a sudden I was in the public school settings.
So very, very challenging time. But my dad he owned up to it and never tried to hide from it. I’ve learned a lot through that. In fact, I have found that I am much more empathetic to a moral failure and what’s going on in Christian’s life and less judgemental because I’ve lived it. I’ve been the seventh grader who answered prank calls talking about my dad.
Forrest: I know the collateral damage that goes with that type stuff. So it has shaped me in some bad ways, but in some good ways as well.
Ray: And I’ve got to imagine that you have been able to take that experience and you’re talking about the empathy, doing what you do, your line of work it’s very personal.
Forrest: It is.
Ray: And I’m sure that people open up to you as you’re working out with them and so forth. How has your faith impacted how you’ve conducted the training side of your business?
Forrest: Yeah, it’s a great question. And our purpose as a company in Iron Tribe is to create fitness communities that change lives. And I’m always telling my staff and in staff meetings and in trainings and even our core values that I don’t have probably the time to unpack here, but we want to be holistic in the way we approach our clients. And not in a way where we’re putting Bible verses on the wall and if the on our logo. But we want them to encounter us with excellence and then make them wonder what makes us tick, and then realize everybody who comes through our walls, they absolutely have physical goals, but typically there’s much deeper issues that they’re looking to satisfy when they’re there.
And so we’ve had small groups form just about every location. We’ve had church plants use our facilities. I’m always trying to get pastors into my congregation, to my business because they impact the other members. And I’ve had Platt, David Platt, big influence on me. He was at our forever. And he said it was some of his best ministry because it forced him to get out of his Christian bubble and interact with people. And I mean, David led some of my staff to the Lord. He led a Bible study at 280, and so we’re just very open. I mean, when that type of stuff happens, I’m just like, “Praise God. Let’s let it continue.”
Ray: That is incredible. Let’s talk then a little bit about the journey of the business. And you’ve got your book from Garage Hobby to Fitness Franchise. You’ve already shared with us. You weren’t a business student, you didn’t have a lot of business background. You began reading some books that transformed your thinking. You mentioned a couple of those, but what sparked you to say, “You know what, I want to give this a go. I want to do this on my own or I want to start my thing and God, I’m going to ask for your blessing.” But how did this idea get birthed?
Forrest: So that first business I talked about, I was a franchisee. I was 23, I think just turned 24. I had no idea what I was doing. But slowly built to the point where I had six locations here in Birmingham. They were all going extremely well. Because I had never dreamed of being a business owner, I never really saw myself being successful or having money. And at a pretty young age I was making… I was paying more in taxes than I planned to make in a year. And really had a lot of success with it. And so I bought a couple states, a territory and developed that to eventually had 55 locations in those three States.
Ray: Wow. Wow.
Forrest: That’s been a big part of my journey because I started to find my identity and my success, and I felt like I was bulletproof, and straight outside of fitness speculated on a beach house back when you couldn’t build them fast enough, when I went to sell them, you couldn’t give it away. So I hit that perfect 2006, 2007 bubble. Oh my gosh. And God showed me, “Forrest, you thought you were so secure, I can take it all away in an instant and you didn’t think I could.” So that was a huge lesson for me. In fact, that’s when Never Thirst was born. Really just searching of like, what am I really living for? And we’ll talk about Never Thirst, I’m sure in later.
Forrest: But I thought God was calling me to full time ministry. I was convinced and yet…
Ray: Calling you out of fitness, into full time ministry.
Forrest: Out of fitness. I started the process of selling my business. I sold it back to my franchisor, but during the process of selling that business, which took a lot longer than I thought, God birth desire to start over. And the iron shop was literally born in my garage with all my friends coming over to work out and me thinking, “Man, what would it look like to start over?”
But then I wrestled with, “But I’ve been on all these mission trips and I’ve seen these kids dying and I feel called to clean water.” And everything that Never Thirst does is that my flesh wanted me to do the business again. Am I turning my back on what God showed me? And God was so faithful. There was five specific things that I said had to happen. And I’m a big journaler so I can go back. If I ever doubted, I can go back and read these things. And they just started happening one by one and I came to the conclusion I would have to be a fool not to start this business. And so really I feel like God birthed it and we have made it very intentional to connect Iron Tribe and Never Thirst from inception because I don’t ever want to be back to my 2007 version of myself. You thought I had the world licked and it was all about what I could build and yearn and create.
Ray: You mentioned, is this your mission statement, creating fitness communities that change lives or?
Forrest: So that’s our purpose.
Ray: Your purpose?
Ray: So what’s different about Iron Tribe versus going to my local health club or whatever? Walk us through what is the unique experience and how did you arrive at that as your business model?
Forrest: Yes, so really what I saw the industry changing too was away from one-on-one personal training and more towards group training. Where you’re in a class of up to 20 people. In our model, we have two full time coaches per class, a cap of 20, so there’s always at least a 1:10 ratio if everybody shows up. And so I saw that there was really a void of creating an environment where you’re getting instruction but you’re still in a context where it’s fun, there’s competition and you’re doing it with people that you enjoy. Just breeds fellowship.
The thing I didn’t like about one-on-one training is typically after about three months it became more therapy than training. And in group that doesn’t happen at all. In fact, I found people are more motivated in a group when they see their peers beating them in workouts or a man’s losing to a woman in the same workout. All sudden he’s a little more interested in cleaning up his diet and some of the things that are required to make progress. So what makes us different is just the attire expression of our business from the time the client walks in, the time they even raise their hand to inquire, to the time that they’re a raving fan. It’s really through our team and we put a ton of effort into recruiting and training and keeping our team.
Even the way we structured their pay, it’s rare to have a full time W2 salary with benefits in the fitness industry. So it starts there and the way they deliver it. The interesting thing about my industry is anything I say about differentiation, any of my competitors would say me too. Because we’re all using the same equipment, we’re all doing the same movements. So there are some unique things we do with our program, but ultimately it’s the community that’s built, and it’s that Schultz, Starbucks called it the third place. I think we’re a much more compelling third place than a Starbucks. It’s that place where they belong. It’s that place between work and home where they can come do something very healthy and be in an environment that’s uplifting.
Ray: You mentioned David Platt and Bible studies and groups and some things that have happened inside of some of the locations, right? Is there anything built into the model that, you had mentioned there’s not like Bible verses on the wall, but is there anything that if I walked in and became a client and I’m in week after week with classes, is there anything in there that I would go, “This place is different?” What would that be?
Forrest: Yeah, I think above and beyond just the encounter with my team, I would not say 100%, but most of my team are believers. We certainly let, if they aligns with our values, we know that’s not exclusive to that. We’ve had a lot of team members come to Christ. But connecting Iron Tribe with Never Thirst is really just a core part of who Iron Tribe is. So every year, and it started that first year when I was like, “God, don’t let me drift again. When you bless the business, allow me to be a conduit of blessing others and not focusing on myself.”
So the very first year we were open, we created a workout called workout for water. We raised $5,000 for Haiti. The earthquake had just come through and we built a well in Haiti. And from those humble beginnings, this last year, just our Birmingham event raised $620,000 and we’re about a million dollars a year now, raised for Never Thirst. We’ve raised almost $5 million in the last nine years, which has been a pretty significant funding arm of the never thirst movement.
And what’s been awesome about that is first of all, we’re unashamed, unapologetic about what that event’s for. Yes, it’s for clean water, but it’s so that the gospel is being preached and some of the hardest to reach least evangelize poorest places on earth. We pray before that event. We’re just very open and our clients have embraced it. And I’ve been able to lead teams of clients, franchisees and staff over to Cambodia, and to India, and some of these places where we’re working and shown them, “Okay, yeah, you showed up on a Saturday morning, did a workout and felt good and the connection-
Ray: Here is a t-shirt.
Forrest: …but meet these people who now have clean water. Look at the plaque on the well. Hear their stories, what life was before and after.” And so that’s been super rewarding. We really try to capture that footage and bring it back so that everybody can’t go, but they can experience it. Guys, this is bigger than just showing up and working out. We’re changing community.
Ray: We are not in the community, right? That is producing the community that you’re after.
Forrest: That’s right. That’s right.
Ray: Okay. So we talked about the diversification into an industry you may be shouldn’t have.
Ray: Those were your words, right?
Forrest: Yeah, that’s right.
Ray: But as you look back, what’s maybe a mistake or two that you made within the business that you learn from, that God taught you a lesson and a that you think would be valuable for others to hear about?
Forrest: Yeah, so 2010 to 2012, we were focused on building our own corporate stores. We own and operate five here in Birmingham. By 2012 I was ready to franchise. We took off like a rocket and sold a bunch of locations really quickly. We had so many clients that were brand zealots that was really, we didn’t have to market it. We sold it internally. And those franchisees, by and large had everything I thought I would want in a franchisee. I think the biggest thing overlooked is because they were Birmingham based and business owners in Birmingham, their Iron Tribe for most part was a kind of a side job.
Ray: So this would be franchisees who’d maybe lived in or around the Birmingham area, but their franchise was in another market is that right?
Forrest: Because we weren’t franchise in Birmingham. So they were all moving out to-
Ray: Yeah, okay. Got it.
Forrest: …surrounding markets. And so after about two years of getting franchisees open, we realized they weren’t doing near the volume our corporate stores were. We had to retool, “What’s going on?” And it started a long painful process over the last couple of years of having some closures, having some terminations, working to transfer some owners out. And that was a really difficult time for me. Because these guys, especially the closures, some of them were friends, some of them were neighbors. It’s not I could just get away from it. I was seeing them at church, I was seeing them at practices, our kids being on the same team.
And I really struggled with the slow down of business, going from this rocket story to kind of plateauing again, my identity being questioned of, if I’m not a creator, if I’m not building then am less in a value sense. So that was a very tough time for me of really separating identity from who I am in Christ, and just being comfortable with His sovereign. He knew all this beforehand and being faithful to walk through that process and then start building it again.
Ray: And forced in that season.
Ray: Was there a particular moment of low or darkness that God really like got your attention or was it just kind of this ongoing kind of…?
Forrest: No, it’s a great question. I have my own podcast and I did a whole episode on this season of my life and the name of that episode is depression. Because I basically slid into a deep dark depression and I stopped sleeping. And when I say I stopped sleeping and wasn’t a couple of fitful nights, it was about four or five months where I didn’t sleep through the night. And I got to the point where I realized I was no longer able to manufacture positive thoughts or experience joy. It was a completely disorienting. And for someone who’s always taught goal setting and affirmations and I knew all the right things to say, I eventually had to get on medication and walk through that whole process.
And it has been one of the most redeeming processes of my entire life because I knew I was called to be very transparent and vocal about that. And I have been, as recently is a multi location franchise conference. A week ago, I told the story from stage-
Forrest: …and it never fails. The amount of men who reach out to, I’ve had already signed and we need to talk. Because we all experience it as entrepreneurs. Maybe you didn’t get depressed, maybe you didn’t have… maybe you don’t struggle with suicidal thoughts. But I have yet to meet an entrepreneur who doesn’t say, “I know exactly what you’re talking about.” And yet as these type A have it all together, entrepreneurs, especially in the Christian world, we put on this buttoned up face of, “I got it all together and Hey brother.” And, “It’s going great and I’ll pray for you.” Yet there’s pain.
And so being transparent with my pain has probably opened up the most fruitful ministry season in my life because when on the first to say, “Here’s my junk”, then people put their guard down.
Ray: And were you carrying it alone for the most part or were there others that you really could be totally transparent with?
Forrest: Well, my wife was huge. She fought for me as hard as any wife would have to fight for her husband. She was huge. There was a couple at work who knew that I could be real with and they came alongside me and walked with me as well. So that was probably… I had a good support crew.
Ray: As the entrepreneur, it’s a doubly difficult situation because people are looking to you as the leader with the answers. And so there’s this additional layer of pressure and every person who’s listening to this conversation that started or runs a business, they know exactly what you and I are talking about right now. Because there’s just not that safe place for authenticity because you’ve got to have the answers.
Forrest: That’s right.
Ray: And when you don’t, everybody’s going, “Okay then I’ve got to go somewhere where they’re going to have the answers.” And you had to be dealing with that too. Just the fear of not only the identity but the fear of failure and all that. Right? That’s part of it.
Forrest: All that, I mean, all my stakeholders from my investor to my franchisees, to my staff, I was supposed to show up in state. You hear it say when you walk into your business, you’re onstage, and so to really show what was really going on inside would be vulnerability, a weakness. And that’s not the message I wanted to send yet. Yet at the same time, I didn’t want to hide from it. So you have very disorienting season.
Ray: That’s powerful. So Forrest, before we go on any further, if someone’s wanting to learn more about you, about Iron Tribe or even your book, what’s the best way for them to get connected?
Forrest: Irontribefitness.com is everything they would need to know about the brand. Following me personally, I’d post a lot on Instagram. And really that was birthed out of wanting to be real and authentic and not do Instagram. I’ve seen most thought leaders do Instagram, but @forrestwalden, if you want to see some real stuff.
Ray: The real stuff. So I want to transition now to what I call my advice or encouragement section. Right? You were just talking about that dark place that you were and even depression, that much. You said this was months, right?
Ray: You weren’t eating, sleeping, you were not the product of your product. Is that fair?
Forrest: That’s very fair.
Ray: Very fair. Right? So if someone’s listening to the program right now and they’re kind of in that place, maybe they’re discouraged, maybe they’re not sure what the next step is, maybe they’re having a hard time sleeping, what words of advice or encouragement could you give that might be helpful?
Forrest: I’ll start with, I didn’t think depression was real. I thought it was for people who could not get things done and pull themselves up by the bootstraps and set goals and be productive. And when I experienced it, I realized it was none of those things. And it’s literally a disease of the brain and can be treated.
Ray: Oh, wow.
Forrest: So it’s not weakness to say that something is beyond your ability to recover from. It’s actually strength. And to be vulnerable and to get to that place is something you seriously need to consider and not keep thinking it’s a rough season and I’m going to push through. That’s a dangerous place to be. Secondly, it was huge for me and it’s just a lesson I continue to learn that our identity is so much more than our ability to create.
And I remember the first time I sat down with a therapist and said, “Here’s where I am, here’s what I’m dealing with.” He said, “Forrest”, and this is a Christian therapist. He said, “Forrest, is there any room in your narrative about who you are, where you’re not a creator and you’re not building and growing?” And I just had to sit back and thought, “No.” I feel like a. You’re either growing or you’re dying, you’re ripe or you’re rotting. And to be in a place where I felt like God kind of put me on the shelf and slowed things down for a minute, I just felt like I lost my identity.
Forrest: Who am I if I am not that guy that everybody thinks I am, who am I? And so it has just forced me to realize my identities in Christ. And he is sovereign and do I really believe that he is in the good and he’s in the bad and he’s orchestrating all things for my good and his glory.
I mean, I know that theology, but to be in a dark season and really say, “God, I don’t resent this as an enemy, a welcome it as a friend.” James 1:2, I really got to the point, and there’s been multiple. When I built the beach house, that was one, this was another of saying, “Do I believe this book? Do I truly believe this book?” And I have found a lot of freedom in that. And I’ve also realized, that’s where the podcast was born, is I really wanted to sit down with the most successful leaders I knew and figure out what are the patterns and the rhythms and the things that they’ve built.
And I teach it across four B’s, body, being, balance and business. And what I find is the entrepreneurs who are hard charging and everything is about business and the other three get the leftovers, they’re burning out, they may have a great business, but there they lose their body, they lose their marriage, they lose their relationship with God. And what I found is in my own life and over 40 guests now is the ones who have, are equipped across their body, they have routines, they have habits, they’re equipped in their marriage, they’re not just saving all their critical thinking for their business, but they’re doing in their family.
JH ranch is something has come up like over and over and over with all of these successful guys. They’re investing in one on one time with their kids, and the ones that are doing the same in their marriage, and date nights, and quarterly getaways, all of that gives you and then ultimately a relationship with Jesus that overflows. That’s what gives you the energy to build. And I was just too focused on business. I still, I drift to that, that identity.
Ray: That’s really powerful. There was a Forbes article out in July of 2018, and it talked about isolation for CEOs. And now this was after research done in Harvard business review. This wasn’t a pastor that gave him this research. And here’s the findings. They said, as a CEO, as a high-capacity business leader, there’s four things you must do for longterm success. The first one, was join a peer group. A place where you can have safe conversations like you’re doing community, right? The second thing is said, make sure you’re addressing all of your life, your family, your marriage. And so this was coming out of Forbes magazine, it’s a research done by Harvard business review.
The third area was practice vulnerability. Practice vulnerability, and see it as a strength. And the fourth, wash rinse, repeat. Make sure that you are being very intentional in those first three areas and you are discovering that, right?
Ray: So tie all that then give me a pithy word of encouragement for the leader who’s listening right now, who’s maybe depressed and don’t know, at the very least discouraged. What would you say to them?
Forrest: One thing I have learned over and over is, it’s never as bad as it seems and it’s never as good as it seems. Because entrepreneurship is a roller coaster and you literally in the same day you can go from I am absolutely killing it till I’m going bankrupt. And those time hour-
Ray: That sounds crazy?
Forrest: Yeah. For real. And those highs and lows can… you know what, it’s not just hard on you, it’s hard on your family. And when I have learned, even in the best of times, it’s just not as good as I’m thinking. And even in the worst of times, it’s not as bad. It’s really given me balance. But I think the only way you can truly live that out is know that God’s in control and you’re not. And he’s got the whole thing rigged. And he’s more interested in who you’re becoming and who you’re impacting than he is about, you experiencing these huge wins.
Ray: Absolutely love it. That is such great counsel. That’s such great advice. And you’re also not as smart as you think you are, and you’re also not as dumb as you feel you are. You are not saying…
Forrest: That’s so true.
Ray: That’s really, really great advice. So in this whole vein of encouragement and advice, let’s pretend that you have an opportunity to sit across the table from the 21 year old Forrest Walden. What would you counsel the 21 year old you?
Forrest: So the biggest impactful verse in my life firsts, it’s part of my core values at my business is Psalm 67:1-2. And that verse says, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us.” That’s verse one. And I think for the first part of my life, that’s what I focused on is, “God be gracious. Bless me, I’m seeking you because I want you to bless me.” And when I got to the point where he was blessing me, I turned around and focused on myself.
Forrest: The second part of that verse, verse two is, “So that his ways may be known in all the earth, His saving power to all nations.” And that was the biggest bridge of connecting my blessing with my purpose. And so that again, that’s a core value in Iron Tribe is like, “We’re going to be a blessing with everything that we’re blessed with.”
And that’s how I’ve tried to live my life is, there’s ditches on both sides of the road of saying, “Well, I shouldn’t be successful and money’s a bad thing.” Or it’s everything. This has allowed me to say, “Yes, build and grow, but then turn around and bless others with it.” And so I would tell that 21, “Hey, you’re a hard charger, you’re going to be successful. But remember, as God blesses, may it be a conduit. Don’t store it up for yourself.”
Ray: That is fantastic. Somewhere in there, I think that this whole, you talked about a few moments ago, this never thirst project. I’m hearing you talk about tying your blessing to your purpose and the give back. Tell us what is the never thirst project and how it got started and what’s your dream with that?
Forrest: So at the same season where I was facing bankruptcy over a beach house gone bad, I started traveling internationally. David Platt came to our church, started preaching missions. Challenge us all to go. I was late twenties had never been on a mission trip. Found myself in the dump in Togusa, Galpo Honduras, watching people live and scavenge in the dump for food and I mean God spoke to me clearly. He said, “Forrest, what are you going to do with your gifts, your talents, your resources?” I thought back home to my five series BMW, my wife who was pregnant, I was literally watching a woman who was pregnant dragging a trash bag through the dump and I thought, “Man, my life’s got to change.”
And so that began a series of trips to India, to Africa, to Mexico. We went multiple places and everywhere I went I kept seeing lack of clean drinking water. So felt compelled to do something. Long story short, never thirst was born and the reason it was born is because we wanted to connect the church with water. There are plenty of great water organizations. A charity water, one of them was just getting started at that time and wrestled, should we just be a great supporter of them? Why create new overhead? Because we want it to be about the gospel.
And so that was born in 2008 and really felt like… I had seen kids literally dying of diarrhea in Sudan, and I felt like how could I do anything else with my life? Which is why it was so hard when God started to birth the desire to start over. I thought, “Man, I hope I’m here and you’re here because I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and say I’ve wasted it. You showed me all this and I want a completely different direction.” But it’s been a huge blessing. I’ve been on the board ever since, and although I’ve never actively worked inside the ministry, I’ve been able to create this movement of support with the workout for water.
Ray: So it’s a separate 501 CT-
Ray: that is tied closely to Iron Tribe, but not exclusive to Iron Tribe?
Forrest: Absolutely not supposed to be it all.
Ray: It’s fantastic. But I think you said this year you raised over half a million dollars?
Forrest: Yes, in one Saturday morning here in Birmingham, $620,000 at a workout.
Ray: I bet you never dreamed that it was going to happen.
Forrest: No. Absolutely. It’s a blessing.
Ray: That is really, really incredible. Got time for a couple more questions?
Ray: Oh, I’m having fun. I’ve got in my hands a copy of Iron Tribe: From Garage Hobby to Fitness Franchise, Doing Business the Iron Tribe Way. What compelled you to write this book and how can someone get a copy of it?
Forrest: It’s on Amazon, so you can just Google it there. I just wanted to document the story and really it serves two purposes. One, it’s a way to just codify our missions and values. I love using it as an onboarding tool for staff.
And then also with potential franchisees just to see if they resonate with who we are and what we stand for. You can’t read that and not know that we’re Christians and we run our business that way. That’s been polarizing. But that’s fine because it kind of turns away the people who wouldn’t want to be in that culture and it really draws the right ones. So those are the two main reasons.
Ray: Okay. That’s fantastic. Check it out at Amazon.com it’s called Iron Tribe: From Garage Hobby to Fitness Franchise and it’s by Forrest Walden. So as you mentioned, in this book, it’s codified your values and beliefs and you said it’s really difficult to not make the connection to your Christian faith. In what ways in your business Forrest, have you felt attacked or have you ever had your Christian values challenged or persecution may be a strong word, but I think you know what I’m asking?
Ray: Have you been challenged in that way?
Forrest: Yeah, I think the biggest challenges is when you make tough decisions, there’s always going to be people who disagree with it, both internally and externally, but the harder ones are internally. And so I’ve had my integrity and my Christianity questioned when I’ve made difficult decisions like letting someone go.
Ray: Because a nice Christian guy does he do that?
Forrest: And you say you’re a Christian, that type of thing. And it used to just really, really bother me. But I’ve realized I’ve got to be secure in who I am and know that making the difficult decisions stops and ends with me and passing the buck to try to pacify this image of a peaceful Christian God, it only exacerbates the problem. So that’s certainly one. I’ve had franchisee prospects visit and say, “I just can’t imagine praying before an event and I saw you guys do that and that’s not gonna fly in New York.” And things like that. And then even some clients who’ve been like, “Man, I love the water component. Do you really have to keep talking about the Christian component of this workout for water? Can we not just focus?” They’re really much more drawn to the humanitarianism than the gospel part of it. And again, and that’s not been huge, but there’s been some of that.
Ray: Yeah, absolutely. Has just comes with it, right? It just comes with it, part of the course. I can’t believe that we are down to our last question. This has been fun. I’m just really enjoying. I’m so glad we got a chance to connect, and I’ve done about 150 of these interviews. This is always the last question I ask. Call it my 423 question.
It’s based out of Proverbs 4:23, where Solomon writes, “Above all else, guard your heart for from it flows all of life.” So you’re 43 years old. Let’s just hit the fast forward button, and none of us know how much time we have obviously left on earth. But let’s say you’re at the tail end of your time, this side of eternity, and you have a chance to gather your family, your friends, your loved ones, those who are most precious to you, and you get an opportunity to pass along one major and final piece of advice. So I’d like you to fill in the blank for our audience today. Above all else…
Forrest: Jesus never told us not to seek treasure. He told us to seek treasure that lasts. And I would encourage listeners, my kids, to go after the things that are ultimately going to matter, which is real simple, love God and love people. Wear to God and souls of men. No matter what you’re doing, everything is sacred. There is no dichotomy between the secular and sacred. And make sure your bottom line is not net profit, it’s changing other’s lives.
Ray: Fantastic. Forrest, thank you for being our guest here at Bottom Line Faith. Well folks, we’ve got a chance to interview Forrest Walden here in Birmingham, Alabama, founder and CEO of Iron Tribe Fitness, who shared with us his journey today, the highs and the lows, the difficulties, the victories, the dreams, and all those things.
So we really hope that in his story today in this episode, that wherever you’re at in your journey, that you were in encouraged as well. Maybe you’re frustrated, maybe you’re in that dark spot that he shared with us, and he just kept drawing us back in his story about finding your identity, not in what you’re creating, but in who you are in Christ Jesus. So maybe you’re at that point, or maybe God is compelling you or challenging you to take the resources in your business and do something with eternal value such as they’re doing with the never thirst project. I don’t know what it is for you, but I just hope that you found some great nuggets of encouragement here on this episode of Bottom Line Faith. That is what we’re about here, eternal business and real life. So until next time, I am your host here at bottom line, faith, encouraging you to live out your faith in the marketplace. This is Ray Hilbert saying, so long. We’ll see you soon.