I got a sobering email yesterday. Just a few weeks into California’s shelter-in-place order, the local franchise holders for my beloved OrangeTheory Fitness have laid off 80% of their staff and put the rest on reduced pay. This is one of the biggest and most successful OTF franchises in the world, with 34 locations, with five more under construction, and 434 employees. Their studios charged a premium over ones in other locations. And now, poof, it’s all gone. Or 80% gone.
OTF was such a crucial part of my daily routine, I’m still reeling from the news. Just because these people’s passion was in helping people get healthy, versus making software, they are now and suddenly out of work in one of the most expensive cities on earth.
The franchise owners wrote: “We don’t have factories, or warehouses, or real estate holdings. We don’t manage portfolios or produce software. We are in the ‘people business.’ Our product is our people and the relationships that they develop with our members. WHAT we do is fitness training, but HOW we do it is through building relationships with our members and WHY we do it to empower and serve our community to achieve More Life.”
It’s not lost on me that two years ago, I was struggling with undiagnosed asthma, having put on weight, and getting a horrific cough for weeks every time I tried to get back in shape. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my pulmonologist and the hospital I did endless testing at may have saved my life given the time we live in now. And the other factor that’s likely keeping me healthy? Eighteen months of getting back on a regular, and incrementally more challenging, workout routine thanks to OTF.
The people who have kept me from being “at risk” in this crisis are now at risk health-wise as doctors most qualified to help people getting this disease or, like these trainers, are suddenly out of work.
More from the franchise owners, who I imagine are reeling: “It’s almost impossible to fathom that we have reached this point. Just three short weeks ago, life was pretty normal for all of us. It was beyond our comprehension that we would have to shut down our studios and have zero revenue, and even more inconceivable that we would ever have to lay off our team. But here we are. This is our reality, as it is for thousands of other businesses and millions of other people across America and around the world.”
They clearly didn’t have the cushion of a year’s runway in the bank like we do as a venture-backed company. And really, “just a year” of runway means in a normal time, we should panic and start fundraising. Most startups who do less for people’s lives have years and years in the bank.
We have got to rethink our priorities as a society.
San Francisco has long been in crisis when it comes to housing and income inequality thanks to the “success” of the tech industry. But this crisis is putting it into way sharper relief. I feel like, once again, I can’t breathe thinking about it.
This is one reason I think it’s so important to have conversations like the one we’re having tonight over Zoom about how IRL businesses recover from this. As someone who has run investigative news organizations, I have had to pull payroll out of thin air more times than I can count.
You have no idea how many times I almost lost my house in the dark, dark Pando years. Yes, I’ve had a repo man show up on my doorstep for my minivan. Yes, I had the lights go out in my home. Before Pando, I once had to stay in India longer than planned because I was waiting on a freelance check before I could pay my hotel bill and fly home. We don’t pay writers and journalists what they are worth either, so I have become a ninja at finding creative ways to keep plates spinning just enough. And I know a lot of women in our community possess that same skill.
We’ll have everyone from women running co-working spaces to artist/activists like Shannon “Badass Cross Stitch” Downey on the line. (What will the state of co-working be after this? A sobering article in Bloomberg about the big guys who have wildly overextended…might it be the little guys with real community who make it?) In a bid to help bolster local restaurants, I’d love to Venmo each attendee $20 to grab some takeout on the call as well. Why not? That’s what we’d be doing if we were doing IRL dinners. (To save my sanity, you have to register by 1pm Pacific to get your $20! And the same deal goes for Catherine’s dinner tomorrow about surviving in a home with TEEN ANXIETY! Register here! And sign up to host a “dinner” here!)
We really are stronger together. We can come through this.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- Is the COVID-19 crisis a “good time” or bad time to be a female founder?
- What is something you can tackle during this crisis that you’ve been putting off?