Devan Kline of Burn Boot Camp: From Athlete To Entrepreneur; 5 Work Ethic Lessons We Can Learn From Athletes

This is more than a business to me, like a lot of entrepreneurs, it’s more of an art. I will spend my life dedicated to making the world a better place by trying to figure out this obesity problem we are facing. We have a very broken culture where nearly 70% of people are considered overweight and a health and fitness industry ranking in $100B annually. It seems that everyone knows what to do and is willing to pay for it but our solutions aren’t working. Obesity is a newer problem and it was only in 2008 when the AMA decided to upgrade it into the “chronic” class of disease. We aren’t even close to providing a solution and I think it’s a fight worth taking on. I would like to be a large part of seeing that number normalize.

AS a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Devan Kline, CEO and founder of Burn Boot Camp.

Founded with his wife Morgan, Burn Boot Camp was always meant to be more than just a gym. Purpose and passion are the building blocks of this organization, and those characteristics make it the inspirational business it’s known as today. Prior to starting Burn Boot Camp, Devan was signed to a professional baseball contract with the San Francisco Giants. Throughout his career with the Giants, Devan spent most of his time living with host families while he was on the road. He witnessed countless families living unhealthy, inactive lifestyles that was diminishing the quality of their lives. This ignited his passion to empower people across the world to live their healthiest and happiest life. Burn Boot Camp is now one of the fastest growing fitness franchises in the nation. With over 400 awarded franchises nationwide, Burn Boot Camp is empowering members to keep moving–not only in the gym, but in their life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Devan! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Battle Creek, Michigan 32 years ago. I am proud of where I come from and it’s made me who I am today, but it wasn’t easy by any means. Back then, my parents were dealing with pretty serious domestic violence issues while raising my brothers, sisters, and I (there’s 5 of us, it’s complicated) but that left us struggling financially, always on the move and apart from each other, and wondering what “version” of our parents we would get. I have pretty crazy memories that I still recall from some of those scary nights that will stay with me forever.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete?

No matter what, I always loved my parents and still do! My dad pushed me to play sports and taught me how to be confident. He’s always had an amazing work ethic and I definitely picked that up from him. He always made sure I found a way to get on the best sports teams and supported me with any ambition I had. He had me convinced at age six that I was going to be a Big Leaguer and that belief propelled me to eventually sign a professional contract.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

When I was 12 years old, I laid eyes on Morgan. My life would be forever changed. I was standing on the sidewalk of the u-shaped school bus drop off at Territory Elementary. Within the first couple of weeks of our sixth-grade year I found out her name and asked her out by shouting, “do you want to be my girlfriend”, as she replied, “No! I’m going out with Matt!”. As you can expect, my chase began.

Morgan is now my amazing wife, mother of our three beautiful children, and Burn Boot Camp Co-Founder and COO. Anytime I am asked the question, “who inspired you along the way?”, Morgan is the only person I can give that title to. Mostly, because my weaknesses are her strengths. Partly, because she calls me on my bullshit when no one else will. I think the definition of marriage is to conspire together to compete and make each other stronger. We are both smart enough to know we are dumb and that’s useful when trying to make life work together!

She always believed in my dream to go to the MLB and play under the bright lights. But my dreams were absolutely crushed when I finally got released in 2011 from the San Francisco Giants Baseball Organization. Something I worked for my entire life was gone in one moment and the worst part was I didn’t even see it coming. My immediate thought was, “life is going to suck now”. How could I not think that? The Minor Leagues are full of guys telling stories of other players who didn’t make it being absolutely miserable after their dreams didn’t come to fruition. Guys will make baseball their entire identity, literally sacrifice everything to achieve just one shot in “The Show”. I thought, “will I be another one of those guys?”

But Morgan was there and gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. She said, “Look where you’ve come from, look at what you have accomplished, and use this to propel yourself. You just have to keep moving babe.” After a long flight from Scottsdale, AZ back to Naples, FL (where we were staying at the time) I called my agent and told him I was done. I decided that the baseball grind wasn’t for me and that it was time to set some new standards for my life.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I had some amazing times playing ball! I was a relief pitcher most of my career with a few starts mixed in so I spent most of my time in the bullpen. If you know baseball guys then you know (generally speaking) we tend to be some pretty dirty, grungy, pranksters that wreak havoc on our teammates and coaches. Baseball helped me discover lessons, define my principles, and go through struggles that all helped mold my character, leadership, and desire to completely dominate competition (I think that’s useful in business). But that’s not entertaining so let me tell you the funny stuff!

Many of my funny memories are disqualified because most of them are completely inappropriate. I’ve seen a baby gator let loose in a locker room, a tinfoil wrapped fish shoved in a secret duffle bag compartment, but my favorite has to be what happened to me at a home game in Augusta, GA. A teammate who was notorious for substituting random liquids into shampoo bottles of the clubhouse decided he wanted to step his game up a notch. He emptied the soft and gentle baby powder and replaced it with super triple action talcum powder, and I had no idea. Let’s just say that my routine was to put a heavy amount of powder in my slider shorts before a hot and muggy day at the park. This didn’t end well, and the burning sensation lasted well into the game. That night I was called to the bullpen to pitch in our game. It was literally all I could think about on the mound.

The lesson I take away from this is — know your environment and be acutely aware of the people in it. Study their tendencies and learn to better navigate your own success within that environment by paying attention to the small details that most everyone else will overlook. The person who has the more refined distinctions about their environment always has the advantage. I got burned (literally) on this one!

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?

The transition from athlete to entrepreneur took place quickly for me. I remember thinking of Morgan’s advice to “keep moving” as I decided to hang my cleats up once and for all. I took a hard look at baseball and realized that I was a long way from winning the Cy Young Award. Truthfully, I just wasn’t good enough and never really was! I worked my ass off every day with the standard ‘be the hardest worker in the room and opportunities will come’. But it was time to set a new standard ‘I want the opportunity to be the very best in the world at whatever I do’. Baseball fell out of that category.

I worked a Direct TV job slanging TV service to customers buying new TV’s in the retail department of Best Buy stores around SW Florida for about two months. About 1/100 conversations leading to a close was considered top of class. Needless to say, it taught me not to take no for an answer and it prepared me for how difficult business really is. It also taught me that I needed to follow a passion. I quickly pivoted and got my CPT (NASM Certified Personal Trainer) as I was realizing that the world needed leaders! I figured that I could combine my baseball skills and experiences with what got me there (fitness, nutrition, and hard work) and help people take control of their lives.

Morgan and I started Burn Boot Camp out of a gymnastics center parking lot with my last $600. In 2015, we decided to dive headfirst into the franchising world and we’ve since awarded over 400 locations. Our Franchise Partners are like family to us and we couldn’t have done this without them! They pour their heart and soul into this brand and we would do anything to see them succeed. Our Burn Trainers are the best of the best. Their dedication to our clients is like none other I’ve seen. We are all dedicated to go to great lengths to serve our community and grow our memberships together.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects new you are working on now?

For most businesses, Covid-19 didn’t help push any new initiatives along and we are included in that bucket. Most of our time was spent rallying together to keep our members and teams safe while attempting to frantically right-size business without any preconceptions or examples guiding the strategy. But what the pandemic showed us is that whatever we do we are stronger together and that our community is built to last. Relationships aren’t a fad. But as in every downturn, only the strong survive and we are not even remotely nervous a pandemic can do existential damage to our brand. Will we take a hit? Yes, and so will everyone else. But we are made of fighters and will keep counter punching as long as it takes.

We worked quickly to pivot our strategy led by FAC President, Alan Huggins and SVP of Operations, Amanda Hall. We began live broadcasting privately to all members and approved all of our gyms to roll out a Zoom training model. We continue to meet members where they are by offering outdoor camps and are flexible with our Franchise Partners for their specific market needs.

Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?

Baseball gave me the tools needed to be successful as an entrepreneur. It sure wasn’t the Direct TV job I had! There are obvious skills that translate from the field to the office like leadership, teamwork, and communication skills. I was a pitcher so I took with me a skill only a pitcher could take with them. I learned how to control my emotions on the mound. Baseball taught me stoicism. As a pitcher, all eyes are on you including those of the other team. A hitter and pitcher relationship is very much a negotiation. I learned to control my feelings and not show them when negotiating my hand.

Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.

So whenever I talk to young athletes I always tell them these five things…

  1. Demand More: Demand more of yourself than anyone else could possibly demand of you. At an early age I learned that if you want anyone to recognize you then you’d better recognize yourself. You’re the leader of your life and you’ll get exactly the outcomes you are willing to tolerate. Life doesn’t make it easy for you so I suggest stretching your threshold of control by putting yourself in uncomfortable positions. Some might call this discipline.
  2. Study Film: Be a student of the game, know your opponents and study how to beat them. But most of all, study yourself. Become an observer of your own actions and develop acute awareness of how you behave.
  3. Strengthen Your Strengths: Focus on what you’re really good at and get outstanding at that thing. My standard is that I want the opportunity to be the best in the world at whatever I do. This is why I hung up the cleats — it was obvious I wasn’t as talented as the best in the world. For me, if there is no Cy Young Award involved in the conversation, I’m not playing anymore! Don’t focus on your weaknesses. Be aware of them but don’t focus time and effort there.
  4. Emulate and Innovate: Observe the characteristics of people who inspire you. Study their characteristics and apply them to your own life in a unique way. Do this enough times and you begin to take on an entirely new personality over time which is exactly what you need. This is how evolution works and why men and women can start from absolutely nothing, with no role model and still make it to the top of the social hierarchy. Emulation is powerful but too much isn’t good either.
  5. Solve Problems Don’t Be One: People have plenty of their own problems to deal with and they don’t need you to be another one. Bringing solutions to the table is what a leader does.

What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?

Like I said above, emulate and innovateStudy those who inspire you butmake time for original thought and to debate what legacy you want to leave in the world.

You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think the highest form of good you can aim for is to bring something to the world that makes the lives of people better. We think Burn Boot Camp is pretty special and has the potential to change the thinking around fitness, nutrition, and overall well-being. We live by the rule that if you’re not bringing goodness into the hearts of everyone you meet then you’re not maximizing your potential as a part of the connected human network.

With technology enabling us, the fitness industry will move at speeds unimaginable over the coming decades. A business model with a blended retail front offering and digital experience will likely become the norm. Either that attempts to stand on its own will be extremely vulnerable to market conditions. Humans need to socialize per our genetic code and 3–6 months working out in our garage will not reverse millions of years of human evolution — our gyms are the number one attraction — but the convenience that digital offers will stay at high demand.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

This is more than a business to me, like a lot of entrepreneurs, it’s more of an art. I will spend my life dedicated to making the world a better place by trying to figure out this obesity problem we are facing. We have a very broken culture where nearly 70% of people are considered overweight and a health and fitness industry ranking in $100B annually. It seems that everyone knows what to do and is willing to pay for it but our solutions aren’t working. Obesity is a newer problem and it was only in 2008 when the AMA decided to upgrade it into the “chronic” class of disease. We aren’t even close to providing a solution and I think it’s a fight worth taking on. I would like to be a large part of seeing that number normalize.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I always live by this philosophy…

…don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant…

This resonates with me so much because this is always my test of what is right and wrong. You can live a moral and meaningful life by the seeds you plant. The notion that everyday can be successful based on what you are willing to put into it is comforting. Knowing that my time is under my control gives me a sense of certainty in a world where uncertainty isn’t an option

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

If I could sit down with anyone and pick their brain about anything it would either be Mark Cuban or Elon Musk. I would love to own the San Francisco Giants one day and Mark would be a great person to talk to. I think the mission to be a multiplanetary species is exciting as well and I’d want to ask tons of questions around that to Elon.

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