Fitness With Some Merciless Confrontation
My name is Pauly Solo (fitness is timeless, so let’s keep my age out of it, please) and I am the owner and instructor of The Boot Camp studio Pauly Solo Athletics, based out of Beverly Hills, California, which has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I’m the guy that woke up in the morning before high-school watching fitness shows, back when ESPN played them at 6am; I just really connected with it.
I am what I like to call a mental and physical initiator. I don’t really like the word coach. As of right now I’m using fitness as my platform to get people to move and take action. Getting people to actually deliver on taking action is a lot more difficult than you would ever imagine.
I am what I like to call a mental and physical architect, I want to be more than a coach.
You have to find something that you connect with enough to give you that extra gear. This vehicle does that for me. There could be someone that walks in here at 6:45 am and life is just kicking their ass. I’ll have them hit one drill and push them to hold a position or speed 20 seconds longer than they thought was humanly possible. When they walk out of class they’re a completely different person - now they’re equipped. It’s like walking around with a gun and no bullets - what I do is give you the bullets.
I would say the journey started as far back as I can remember, probably when I was 5 or 6 years old. I grew up with my mom and my grandmother, and one could say I was a momma boy - just soft. When my mom remarried I had a new older brother who I really looked up to. I started to notice the way that kid moved. He had a confidence level that I just didn’t have.
I remember as we grew up, we would play with other kids and somehow my brother was always the alpha. He was the one that everyone was drawn to and I was the one that no one really cared about. So, as we would go home from sporting events (baseball, football, etc.), I would be in awe of him and a little down on myself since no one would even remember my name.
As I watched him play at his sporting events (baseball, football, etc.) I would be in awe of him, but I also recognized that not one at those same events would even remember my name.
That was the spark. I started working harder than him as we got older. I started to become a little manic and a little obsessive about things. He was just more talented, and I didn’t really understand that until my teenage years. I had a concrete weight set that I used obsessively. When he went off to the military, I told him, “When you see me again, you’re not gonna believe what you see.” I saw him a year and a half later and he was blown away.
In 8th grade, I was reading through a muscle magazine and I found this program that shows you how to work out. I hit my brother up to go halves on it, but he never gave me the money. I wouldn’t let him read it. I used that program as the manual for my life. I didn’t know it at that point, but I just always had that insane drive. I was taking that program to school with me, eating with it, and sleeping with it. I was even taking it to the bathroom with me. I could have recited it word for word.
In Ohio it’s all alphas. I remember going to the weight room my freshman year just not being anyone of significance at that point. I mean, there were guys that were almost grown men at 17 and 18 years old working out. I couldn’t compete with those guys at the strength levels I was at. Once again, it was time to put that chip on my shoulder. I told myself I’m not going to work out in that gym for a year, and I just put in the work at home. I came back sophomore year and I was the strongest in my weight category because I was absolutely obsessed with not being the guy I was the year before.
After that, and what really turned it all around for me, was when I started going to martial arts. This was a pivotal point in my life. I lived in an area and went to school with a lot of rich kids - they were soft. They really loved to train, but they didn’t want to fight. When it came time to go to tournaments, none of them would go. I remember the first time I asked the instructor if I could go to one. He told me “that’s not what we do”, but I asked him to give me the address anyway.
I attended a martial arts school with a lot of rich kids in Solon, Ohio; they were soft. I went to my first tournament and won first place. I’ve been chasing it ever since the very first time I had the gold medal wrapped around my neck. Now Pauly Solo started to have confidence. It was the first time in my life where I felt like I was separating myself.
When I started working after high school I tried to use that same drive and passion in everything I did. I used to work on a receiving dock in Ohio for a company called Jo-Ann Fabrics. I was working in their distribution center. The money was actually pretty good, but it wasn’t stimulating me. While I was there I had a colleague that everyone knew as a young real estate mogul. He was only a couple of years older than me. . One day he walked past me and noticed me listening to something on my headphones. He asked me, “If I give you a tape will you listen to it?”. My answer to that question changed my life. I said sure.
It was a tape from Tony Robbins, before he blew up. I listened to it for 2 hours as I was working, and it was like a slap in the face. I had been thinking that I was really getting after it, but the tape really changed that perspective. That was the first time anyone had ever spoken to me like that. After that, I really started to take that same drive from martial arts into my professional life.
I was working like a maniac, and I saved up enough money to buy my first investment property at 22 years old. I started buying more properties and my confidence continued building. Now I knew how to make money and be an entrepreneur. Life was good. Now I knew how to CREATE opportunities and be an entrepreneur. Life was good.
I remember this guy confronted me and asked me what’s next. I told him if I had it my way I’d move to Los Angeles and be a fitness guy. He challenged me and asked why I don’t do it. I gave him some bullshit answer and he pushed me up against the wall with his words. Within a year from that conversation, I ended up quitting my job. Everyone told me I was an dumb for quitting, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Fitness was always my passion. After I quit my job I ended up getting an audition to be a group exercise instructor at Bally’s Total Fitness in Beachwood, Ohio. At that point I had never done a group fitness class in my life. I taught that first class, and by my standards it was terrible. The girl that was doing the hiring sat there watching the entire class. Once it was over, she started walking over towards me and I knew I was about to hear the bad news. Finally she said, That was great. Can you start on Friday for our 5:30 pm class?”. I took it. At the time, I had no idea that 5:30 pm on a Friday is the worst day and time to get people in for a group class.
Within 3 weeks the class was packed. Then they gave me the Monday night class. I did that for 3 years straight and my students loved it.
One day, there was a girl from Los Angeles that came up to me in one of my classes in Ohio. She told me that the class was amazing, that I was wasting my time in Ohio and that I had to be in LA.
I did it for three years straight and I absolutely loved it, I owe that Beachwood Bally’s crew and Kings Gym in Bedford, Ohio EVERYTHING, they had me during the grass roots stage and are chiefly responsible for my early development.
New Years Eve that same year I stayed home listening to Tony Robbins and writing down my goals. I wrote down that I was going to be one of the top group exercise instructors in Los Angeles. Within a year and a half I sold everything I owned to follow that dream.
I came to Los Angeles with a garbage bag as luggage and a Mustang that had been shipped from Ohio. I had a job lined up at Crunch Fitness, which was a hot group exercise place at the time. I ended up teaching there, but it didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. At that point, I had experienced adversity so many times that it didn’t scare me anymore.
There was another gym on Sepulveda Blvd., which at the time was called Sports Club LA (now Equinox). It was the club of clubs. At that point it was the only luxury gym in LA. I remember pulling up and seeing a bunch of Ferraris in the parking lot and thinking to myself, “This is a gym?!” I walk in and immediately see these three beautiful girls and I’m like, “Man, I gotta be here!”. At that point I had been trying to get in with their group exercise department, but they wouldn’t take my calls. So instead I got in with their training department and let them know about my history in Ohio. They gave me the job as a personal trainer.
Everyday I’d be thinking about how to make a connection with the head of the group exercise department. One day I was just working out around lunch time and she walked past me, looked at me and stopped. She walked back over and says, “You have the look for this.” At the time I was just a meathead from Ohio with my muscles and veins flying. She said, “I have someone who can’t teach kickboxing class tomorrow. Do you...” I didn’t even let her finish her sentence, “YES.” I subbed that class, and the rest was history.
From there, I was given the head slot at that club and eventually let me know that they were opening up another club in Beverly Hills. Now, I’m from Ohio so when I heard Beverly Hills I got excited. I took it and my first 3 months there were some of the worst of my life. My style was too aggressive for that community and we were getting a lot of complaints. People were not used to aggression and I was getting told I need to adjust my style. I didn’t like that, so I just kept doing it.
From there, I was given a subbing job at that club and eventually Pat Soley (the group exercise supervisor) let me know they were opening up another club in Beverly Hills. I took it and my first three months there were some of the worst teaching moments of my life. My style was too aggressive for their members and I was receiving a lot of complaints.
The turning point was when I realized I needed athletes in my classes. I had been trying to teach a bunch of people that hadn’t even worked out before - it was too much for them. I started recruiting athletes to get them into my classes. Within one year, the club had to start a sign up sheet for my class because it got so busy. I tore it up for 10 years there.
After that, the recession hit in 2007. At that point, all of my privates and group classes started to slow down drastically. I realized I had to come up with something people could afford, and that gave me the idea to start something called “Competition Camp.” I would grab a group of people and we would go over to Pan Pacific Park. I’d show up 3 hours early to set up and prepare my choreography. I had about 6 people show up the first week. Within two months I had to cut it off at 26 people max. Competition Camp was a HIT.
After the recession hit, I wanted to come up with something that wasn’t as expensive as a private training session and that gave me the idea to create my baby, which was called “Competition Camp.” I would grab a bunch of athletes, and we would take over Pan Pacific Park. I’d show up three hours early to set up and create the drills. In the beginning, there were weeks in which only three people would show up. Within two months, I had to cut it off at 26 people max. Competition Camp gave me the confidence to take it a step further.
Then Winter hit and it started getting cold. No one wanted to do it outside. I spoke to Pan Pacific Park about trying to use their indoor facilities, but they wouldn’t let me do it. That’s when I realized I had to get my own place and do what I do year round. As soon as I’m pregnant with thought, it’s over. That’s what led me here.
I knew that in order for me to open a studio at the quality and level that I wanted to present, I’d need to save an insane amount of money. From the beginning I knew I didn’t want a partner. It’s just not who I am. I had to turn it into a work machine. It’s very easy for me to cut that deal with myself. I cut myself off from anything social. I had a girl who I was madly in love with and thought I was going to marry, and we ended up breaking up. I was in a dark place. It was probably the only depression I’ve ever had.
Working like crazy pulled me out of it. I was a self-employed trainer at that time just doing privates all day. I was taking people to that next level, and when it all changed was when I started taking photos of people on the scale.
I was telling people they had to pay me a bunch of money for 4 weeks. At the end of that 4 weeks, if they’d drop 10 pounds I’d give them a percentage of the money back. You have no idea how hard that hit for people. I started to see a lot of success with that. I was working an insane amount of hours, and before I knew it I had saved up 80% of the seed money I needed.
Then I started looking for spaces. I almost got the very first space I saw, but everything fell apart the day of signing. That shot me into another minor depression. I was so ready to be done with privates and I just had the rug yanked from underneath me. It was crippling. I wanted it so badly. It was another test I had to prove to the universe that I deserved it. Trying to find the right space was not easy. It took over a year, and today marks my 1 year anniversary since my first class.
You have to put in the work. So much that you feel entitled to the results you desire. In my opinion, that’s the secret to life.
I had just stopped teaching bootcamp classes at Equinox, and there was a buzz about my new studio amongst my social media “friends”. When I first opened my gym it was packed for about 3 weeks. About a month and a half in it started quieting down. At that point I was teaching some privates and 1 group class on Monday night, Wednesday night and Saturday morning. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. I don’t think I ever felt that level of anxiety before in my life.
I had to put that chip back on my shoulder. It didn’t matter how many people were showing up, I had to do what I do best. I started choreographing and presenting my best stuff no matter how many people showed up. It didn't matter if there were 2 people in the class. I would treat those 2 people like they were the most important people on the planet.
It took about 8 weeks after that to start picking up again. Those two people would bring a friend. That one friend would bring two friends. Next thing you know I had to start adding more classes. The same thing happened when I launched the morning classes. Slowly, but surely it started gaining traction. Now depending on the day, the 6:45am class is the craziest on our roster. If you are completely immersed in what it is that you do, there is going to be something that comes of it.
My students know how much I care. To me they’re the most important people in the world. I want to give people the confidence that fitness was able to give me as a kid.
I do not do any paid marketing. It’s all word of mouth. To be honest with you, I didn’t even have a business card for around 7 years. As a matter of fact, there’s a strong possibility that if you come in here for the first time, I’ll push you so hard that you don’t want ever want to come back.
The more that you make yourself vulnerable and put yourself out there, the better off you’ll be. When it comes to starting a business, if you are not willing to flirt with the levels of insanity, don’t even waste your time. You have to be willing to die for it.
I would say that everything for me boils down to martial arts competition. I learned at an early age how to handle losing. I learned what to do and where to go mentally after a loss. If I lost a fight on Saturday, I licked my wounds on Sunday and on Monday I’d be back to practicing. It didn’t matter how bad I felt. I was always back at it on Monday.
I learned how to get kicked in the face (literally), and get right back up. I’ve carried that with me through pretty much everything.
I am mercilessly honest. I don’t sugar coat things even if it’s to my own detriment. You could argue that I’d probably have 50% more business if I would water it down, put my arm around people and say, “Hey, we’ll gettem’ next time.” What makes me different is the confrontation. If you fail because you did not do what was necessary I am not going to allow you to leave the studio without forcing you to look at yourself in the mirror (metaphorically).
Aside from the highest level of fitness, I’d say my biggest differentiator is that I’m going to tell you what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear.
First one that comes to mind is the martial arts Ultra national championship I won back in 2015. I had gotten second place in the two qualifiers leading up to the championship. I started doing 4 workouts per day while still working full-time leading up to the tournament. What made me proud about this experience was showing up with two back to back losses, and then winning.
The biggest personal challenge for me has been not knowing how to cut it off or slow it down. Even with my relationships, it’s hard for me to get close to someone because I’m really 24/7. It’s non negotiable for me and that prevents me from entering into a long term relationship. I believe there’s going to be someone that eventually comes along and is ready for that. If not, that’s okay too. This is me and it is what it is.
I think professionally my biggest challenge has been the seed money. That’s what took so long for this to happen. I had people throwing money at me for 10 years to start this. They wanted to bankroll it and become partners. I just wouldn’t do it.
I am on the path to having the impact I want. I don’t believe I’m there yet, but I see it. I don’t want there to be anything you can throw at me that I can’t figure out. Not only will I figure it out, but I’m going to take it to a level that no one has taken it before. I don’t want to just survive in a space. I want to be the space. I want to define the space.
Ultimately, there will be a day where I feel too old to do this. I think that’s probably 10 years away. My goal is to have developed the Pauly Solo brand to expand from fitness into performance altogether - for my words and experiences to have the same exact impact on people. I want to be the most direct and jolting speaker that has ever touched a microphone.
This will probably be a pretty short answer because I’m pretty archaic when it comes to software and things of that nature. I use an app called Reach for my texting because I did not want to create the conventional way of signing up for classes. I wanted to make sure that not just anyone could have access to it. I wanted this to be an Ivy League experience - a little more exclusive. The only way to get into class now is by getting referred to someone or reaching out to me directly through instagram or email. I don’t list the days and times of the classes until the night before. This is Fight Club. If you don’t know anything about it, you’re not in it.
Prior to Reach I would have to copy and paste each invitations one by one. That process used to take me about an hour each time. As the business started growing my business I needed to get those invitations out faster so I started looking at a couple of different texting apps. Reach was the one that worked best for me. It allows me to create a list of all the individuals I contact and send out all my invitations with a click of a button. Now the entire invite process takes me 5-9 minutes.
For payments I have a Clover device to accept credit cards and I also use Venmo.
Efficiency. I run every aspect of my business myself. It was even hard for me to delegate the cleaning out. There’s always something that needs to get done whether its an email, text message, social media, choreography, playlists - you name it. If I can implement software to help me with efficiency, I want it.
A custom app that allows people to sign up and track their attendance through my text message.
I only affiliate myself with the best. Fortunately, I had been in this game long enough to know what the best is. When it was time to load up on treadmills, I went with Woodway. That treadmill cost more than both of my first two cars combined. I got the most durable and shock absorbent turf available.
When it comes to suspension training I went with TRX, which is the most recognized brand. I want people to feel comfortable. I want them to show up and if they’re going to drink vodka, they’re going to see Grey Goose. I’ll be honest, I’m not charging peanuts for this. So it has to be the best.
The dumbells are Rubber Hex, which are once again the most expensive and quality option.
(See below for all of Pauly Solos Fitness tools)
Books: Financial Self Defense by Charles Givens. Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill. With Napoleon Hill you’re talking about a guy who has created some timeless principles.
Podcasts: Gary Vee, Eric Thomas, Bedros Keuilian (Fitness). What I like about the podcasts is that I’m receiving current content.
Whether it’s a book, audio book, podcast, stranger or anything I’m always consuming content and learning what I can.
Lastly, I’m always learning things from martial arts that I can’t learn any other way. There is just something about being in a ring fighting for your life and defending yourself can help you grow.
I have been to a Tony Robbins introduction seminar, which I would recommend to anyone 100%. When it comes to fitness I actually never took any courses. It was all self taught. Martial arts gave me the foundation. Early in my career, I was a private trainer at a bodybuliding/powerlifting gym (Kings Gym in Bedford, Ohio). I learned a lot from Ed King, Frank King, and Pat Ventre, they showed me how to be PROFESSIONAL in this industry.
First, I would suggest that you start taking as many fitness classes as you possibly can. From there, you can figure out what you naturally connect with. I would say the most important thing is to create your own identity. You have to have the courage to be authentic.
I refuse to not continue growing and become stale in this. I am obsessessive when it comes to my work. I make sure that when you walk in here you’ve never taken the exact same class twice. When you come in here you don’t know what’s coming. I’m always creating original classes for my students. I think it’s important I say that because most instructors are just stealing stuff from others. I don’t use other people’s curriculum. I create my own. I am the producer, composer, arranger and the artist.
You have to over commit to what it is that you are chasing so much that even prior to you getting it, you’ve already laid claim to it. You have to be able to turn off all the noise from everything else. There is just that one singular objective. Until you reach that place, you are hoping to get lucky. You need to know that you have turned over every stone and have over prepared at such a level that it is impossible for you to fail.
“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”
- Ernest Hemingway