The renowned fitness expert has left behind the resources of a large company to launch his own venture, Power Nation.
Don't call it P90X4.
Not only is Tony Horton's new workout program, Power Nation, unaffiliated with Beachbody – the company that produced P90X, P90X2 and P90X3 – it also represents a shift in philosophy to a more holistic approach to wellness.
Power Nation is a turning point in Horton's career; he is on his own now, without all the resources of a large company behind him.
"I had a great run with Beachbody for 20 years," Horton told business.com. "But they started to go in another direction, and it didn't seem like a direction I wanted to go in. We tried to piece a deal together, but we just didn't see eye to eye."
That was two years ago, and Horton has been busy since, launching his own supplement line called Power Life. Eventually, Horton realized there was significant demand for a new workout program a la P90X: Power Nation was born.
"My fan base was kind of screaming for the next thing … And since I'm not with Beachbody anymore, obviously I can't take that name and call it P90X4," Horton said. "So, I created this thing called Power Nation and we did it straight to the consumer … so we're in the midst of that and we're having a blast."
Horton is also planning to release his own fitness equipment line to support at-home workouts following the closure of gyms across the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent dearth of available workout equipment.
The experience of becoming a self-made entrepreneur with several active projects after working alongside Beachbody for two decades has included many lessons for Horton. While he acknowledges that it has been "about 15 times harder than expected," he added that the journey has been full of rewards and invaluable lessons.
Building the Power Nation team
Horton said he has kicked around the idea of launching Power Nation for some time, but until recently, he said, he didn't think the project was feasible.
"I didn't think there was an avenue to do it on our own," Horton said. "I toyed with the idea and looked for investments, but it seemed too big a project.
"These things run about $1 million each to produce, then you have to market them," he added. "It's pretty overwhelming."
After some initial talks with investors, Horton realized he couldn't produce the program without selling more equity than he wanted.
"When you get funding from outside sources, those sources have huge expectations and get a huge percentage, they take a huge cut," Horton said. "That's sort of the traditional way of doing it."
Not wanting to pursue venture capital or private funding in exchange for a "big piece of the pie," Horton said he put the idea for Power Nation back on the shelf. Then, Tony agreed to be a guest on a podcast with a young entrepreneur and marketing specialist named Caesar Hernandez. It was upon meeting Hernandez that he realized that he had found a partner who understood his philosophy – Hernandez is P90X certified and has completed the program – and had fresh ideas on how to build, fund, and promote the program that would become Power Nation.
"It was kind of a fluke," he said. "I fell in love with his enthusiasm. After talking to Caesar, we got after this thing."
Hernandez, now the team's Business Development Manager, brought on seven team members to manage the digital aspects of the project – web development, social media management, digital marketing – and to work alongside Horton and his wife, Shawna Horton, as they laid their plans. With a team in place, the Power Nation project could begin in earnest.
Finding funding for a million-dollar workout program
The next step was finding funding. Knowing full well that producing a fitness program could run well into the seven-figure range, the team had some brainstorming to do.
According to Horton, this aspect of the business couldn't be more foreign to him. Still, he dove in and started considering options. Rather than selling equity to investors, the team decided to leverage the enthusiasm of Horton's immense fan base.
"The first run raising money went really well," Horton said. "We had these really cool [contests and giveaways] … it was really a matter of trusting my fan base and seeing if they would want to participate in this thing."
By offering prizes like signed memorabilia, posters, and video shoutouts, Horton and his team were able to hire attorneys and start producing content for the Power Nation beta group. The beta group itself would serve as an additional source of funding, with members signing up for a monthly subscription of $29 to gain access to the beta workouts, 400-page nutrition plan, and educational content about mindfulness with appearances from world-class athletes like Tasha Danvers, bronze medalist in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The team had an ambitious target for beta sign-ups, hoping to net 10,000 people. Unfortunately, Horton said, Power Nation only received 2,200 sign-ups for the beta group, Still, that result hasn't slowed their momentum despite falling short of the target.
"We've looked at what works, we're going to stick with that," he said. "I wish we had more [sign-ups] but we've got a solid 2,200 people. We're going to work with what we have, and we will continue because we believe in it and want it to be different."
Resilience is a key part of entrepreneurship, after all, Horton said. He is no stranger to encountering obstacles in the world of business.
"In the past, I've got 23 failed businesses, from mouthguards to insoles to home delivery foods … but that's the life of an entrepreneur. You fall down, you get back up. That's just the way it goes."
Of course, as the project grows, expenses increase as well, Horton said. Learning how to not only raise money but manage the inflows and outflows has been a balancing act.
"Money is coming in, but a whole lot is going out. So, it's just playing that dance of how to raise it and how to spend it and how to be frugal," Horton said.
With some capital in the bank, though, Horton and his team were ready to move on to producing the initial content that would help launch Power Nation.
Producing and testing Power Nation content as a proof of concept
The plan for developing Power Nation is a three-pronged approach, with each component lasting three months. The company is entering month two of its first beta program. With the capital and feedback from its initial beta test group members, Horton and team will develop a more refined round two beta program. That round will also last three months, by which time the team hopes to have enough funding and feedback to develop the final product, which would then be released at the end of a final three-month period.
If all goes to plan, the final version of Power Nation would be completed in late spring or early summer of 2021. But, there is a long road ahead of them, Horton said, crossing his fingers as he described the targeted release of the final product.
It has all started with the beta group, which includes raw footage and quick cuts of the planned workouts. Some of the videos, Horton said, were recorded by his wife Shawna using a cell phone. The team has also developed some of the educational content that comes along with the program, using whatever production equipment is readily available.
Producing the content has been a learning experience in itself, Horton said. Initial feedback on the raw footage of the programs led to the acquisition of multiple cameras, as well as sound and lighting equipment.
"I think we're going to have to build a new wing in the house for this stuff," Horton joked.
The Power Nation beta group includes six workouts in the first month, plus six new workouts (soon to be produced) for the second month. The team is also planning to develop and produce three optional bonus workouts, bringing the initial program to 15 workouts. Based on the feedback of the beta group, Horton said the team will refine the program for the second round.
"Based on what we're learning from fans in beta one, we're going to make some changes," Horton said. "We'll rearrange the schedule, take some exercises out, change the timing and rep count … Beta two will have better lighting, better sound."
Ultimately, the goal is to bring more people into the fold to support the development of the program and drive funding for the final product – Horton said a major focus of the team is growing from 2,200 participants to that end. Growing the participant base will help provide some of the funding needed to produce a studio-quality iteration of Power Nation for release to the general public.
"We want the final product in a studio with a cast and three cameras," Horton said. "These things run up to $1.5 million to shoot."
Though that is a lofty goal, Horton said he is confident in his team, fan base and the demand for a comprehensive, holistic program rooted in a philosophy of fitness, wellness and lifestyle improvement.
Learning how to become a better leader and manager
As the whole owner of Power Nation, Horton is now cast in the role of a leader and manager as never before. That in itself has been a learning experience, he said. Decision-making and motivating his team is something that takes regular pivoting and constant communication. Horton is admittedly working out the kinks.
"You've got to be prepared to make adjustments all the time, put out fires, and be a great communicator and great listener," Horton said. "You have to make decisions you didn't think you had to make. Sometimes you make bad decisions.
"I've made the mistake in this project where maybe I should've been more patient, understanding and gentle in the way I communicate," Horton added. "I can get a little intense … sometimes I beat myself up about it."
Understanding his own preferred management style has helped him avoid repeating those mistakes, though. Horton said he's made it a point to apologize when he feels he oversteps his bounds or acts in a way that is inconsistent with his own management philosophy. That accountability is important to keeping his team cohesive and focused on achieving their goal, he said.
"I've seen organizations where intimidation and pitting different groups against each other to achieve a certain goal is a philosophy or technique, but it's not the way I want to operate," Horton said. "You want buy-in from your team. Communication is everything."
As much as Power Nation is Horton's brainchild, he said he is quick to recognize the skills and competencies of the team he's built around him. Letting things go and trusting his team to manage tasks to the best of their ability remains an important element of how he manages.
"At some point, as hands-on as it is for me, I have to trust the people who are on my team," Horton said.
How to manage tasks and establish work/life balance as an entrepreneur
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Horton's advice for other entrepreneurs was rooted in health and wellness more than business acumen. As Horton rattled off his extensive to-do list, he said managing all these projects at once is only possible with a disciplined regimen of exercise, diet, rest and meditation.
In 2017, Horton was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a severe shingles outbreak that affects the facial nerves near or in the ears. He said the condition leads to sluggish days and restless nights, difficulty balancing and severe fatigue. Naturally, these symptoms can interfere significantly with his entrepreneurial pursuits, but it is in his routine that he finds a reprieve.
For other entrepreneurs, those down days are inevitable, health condition or no. Horton said overcoming stress, fatigue and frustration starts with building healthy habits outside of the office.
"Overcoming it requires taking action," Horton said. "What can you control that has nothing to do with the tasks that help a business succeed?"
Horton suggested entrepreneurs incorporate the following into their routine to avoid succumbing to stress, fatigue and burnout when building their businesses:
Fitness: "My workouts are always priority one because I understand the importance of physical activity on your mental/emotional state. If I miss two or three days in a row, I don't get that energy and enthusiasm I need to deal with six projects at once."
Hydration: "More people are so dehydrated in this country and they're not even aware of it, and they get all sorts of physical, mental, emotional issues. You've just got to drink more damn water, man. You would be surprised with how that's even related."
Sleep: "People who are entrepreneurs are sleep deprived so often because they're burning the candle at both ends and don't know when to shut it down. It requires you doing nothing but turning off the TV or turning off the computer … and saying, 'Hey, I've got this new protocol, I'm sleeping eight hours.'"
Diet: "You are what you eat! The idea here is to build this business with joy, happiness and laughter as much as you can. If you're just out of your mind and freaked out and stressed out and unhappy with the process … you're probably eating too much fat, salt and chemicals."
Organization: "Organization gives you the freedom to live the life that you want. If you're going to bed with your mind filled with stuff, you better write it down. Go to bed and get it out of your head, put it on a piece of paper or on your phone, whatever it is."
- Mindfulness: "You need a mindfulness practice. Meditation is exercise for your brain. That requires five, 10, 15 minutes of nothingness. You draw the curtains, close the door, turn off your phone. I do it first thing in the morning, and I do it before I go to bed. And sometimes, if I'm in distress, I turn away and I just sit on the floor or sit in the chair nice and tall, I close my eyes and I just breathe."
While these elements seem tangential or even unrelated to business, Horton emphasized they are essential to maintaining the energy and focus needed to not only succeed but also enjoy the journey of running your business.
"If it's just go, go, go and burn, burn, burn all the time … well, you're not in this thing to be stressed out until you're 65," he said. "Your intellect and your work ethic only take you so far; you've got to enjoy the ride. You've got to be present; you've got to be in the moment; you've got to have a mindfulness practice. You've got to surround yourself with the right kind of people who lift you up.
"These are light practices that need to happen to have the energy and enthusiasm to attack the business," he added.