I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs over the years about their businesses and their paths to success, but only a few stories have been as amazing and memorable as the story of ConBody, the popular prison-style bootcamp that has taken New York by storm. Based on a carefully crafted blend of workout techniques used by ex-marines and prison convicts and taught by formerly incarcerated instructors, ConBody promises clients the prison body that they’ve always dreamed of – without the sentence.
ConBody Founder, Coss Marte may seem like an unlikely subject for an entrepreneurial success story. His entrepreneurial spirit actually got him into a lot of trouble when he was younger. As a teenager in the lower East side of Manhattan, Coss got involved in selling drugs. Not content to hang out on corners by a milk crate, wait for customers to approach him, and get harassed by the police, he modernized the way that drugs were sold in his neighborhood – he dressed himself and his associates in suits, carried a briefcase, and printed ten thousand business cards. By the age of 19, he was making over $2 million a year – until he was arrested and incarcerated for running one of the largest drug delivery services in New York City.
Clearly, Coss has a sharp mind for business and an entrepreneurial spirit, even if his first ventures were on the wrong side of the law. I sat down and talked to him about his journey into legal entrepreneurship. Here is what he shared with me:
Work with what you know. Coss came up with the idea for ConBody while still serving his sentence. “ConBody gives you the prison body you’ve always wanted,” Coss explains. “We hire formerly incarcerated people to teach fitness classes. This is all derived from my prison experience, where I lost 70 pounds in six months while in a prison cell, and then helped 20 inmates lose over 1,000 pounds combined. I was an illegal entrepreneur before I became a legal entrepreneur. Why not use this asset we attain while we’re in prison and utilize it to give back to society?”
Sharpen and harness your determination. Coss faced a lot of skepticism when he came up with the idea for ConBody. “People looked at me like I was nuts, even the inmates that I told while I was in the prison,” Coss says. But he didn’t let that discourage him. “I knew how to build a business from a milk crate to a multi-million dollar business. So I went to the park and trained people there. I walked up to every girl wearing yoga pants and pitched them. If you don’t ask, you don’t eat. That’s what my mom taught me.” Coss’s determination helped him to steadily grow his business. “Once I started getting more capital, I started renting out studios. Eventually, we opened our own on the lower East side.”
Hone your communication skills. One thing that Coss says his legal and illegal ventures had in common is the importance of the pitch. “It’s important to be consistent with your pitch and deliver a great service,” he says. “You need to package it well and brand it well.” He spends a lot of time working on his pitching skills. “I write it down and keep repeating it. I record myself. I send it to people. I tell people to criticize me. I think a good aspect of being an entrepreneur and starting your own company is being coachable. Getting hit left and right. Using that to improve yourself. Where you’re going to dodge yourself next time,” he says. “I have a 15-second pitch. I have a 30-second pitch. I have a minute pitch. I have a three-minute pitch. I can say my story in 30 minutes.”
Always innovate. ConBody does more than offer studio fitness sessions – Coss has purchased a school bus, outfitted it to look like a prison bus, and offers mobile fitness classes and pop-up work-outs around the city in public parks. The ConBody website has also started offering online fitness lessons. “One of the future businesses is ConBody Live, where you can virtually work-out online for $5.00 a month with a formerly incarcerated person,” Coss explains. “Every month we’re introducing a different formerly incarcerated person. You can give them an opportunity to work. You can work out with them with no equipment needed, just straight body work. Your favorite ex-con to give you that prison body you’ve always desired.”
Coss’s incredible determination not only makes for an inspiring story, but showcases how a strong entrepreneurial spirit will always find a way to express itself. Want to hear more? Check out the podcast at the top of this blog post to hear more from Coss Marte.