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Juliet Starrett: From Cancer To World Champion: Rafting Around The World

This is a very fascinating interview with Juliet Starrett. She's an attorney, entrepreneur and is the Cofounder and CEO of San Francisco CrossFit, which is one of the very first, in the very beginning of all the CrossFit. It was the first in San Francisco and MobilityWOD.

In addition to that, she is an official three-time world champion in extreme whitewater rafting. We covered the gamut in this show. We talk a little about cancer. She had thyroid cancer at a very early age and overcame that.
We had so many big takeaways here. How to treat people, how to recruit, how to motivate your team, how to improve your health. We even get a little controversy in this show. If you're looking for a little bit of entrepreneurship, a little bit of how can I increase my health and wellness, what are some tricks of the trade and also part motivation, then you're absolutely going to love this show with Juliet. We go across the gamut.

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Dustin
You're an athlete, you're rowing in college, you're twenty years old, you go in for a typical standard exam and there's a lump in your throat. The doctor calls you back a couple days later and tells you, you have cancer. What is going through your head as a twenty-year-old physically fit condition when you get this news?
Juliet
It was a variety of things. It would probably be understating to say that it was a shock. I don't think anybody ever in their life expects to hear those words, “You have cancer.” I assume at any moment of your life whether you're fifteen years old or 80 years old that's a shocking moment. It is particularly so given my age, given that I did not go to the doctor because I hadn’t any physical symptoms. I went for a totally routine appointment that the doctor felt a lump in my throat, does a biopsy on it and also there were a ton of benign things that could have been. There was no part of me that was expecting to hear those words. Certainly for anyone including me, especially at twenty years old, hearing the words, “You have cancer,” is a transformative moment in your life so it was a big deal. I was super fit, rowing as an NC2A, JV college rower at UC Berkeley and I was training hard and super fit and going to school and I felt physically great. It was a very weird transition too because the moment someone says you have cancer, everybody around you starts treating you like you're sick. That's a very weird experience too because I'm like, “I'm not sick. Look at me.” It was definitely a big moment of growing up for me as a human and certainly very transformative.
Dustin
The way you describe it didn't sound the doctor sugarcoated. Was it direct? Is that how you remember it?
Juliet
It was direct and also weird because they gave me the news over the phone. To this day I always wonder like, “Was that a mistake? Should they have called me in?” I have wondered that ever since. I thought, “Do other people get that big piece of news over the phone especially at twenty years old?” I've always wondered if that was not supposed to happen that way but that's how it happened.
Dustin
How did you conquer? What path did you go and how did you overcome?
Juliet
I never went into it worried about my mortality. As I've grown older, I've looked back on it more and realized what it meant but I looked at it as a thing to tackle like, “Now I've got this diagnosis, what’s next?” I just went into a full-on deal mode. It was September when I was diagnosed. I was midway through the first semester of my sophomore year of college. It all happened quickly. I was diagnosed on a Thursday and by the following Tuesday, I had a nine-hour surgery and then I took a week off of school. Just one week and then I was back at school the following Monday. Everyone's like, “Maybe you should drop out for the semester.” There were people who were worried about me jumping back into things too quickly. My mentality was and still is to this day that I was like, “I'm a student and there's nothing wrong with my brain. I can walk around and there's no reason why I can't go to class and study.” I had 50 staples in my neck from a long nine-hour surgery and I went back to class because that felt like the right thing for me to do. I went right into this deal mode, which is probably common for people with that diagnosis. You take a few minutes to feel self-pity and maybe contemplate your own mortality on a larger scale but then you go into like, “How can I manage? What can I do now? How can I fix this?”
Dustin
You've got this type A, driven personality. You love to achieve. The fact is when you get a diagnosis, not everyone wants to tackle it. The fact that you are like, “My brain works so let me show back up at school,” that's telling about your mindset
Juliet
The only problem with that is that mentality has created for me my life sometimes is a lack of sympathy for people when they themselves are sick. I see people at the slightest little sniffle and need to take a week off of work especially now since I'm an employer it is hard for me to not roll my eyes and say, “You've got to be kidding me like.” You have a cough and you need to miss ten days of work. Do you really? I don't know that that's a positive quality in me. It created a mindset for me where sometimes at least when it comes to being sick, I'm not the most sympathetic person.
Dustin
You were rowing in college and then you get into extreme whitewater rafting. Is this normal? They don't do rowing as a thing. Do they graduate into whitewater rafting? Are other team members doing that?
Juliet
It was totally not normal. I'll tell you a little bit about the path I went there. I'll start by telling you that I became a river rafting guide after my freshman year of college. The reason I did that is I looked around and I knew I needed to have a summer job. I thought I could go be an intern at a law firm or do something super lame or I could be outside and interact with people, talk with people and being on tons of adventures and learning new things and seeing different parts of the world. Being a river rafting guide was the single most valuable thing I've ever done in terms of skills that apply to be an entrepreneur. I was already working as a river guide and rowing and there was a slot opened up on the US Women's team and they hosted a tryout. I thought I'm a river guide already and I'm super athletic and I recovered from cancer at that point and was back to doing my athletic gig. I thought why not. Why don't I just go and have a go at it and try out for this? I went into it with very low expectations because there were a bunch of women who came to try out for this one spot in this boat that had opened up. Lo and behold, I make the team and then six months later I'm competing in a world championship. I compete in regional national events and then I'm competing in the world championships on the Zambezi River in Africa. It all happened quickly. Definitely not a normal path but it was a unique combination of being both a river guide and an athlete that created the perfect storm of my being able to make that team.
Dustin
Can you break down what is extreme in whitewater rafting?
Juliet
The extreme is that all the events are held on the biggest, scariest class five rivers that you can make it down as a human. That's what makes it extreme. The Zambezi River is legendary. If you ever happen to find yourself in Africa, go take a run down the Zambezi River and you'll see what I mean. You stand on the side of the river and laugh to yourself because the sheer size and volume of the river and the rapids is like, “I can't believe I might make it through that and live.” It's a super fringe sport and especially in the US now. I'll tell you that in Europe and parts of Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, it's a full-on professional sport that's sponsored by the nations. It's a big deal and they're trying to get it into being an Olympic sport but in the United States, it's a completely unknown fringe sport. What makes it extreme is that we are literally day after day going down these gigantic rivers. There are tons of carnage and flips and action, which makes it way more fun for television and that's where the extreme comes in. It's funny now that I'm 45 years old and like, “Would I be too scared to go out on the Zambezi now?” As we know we all change as we get older, so I'm not quite as adventurous as I once was or dumb maybe.
Dustin
Tell us a little bit about winning two world championships, five national titles. What was that like in those moments?
Juliet
First of all, it was a gigantic adventure. There are a couple of things that I love about it. The first was that I was young and broke and so I landed in the sport that would pay for me to train and travel all over the world because none of the events were in the US. We competed in world championships on Zambezi River, in Zimbabwe, on the Orange River in South Africa, on a river called the Reventazón at Costa Rica which has since been dammed and no longer exists, on the Futaleufú River, on rivers in Argentina. For me as a young person who liked adventure and travels, this was my ticket to free travel everywhere so that alone separate and apart from the rafting and competition and all that was just like gold. Secondarily, there's something special about being involved in an international competition that it's hard to even explain. There's something special about being at a competition with people from 30 or 40 different countries where these events are ten days long and you're with these people all day every day for ten days you get to know them.
I was able to make connections with people all over the world. If I go to Japan or South Africa or New Zealand or wherever, there's someone I can call and say, “We competed in this crazy thing and let's go down the river together or let's have a coffee or whatever.” The international competition is special. One of the things that's nice about it especially in these times, you realize that we all want the same things and people are generally kind and open and nice to one another. That's a nice a side effect of it. I am someone who has a massive amount of wanderlust and need and drives for adventure and travel, so it definitely checks that box for me as well. It was fun.
Dustin
Were there any countries that surprised you they have a whitewater rafting team?
Juliet
Early on some teams from Uganda and some random countries, it's impressive that they were even able to make it and organize themselves at all but not really. It's crazy that in every other part of the world. this funny sport of extreme whitewater rafting is a thing. It's just not a thing in the US.
Dustin
What was the other world championship in Argentina that you just came back from?
Juliet
The last world championships we did was in 2000 on the Futaleufú River in Chile, which is where I met Kelly which is yet another side story. We just went back as a masters team and we competed on a river called the Aluminé in Patagonia in Argentina. The race was this past November 1st through 10th 2018. They added a masters division since we left the sport in 2000. There was an opportunity because there was a national qualifier last spring and while a bunch of masters men's teams from the US came and competed to get the men's spot, there were no masters women's teams. We called the organizers of the World Championships and said, “There's no qualifying women's team from the US. Can we just come?” You know who we are and everybody knows who we are in this sport. We got our team back together and we got some sponsors and got some gear and outfits and bought our plane tickets to Argentina. We just went as again a fun adventure and a reunion for our team and a time to spend some cool time together on an adventure and we ended up winning. Now I am a three-time world champion. It was 100% unexpected and we just went down there to have fun and take an adventure but it turns out we still have something going on that works because we won.
Dustin
We're just getting to know each other but I almost feel like you went with that mindset but then when you hit that river, maybe the juices were going.
Juliet
I've had a lot of physical issues over my lifetime but one of the problems I don't have is the mental part of athletics. I am definitely a gamer and super competitive at the moment. You're right and that's what Kelly picked up on when he called us out and said, “You guys said you were going for fun but the moment you got on the water you were savages.” There's probably some truth to that.
Dustin
From the first two world championships on the river, you won that and then you're on top of the world. From what it sounds like it's hard to earn a profession, so you decide to go get a law degree. I've often thought about this especially in the business because I'm good on the marketing and the creative side. Sometimes people come to you with these things and so it's like, “I wish I had a law degree.” You did it. You weren't you in the biz world yet. Why do you think, “I'm going to go get a law degree?”
Juliet
It was multifactorial. When I graduated from Cal, I thought that I would go to law school sooner than I did. I took about four or five years off in between when I was doing all this whitewater paddling. I thought I would go directly to law school, so it was something that I had planned to do in college. Law school seems the thing you should do if you are a good student and you're smart and you're good at school but you're not quite sure what it is you want to do. I have a feeling a lot of people go to business school for this exact same reason by the way but there maybe isn't as much unhappiness because there's just more flexibility in what you can do with a business degree. I have no idea. My mom and dad were divorced when I was a kid. I watched my mom raised me and my brother as a single. She was a journalist. She was a writer for the Boulder Daily Camera, The Denver Post and then a stringer for the LA Times. She was quite an accomplished journalist but there's not a lot of money in journalism. While we were not wanting for any of our basic needs as a kid, I saw that it was a struggle financially for us. I went into this law school thing with this mentality that as a woman, it was extremely important to me to not only be able to financially support myself as a woman for my whole life but to do it well.
For whatever reason, if my partner died or had a heart attack or I got divorced or whatever, it was super important to me to have a set of skills that would allow me to make money. Those were my two reasons for going to law school. Neither of which I have anything to do with the actual practice of law, which is probably part of the reason why it didn't last for me, but I have to say I enjoyed law school. Sometimes I wish I could just go back to audit law school because it's fascinating and interesting. When you go to law school initially it's a high stakes game because in law school it's like you need to be in the top 10% of your class. We want a guaranteed job and if you want to get the kind of job where you will be able to pay off your student loan debt, it's super competitive. I don't know what business school’s like but you walk in any law school and you're like, “I will be able to practice law if I'm not in the top 10% of my class but if I want to have choices, I need to be in the top 10% of my class.” That’s a challenge. I again lucked out and I was a good student. I got a summer associateship at a big international law firm called Reed Smith and then was offered a job, so I went immediately after law school to work at Reed Smith.
Dustin
I want to acknowledge you and I can appreciate you wanting to have a set of skills especially seeing mom and dad but having a set of skills that no matter what happened in life you could fall back on to. I do love your thoughts about going to law school. I agree with you to be in a space where you're not trying to be in the top 10% or having that pressure to get the job. It gives a lot of flexibility and maybe lets you learn a little bit better.
Juliet
Sometimes I'm in the exact same boat as you where if I had a business degree, would I understand this thing about running the business better or whatever. I have those exact same feelings too although I do feel like being a lawyer has been maybe equally as valuable in terms of skill sets for being an entrepreneur. It's like six to one-half a dozen to the other, which one is more valuable in running businesses.
Dustin
Other than maybe people coming at you and defending yourself, how have you used that in business would you say?
Juliet
Sometimes it does slam me because I still have a lot of lawyers who work for me because the practice of law’s becomes so specialized. I was a general corporate lawyer and I did some premises liability and medical device and product liability litigation, but I was not a trademark lawyer and I need trademarks. I wasn't an employment lawyer and I have employees, so I still have a cadre of lawyers who work for me but there are a couple of ways that help me. First of all, I saved a ton of money by being a lawyer myself working with other lawyers because while I don't necessarily want to write the brief or do the writing or write the contract. I can do some damage myself on those things to start with. If they're sending me a draft of something, a contract, I can spend a bunch of time beautifying it and making it appropriate for my business in a way that a regular business person can't do. Just in that way I save a ton of money because I'm able to hire lawyers but double in and be involved in the process in a way that other people couldn't be involved because I can understand it.
The other thing so valuable about law school and also practicing law at a big firm is law school both teaches you how to think and it also is good at teaching you what you don't know and a general level of self-awareness. It teaches you what you know what you don't know and being okay with knowing that you don't know everything and just being able to think. Working in a big huge fancy law firm where I was working on cases that were worth billions of dollars with high-level clients, there was a level of professionalism I learned to as a young lawyer that has been so valuable in running businesses. In fact, sometimes it drives me crazy as an employer, especially in the health and fitness business.
Dustin
I want to get into health. You were very early on to the party in terms of opening up a CrossFit. What did you see in the opportunity?
Juliet
Kelly and I started doing CrossFit just off of the CrossFit website. I can't even put it to actual words, but we knew there was something to it. We felt this is special not only the experience of the actual workouts and the workout methodology but just right away we started developing a community around it. We started our gym in literally the backyard of our house and there was something already special about the way that the workouts were set up, so we all got together and could do them as a group. It was not only this effective workout but it was also immediately created community in this awesome and noteworthy way. I don't know how we knew but Kelly and I knew pretty quickly after following CrossFit and doing CrossFit for three or four months. We had a talk just the two of us. We’re like, “There's something to this.”
At that moment, did we think at all that it would become what it became? No. Did we ever think we could financially support ourselves doing it? Not necessarily but we definitely knew there was something. When we open San Francisco CrossFit, I was working full-time as a full-on corporate lawyer with billable hours and the whole deal and Kelly was a PT and we had a six-month-old baby. The timing was not good, but we both came together and saw that there was something special here that we need to grab a hold of. We were the 50th CrossFit and we saw right away that we could be the first in San Francisco and we knew that that will be important. It's a little bit vague but we knew there was something to it.
Dustin
There's that intuition that you have. There were things that you saw in front of you. That happens in life. We just have to be able to pay attention to those signals and you wisely did. With you being in San Francisco and being early on and being the first in San Francisco, I've got to imagine you met some interesting people, valleys close by. San Francisco is such a hodgepodge of different folks. Can you share any interesting folks you met along the way?
Juliet
We have met so many interesting people both through San Francisco CrossFit and MobilityWOD. Somehow when he was still living in San Francisco, Tim Ferriss became connected to our gym and a little bit of Kelly's work around MobilityWOD. He came down to our original gym, which was in a parking lot. There was something that felt very emergent about what we were doing and involved in. It was a palatable sense of being involved in something that was special and that wasn't just for Kelly. That was for our early CrossFit members too and that was part of the reason why we were able to have a gym in a parking lot, to begin with. It was interesting who came through our doors. Tons of other CrossFit people and people who were trainers at 24 Hour Fitness and they piqued their curiosity, CEOs of companies. There have been all sorts of people who just come through the gym.
It's less even about the special people. We've had people that have been working out with us since 2005. Those people are our family. Certainly, we've had some noteworthy people like Tim and lots of other noteworthy people come through our doors. What's been so special about this is the enduring community and then also seeing how it's become this web of community that's beyond Kelly and me. That’s the thing we're most proud of. We occasionally take a moment to reflect on getting on Facebook and seeing these entire units of friends. Some of whom don't even go to our gym anymore and live elsewhere but they're all friends because they met at San Francisco CrossFit. They've married one another and they've been at each other's weddings and they socialized with each other on the weekend and this has nothing to do with us. We just witnessed it in the social media universe to realize how extensive that is from just being in one place and creating a community for people. That's one of the coolest things for us.
Dustin
I want to get into MobilityWOD, but you keep bringing up Kelly. We haven't addressed him, so I assume that the listener would like to know just in case. That's your husband correct? How did you meet? What's the story there?
Juliet
It goes all the way back to the whitewater thing. Kelly was also a guide and kayaker. He also paddled on the national canoe kayak team. He was living in Durango, and he and a group of guys had won the national championship and were the US Men's whitewater team in the year 2000 when we competed in Chile in Patagonia that's why we didn't know them. We showed up and met this new team who just qualified as the US team and Kelly was one of those guys. At the time he was living in Durango, Colorado. He was still playing around in the whitewater world and he was working full-time as a kayak rep. We met and the rest is history. We met at the race in Chile, but we did a little bit of a long-term relationship for a while. I was starting law school. I said, “I like you but I'm starting law school so you're going to have to come here.” He moved out to California and the rest is history so to speak.
Dustin
Could you share a little bit about the work that you're doing at MobilityWOD?
Juliet
MobilityWOD is a one-stop shop to learn about how your body works and how to move better,
fix yourself if you have nagging pain and injury. We offer a brand-new video every single day that you can follow along that is on movement mechanics and injury prevention and recovery and down regulation. We're all things content related to how the body works and we were the people who invented mobility as it's now known. I say that because mobility has become a word that everybody uses like Kleenex, but I'll tell you that Kelly was the first person to use the word mobility at all in a broader sense. Up until then, the only words that were ever used especially in health and fitness screening were stretching and flexibility and maybe a range of motion, but mobility is decidedly a physical therapy word.
He was the one who popularized the word mobility as it's used now and also developed all the mobilizations that have also become so common. You see everybody doing uncross for gyms and all over the place. If you attach a band of any kind to a rig and stretch any part of your body with a band, that’s us. We invented that. Lots of other people now use our mobilizations in their own businesses and their own strategies but we were the people who popularized mobilizing as it's known as a way to complement any athletic practice. We also developed this whole system about how to understand how the body works, which is codified in the Supple Leopard book.
Dustin
I want to talk about the business because we know a lot of entrepreneurs listening to the show fascinated by all the different things in your life. What is the revenue model if you're releasing a video a day? Is it a subscription play?
Juliet
It is a subscription play and I have a story about that. We started MobilityWOD in 2009 and we were just making YouTube videos. We started it with what we called the mobility project where we made a video a day for 365 days although we couldn't meet that promise and it took us about eighteen months to make 365 videos. For anyone who makes videos, they know how hard it is to deliver content especially if you want to have Christmas and other holidays like that in your life. We reached a point where MobilityWOD had become a business and our audience was expecting things like better video quality and better audio and better lighting and a better sense of when videos will be published so they knew when to expect them. We’re starting to get some requests from our audience which when we thought we've just been doing this whole thing pro bono for two years and that's all well and good. We did start MobilityWOD not to ever be a business.
We started it because we saw a problem that needs to be fixed and that was honestly part of our motivation with San Francisco CrossFit too. We fell in love with CrossFit. There wasn't CrossFit, we open. In both our businesses we did not ever create a business plan and figure out how we're going to make revenue and make lots of money for ourselves this was never part of our plan. In both cases, we saw a problem and figured out what we can do to solve it and that was separate and apart from trying to make money. In 2012, we realized that there was something, that this was content people wanted and needed and we decided we could go down two paths. We could keep giving out free content and do a bunch of advertising and become like how Kelly become a YouTube star and advertise on all our videos or we could move into a subscription model. What's interesting about that is now everybody has a subscription model, but we were definitely the first health and fitness company of any kind to ask people to subscribe to our content.
At the time that we switched to a subscription model, there were porn sites and the New York Times who were asking you to pay to watch content. We got on the wagon because we decided to do subscription over advertising because our feeling was that we wanted people to be able to enjoy our content uninterrupted that people liked it so much that they'd be willing to pay that would make it a very affordable price. We wanted to just create a way that we could pay ourselves to make this content and or just pay for the expenses breakeven. Also, we wanted to continue to be excited about making the content and after making all this content for free at some point we're like, “I either need to get paid doing this or stop doing it.” We switch to a subscription model and we were definitely the first in the health and fitness space to even consider that and now everybody does it.
We were first in that and we got a little bit of blowback in the beginning in terms of switching to a subscription model but what I thought was cool was the vast majority of our fans and followers were like, “Yes, this is awesome. You guys totally should get paid for this. This is worth it.” I'm happy to pay $9.99. That was good because we had that moment where we pressed the button that turned on our live subscription site. We all sat there with our fists clenched waiting to see what their reaction would be from the world because no one else was doing that in our space. Now everybody has a subscription model. Our revenue model is the vast majority of our revenue is subscriptions. We also teach live and online courses. That's also part of our business model. We sell books and gear and t-shirts as well. It's those three revenue streams.
Dustin
Do you have an exit in mind or is this like if you get an offer, you're just building it because it's your passion?
Juliet
We are 100% building it because it's our passion. Although Kelly and I heard this quote that you're not an entrepreneur until you sell a business, that you only become an entrepreneur once you've had a business and sell it. We thought maybe we're not entrepreneurs. We did not start the business to build it and sell it. That was never part of our intention. It's certainly not part of our mind frame and we are still loving it. We're into it. We are spending our time and energy figuring out how we can grow and better serve our audience. We definitely are not looking to sell.
Dustin
I love this slogan that you have, “Sitting is the new smoking.” It's from your book, Deskbound. For those that aren't familiar, will you get them up to speed on this whole conversation of the standing desk and the benefits of standing versus sitting all day behind a desk?
Juliet
I will start by saying for accuracy purposes that we did not coin the phrase, “Sitting is the new smoking.” That was a physician out of the Mayo Clinic who was one of the first people to start to do research on sitting versus standing. Before I start, I want to dispel some of the myths and rumors because here's how it goes in the standing desks/sitting versus not sitting world. There'll be a ton of research and data that says we're all sitting too much. Then there'll be an article on Vox and says standing is bad for you and that everyone's like, “Sitting is good, standing is bad.” There's always this back and forth with this issue and in the media. I would like to say that just at the outset of this that there are significantly more information and data showing that standing especially if you do it the right way at work is probably ultimately better for you than sitting all day. That's not to say that people certainly can't poke holes in certain parts of standing desks.
One of the biggest issues is that if you stand like a statue all day at your standing desk for eight hours, then standing probably is bad for you. Let me tell you why we are fans of the standing desk. First of all, we don't even consider them standing desks. What we call them now is a standing/moving desk. The reason we do that is the goal of a standing desk is not to stand. The goal of the standing desk is to create what we call the movement rich environment for yourself at work. Sitting is a dead-end position. While you're sitting, you can either slouch or slouch further but you're just stuck sitting. The beauty of being in a standing position is you can perch on a stool. You can stand with one foot with the other foot up. You can lean on your standing desk. You can constantly be achieving different positions all day, which is what the goal of a standing desk is. If anybody is even considering switching to a standing desk, the goal is not to stand. The goal is to add as much movement into your day as possible. That's what we're missing as human beings are movement.
The goal is not to stand like a statue. If people reframe this in their mind that ultimately the goal is to add more movement into our day and certainly there are other ways to do it besides a standing desk. If you're someone who is never going to get a standing desk, by all means, set an alarm for yourself and get up and walk around for five minutes every twenty minutes. For me, I don't want to get focused and be able to stand at my desk for three hours and work on a single project so it's not great for me to be up down up down and constantly be leaving my computer. The goal is not to stand. The goal is to move more. One of the big failures we've done in the health and fitness world is we've done a great job of telling everybody that they need to exercise. Everybody knows this. In fact, I saw this amazing diagram, it was two-line drawings going up a graph. It was the increase in gym memberships from the ‘80s to today and that number's been going up and up on this graph but simultaneously almost following the line perfectly so has our level of overweight and obesity.
People have gotten the message and they're like, “We don't exercise enough. I'm going to join a gym.” That’s 100% not doing anything to combat the continually increasing rates of overweight and obesity in our country. We’ve made a giant mistake in the health and fitness world as we've told people “Join a gym.” Whether it’s the CrossFit gym or the Orangetheory or the 24 Hour Fitness, we’re like, “Pop into the gym for an hour before work. Check the box. You are going to be a healthy and fit person because you've gone into the gym for an hour,” and then we told them, “Go sit at your desk for twelve hours and then sit in your car to and from work and then sit at the dinner table and then sit and watch Game of Thrones for another two hours.” This is a giant problem that I believe we're responsible for in the health and fitness industry. We didn't tell people it's great that you exercise now but we're human beings. We need to be moving around a lot during the day in addition to exercising. I'm not saying formal exercise is not important. It is, but I'm saying that we've made a big mistake in not creating ways and telling people how valuable movement is.
To us, that's why the standing desk is so important and so revolutionary. First of all, it's a simple fix. It's a piece of furniture. Second of all, it creates an environment where you can be constantly moving, fidgeting, making these micro-movements all day long. There's all this good research to show that people can think more clearly and they can collaborate better in groups. That there's all this mental side benefit of standing at work that is starting to be very well studied and well understood. Here's one piece of research I will quote for you which was done by a guy named Dr. Mark Benden out of Texas saying, “Productivity is something that's very hard to measure in most businesses.” This is why it's something that's hard to study. They found out that one of the few places that you can measure productivity is in telemarketing. It's either did you sell something or did you not sell something and every single thing is tracked.
Mark Benden and his researchers went into this company and they converted half of the telemarketers to standing desks and left the other half of them sitting. The standing desk people converted so many more sales that it was upwards of $40 million of additional revenue for their company in sales done by the people standing at standing desks. As an employer, I’m like, “I want my people standing because their brains are working better when they're standing.” To me, that's a big one. If we're looking to help our employees be more productive and think better and if it happens to have the side benefit of creating an environment where they can move a little bit more and be slightly healthier physically, awesome. It's a worthwhile investment.
Dustin
Everyone in our office has a standing desk here. We're big fans of it. That's the clincher right there. I 100% agree with you when it comes to sale. You either sold something or you didn’t.
Juliet
It's the one place to measure and I will say one word of caution though for anyone who's listening to this and was like, “I'm going to get a standing desk. I'm finally convinced or whatever,” and we do talk about this in our book, Deskbound. Switching from sitting especially if you've been doing it for many years of your life to standing is the equivalent of running a marathon. If you were going to run a marathon you would probably go online and find a super special marathon training program that you would follow meticulously because you didn't want to crush yourself in the actual marathon. You wanted to be fully ready and prepared.
People need to think about switching to a standing desk in the same way. You need to put yourself on a shaping gradient so to speak because what happens is people often get a standing, they're super pumped. They're like, “Yes, standing.” They go from sitting for ten hours in the office to standing for ten hours and then they're crippled. Their lower back hurts the bottom of their feet hurt and they press the button on their standing desk back to sitting and they never stand up again. If you're someone who wants to switch your standing desk, that's awesome. On your first day, stand for twenty minutes and then sit for the rest of the day. On your second day stand for 30 minutes and then sit for the rest the day because you want to create an environment where you can be successful at standing at your standing desk. If you think about switching from sitting to standing is running a marathon, you need to prepare and train for it. You need to build up some core strength to be able to stand without your low back hurting for example.
Dustin
If that’s for you, do that. I just feel like that's a disclaimer and I want to give the other side. Just do it. I did a cold turkey. I was sore, but I loved it because I knew I was getting healthy. It's not that bad.
Juliet
I was exactly like you. I became convinced overnight that this was the way and I went cold turkey. Definitely, the bottom of my feet hurt the first couple of days and I noticed that I needed to go to bed at 8:30 because I was exhausted. I definitely could tell that I could see there was a transition but if you're someone who does not think like you and I, take your time getting used to it.
Dustin
You’re very big into charities. You’ve got Standup Kids, you did GirlVentures and Liquid in the past. Can you briefly share a little bit about the causes that you've been a part of and why?
Juliet
They seem to all relate to kids. I will say that I have a passion for helping kids and especially kids’ health and fitness that's always been my motivation and that was true before I even had my own kids. There was a point before I went to law school when I thought I might go into doing some work with kids. I did some substitute teaching and learned that teaching was not for me, but I definitely have always had a passion for helping kids. I credit my mother for being someone who instilled in me that there is way more to life than making money and creating some health and fitness app. Especially because of the level of education that I've been privileged enough to receive in my life. It's an obligation for me to participate in my bigger community so this was drilled into me as a child by my mother and I am now drilling that into my kids who are being raised with even more privilege than I. It was drilled into me that I needed to be part of my community and in participatory way.
Kelly and I, when we were still loosely connected to the whitewater world, started a camp for kids with HIV and AIDS in 2001. It was a weeklong whitewater kayaking school and camp with all kids most of whom had literally never swum before seeing a river or been outside of a city all diagnosed with HIV and or full-blown AIDS. That camp ended for the best possible reason, which was when we first started the camp in 2001, the kids who came were super sick. We had a doctor on our staff who would come to all the camps and was there 24 hours a day to help the kids with their medication and so forth. We have to wake the kids up all night long to give them medication much of which made them feel physically ill and terrible because it was such a heavy gnarly medication. A couple of things happened in the kids’ AIDS HIV space. Number one, over the six-year period that we ran Liquid, the mother to child transmission went to below 1%. First of all, fewer and fewer kids are getting HIV which was amazing and then two, the medications for HIV became so good. We started off with kids who were sick and then just a mere six years into running this camp, the kids were showing up looking completely healthy normal kids. You would never know they had HIV. We closed the camp because we were having trouble finding enough kids to attend, which was the greatest reason to have to close the camp.
We ended Liquid Camp and then by this point I was in the city and I fell in love with an organization called GirlVentures which was founded by these two women who were teachers and also outdoor enthusiasts. They saw that by teaching both 5th grade and then moving up to 8th grade they witnessed that girls most of whom were confident and ready to raise their hand and participate in class and didn't feel bad about their bodies and were insecure went from fifth to eight grade to be totally different people. Kids who were vibrant and raising their hands in class and willing to share their opinions went down to kids who wouldn't raise their hands and were insecure and seemed to have lost a level of confidence in that pre-teen early teen phase. Their vision was that they would take girls on outdoor adventures with super awesome women leaders and try to stave off that shift from confidence to no confidence. That appealed to me because of my own experience as a river guide and loving being outdoors myself that's where I get all my joy and happiness is in nature. I thought this is totally a mission I can get behind. I'm super into supporting kids I'm super into supporting girls and women. I was on the board of directors of GirlVentures for five years including being the vice president of the board.
Kelly and I in 2013 started Standup Kids and we now have about 100,000 kids nationwide at standing desks at school. This could be a whole hour-long podcast because the situation in kids’ health is very grim right now. We heard the statistic that the researchers at Mayo Clinic and Harvard are predicting that kids ages two to eighteen today 60% of them will be obese by the time they're 35. We had a slight leveling off of the bad news on childhood obesity at some point during the Obama administration when Michelle Obama was working hard. They were able to level the childhood obesity rates but they're back on an upward trajectory again. Certainly, there's a lot of work to be done and we have set up a culture in an environment that's hard for kids to be healthy in and we do not think standing desks of school are the catch-all final thing that will fix it all. We think creating a movement rich environment and movement options for kids at school is part of the solution and it's an elegant and simple solution because it is literally a piece of furniture.
A lot of kids’ programs require tons of human involvement. You're going to do before school or athletic program for kids you to have someone coaching it. You have to have a live human there. A standing desk is literally furniture switched. Kids intuitively understand how to use it. The teachers like it because their kids pay better attention and the furniture lasts for twenty years. What we like about it is it’s simple and elegant. We're not unrealistic that that doesn't also have to be combined with exercising and nutrition and a whole host of other things to combat this epidemic of ill health in kids, but we believe it's a one cool part of the puzzle.
Dustin
The single most valuable experience as a river guide and as an entrepreneur. What is it?
Juliet
It wasn't one thing but at a very young age of eighteen, I was thrust into this environment where I had to be super responsible for people. It may sound I'm overstating it, but I started pretty early on leading and guiding trips on Class four and five rivers which are full on and you're responsible for people's lives. There's a big maturing element have I be responsible for other people. There are some other soft skills when you interact with people you need to learn how to talk to anybody. On any given day I could have a bunch of construction workers who will ask me if it was okay to call me queen all day or I could be with CEOs from Google on any given day. It’s the ability to talk to anyone from any walk of life because you don't know who you are going to get. You show up on the beach to get in your raft and a group of six people gets in your boat and you've got to be able to talk to that. Being able to talk to people from all walks of life is a skill that everybody doesn't have so I credit my ability to operate in diverse communities with being able to speak to anyone. You do a lot of public speaking. As a river guide, you have to teach people how to get down the river and give safety talks and tell people what to expect and where to be and how to be there, and so you learn how to speak in front of groups.
The logistics of a five-day river trip are a lot. At a young age, I had to see the big picture. I had to think about other people. I had the plan logistics. I had to make sure people had food. I had to make sure people showed up in the right location and that we didn't kill people in the river. There was just a ton of responsibility that happened with that job that leveled me up in maturity. By the time I was nineteen years old, I worked for this great guy named Bill McGinnis. He had this amazing ability and we make fun of him for it but he would just walk up to us sometimes and put his arm on my shoulder looked me in the eye and he'd be like, “I am grateful for you. Thank you for what you are doing.” I don't know if he was just manipulating us because we're all making $55 a day or whatever. He meant genuinely and honestly but I learned from him that you don't need to give people big gifts. You need to pay people what they're worth and a living wage but also looking people in the eye that works for you and acknowledging them that goes a long way. Working as a river guide taught me how to be an adult and taught me how to be a professional and taught me how to communicate with all kinds of people, no matter where they came from.
Dustin
For folks that are as excited as I am about you, how can they keep up with you? Where can they follow you online and keep up with what you’re up to?
Juliet
I am personally on Instagram, @JulietStarrett and then also we are on all the social channels, @MobilityWOD. Our Instagram for the gym is, @SFCF. Those are all the places you can find us and MobilityWOD.com and SanFranciscoCrossFit.com.
Dustin
Thank you so much. I truly appreciated having you on the show and share your wisdom and life experiences. Thanks again.
Juliet
Thanks for having me.
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