Peter Tauntonknown as a serial entrepreneur and founder of snap fitnesscould be a stock worth watching — not for updates on franchising, but more for market indicators that represent business opportunities for the next generation.
The data illustrate Business license applications have continued at a rapid pace since the outbreak of Covid-19. While new businesses spring up across the country, undergraduate enrollment numbers remain flat lukewarm. LinkedIn hailed this time as “Entrepreneurial renaissance‘, suggesting that young professionals and students have a desire to acquire entrepreneurial skills through education.
Does the education sector play an active role in this story? Currently, the sector is encountering variables such as a credit-to-salary mismatch, which has many experts questioning whether pre-existing, multi-generational career paths need to be scrapped for updated offerings that better match economic drivers. The question arises: how can an individual or sector seek direction to better navigate the changing realities of a gig economy?
Lead by example
Taunton has been, and continues to be, extremely successful in every aspect of his entrepreneurial endeavors.
To learn the story behind Taunton’s success and better understand his less-conventional journey, this reporter decided to embark on a path that has historically been less traveled but may be positioned to be an important thoroughfare for generations of students who are inspired to continue their pursuits on their own terms.
Taunton grew up in a rural Minnesota town where he and his twin brother represented the end of seven siblings. The environment and family dynamics marked the beginning of his understanding of entrepreneurship. “My father owned a grocery store and I had a front row seat to see what real entrepreneurship looked like. He drove the boat with seven screaming kids and a shop running.”
There was a spillover effect in Taunton’s life as he watched his father wake up early for work every day except Sunday, which he designated as church and family day. “My father was a hardworking guy and that says a lot about his character. For all the success I’ve had in life, I owe a lot of it to my dad just by observing and applying the lessons learned.”
Taunton went to school in a two-room schoolhouse and still claims to have that small-town boy’s DNA in his veins. “I’m the same person. It’s not about the money. I’ve pulled nine figures from companies I’ve owned, but I’m not sitting here today doing what I do for the money. I love what I do and believe that work can be fun,” he says.
Grit is important to Taunton, as described in his book, Impossible Hill. For him, it’s about challenging yourself, believing in it, and realizing that failure is part of the game—traits that are essential for any aspiring entrepreneur.
Unlike some pundits who tout predictable, empty advice, Taunton is a living, breathing example of someone breaking the mold. “I was the youngest of seven, went to school in a two room schoolhouse, had ADD off the charts and dropped out of college.
If I was a stock, you would have shorted me,” laughs Taunton.
Taunton was naturally shy at a young age and found confidence through the sport of racquetball. By 18 he was touring professionally and was sponsored by one of the largest racquetball manufacturers in the world.
He developed confidence on the pitch and earned it with every racquet shot. “That’s why I’m such a strong advocate for competition,” says Taunton. “Whether you win or lose, it’s the discipline and accountability you need to do everything at a high level. It transitions well from sport to business.”
Competing among employers for talent appears to be the sport of reckoning for companies struggling to understand the needs of multiple generations locked in a struggle for independence and group-specific opportunity.
Data shows the way
Labor force data continues to flow into the market, revealing tensions between the wants and needs of talent and the private sector. A not-so-subtle data point highlights the challenge employers face as US workers, particularly those between the United States aged 20 to 34 yearsleave their jobs voluntarily.
Why exactly are younger professionals leaving their traditional jobs? Could it be that they are looking for options that better suit their desires and self-worth? Understanding motivations can boil down to looking at people’s makeup and history to uncover the reality of their prospects.
“My mother had seven children in ten years. Being the youngest with my twin brother made me naturally scrappy,” recalls Taunton. There was always competition in his household, and getting off the school bus was a daily race up a long driveway to get the food his mother made or brought home from his father’s store.
“I remember my mom throwing a sliced frozen pizza on the table and it was like a pack of hyenas with all the kids. You would try like hell to get your first one down quickly, which always burned your mouth because of the hot cheese. The hope was that you might get two if you were lucky. It was a competitive dinner table,” he adds.
While a person’s story plays a crucial role in shaping their drives and personal inclinations toward educational and career goals, outside influences in the media can also contribute to the equation.
According to Taunton, social media often renders the landscape of doing it in business a fake reality. The success-supporting narrative is visually distorted. “90% of that isn’t true, people who fan out $100 are in front of jets they don’t own, they just make it look like. It couldn’t be further from the truth,” adds Taunton.
The imagery and discourse can discourage well-meaning individuals from giving themselves a chance. It can destroy the spirit of those who are leaning in, staying home, saving money and hoping to one day have their own business. “The road to success is fraught with trial and error, failure, time, capital, and learning. All of these things are part of becoming a successful entrepreneur.”
Education in Entrepreneurship
Calling yourself an “entrepreneur” is not something you take for granted, explains Taunton. It takes effort, time, capital and results. He finds getting an entrepreneurship degree a bit confusing, believing instead that hands-on experience serves as a better classroom.
“An entrepreneur is someone who took a risk,” says Taunton. “They saved, invested and in some cases lost capital. Anyone who risks capital is an entrepreneur. You can’t sit on the sidelines, never have invested in anything and call yourself an entrepreneur.”
Although Taunton literally folded his textbook and abandoned standard education before earning a degree, he did so because he realized that incurring debt through student loans did not meet his expectations as a businessman. Taunton believes that the education system is well designed for certain careers, but for those who want to pursue entrepreneurship, he says simple economics is what matters most.
“If you want to be an entrepreneur, the most important thing is to understand the basics of supply and demand. It’s good to understand how balance sheets and income statements work and how to basically block and tackle cash flow,” he adds. Then, as he explains, you can set yourself up for success and build a business.
Twenty years before founding Snap Fitness through trial and error of build and save, he used 10% of $3 million to jump start the company with a $300,000 investment. With no need to raise capital, he used bootstrap methods and continued growth to expand into numerous ventures, including his new açaí bowl company called Açaí Nautical Shells.
Side hustles formed during Covid-19 have become the norm and prospective employees are now remotely controlled where achievement and achievement are the key attributes. “Who cares if your employees do something at 9 a.m. or 9 p.m.,” he says.
Talent is always important, but Taunton is looking for people with grit, not titles. “Try to attract people who are passionate about you and see the vision. The first few people you hire have to be utilities.”
Once Taunton recognizes that a company will be worth something, employees are given equity with the expectation of loyalty that stretches for years. “Half the people I bring my next brand to market with are people who have worked with me for years on various ventures. I would take her anywhere to fight with me,” he says.
Old world meets new world
The private sector seems open to new ways of integrating a new generation of American workers through formal degrees, certifications, apprenticeships, badges and life experiences.
Peter Taunton’s journey may have officially begun the day he closed his college textbook for the last time. His confidence certainly stems from a practical courage inherited from countless driveway sprints in small-town Minnesota. Current students’ success appears to derive from independent and critical thinking skills that can be adapted and adapted to the needs of an ever-changing American workplace.
Taunton might suggest that the incoming class of entrepreneurs snag the next slice of pizza before it’s gone.
The interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.