Brace yourself for the most inspiring episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite thus far. In fact, our guest Coss Marte, had us choking back tears. His story begins a little over a decade ago, when he kick started his own enterprise as a teenager in front of a New York City bodega. By age 19, Marte’s business was raking in over $2 million dollars a year. He ran into trouble shortly thereafter, and in less than ten years he was scrubbing toilets at a reconstructed hotel to pay his rent.
The reason for Marte’s struggles is simple: his business was the business of selling drugs. He was incarcerated at 23 on charges related to peddling drugs, and spent seven years in prison.
Marte, now 31, is a free man and an up-and-coming marketing phenom. Upon his release from prison, he founded ConBody—a prison style fitness program where students work out with minimal equipment. Thanks to Marte’s marketing guts, ConBody is now one of the fastest growing fitness programs in NYC. To be frank, the young entrepreneur probably knows more about advertising than most CMOs. [Note: Drew was first introduced to Coss Marte at this year’s PSFK conference, a must attend event for any renegade thinker.]
You can listen to Marte share his inspiring story on the Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast episode embedded above.
As you might expect, the seedlings of ConBody—which is short for “convict body”—came while Marte was incarcerated. “I got my first medical examination and was told that I could die in prison because of my health issues,” he says. “As soon as they told me this, I went back to my cell and I started doing lunges, and any type of exercise I probably knew.” Marte lost 70 pounds in six months after customizing his own exercise routine. Not long afterwards, he helped over 20 inmates lose over a thousand pounds combined.
Having inspired others to make positive lifestyle changes, Marte started thinking about his past—and his future. “I started realizing that I was creating a web of destruction,” he says, “and for the first time I started praying and asking God, ‘How can I give back?’ And that’s when ConBody was born.” Marte mapped out a plan for an exercise center while he was in solitary confinement, and then turned those blueprints into action when he was released a year later.
Marte’s bold marketing tactics helped put ConBody on the exercise studio map. He began marketing his business by speaking to women who were doing yoga in public spaces. Simply talking to them about ConBody, Marte managed to steadily build a customer base. “There [have] been times,” he states, “where I stood on the train and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, pay attention.’… I tell my story and I’ll tell about ConBody.” Marte says he continues to share his story about 20 times a day, never underestimating word-of-mouth.
ConBody has boomed since its inception. Upon speaking at a conference, Marte was approached by a woman who offered him the opportunity to open a ConBody location in one of New York City’s most famous luxury department stores, Saks Fifth Avenue. This change in fortune still gives Marte goose bumps. He says, “Every time I go up to the second floor [of Saks], I start smiling because the first thing [I] see on the floor is a mannequin with a ConBody t-shirt on.”
ConBody’s studio atmosphere is no doubt responsible for part of its success. With the intention of motivating participants, Marte designed the studio like a prison. Brick walls and prison bars line the fitness center. Signs that read “five minute showers” and “do the time” line the interior. At ConBody, you’ll find all the same body weight equipment as you would in a prison. This gritty appearance is one of the business’s most popular features, giving members a hardcore workout experience.
Following Marte’s lead, marketers should strive to provide consumers with a similarly exceptional experience. This is the driving force behind ConBody. “If I keep going and I keep delivering a great product,” Marte says, “no matter what I’m going to wake up, I’m going to be okay, and I’m going to live life.” (These show notes were prepared by Jay Tellini.)
Meet the Guest
Coss Marte is a self-made man. Since he was a teenager, Marte has been finding ways to effectively market himself. Unfortunately, those skills got him into trouble at age 23 when he was incarcerated for charges related to selling drugs. Marte spent seven years in prison, where he ultimately decided to make a change for the better—a change for himself, and a change for others. Upon his release, that decision led to ConBody—a fitness program Marte founded to help people get in shape and provide work to other formerly incarcerated individuals. Thanks to Marte’s tremendous marketing talent and little bit of luck, ConBody is now one of the fastest growing fitness programs in New York City.
Marte is an inspirational storyteller who shares his message of perseverance on a daily basis. He doesn’t know what will come next on the horizon, but he’ll be ready to roll with the punches.
What You'll Learn
- Ideas for starting up killer guerilla marketing campaigns.
- How incorporating your passion into your business can lead to prosperity.
- How to tackle unexpected marketing challenges.
- Advice for establishing a clear and effective brand vision.
Quotes from Coss Marte
- As an entrepreneur, you just don't know what's going to happen, what you have to deal with. You don't know what you're going to sign up with. You've just got to roll with the punches.
- I share my story about 20 times a day, and I stop random people and I go up to everyone who I think works out.
- I try to find somebody and train them and duplicate myself, which is impossible. But you do what you can, and you manage and you just set priorities and expectations.
- I was affecting so many people in my life and so many people that I sold drugs to, when I started realizing that I was creating a web of destruction and for the first time I started praying and asking God, "How can I give back?" And there's when ConBody was born.