The Art of the Side Hustle
Taproom feat. Matt Carmona
Welcome to Taproom, where I introduce you to some of the wonderful humans I've gotten to know over the years. I aim to share their stories and a lesson or insight that leads you to interesting explorations of your own.
My Taproom guest this week is Matt Carmona. Matt is my wife’s friend and business school classmate from Stanford. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him over the last few years. While gainfully employed by the company formerly known as Facebook, he has also seen two of his interests - fitness and media - collide. This unique opportunity has helped him master the art of the side hustle. He has an audience across TikTok and Instagram as a fitness model and consultant; he writes a newsletter focused on fitness, technology, and strategy; advises a Brooklyn-based boutique gym; and also happens to be the most physically fit person I know in real life.
In this interview we cover:
🔀 The intersection of media and fitness
🏋🏼♂️ The future of fitness technology and VR workouts
📈 Lessons learned and tips on how to build a thriving side hustle
Let’s jump in!
What’s your story?
The story that I tell myself: First-generation college graduate from Texas who, after experiencing culture shock in the Northeast, single-mindedly pursued conventional markers of success (e.g., Wall Street, business school, etc.)
While I haven’t fully left this more traditional path—I’m still at Big Tech—I have since begun to devote more time to exploring opportunities around fitness. Ultimately, my goal is to find a way to make fitness-centric media (e.g., AR/VR, connected hardware, etc.) a central part of my professional life.
You’ve worked in finance, big tech, and media. Looking back, how has that varied industry expertise helped you get to where you are now?
My current job sits at the intersection of all three! I’m in a Business Development role at a Big Tech company. My stakeholders? Global media companies. So, that’s how my prior experience has directly manifested itself in my current role.
If I take this question a step further, then I would argue that my prior experience continues to play an active role in my professional life. In my mind, all business development roles are really “incentive alignment” jobs. Incentive alignment jobs require us to pinpoint where and how our incentives—our team’s, our organization’s, and/or our company’s—align with those of our relevant stakeholders. Once identified, we then operationalize that alignment. My varied industry experience has exposed me to a range of potential incentives (financial, strategic, operational, organizational, etc.) that I can—and do—draw upon every day.
My fitness side hustle also draws heavily from these experiences. When I write about the fitness industry, I’m actually writing about the media industry. I see similar business models and almost identical strategic challenges. The only difference is the content. Instead of dealing with sports, news, and entertainment, I’m dealing with barbells and HIIT.
Have you always been a gym rat? Or has the focus on physical fitness come later on in life?
When my twin brother and I were adolescents, my father purchased a home gym. At first, my father had to force me to lift weights. I was much weaker than my brother and I did not enjoy the hour-long reminders of that fact when we would lift together! Eventually, the positive feedback loop hooked me.
In hindsight, weightlifting has always been a natural fit for my personality. I am routine-oriented and I am comfortable making short-term tradeoffs (i.e., time, diet, etc.) in pursuit of long-term goals. And though it may surprise people, I can maintain my physique without going to the gym more than ~3x a week!
How do you balance your day job and your side hustle? How much time do you spend creating content for your audience?
Time was never an issue. An inability to fully commit was. Balancing became much easier when I stopped worrying about what my colleagues would think of me!
That said, I batch my content creation. My goal is to minimize the amount of time that I spend creating. So I’ll hire a photographer for a few hours, shoot a few looks, and then post that content over the next few months. Shooting is actually the easy part. The 1-2 months preceding the shoot—when I’m leaning out—is actually the hard part. That’s when I have to pay close attention to my diet and workout regimen.
Also, it’s worth acknowledging that I’m playing a different game than most content creators. I’m not playing the attention game; I’m not trying to maximize my follower count or sell something. I’m trying to build more influence within the industry. That means that I can post less frequently and, ergo, spend less time creating and pushing content. And given my goals, I should probably spend more time writing! My articles travel better than my photos and, as an ideas person, I value my written work more than my visual work.
You’ve posted both professionally shot content (images from photoshoots, workouts etc) and personally shot content (Insta reels etc.) What seems to resonate more with your audience?
I view my “audience” as two distinct segments: those who follow me and those who search for me.
The professional content is mostly for the latter audience. They provide proof points—in grid form—for industry professionals or those who stumble upon my articles. They credibly signal that 1) fitness is more than just a hobby, 2) I empathize with the “creator” experience, and 3) I have mastered the basics (e.g., training, diet, etc.)
My followers—mostly friends, family, and colleagues—tend to engage with my Stories, which I treat as my pseudo-Twitter feed. I get very little post engagement from this audience! My assumption is that they’re supportive, but feel awkward about engaging with my shirtless photos. Can’t blame them!
The last few years have seen an explosion in fitness tech, thanks in no small part to COVID. As the world (and gyms) starts to open up, what technology has lasting power vs what was just a fad?
I suspect that all the technologies will stick around. The question that I’m asking is, “What jobs were these technologies hired to do? And do those needs still exist?”
For example, I purchased a Peloton bike when gyms closed. Peloton acted as a substitute for my gym. When gyms re-opened, I no longer needed a gym substitute. As a result, I no longer have my bike. In contrast, a lot of people purchased bikes for convenience. It’s much easier to squeeze in a workout when your bike is in the next room, not in a SoulCycle studio. So same solution, different—and more persistent—problem. I assume that those buyers will value that convenience even when COVID is in the rearview mirror. As a result, they’ll keep their bikes.
The challenge for industry players? Knowing which segments have driven—and will drive— their businesses forward.
Does Peloton rebound?
As a vertically-integrated connected hardware company? No.
As a standalone, premium SVOD service? Absolutely.
When Peloton de-emphasizes vertical integration, the company will have a lot more strategic flexibility. Imagine having the Peloton app pre-loaded across all major OEM devices. Imagine accessing Peloton classes through your commercial gym. Imagine the new, non-spin and tread modalities that Peloton could own. There’s so much untapped opportunity around the subscription media business. Unfortunately, it’s hard to execute against these opportunities when Peloton hardware is the company’s preferred distribution channel.
You recently led VR workouts for your colleagues at Meta. Do you think over time we’ll be working out in VR with our avatars showing gains along with our physical selves? Will we have natty vs. enhanced avatars?
I hope not! VR has the potential to be the most inclusive and accessible medium for fitness.
Think about how most people experience fitness today. Gym walls are lined with mirrors and almost every class is taught by someone with an aspirational physique. These real world experiences center our physical bodies; they reinforce the idea that “fitness” is how we look. That’s a pretty distressing message, particularly for those who have complicated relationships with their bodies or those who feel self-conscious when they’re surrounded by relatively more fit people.
VR liberates us from this outdated idea of fitness. VR places us on an equal (digital) footing. No one knows—or cares about—what we really look like. Want bigger biceps? Just add a few pixels. And because anyone can customize their avatars, these bodily features lose all signaling power. Aesthetics matter much less. In practice, then, VR de-centers our bodies and centers movement. What a refreshing change!
What has your side hustle taught you?
I’ll speak to two lessons, one professional and one personal.
Professional: I have more empathy for industry professionals and a better understanding of the media ecosystem. My side hustle has covered a lot of ground within the past few years. I have explored Instagram via a fitness test account, briefly hosted an in-person class, created short-form videos for TikTok, recorded podcasts with a former colleague, started a Substack, and led a few VR workouts. These first-hand experiences have enabled me to better empathize with fitness professionals and creators’ day-to-day experiences. And that empathy has made me a better media professional. That empathy has contributed to a more nuanced understanding of how different platforms can—and should—work together to drive full-funnel commercial outcomes.
Personal: As a first-generation college grad, I have a complicated relationship with credentialism. My credentials enabled me to unlock and access opportunities that my parents could only dream of. As a result, I have learned to ascribe disproportionate value to credentials—degrees, brand-name firms, etc. That said, my side hustle has taught me that I don’t need credentials to unlock most opportunities. The mere act of hustling—of reaching out, identifying pain points, and delivering value—almost always surfaces new possibilities. In fact, that hustle has unlocked virtually every fitness experience that I’ve had to date. My credentials, aside from my training certification, rarely come up. In short, my side hustle has shown me the limits of credentialism.
Advice for those of us who might want to explore a side hustle?
Start, then iterate. The first few things that you do—the content that you create, the articles that you write, the events that you host—are going to be terrible. That’s just how it is. So, get over your ego and ship that first (imperfect) product. After you’ve shipped, diagnose why your product worked or didn’t work. Then try again. Then again. Then again. Over time, you’ll realize that all great products are simply bad products that have successfully evolved.
And secondly, run your own race. Understand why you’re exploring a new path and what you want to get out of it. This recommendation also means ignoring those who might have opinions about what you’re doing. My process has taught me that most people respond to outcomes, not intentions. When you’re starting out and don’t have clear wins, people are less charitable; they may question your decision or even make light of it. But when you get traction and can point to a few wins, they almost always hop on the bandwagon. Said differently, success—or the perception of success—is the fine line separating others’ ridicule from their envy. (This last point sounds dark, but it’s really just an observation about the human desire to fit in!)
How much do you stick to your workout script vs. mix it up?
As a certified trainer, I know that I should mix it up more than I do. I will always try to bench, squat, and deadlift. I try to mix up my secondary lifts (i.e., everything except those three) every 3 months. Most trainers will recommend switching up workouts every 6-8 weeks.
What’s your favorite muscle group to work out?
I’m happiest after leg days. I feel most dialed into my workouts on chest days.
I hope you enjoyed this episode of Taproom! For more from Matt and all things fitness, media, and side hustles you can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, and subscribe to his newsletter. And if you enjoyed this week’s issue, why not click the button below and share it with someone else!
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