They say working on a marriage falls very close to maintaining a business partnership. With Lisa and Tom Bilyeu, this literally became the case. For both film school graduates, the struggle to find a business that collides with their passions led them to success—and the relationship they built on the way is captivating.
1. On Different Upbringings
The couple revealed being a bit of a mess when they were younger. However, they did not let anything stop them from pursuing their dreams and eventually building the second fastest-growing company in the world, refusing to be boxed in by the beliefs and opinions of the people they grew up with.
Erik: I would love to circle all the way back to 4 years old. How did your lives start?
Tom: When I was 4, I was in Tacoma, Washington. We were the last stop before the rural part of the city. I was not the guy voted most to likely succeed. I was profoundly lazy as a kid and the thing that I found that’s hard to identify is drive. I had ambition. I knew I wanted to be successful but I didn’t have the drive when I was younger. That’s something I really had to develop.
Lisa: I grew up in London, which is a bustling metropolis, very different to him. I was brought up in a traditional Greek family. Looking back, my entire childhood I was shaped into getting married. Because of that, I always thought I was going to grow up and get married. I had this internal crazy ambition, though. I wanted to move to America to make movies. My father kept saying no when I asked for permission but eventually he said, “to be honest, you’re just going to be a housewife and a stay-at-home mom anyway so study whatever you like.”
Erik: So did you go to film school in the UK?
Lisa: I went to a film school in the UK and finished my degree. After graduating, my friend handed me a brochure about this film school in Los Angeles and I went back to my dad and persuaded him. He gave me the money and I came to America. Day one, I walked into my classroom and Tom turned out to be my teacher. That’s how we met.
Erik: So how did you get there, Tom? What was the path that took you to teaching in film school?
Tom: One day, my dad comes home and says, “Hey, I just talked to a friend, and the best film school in the world is USC.” I got to that school and graduated but had no idea how to break into the industry. Somebody told me that there’s this film school called New York Film Academy and they need TAs so I started as a TA and ended up being a full-time employee.
Lisa and I got into a relationship and eventually got married. After the wedding Lisa became a TA at the New York Film Academy while I was teaching there and running the office, when I was about 24 years old.
2. On How Passion Plays a Huge Role in a Business
Even as money has proven to be one of the most crucial parts of running a business, passion weighs about the same. Realizing this, Tom and his business partners stopped thinking about money and started a passion project: Quest Nutrition.
Tom: We stopped putting money as our No. 1 priority. We put value into creation and, all of a sudden, we made a company that’s a thousand times bigger than our previous company.
Erik: How did you come to the nutrition field?
Tom: Behind the scenes, the three of us were obsessed with health and fitness and one of my partners was just insane in terms of research and understanding biology and nutrition.
Erik: When did you realize you had stumbled upon something massive?
Tom: It was when everything along the way was just clicking. Probably about 18 months in, the business was doubling month over month for two to three years.
3. On Quest Nutrition’s Growth and the Birth of Impact Theory
As the business grew exponentially, Lisa, a stay-at-home wife for eight years, suddenly had to be the head of shipping, handling millions of protein bars, among the company’s other healthy snack products.
Lisa: I didn’t expect that the company was going to grow 57,000%. Before I knew it, within two years, I had a 10,000-square-foot shipping department, 40 employees under me, most of them felons, and we were shipping out $80 million of inventory.
Tom: We were in Quest Nutrition for seven years and then we sold the company. Lisa and I took money from that. We took the studio that we had built inside Quest and spun it into a standalone company that’s now Impact Theory.
We wanted to create a studio where, when people hear or see our name, they would already have an idea what it is. For us, it’s about empowerment and giving people a growth mindset.
4. On Business Partnerships and Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Building Impact Theory as partners sparked different issues that needed to be discussed to avoid causing unnecessary conflict to the spouses’ business partnership and their marriage. Luckily, their relationship had a foundation of trust and mutual respect so that, even amid conflict, they can still voice their sometimes clashing ideas.
Tom: I know who she is and we’ve been together for 20 years. I needed her to know that we are equals and that we bring equal value to this. However, we agreed that if we ever found ourselves in an irresolvable dispute about an idea in the company, then it will always be my idea that we go with.
The goal is to have this friction between the two of you that’s navigated in a healthy way and we know how to navigate since we respect each other tremendously.
Erik: What’s next for you? Where do you want to take this?
Tom: We have two really big initiatives outside of what people know us for: Impact Theory University and the fiction side. We have two projects out right now on Webtoon that are doing very well. We’re working with LBI to create scripted and unscripted content.
Erik: What would be your advice to other people who want to pursue their dreams?
Tom: You have to realize that you don’t need to be exceptional. You just need to be an average human and put in that work and energy. The only belief that matters is putting that time and energy into gaining a skill and you will actually get better at that thing.
If you choose a skill that the world values, and that matters to you, you’re going to love your life. You may not choose a path that has any sort of significant financial outcome, but honestly, that doesn’t matter. The punchline of life is not money. It’s not success or fame. It’s a hundred percent how you feel about yourself when you’re by yourself. It’s a gain of fulfillment.
Lisa: I think where people misstep is that they just say they can’t do something instead of saying that they choose not to. When you know what to do and put in an insane amount of effort, you can get to whatever you thought you can’t get to.
Erik Huberman is the Founder & CEO of Hawke Media, a full-service Outsourced CMO based in Santa Monica, CA that launched in 2014 and has been valued at $60 million. Read more of Erik Huberman’s Thought Leadership here.
Featured Image credit to Getty Images.