EP 63 – From Prison to Purpose-Driven Entrepreneur with Joe Buckner
Hey, hey! Welcome back to The Bullpen Sessions! And welcome back to my October series where each week I highlight a different local entrepreneur from my town, Fort Collins, Colorado. Today, we have Mr. Joe Buckner, and I know you’re going to love his story!
His journey really has been a wild one. Joe grew up as one of the only African American kids in a town with very little diversity. In high school, he played football, made the varsity team, and even went on to play a little college ball. A lot of people had NFL hopes for him, but Joe knew that wasn’t the right career for him.
Meanwhile, his daughter was born, and he knew he had to find a way to provide for his family. But as Joe often says, “You can’t aspire to what you don’t see.” He ended up following his cousins into some dangerous and illegal work, and ultimately he was arrested. Joe was at an all-time low, but then his life took a dramatic turn for the better.
Since then, Joe has gone on to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs I know. He’s opened his own gym, sold two more, and he’s currently working with his business partner to start a mobile sneaker shop. This guy is on a serious winning streak! I was even going to have him lead a fitness class for the attendees at my Complete Game Mastermind retreat before I had to cancel it due to COVID-19 — that’s how much I love and respect this guy and the work he does!
I can’t wait to get into the details of Joe’s story. He has so many inspiring nuggets of wisdom, and I know you’re going to come away from this episode with a lot of takeaways. So grab a pen and some paper and get ready to take some notes because you’re in for a fun ride. Let’s go!
Who Is Joe Buckner?
Joe Buckner is the founder and visionary behind Beautifully Savage, a boxing studio in Fort Collins, Colorado. There, he works as one of a staff of coaches leading fitness classes for tight-knit groups or “prides” of people who have come together with a desire and a commitment to support each other on their individual fitness journeys.
Joe was born in Fort Collins, and he’s lived here all his life, but he has always been in the minority. He was born to very young parents who divorced when he was just a year old, and as a result, he was raised by his grandparents until the age of four. Now, Joe’s grandparents are from Mexico, so Joe’s first language is actually Spanish. Picture it: A young, African American boy running around speaking fluent Spanish — he was a minority, to say the least.
Nevertheless, Joe quickly picked up English and succeeded in both school and sports. He lived with his mother until the age of 16, but at that point, she left. Joe was on his own, and he struggled to find his way in the world. He attended a couple of junior colleges, continued to play football, and had a daughter of his own, but then his life took a turn.
Joe worked as a furniture salesman for a while. But eventually, a couple of his cousins introduced him to drug dealing, and suddenly he was on top of the world. He had enough money to pay the bills, keep food on the table, and afford school supplies. All the while, Joe knew that the consequences of his actions would eventually catch up with him, and one day — he remembered the date, January 3, 2003 — he was arrested and charged with a non-violent drug offense. He would have to serve five years. However, then Joe’s life took another turn — this one for the better.
Instead of serving jail time, Joe had the opportunity to participate in a military-style boot camp, and the experience totally transformed his life.
“I thought, ‘This is my chance to fix myself.’ And really my mentality was, … ‘How many 30-year-olds get [a] hiatus from their life to just get better? No work, no bills, no real responsibilities … other than becoming a better man every day.” – Joe Buckner
Something about military life just clicked with Joe, and he found himself thriving more than ever. He grew so much throughout the experience, and he went on to be one of 14 graduates of the program (out of 42 admitted). And once he was free, he had the mindset and tools he needed to launch his incredibly successful business career. He worked multiple part-time jobs for a while to save up the money — working all hours of the night — but eventually, his hard work and dedication led him to where he is today.
Joe has totally turned his life around. Today, he has three beautiful kids, all of whom have successful businesses, and it would be hard for me to believe that their father’s positive influence didn’t have anything to do with it. Joe is a leader in the community and in the business space, and I’m honored to have him on the podcast today.
Being a Racial Minority in the Business Space
As an African American man in a low-diversity part of the country, Joe is definitely in the minority. There just isn’t a large African American community in Fort Collins. However, it’s the only town Joe’s ever known. In fact, he told me during our conversation that he felt it was important for him to open up his business in Fort Collins because it’s his hometown.
So how does an African American man whose first language is Spanish navigate his way through the business space in a mostly-white town? Joe has an incredibly positive perspective:
“I think it’s shaped me in a positive way. … I don’t ever feel uncomfortable anywhere. … I have been surrounded by people that don’t look like me my whole life. When I was a little kid … I was only around Mexicans. … When I went away to college, I was finally in a more mixed-race place, but I’ve never felt out of place. … Actually it equipped me to be able to move in any space … and I’ve just always tried to use that to my advantage.” – Joe Buckner
As someone who knows Joe personally, and I can tell you that that’s true — he is never uncomfortable. He simply refuses to feel out of place anywhere and with anyone. Because he’s had such a unique upbringing and he’s always been in the minority, he no longer thinks of his situation as a disadvantage — he uses it to relate to people and create the incredible community at Beautifully Savage.
Don’t get me wrong — Joe has unfortunately faced his share of racism, and that’s a damn shame. Joe shared with me that when he was 13, he accidentally facemasked a kid on the football field, and, for the first time, heard an adult call him the “n-word.” He also dated the prom queen in high school, and when he went to pick her up for the dance, her father made the rest of the family leave the house because he didn’t like that his daughter was dating a black man.
Joe has faced adversity as a result of being an African American man in a largely white town and country. He just doesn’t let it discourage him from pursuing his goals and achieving success. That’s just one of the many reasons why Joe is inspiring to me personally — I’m grateful for his voice and influence in the entrepreneurial space in my town!
Life After the Arrest: It’s All About Gratitude
As I mentioned before, Joe dramatically turned his life around after his drug arrest. He spent time in a boot camp program, and after that lived in a halfway house until he was fully released from his sentence. During that time, he took full advantage of the opportunity he had to do some deep inner work and transform into the man he wanted to be.
One of the things that stood out to me the most about Joe’s description of the time he served was his overwhelming gratitude. I mean, the guy wasn’t exactly in an ideal situation, but still he kept his head up and stayed in a positive mindset of gratitude. Immediately after the arrest, he knew that the worst-case scenario would be jail time, so he was ecstatic to be accepted into the boot camp program, even though it would mean intense and almost constant workouts.
“Praise God, I got to go to a boot camp program, which was based on the Army’s boot camp, and it’s run by current and former Army Marines. … And that 100-day journey changed everything for me, changed my whole life.” – Joe Buckner
Joe shared with me a lot of the details about his daily life at the camp, which involved, among other difficulties, regular “trashings.” For example, if you did something wrong or got in trouble for even a minor offense, you were “trashed” — made to do burpees, mountain climbers, pushups, and other intense exercises. The program was incredibly physically demanding, but still, Joe was grateful.
Then, when Joe graduated from boot camp and transitioned into life in the halfway house, he remained grateful for his experience. During that time, he worked two jobs — at a bagel shop and a calzone restaurant — with nothing but gratitude and a determination to outwork everybody else.
“I used to walk 14 miles every day between those jobs. My days would start at 2:30 in the morning so I could get to Gib’s by 4:00 AM. I’d work 4:00 – 12:00, walk three and a half miles back to the halfway house, quick nap, wake up, do my chores, walk back to D. P. Dough — which is another three miles — work from 6:00 till 3:30 in the morning, and then walk straight to the bagel show and do it all over again the next day. But the thing is, every single day … I’m looking up at the stars … and I’m just thinking, ‘Man, I could be in prison, right?’” – Joe Buckner
Wow. I was blown away by that work ethic and positivity. Joe is the definition of a hard worker, and even when he was struggling to make ends meet, he maintained that thankfulness and drive to work hard and create a better life for himself and his children. He recognized the gift he had been given — he didn’t have to spend time in prison — and he never let go of that gratitude.
What hardships are you struggling with? You may not be facing the possibility of jail time, but we all experience hardships. But even when it feels like the clock is ticking and you’ve got to come up from behind, you can hold onto gratitude. We can all be grateful for the positive things in our lives. And when we hold onto that gratitude, we give ourselves the ability to rise and grind every day and ultimately achieve the success of our dreams.
Business Lessons from Boot Camp
But Joe didn’t just look up at the stars, say a prayer of thanks, and power through his tough experiences. He paid attention, and he learned a lot of crucial lessons. In fact, his experiences in boot camp laid the foundation for Beautifully Savage.
One of the most essential things Joe took from his boot camp experience was a sense of camaraderie. He and his fellow participants were punished and rewarded as a group, including intense consequences for flaws during a routine room inspection.
“They checked every day, and if there were 40 of us and your clothes weren’t folded right, they would tear everybody’s stuff apart and just throw it in the middle of the room and say, ‘Okay, you guys have seven minutes to get this room inspection-ready, or you have a trash.’ What one person does has a ripple effect on the group. That’s what I learned. So that’s why group fitness was important to me. … Maybe you show up, and you’re having a tough day … but [if] you’re next to me, I’m going to pick you up, right? And that’s what I demand in that room.” – Joe Buckner
Joe accepts nothing less than community support in his fitness classes. That’s why his groups are so tight-knit — if one of their pride is having a hard day, the others are expected to support that person.
In many ways, Joe’s fitness groups function like a team. Even though boxing is more of an individual activity, they experience wins and losses as a group. Each person is responsible for pulling their own weight on the team, and each person is also responsible for supporting their teammates. It’s a powerful mentality, and one that translates incredibly well into the business world, too.
How are your relationships with your teammates? Do you have that close-knit pride mentality? Or do you occasionally email each other when you need to complete tasks? I’d encourage you — especially you business owners — to create that strong team mentality with your group. You’ll be amazed at the success you can achieve when you’re all functioning as a team united by a single goal or vision.
The Recipe for Success
Today, Joe is an incredibly successful business owner. I have been amazed just watching his incredible rise, so you know I had to ask him for his greatest mindset tips. Thankfully, he had plenty to offer.
“Forget the notion that it’s selfish to put yourself first because it’s actually the most selfless thing that we can do. There’s this fallacy that you have to wait until your cup is full before you can pour out of it. But in reality, [if my cup] was full and I started pouring out of it, now it’s almost empty. Nothing’s been put back in. So you actually have to wait until your cup is overflowing, and then people can drink from the saucer.” – Joe Buckner
That’s so true. We’ve all got to take care of ourselves first — otherwise how are we supposed to take care of each other? And for those of you who are saying, “But I’m so busy! How am I supposed to find time to fill my cup?”, here’s Joe’s advice.
“So I just had a great talk with a girl — she’s got three sons, she is a stay-at-home mom, [and] she babysits other people’s kids — like, she’s phenomenal. And she’s constantly just down. I said, ‘Okay, get up earlier. I know that sucks. Get up ten minutes earlier. What do you like to do?’ She said, ‘I love to read.’ … I said, ‘Get up ten minutes earlier and read just ten pages.’” – Joe Buckner
But that’s the only brilliant bit of wisdom Joe shared. He had two simple lessons for anyone who wants to start a business:
“I’d say the first lesson is: You can’t do it by yourself. … You’re not the best at everything. … So I have to focus on what I’m great at, and then if I don’t have the money to pay someone to do [the things I’m not good at], I have to find ways to outsource it … whether it’s … Upwork or what have you, but get people on your team. … So yeah, I’d say that you can’t do it alone, and then you only have to be right once.” – Joe Buckner
Do you have a strong team around you? If you gather the right people and unite them behind a single vision, from there, you only need one breakthrough — one victory — to start reaching the success of your dreams.
Why You Should Listen to This Joe Buckner Podcast Episode Right Now…
Joe Buckner is an incredible guy. He has totally transformed his life, and now he is dominating in the business space. He’s even taught his kids to transform their lives through business — his oldest runs a daycare by herself, and his youngest has a small business tie-dying t-shirts for the gym!
Friends, if you enjoyed this post, definitely check out the full episode right here! And don’t forget to share it with your friends on Instagram. Tag Joe, @mrjoebuckner, and me, @andy_neary with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways. And please, if you have a moment, leave me a five-star rating and review over on Apple Podcasts. Your reviews really do help me get the word out about the show!
Thanks so much for joining me today, guys! Before I go, I want to give you two special offers: Number one, I want to invite you to join my Complete Game Mastermind. This is my coaching program, and it starts in just a few days! Masterminds are a great way to get coaching and put yourself in rooms with other entrepreneurs just like you. You can start building your community and gathering people around you who will support you and your growth.
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Thanks again for joining me today, guys! Remember — when clarity and confidence collide, action happens. Go make it happen today!
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