Is it a good idea to open a box with a partner?

Jason Donaldson of The Cell has experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of CrossFit affiliate partnerships. In this 3 part series Jason tells his story and provides some insights into how to evaluate whether a partnership is right for your business.

If you’re currently struggling in a partnership or are considering entering into a new one, before you make any major decisions. do yourself a favor and read all the posts in this series FIRST.

Here’s Part 1 of Jason’s story, in his own words.


I started my affiliate journey nearly 5 years ago when I registered an affiliate called, Ultimate CrossFit Perth (in Perth, Australia).

At that stage, I was doing full-time shift work as a Police Sergeant, was married and had 3 kids. I spent 18 months operating my affiliate from inside another gym (my first #18monthMurph!). Not a globo, but an independently owned gym and they were pretty good to me. I stuck to private training, honing my coaching and business skills and philosophies.

After 18 months, I was approached by another trainer at the same gym who expressed an interest in working with me. He assisted me in running a couple of Kettlebell workshops and we coached well together.

That planted the seed for what eventually became The Cell – Real Fitness.

He and I went into The Cell as 50/50 partners. He was to work full-time in The Cell whilst I worked on my transition out of the Police. (The Cell couldn’t afford us both to be full-time…yet) The plan was for him to take on the lion’s share of the coaching; I’d pick up what he couldn’t do plus do all of the admin work.

This seemed like a win-win situation, and I’d finally have my box. Time to sit back and let the good times roll, right?

Well… not quite.

Fast forward 3 years and my partner had never worked full-time hours in The Cell.

I’d consistently paid myself less than he had, yet had done all the admin, business development, website management and plenty of coaching and intro sessions. He coached, but we had several other coaches by this stage who were picking up many of the classes.

It finally came time for, as Burch calls it, the “Come to Jesus” discussion, where I pointed out that, “Dude, you’re not pulling your weight! If you don’t want to work your arse off, then this isn’t for you.”

He listened and said he wasn’t sure what he wanted. I said I’d give him some time to consider his options.

Well, to say the work rate dropped off from there would be an understatement.

6 months later, in early 2012, my partner told me he wanted to go to the US for 5 weeks. I explained that the business just wasn’t in the position to lose him for 5 weeks and keep paying him. I was then told that he wanted to sell his share of The Cell. A valuation was obtained and he shot off to the US for 5 weeks without telling me where he was going or when he was coming back. He still took $800/week from the business account whilst away.

I filled in our staff on what was going on during his 5-week absence, as I was of the opinion that they deserved to know. He later became aware of this when I told him and he wasn’t happy because it made him look bad. (Not a lot of concern with what was actually happening ‘in’ the box though).

When the contract for sale was drawn up, it was agreed that we would notify all members via a mailed letter written by both of us. But the day before the settlement date – and his last day coaching at The Cell – he sent an email to our members informing them that he was leaving. This only came to my attention when a member forwarded it to me. I wasn’t cc’d on it or even informed it was going out.

It’s important to clarify that our conflicts don’t reflect how I feel about my ex-partner in general. He’s a great person, but being in business just wasn’t right for him; it wasn’t his strength.  My appreciation for him made it all the more difficult to part ways.

One major obstacle for me during this time – and my main fear – was not being able to obtain the funding to buy my partner out.

In the 3-4 months this process took, our monthly revenue dropped significantly –  from a high of $43k to a low of $28k per month. And now, all the pressure was on me to turn things around.

These were some worrying times filled with self-doubt because it was a situation I’d never been in before. I’d never been numero uno. Would I be able to rebuild alone? And, what about all of the other complications and obligations in my life at the time…?

Honestly, I wasn’t sure.


On Wednesday we’re going to find out how Jason’s story turns out. Did he save his box?

If so, how?

Check back for Part 2 of Parasitic Partnerships – Don’t Call it a Comeback.

In the meantime, let us know in the comments below how you cope when you feel like you’re up against a wall. What psychological tricks and motivational techniques help you regroup and recharge when the success of your business depends on it?

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