Tom Exton (far right in the photo) is a busy man. On top of his full-time day job, he’s also a successful YouTuber with 80,000 subscribers and the co-founder fitness company LDN Muscle, along with his twin brother James, and the Bridger brothers, Max and Lloyd.
They started LDN Muscle in 2013 as a blog designed to ‘enable anyone, and everyone to transform both how they look and feel, from a realistic and achievable premise.’ Since then, the business has bulked considerably, moving from training guides into supplements and even a personal trainer academy.
In 2015/16, turnover was £750,000 and in 2016/17 it was £1.1m. Its forecasted to be £1.4m this year. MT caught up with Exton to talk about how the company carved out its niche in such a crowded industry, and how he juggles so many plates.
LDN Muscle started off as a blog. When do you start to take it seriously as a business?
We were filling out content for free for about six months and all started spending so much time on it, just replying to people and creating content. At that point we never thought we could make loads of money, we just thought let's put something out there and see if we could get paid for some of our time. It just snowballed after our first paid product, the Cutting Guide (men’s fat loss). We also did a weekly workout called Chest Sunday which got emailed out on a direct debit.
LDN muscle is very active on social media (136,000 Twitter followers). How much of your success do you attribute to it?
Social media has been pretty much 90% of our success. Only recently, we started looking at things like Google ads and the usual stuff companies do from the get go. It was purely organic social, no paid spend on social media probably for two years before we had any marketing at all. We were just making it up as we go along. We host our own social media content, it's not farmed out to anyone, just us guys.
The supplement market is huge, and very crowded. How do you stand out and be successful?
In the early days, it was our ethos that set us apart. We were very open about not using steroids. We're four normal guys, we've got jobs and it was very much our faces in the first instance, so this got into people's memory. We didn’t release supplements until about two years ago. Had we released supplements from the word ‘go’, we would have been just another supplement company which would have switched people off very quickly. We stuck with the online transformation stuff for a good few years before we went into that.
Customer service is really important. We've spent years on social media, replying to every single comment and question, being as helpful as we can. Not always directing people to a product, just giving brilliant advice. Over the years we've built an army of of people who really sing our praises.
Every time someone tweets about how they’ve made progress with us it gets retweeted. There's a real strong community of people who talk to each other because they're running the same training program and they see each other wearing the clothing in the gym. It doesn't happen overnight, it takes years of craft and not everyone can do it .
You have a full-time job in the City as well as the business. How has that worked out?
I'm lucky I’m in business with three really good guys and they're all full time in the business. Without them, I wouldn't still be in a job. For my role, I can be anywhere, as long as I have access to my emails during the day and take a few phone calls. I don't need to be anywhere apart from near my phone. Evenings and weekends there's actually a lot of time around a nine to five job. In the mornings before work, I can clear a load of emails, do a load of social content and then after work there's hours. I get to bed at about one or two in the morning and then I’m up at six. It can be done, but it's not that social.
Wow. Have you got used to that?
Some days I just think i've bitten off more than I can chew, I've had enough of this, but most days it's OK. It makes me excited to get up in the morning - answering to someone isn't my calling in life.
You also have your own YouTube channel with 80,000 subscribers and 146,000 Instagram followers. How did that happen?
In the early days, I was just doing car stuff and then some fitness stuff on my social media. I used that to grow LDN Muscle and then LDN Muscle grew and I used that to channel back. Mainly young people follow it and not everyone is obsessed with working out, so I do stuff with cars, watches, trainers, usual kind of lad stuff.
Starting the YouTube channel was something to get used to with all the walking around with a camera shoved to your face and talking to yourself. When you start a YouTube channel you don't get huge views, but If you've already got the presence online you can refer people to it. It was a bit nerve wracking to begin with, but all these platforms have their benefits and it's good to spread yourself across as many as them as possible.
What has LDN Muscle got in store for 2018?
One of the main growth areas of the business has been our academy, where we offer personal training qualifications. That's gone really well, and we've had 500 graduates now in the academy. We’ve brought on a head of training, but we're on hand as well, based in Canary Wharf and London.
We've got some new releases, and our supplement line is going to expand. There's some other bits I can't really mention but the business is definitely growing outward and upward. We've taken on a chairman recently, and that’s all really exciting. It's putting some much needed structure into the business instead of just four guys faffing around on iPhones.
Image Credit: LDN Muscle