How I Built a Brand Out of My Passion for Sports and Nutrition

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Editor: We’re back with a new edition of True Doctor Stories. Dr. Michael Kim is an anesthesiologist and critical care specialist from Southern California who has helped create multiple brands while juggling the roles of resident, fellow, husband, and father. His latest brand, AthletesRx, is a sports nutrition company with a social mission, and I had the pleasure of talking to him about it. Enjoy!


Can you tell me what AthletesRx is?

AthletesRx is a sports nutrition company that creates high-quality, trustworthy supplements ranging from protein powders, amino acids, and immune health products. We plan to create more products and also introduce a training/coaching platform through our website. We have set out to create our company with a unique goal and vision, which is to become “the first for-profit company that is for the profit of others.” We have a radically counter-cultural financial business plan that aims to give away a large portion of our net profit to community non-profit organizations.

How did you get started in the sports & nutrition space?

Almost 8 years ago, I was a young fresh-out-of-med-school resident in Denver, CO, and I was lucky enough to be connected with a physician mentor who was in the wellness/supplement space. Through his mentorship and connection, I’ve been slowly evolving and expanding my presence in the industry. 

I started off as a physician consultant for a large supplement company called MusclePharm; I rose within the company as the Medical Director of Research & Development, where I was entrusted with formulations of products and overseeing of multi-million dollar research projects.  Throughout my years at MP, I watched this company grow from a 20-million company to 200-million dollar company.  

I learned all the nitty gritty details and behind-the-scenes steps that are involved in creating a brand from the ground up. My time at MP taught me a lot about the industry, matured my business acumen, and sharpened my entrepreneurial mind. 

How’d you come up with the idea for AthletesRx and why did you get started (what was your motivation)?

All along this journey, I’ve always had as my ultimate goal to launch my own brand in the wellness/supplement space. Initially, perhaps the seed was planted out of selfish ambitions and worldly definition of “having made it.” However, as I got married, had a kid, and became more financially stable, my vision of starting my own brand began to evolve into a “means to an end” rather than the ultimate “end” goal. I felt a calling to a greater goal – to help those around us – and building my own brand would be just a means to get to that goal.

Tell me more about that mission of helping others.

Through my numerous connections in and outside of the sports industry, I’ve come across really good-hearted people who are genuinely trying to do good for the community.

I met Deby, who is the founder of Break The Barriers, who works with children with special needs such as Down syndrome, physical disabilities, and now Veterans. I connected with an American Olympic weight-lifter, Derrick Johnson, via social media because I wanted to support his cause, Kings of Weightlifting, which provides a safe gym space for the youth of the inner city in south LA area. I also connected with The First Tee, a non-profit group that brings golf to the inner city kids.

Upon learning about all the good these groups were doing for the community and youth, I knew immediately that I wanted to support them financially; and that’s when the idea came to me to launch this company that is unique in its vision.

Apple and Nike are hugely successful brands that are well-known throughout the world for their good quality products and huge revenues. However, I wanted to make a company that is just as well-known (ambitious, I know!) but for a different reason; to build a for-profit company that is for the profit of the community and not the company. I wanted to build a company that made great and trustworthy products with the premise of donating to charitable organizations a large portion of our net profit.

Are you still working as a physician and how much time are you putting into the business?

I am a currently a full-time anesthesiologist and critical care anesthesiologist, working on average 60 hours a week, with some overnight calls.

As for the business, formulating the products, testing samples, selecting suppliers/manufacturers and overall developing a new brand takes a considerable amount of time and effort. This whole process has been in the works for over a year.

AthletesRx recently launched with 3 products and it probably takes up about 8-10 hours a week of my time, including talking to various vendors, ensuring smooth operation, etc.

How are you able to balance between AthletesRx, your other businesses, being a physician, having a family and all your other hobbies or leisure activities? Where do you find the time?

Naturally, people ask me how I find the time for all of that. My answer is that you just make time for the things that you are passionate about. God has blessed me with not only the passion and the drive to pursue the multiple endeavors but also the wife who is supportive and understanding enough to allow me to pursue these dreams.

Of course, that isn’t to say she never complains; there are weeks when my hands can’t quite juggle everything and I have to face her wrath (my week of 12-hour shifts in the ICU concluded by two golf tee times on the weekend is enough to make any wife angry!).

How has the income from the company impacted your practice of medicine? Do you consider it passive at all?

As you can tell, I have my hands in multiple pots.  Through a friend, I got connected with the CEO of a large supplement distribution company, who commissioned me to make a line of health and wellness products for his company. These products have since become some of the top sellers on their website.

I’ve also had the opportunity to mentor a very young entrepreneur and helped him start his own supplement business. What had started off as just friendly conversation and mentorship has led to a business relationship where I was given a 50% partnership of the company he started. This is the kind of work that excites me and wakes me up in the morning, because I love the process of branding and creating new products in this space, and I get to do it with young and motivated people who have the passionate entrepreneurial drive like I do.

Some of the partnerships I’ve mentioned can be considered passive, since most of the legwork and infrastructure is done, and the income is generated with minimal maintenance work from my end.

However, AthletesRx is definitely more of an active project that takes up not just sheer hours spent on the phone but also hours just ruminating in bed or in the car, always thinking of ways to make the brand better.

The additional income that comes in from the side businesses – whether passive or active – has allowed me to be more free in my practice of medicine. Because I have the buffer of financial stability outside of my physician job, I can care more about patient care and less about work politics, what my boss thinks about me, if I’m going to get a promotion or a raise at work, etc. This feeling is quite liberating.

How has the income from the company impacted your family life?

It has impacted us in the ability to give away more and be more generous. That’s really what it’s about. It’s allowed us the freedom to help our community, various organizations, and our families members who may be struggling. This truly took a complete change in mindset and has taken some time.

Anything you would’ve done differently along the way?

No, not really. I really have to thank God for getting me here, and I believe God had a lesson for me every step of the way. A mistake that may have cost me something in my earlier years in my journey taught me a lesson that allowed me to avoid a similar mistake later on. So I believe that there is always something to be learned from every mistake, and you can apply it yourself to make you and your team better.

Any piece of advice for other physicians who are considering pursuing other sources of income?

Just do it. A good chunk of physicians know medicine and medicine only because medical school and residency tend to be so all-consuming. However, as you start to find more free time, ask yourself what else you are passionate about and pursue that. You have one life to live; just because you’ve devoted so many years to medical education and training, it doesn’t mean that is what you need to do 100% of the time. If you have an entrepreneurial bone in your body, take an idea, discuss it with other like-minded friends and pursue it. Don’t let fear or laziness or apathy stop you.

Last questions, can my readers and I get a discount on the product, and will I get jacked if I use it?

Yes on the discount – you can go to the AthletesRx website and use a code created specifically for your readers, “passive” to get 20% off any products. And… your training will get you jacked! These products are to assist you in your training process and recovery. Good luck and thanks!

3 COMMENTS

  1. I spy a Golden Gopher up there!

    Glad to hear you’re having success with your side gig. I’m curious as to how you vet these supplement products. As you know, of course, the supplement industry is fraught with fraudulent claims, products that are not what they say they are, etc… How do you make sure you’re one of the good guys with products backed by sound science that a physician can stand behind?

    Best,
    -PoF

  2. I get certifications. Get them second lab tested and get them banned substance tested. Been in the industry for awhile and understand ur concerns. Thank you

  3. you better believe it! GO GOPHERS!!!

    I have a partnership with a few good contract manufacturers that I trust and have worked with for quite some time. I get them tested and then I run my own testing. This may not be valid but they send me CoA’s. I know that there is large skepticism, but I try to work hard to make certify products and fit their label claims. I also get them banned substance tested too so they are safe for sport.

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