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So Many Gains: How Gymshark Founder Became U.K.’s Youngest Billionaire by Embracing Lifting Roots

So Many Gains: How Gymshark Founder Became U.K.’s Youngest Billionaire by Embracing Lifting Roots

Gymshark Ben Francis billionaire
The story of Gymshark founder Ben Francis has all the elements of a fantastic budding entrepreneur-to-billionaire story: a garage setting, ambition and, of course, dropping out of college.

At just 30 years old, Ben Francis, Gymshark founder, has joined the ranks of the Forbes 2023 World Billionaire List. His stake in Gymshark is now worth $1.2 billion, making him the U.K.’s youngest billionaire.

Francis has made a fortune in the athleisure industry through England-based Gymshark. In the summer of 2020, Francis sold a 21% stake in the company to private equity firm General Atlantic and increased his stake to 70%.

He founded Gymshark with his friend Lewis Morgan, a story that has all the elements of a fantastic budding entrepreneur-to-billionaire story: a garage setting, ambition, and of course, dropping out of Birmingham’s Aston University. It should be noted, however, that Francis recently received an honorary degree from Aston due to his entrepreneurship success.

The two friends were working out of Francis’s family garage when he was just a 19-year-old college student and pizza delivery boy, disenchanted at his $8/hour gig. At the time, Francis and Morgan were trying to break into the supplement business, purchasing products in bulk to sell to customers online via their Gymshark website, an endeavor that proved to be difficult. 

At the same time, Francis began to realize that finding high-quality sportswear was a challenge, sparking a new path. The friends retooled, putting their energy towards athletic gear, and created pieces with a screen printer and sewing machine – a move that has since paid off. 

Gymshark event

When the Gymshark co-founders attended BodyPower, Europe’s largest bodybuilding expo, in 2013, they realized there was a high demand. They ran out of product at their rented booth, which was overrun with people eager to see Gymshark’s fitness wear.

Francis’s youthful mindset led him to harness the power of social media, giving free apparel to weightlifting influencers and increasing daily sales volume from $450 to $45,000. But that was only the beginning, as Gymshark continued to explode on Instagram and TikTok due to partnerships with fitness influencers who wore Gymshark clothing in exchange for a small monthly payment.

Gymshark eventually established its headquarters in Solihull, creating 450 jobs, and hosted ‘We Lift This City’ popup events around the world, where Gymshark fans could nab exclusive pieces.

Morgan would eventually sell his stake in Gymshark for around $130 million as part of the 2020 General Atlantic deal and has since invested in AYBL, a women’s gymwear brand that was launched by two brothers.

While there has been chatter of a Gymshark IPO, with Francis confirming the apparel brand has been in discussions with banks and investors, the billionaire founder has long maintained that Gymshark isn’t quite ready to go public, and is instead focusing on growing and building its business team. 

Gymshark onboarded serial entrepreneur and social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk as business strategy advisor, with Vaynerchuk concentrating on Gymshark’s growth in the U.S., where half of the brand’s sales are made. The brand opened its first office in the U.S. in Denver, Colorado, in 2021.

By October 2022, the brand opened its first brick-and-mortar location on London’s famed Regent Street, with international brands such as Lululemon, Apple, Tory Burch, J. Crew, Burberry, Coach and Kate Spade as neighbors. The .8-mile-long Regent Street attracts 84,000,000 visitors a year. 

“It’s going to be incredible, it’s going to be experiential, and we want to bring as much of that Gymshark vibe and community into this place,” Francis said about the flagship location in London that hosts special events, hangouts and workouts spaces designed to get people excited about fitness. 

But, like many in the fitness and tech industry, recent economic challenges have led to difficult decisions. Earlier this year, Gymshark eliminated 65 positions at its Denver office and said it would restructure its U.S. presence. The athleticwear brand said the Gymshark layoffs were meant to centralize its operations and safeguard the future of its athleticwear business. 

Henry Spear, President of Gymshark’s North American presence, confirmed on LinkedIn that his position was eliminated, citing a looming global recession.

“While a layoff may not immediately read successful, I’m happy to say it was just that: a success,” Spear posted on LinkedIn. “I hired a smart, high-functioning team and together we started a new business unit, opened new channels of distribution, saw strong, profitable growth, and ultimately had fun while doing it.”

Aside from the Gymshark layoffs, the athletic brand welcomed Laurent Madelaine as its first-ever supply chain chief and has named Mat Dunn as its CFO.

Last month, Gymshark announced it would restore its lifting roots, appointing David Laid as creative director — a social media-savvy sensation who went viral with a transformational weightlifting video.

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It’s a move that Gymshark has referred to as ‘Chapter 2023: The Comeback.’

Francis noted on LinkedIn that he first met Laid in 2016 and stated the brand is concentrating on the weight training genre.

“Lifting has been at the core of everything we’ve done since we started in 2012, and now we’re going to take our lifting credentials to the next level,” Francis wrote.

Laid mentioned that the male lifting domain is where the heart of Gymshark’s brand lies and shared that he will oversee athlete recruitment, world-tour events and campaign creation in his new role.

Along with his creative director role, Laid now provides his followers with a 10% Gymshark promo code, a program that the influencer has long advocated for.

Gymshark recently came together in Manchester for a lift event, re-launching the fitness-based events that include athlete seminars, meet and greets, competition, challenges and prizes. The brand is also growing its London Gymshark Run Club, an inclusive and community-based fitness club that meets regularly. 

According to a recent Rakuten study that analyzed Google searches from the past 12 months of sportswear brands, Gymshark resulted in 902,000 searches. Nike was the most-searched brand at 6.6 million searches a month.

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