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From Pizza Hut, sewing kit to billionaire

Ben Francis did not become wealthy through family inheritance or business school connections.

Instead, the CEO and co-founder of Gymshark used the earnings from his job at Pizza Hut at age 19 to buy a sewing machine and start his fitness wear business out of his parents’ garage in Birmingham, Australia. United Kingdom.

Eleven years later, his teenage tactics have literally paid off. Francis, 30, who has a reported net worth of $1.3 billion, joined Forbes’ list of billionaires for the first time on Wednesday. He is in rare company: the average age of the list is 65 years old.

Francis and co-founder Lewis Morgan originally started Gymshark as a website selling fitness supplements, he told CNBC Make It in 2021. ill-adjusted weightlifters, Francis suggested rotating the business.

He and Morgan used their savings to buy a sewing machine and a screen printer, and his mother sent him videos to teach him how to sew, he added.

The couple took Gymshark to a bodybuilding show in 2013, but had no money to spend on advertising. On a whim, “about 10 minutes into the event,” they decided to give away free products to popular fitness YouTubers, Francis said.

“My heroes were on YouTube,” he said. “So it was just a case of, ‘Oh, it would be so cool if our heroes came to the UK and were with Gymshark at this event.’ I haven’t really thought about it.”

Some of those influencers then wore the clothes on their channels, kicking off Gymshark sales at $45,000 a day, up from just $450, according to Forbes.

A few months later, Francis dropped out of college to run the company full-time – but stepped down as CEO in 2017, passing his title to former Reebok executive Steve Hewitt.

“CEO wasn’t the right role for me when I was in my early 20s,” Francis told CNBC Make It. “Just because I started a business that grew very quickly doesn’t mean I was the most capable CEO.”

He spent the next four years supporting senior roles within Gymshark – including product director and marketing director – to learn more about the ins and outs of the business, before returning as as CEO in 2021.

That year, he sold a 21% stake in Gymshark to private equity firm General Atlantic for $300 million — a deal that valued the company at $1.45 billion, according to Forbes. Francis would still own 70% of the business.

Still, the company’s billion-dollar valuation is only a fraction of the market value of rivals like Nike and Lululemon: about $166 billion and $44 billion respectively as of Friday morning.

“I really think Gymshark can be the UK’s answer to these brands,” Francis told CNBC Make It. “But that doesn’t mean the UK is where it all starts and ends for us. We also want to be a truly global brand.”

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