Behind The Movement: How November Project Built A Tribe Of Fitness Fanatics

It all started with two guys doing burpees in the rain.

But today, November Project is a movement in every sense of the word — there are communities of thousands and leaders in 43 cities around the world (and I’ve even seen a few November Project tattoos).

And while he was in town in Boston, NP co-founder Brogan Graham stopped by our office at Drift to talk a bit about his session at Hypergrowth this fall so we figured we’d do it live and record everything for Seeking Wisdom.

3 Key Points

  1. The best way to grow a movement is to get people to experience it first-hand. That first experience is everything.
  2. Brogan was able to turn a free fitness group into a global movement and his full-time job because it was truly his passion. It’s too hard to fake it.
  3. One to one outreach is the single best marketing channel you can use. At the end of the day, it’s always about connecting with people (and doing the things that you don’t think will scale).

Time Stamped Show Notes

01:10 – Hypergrowth and building a movement

03:35 – November Project’s community and history

06:00 – November Project’s organizational structure and the secret to getting people to “experience it”

07:55 – Brogan’s progression within November Project and partnership with The North Face

16:16 – Brogan’s daily habits, workouts, and morning routine

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Episode Transcript

Dave: This is what we’re going to talk about. I think you guys have a lot unintentionally in common. You’re going to go with free, right? You’re a big believer in free. That’s what we started at Drift.

David: Yeah, sure.

Dave: Make this as open as possible. The thing that I wanted to talk to you guys about, first of all, we know kind of what you’re going to talk about at Hypergrowth but we haven’t actually said like, “Here’s what it is.” I think the biggest thing would be that we talk about with Drift, with Seeking Wisdom, this podcast and Hypergrowth, our conference, is all about building a movement.

Brogan: Sure.

Dave: That’s the thing that I would love to talk about with you for a little bit today.

David: Yeah, let’s do it.

Dave: How you turned this thing into a whole movement by doing things that don’t really scale. You hugged every single person on the way in here.

David: Trust the guide always. Because I got jealous. I was just like, “What’s going on here?” He’s getting hugs.

Dave: First, I want to start here. The idea for Hypergrowth was all about bringing in people, not just tech CEOs. Bringing in people like Brogan.

David: Totally. People who are creating movements, who are all about accelerated learning, being all in all the time, let’s do it. That’s this dude, Brogan.

Brogan: Maybe.

David: Maybe. I don’t know. We’re going to get into it.

Brogan: [00:06:38] you guys.

Dave: No, I’ve seen it.

David: I’ve seen it. This guy can’t hold it back.

Brogan: I think to understand a movement, I think it’s something to participate in, whether it’s a past job, a current job, an outside work, passion, something that connects you to people. I think it’s something you have to experience in order to be able to stand around and talk about it. I think the same is true for the most overused word these days, which is the word community.

Dave: Community, yup.

Brogan: I think you start with the community in order to be in the right time, in the right place to stand around when there is a movement that you can be a part of or watch. I think the term community has been watered down. I think movement, it’s hard to understand from the outside. Also, often, anyone who’s listening to this that’s been to November Project is going to laugh at this part but if you are interested in a movement or if you’re interested in community, a really great place to see it is what we do. Not everyone is allowed to walk in here and hug the CEO.

Dave: No, definitely not.

Brogan: Not everyone is allowed to walk in here and have an opportunity to tour. In some of these companies, it is a club. It is something you can’t just walk into. November Project, I think of critical mass. Friday nights in cities around the world, cyclists gather and they take over the streets. That’s a movement. You know who’s in charge? The leader, there is none. You know how you find them on Facebook? You can’t.

Some of these things that you get hyped on, you see with the movies, you read about them in books, they are out there. I really encourage people to go experience it because I can tell stories and I will at Hypergrowth. I’ll stand up there and I’ll get them up on their feet. We’ll have an experience together. We’ll talk about movements. We’ll talk about brands. We’ll talk about social. We’ll talk about storytelling. But at the end of the day, if you’re not experiencing, it’s hard to feel what we’re talking about.

David: Totally. You think there’s a difference between a movement, like what you guys have done, a cult, a group, a crew.

Brogan: Early, early on, without getting to the history of November Project, early on, Cambridge Running Club was the first one to call us. The fight club of running clubs.

Dave: That’s awesome.

Brogan: We’re not a running club and we’re not a bootcamp. I think our lack of definition, the way in which you can tell someone about it for five minutes, you got to go. You got to experience it. Makes it easy for people to be like, “Oh, that’s a cult.” In some ways, we do these odd rituals or chants. It’s almost like there’s a secret handshake but not. It is the exact inverse of a cult. It brings people into your life and is inclusive. It is positive and there’s no cutting you off from your life in your world.

It’s weird and it is not like what you’re used to. If you love the community at CrossFit, this will be similar in the competitive nature but it will not be similar in so many different ways. I encourage people to check it out first hand.

Let me give you an example. When I walked in here, to give you guys a big hug, we do like to break the norms. I always had this thing, being a kid from Wisconsin, I just felt like when I moved here to Boston, people, they do two things better here at Boston. They could pick up more litter, it’s not theirs. How cheesy is that? And then just try hard to be kind. I clearly remember I was freshman college at North Eastern. I was holding the door for a bunch of dudes and all three dudes that walked in to the [00:10:33] gave me this look like…

David: What the fuck.

Brogan: The next look was like, “No, bro.”

David: You don’t want this.

Brogan: The next guy was just one of them so like, “We’ll fuck you up.” Why is he holding the door? Why is he picking up litter? This city is so odd. We moved to these places that have more than actions, that do better, I think, and then we kind of like do a little bit lazier or cooler.

David: Yeah, cooler. We want to be cooler.

Brogan: That’s tough. That is one of the many norms that the project challenges, plus it’s free. That throws people off.

Dave: How big of a part, the thing that you can’t mention is you have to get somebody to experience it. That’s what it’s all about. We can say whatever we want to say but you’re not going to really feel a certain way about it until you show up at 6:00AM on that morning and actually get involved. That’s the power of it being free. There’s no barrier. The only barrier is I got to get up.

David: And it’s 6:00AM.

Brogan: We always say 6:29AM.

David: 6:29AM.

Brogan: 6:29AM so that you remember that it’s a weird time of the day.

David: Yeah. I like it.

Brogan: A lot of people start at 6:00AM, 6:30AM, 7:00AM, 7:30AM.

David: 6:29AM.

Brogan: 6:29AM. It might be burned to your brain. Awesome. Some cities, depending on where they’re located, our group in Malaysia for example. They start at 5:15AM. When they first came, I had them on the phone and I was saying, “We’re cutting out the 6:30 thing, 6:29.” The dude is like, “Well that won’t work here in Malaysia.” I was like, “Okay, you know better.” Let me just answer your question. It’s roughly 6:30AM.

David: Got it. But everyone can come up with their time. You have meetings with these people? You say you talk to them.

Brogan: The leaders. We call them co leaders. I’m lucky to have led the Boston tribe. My buddy [00:12:19] and I, we’re college buddies. We call people these two or these duos or trios, we call them co leaders.

David: Got it.

Brogan: We’ve elevated ourselves to leading the entire movement. We’re co founders and part of our job is mass communication. We can communicate, this is a stretch but every week, every other week, definitely every month with these leaders in each city. There are 43 cities. We feel like we can speak honestly about this as a healthy movement.

Maybe it goes back to the very beginning of the conversation. What is a movement? A movement is something that is connected. It’s easy to tell a big story but if it’s weak and not true to your story, then it’s…

David: How do you make the progression? How did you make the progression from being the co leader of Boston to being the co founder? How did you give it up? How did you give up your baby?

Brogan: A piece of this was that in 2011, it was a story about one month and two guys that started this one month deal. In 2012 was the story about hockey players and the Boston Bruins helping us blow this up on Twitter. Going from 200 to 300 people. In 2014, it was a story of this moving into seven cities. When we started moving outside of Boston, my buddy [00:13:35] and I thought it would be good to bring all the leaders together. We call it leadership summit. Now, everything is a fucking summit.

David: The community and movement.

Brogan: But once we started rallying the leaders and talking about how connected we need to keep the leaders, we were showing ourselves not only as the guys that started it, but as the guys who wanted it to be healthy and connected. In the end of 2014, I actually, with [00:13:59], had the opportunity to leave our jobs to do this full time and take November Project LLC and make it what we do full time. This partnership with The North Face, outerwear company.

If anyone doesn’t know who The North Face is, you’re living under a rock.

Dave: That’s what we need.

David: I got it.

Brogan: The best outdoor gear to travel the world, build more communities full time, as well as enhance what they’re doing and work with them on gear.

David: Got it. So that’s how you could do this full time?

Brogan: Full time. And it’s a dream come true. I remember having a job, a job that I thought was the best.

David: What was your job?

Brogan: I was working on a marketing team at New Balance. Mostly digital, some events, stunts, and pressing buttons.

David: Got it. Very close.

Brogan: A job that I loved, a brand that I loved. I remember thinking, “Man, I’m brand loyal to New Balance but the other brand that I’m more brand loyal to is November Project.” Who can help us? We took the help from a brand that I’ve been a fan of my whole life growing up at Wisconsin.

David: They reached out to you and said let’s do something?

Brogan: Yeah. We had an interesting first go round. We lovingly refer to it as the hot summer fling of 2014. They came to us and said, “Hey, we read about you in Runner’s World.” Humble brag.

David: I remember that issue. That was awesome.

Brogan: I was shirtless and I was in the cover of a magazine.

David: And it was a bunch of people.

Brogan: No CrossFit.

David: With a bunch of people.

Brogan: With a bunch of people. They just surrounded me with people.

David: And it opened up. I remember it.

Brogan: You’ve done your homework.

David: I had that issue.

Brogan: So they caught wind of that in the brand marketing side of the brand and they said, “We’re about to launch our community platform called Mount Athletics, which is PM workouts, training for a goal. Let’s say you want to get more out of your season lift pass at JP, how are you going to get your legs and your quads and your lungs ready? Let’s train everyday with Mountain Athletics.

We paired up when they were doing the Mount Athletics thing. The year of 2014 was like how would it work? We spent a year promoting their races and they gave us travel budget to get to the races. It was an entire year of let’s give this a test run.

David: Yup, experiment.

Brogan: We were looking at signing a contract. We’ve been with them nearly three years now. They treat us like absolute royalty. Some days, we are considered on the athlete list and rubbing elbows with like Jimmy Chin, which is like the wildest dream come true. So awesome. They look at us and they’re like, “What do you guys do? What are the community guys? What do you do?”

David: They’re like, “I climb that. I climb with no ropes. What’s up? Live in a van.”

Brogan: Some days, we’re spokespeople for community and training. Some days, we worked on gear. That was the big step. 2014 was a pivot to where we are now where on a Wednesday morning, starting in Hong Kong, Malaysia, those two in Asia, we call them tribes, pass it to our four tribes in Europe and they pass it to the other 37 tribes in North America, which are in Canada. It’s this thing that we always thought back in the day when we were just here in Boston. What if kindness and hard work, fun and fitness for all. What if we were so bold to think that those two boiled down qualities were universal?

Dave: Do you have community members from the early days still going in Boston?

Brogan: OGs.

Dave: OGs, yeah. Wow. That’s awesome.

Brogan: It’s easy for me to keep up with them because they’ve seen this whole…

Dave: Yeah.

Brogan: Some of them still come, some of them don’t. Two days ago at Harvard stadium, they have 700 people. If you feel like that’s more of a mob than you want to deal with for your morning workout, especially with the OGs.

David: You know what would be good is that Dave should do it before Hypergrowth, so we can talk about it.

Dave: That’s in the contract.

David: I would, I’m an older gentleman, but this dude right here.

Brogan: Monday is in Boston, Wednesday is in Boston, Friday. There are three opportunities.

David: Wow. Okay.

Dave: Maybe I’ll go three times in a year.

Brogan: That was what I was going to say. If you wanted a full tour, I would say Monday. Wednesday, Friday. Craziest week of your life. With your newborn daughter, you just won’t sleep that week. That’s fine.

David: That’s fine, she’s not sleeping any day.

Dave: That’s no different. I’m doing the workout with the eight pound weight.

Brogan: Sure. You can do that. Maybe backpacks. The tour in Boston would be Monday, what they call destination day. It changes locations every week. Workout starts at the door of where you live. You run there. Do 15 minutes of core work or nothing too intense, and then run home. That’s the whole workout. Destination deck. One day, it might be in South [00:19:00]. It’s a long run. Next week, it might be [00:19:02] Park..

Wednesday, we run the stairs at Harvard Stadium. Friday we run the same hill in Brooklyn at Summit Ave.

David: Would you expect a decently in shape athlete to be able to do first time?

Brogan: Full tour?

David: Yeah, that’s your benchmark?

Brogan: For those people that are freaked out listening to this, if you’re brand new to November Project on a Wednesday, we only have you do half of the tour, so from section 37 to 19. Think of it like a horse shoe. If you’re looking at it from above, we have to go from one tip to the inside of the curve.

Let me answer your question. If you came in and you’re like you know what, I’m going to do the whole thing. I’m going to do Drift, going to do Hypergrowth.

David: Let’s go. Let’s go.

Brogan: I would be impressed.

Dave: You would be impressed.

David: Can we film that?

Brogan: I would be impressed if you could do it in under 28 minutes.

David: Let’s do it.

Dave: We’re in.

David: Yes. 28 minutes.

Dave: We just got our next video. I’m going to take the GoPro.

David: Yeah. Take the GoPro. Strap it to the chest.

Brogan: We always say that if you go under 30 minutes, you’re moving. If you go under 25, you’re running, which is bold because we go up the big seats. For men’s times these days, for anybody who ever wants to go there by themselves, which I do not recommend, very uninspiring. The quickest time, we just posted this last Wednesday, a Dutch man named [Arnaut 00:20:13].

David: Shout out to [Arnaut 00:20:15]. Gangster.

Brogan: Great, long flowing hair, shirtless gentleman, pretty vascular guy. He went 17 minutes 40 seconds.

David: Come on, that’s insane.

Brogan: I think the quickest woman go just over 20 minutes.

Dave: That’s legit.

Brogan: Do with that what you may.

David: 28. Come on, bro. No pressure.

Dave: We got like five, six minutes left. We’ll talk about Hypergrowth. You’re going to be there. It’s going to be amazing. We’re going to talk about that a lot.

David: He’s going to rally everyone. He’s going to bring the heat.

Dave: Do you have the [00:20:55]?

David: You’re the hype man.

Brogan: Can you guys give me between nap time and lunch or something?

Dave: You said that.

Brogan: Can you do one of these? I don’t know how to do it. Could you just get the whole group? I want to snap photo but I want to stage a joke so I’m going to save some and then we’re all going to start fake laughing.

David: Here we go, right now, if you follow Brogan on Instagram, this is the keyword.

Brogan: It’s about to go out. When I say the keyword, tomato soup.

Dave: A lot of people that listen to this, we talk about habits, morning routines, all that stuff. Love it. What do you do every morning? You workout every morning?

Brogan: I currently live in San Diego, the city of [00:21:37] is one of the first seven. They go Mondays and Wednesdays only. I never miss. I never miss Monday and Wednesday’s workout. In San Diego, we don’t even say rain or shine, it’s like shine or shine. Real badass, weather spoof.

I’ve gotten into surfing last year and a half. I’ve got a big 10 ft board. I ride tidal waves. I’m a massive loud human trying to be friends with all the cranky surfers. I’m trying to act cultured. I try to get out there a few times a week. My wife teaches yoga once a week. I have a road sort of bike that I like to ride up and down the hills of La Jolla. My brother in law is a black belt in jiu-jitsu.

David: So he chokes you out for fun.

Brogan: So he chokes me out and I tap out. No, I started a garage gym. If any of you guys have Instagram on your phone, we’re trying to crack 900 followers. [00:22:46]

Dave: You know [00:22:37]? He just sent his co founder.

David: Black belt in jiu-jitsu. He’s got a gym over there. It’s called Victory. That’s the gym. I forgot the other guy but he’s a Navy SEAL Commander. Wrote this book called Extreme Ownership, which we all love. I sent my co founder to his leadership thing that he does around the world.

Brogan: Is it in San Diego, the leadership thing?

David: It’s mostly in San Diego. The last one he did was in Austin, Texas, but it’s mostly in San Diego. This guy’s based there and just badass. You’d love to check out his shit. Basically, he has this thing called the Muster, which is part of the conference. Everyone who attends has to do the Muster. 4:30AM, everyone’s up. They’re out in the field. They’re doing…

Brogan: Getting beat down.

David: Getting beat down.

Brogan: Getting beat down and built back up.

David: That’s it. And then on the last day, my co founder missed it, which is the reason I sent him there, this jiu-jitsu training with Jocko at the end and I was hoping that he’d get choked up and I’d get that on video. That was my goal.

Brogan: This company, you’re zigzagging.

David: Yeah.

Brogan: Must be good at community building. I’m literally choking.

David: I choked you. He needs it, my co founder. If you met him, he needs one choke.

Dave: When he walked in, the engineering team was having a meeting in the back. He’s like, “What are they doing?”

Brogan: I’ll tell a story. There’s one dude. They’re all grinding, almost as if you’re watching a silent film and you turned off the volume. They’re like a lot of hand gestures. They’re not angry but they’re driving a point. And then there’s one dude leaning back against the window, almost like not even in the circle and I was like, “Who’s that guy?” He’s like, “He’s working shit out.”

David: Fucking science.

Brogan: He’s doubting it all, about to crack the code.

David: That’s science right there.

Dave: We got to wrap up. This is what this is about. You sent me a note last weekend and said, “I’m in town.”

David: By the way, I was talking to one of our team members at lunch and she is crazy into yoga and she’s like, “Brogan’s girlfriend is badass.”

Dave: Lia said the same thing.

David: She’s like, “Who’s that?” She was like, “Goldie? Badass.”

Brogan: First of all, wife.

David: Wife. Sorry, sorry.

Brogan: What’s cool about Goldie, her hair is long.

David: That’s what she’s saying.

Brogan: It’s kind of like, “That’s on brand.”

David: Yeah, that’s correct.

Brogan: I’d say that’s nice.

David: She’s the female version of him. She’s tall, long blonde hair.

Brogan: She’s like Athena.

David: You should’ve seen the look in her eyes when she was talking about Goldie.

Brogan: She’s awesome.

David: That’s amazing.

Brogan: And she’s a long time November Project. If she were in the room right now and you spun the mic and you’re like, “Hey Goldie, tell us your involvement in November Project.” She would be proud to tell you. She would say, “When I was started going, there was only four or five there.” She’s never really gone and said it but what I read between those lines is like it’s dope because I told the world.

David: World about it. Badass.

Dave: She told all the yoga people in [00:26:08] November Project.

Brogan: The reason November Project’s been a success, a cult, a family and community…

David: It’s yoga.

Brogan: Namaste.

David: Namaste, mother fuckers.

Dave: Alright man, next time we’ll see you, it would be September 25th.

David: Thank you so much, man. Awesome.

Brogan: Thank you. I’m so, so excited. See you guys soon.