One Year In: Don Faul Talks Challenges, Wins, Big Picture Plan as CrossFit CEO

August 15, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Don Faul | @donfaul
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A little over a year ago, on the eve of the CrossFit Games, CrossFit LLC announced they had a new CEO: US Marine veteran Don Faul.

Remind me: Faul, a combat veteran and former platoon commander who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, also held key roles at a number of technology companies, including Pinterest, Meta and Google, before coming to CrossFit.

In an exclusive interview with the Morning Chalk Up at the end of July, Faul said his first year as the CEO CrossFit was met with a number of wins, but also unexpected challenges.

The biggest challenge: One of the first things Faul said he learned when taking the CEO role was that one of his team’s greatest strengths was also their greatest weakness.

  • CrossFit LLC’s team is made up of people who are so passionate about CrossFit “in a way that is incredibly rare in the world,he said. And while that’s “amazing,” it also makes it difficult to make changes.
  • “Change at CrossFit is hard… Change in this community is really really hard,” he said of his realization. 

At the same time, Faul recognized that change was needed in order for CrossFit to achieve their ultimate goal: “to reach more people.”

  • “We have to be willing to change,” Faul said. 

So his plan to get everyone on board with change was to “be crisp around what can’t change, and then let’s have the courage and have the willingness to make some changes (to impact) more people and be better.”

The changes required: In a nutshell, some of the biggest changes, and areas of growth, Faul identified at CrossFit—changes that are required for CrossFit to reach their goal of impacting the next “10, 20, 30 million people,”—are fourfold:

  1. Branding: Faul has invested (and continues to invest) in reshaping CrossFit’s overall brand to entice more people to begin training at affiliates. 
  1. Education: Right now, the Level 1 certificate course is the start and end of the education process for many coaches, Faul said. Thus, he wants more coaches to pursue the Level 2 and other continued education, so they can “level up their overall education” and have a greater impact on clients and their affiliates, creating a “virtuous cycle.”
  • In order to do this, Faul has committed to making the Level 2 more accessible and easier for coaches to achieve to “empower them to be world class in their profession,” he said.
  1. Affiliate Success: While many affiliates are doing “exceptionally well,” when you “zoom out and look at the overall state of our community,” there are “too many gyms who…could be doing a lot better financially,” Faul said.  
  • In light of this, CrossFit has been investing heavily in rolling out new resources for gym owners to help them as business owners, including a Starter Kit and a mentorship program for new gym owners that is already available.
  • Go deeper: Read more about Faul’s plans to help gym owners financially in our recent article.
  1. Sport: Finally, Faul and his team are committed to continue to grow the sport side of CrossFit in a way that it helps drive growth and support the overall community.

The biggest win: Before Faul could get started on any of the above changes, his biggest priority in the last 12 months was to get his team on the same page, as he quickly realized when he took the role as CEO that there were “a lot of questions about the path forward.”

  • “We had an extraordinary group of individuals, but we were not an extraordinarily high performing team, aligned working together in service of a clear goal,” he said. 

Specifically, the different departments were really “siloed” and “heads down” from each other, Faul explained, meaning the affiliate team, the education team and the sport team at CrossFit didn’t communicate with each other, which is something he focused on heavily when he took on the role. 

  • “We (needed) a clear, singular vision that we can be excited about and that we can all align around,” he said.

A year in, he’s confident with the strides they have made. 

  • “Without question the thing I’m most proud of is how far our team has come,” he said. 

The big picture: Faul’s vision for CrossFit in 2024 and beyond is to impact more people through CrossFit. Thus, CrossFit has and will continue to invest heavily in branding, education, sport, as well as in  providing new business-related resources for affiliates. This is the best course of action, Faul believes, to do what’s most important: To change more lives through CrossFit.

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