P90x Creator Tony Horton: My Success Secrets

Last Updated Jun 14, 2011 12:31 PM EDT

Tony Horton and his partners built P90x, a $400-million-a-year fitness empire on...infomercials. Sure, it doesn't hurt to have famous fit folks like Sheryl Crow and Representative Paul Ryan singing your praises. Or the New York Times calling P90x a "fitness revolution." But Horton isn't all that different from any of us trying to build better, bigger careers through creativity and hard work.

Horton went from being a young actor trying to make it in Hollywood to building a career as a respected celeb fitness trainer (he counts Bruce Springsteen and Annie Lennox as former clients). Of course, he's since transitioned into a bold-faced infomercial icon.

While auditioning in Hollywood, Horton met Carl Daikeler, a veteran infomercial producer. Along with business partner Jon Congdon, the three make up the dream team behind P90x and its successful offshoots. Horton most recently penned a fitness book, Bring It! and currently lends his time to the GO Campaign, which helps orphans around the world.

I snagged a few minutes out of Horton's busy schedule last week to discuss how he moved his career from the casting call to the gym to the boardroom, and became a brand along the way:

How did you realize that personal training wasn't going to be enough for you?
You can only make so much money driving around and training one person at a time. I did an audition for Nordic Track and I was using my fitness knowledge and reading a Teleprompter. I realized I could walk and chew gum at the same time.

Did you have any help orchestrating your career transition? I read Keith Ellis's book, The Magic Lamp: Goal Setting for People Who Hate Setting Goals. My goal was to be a spokesperson instead of a trainer. You have to be around like-minded people to have real successes. If you're in constant conflict about direction you're just going to move that much slower. Often you're going to stifle any success because you're not on the same page.

So clearly, picking the right partners is paramount. Did other people inspire you besides them?
Yes. [My advice is to] find a series of mentors who are super successful and just duplicate what they're doing. They didn't get where they are by not learning from people before them. I went to see Deepak Chopra, Billy Blanks, Anthony Robbins. I take little bits and pieces of everyone I meet and every conference I go to.

With all these wheels spinning at once, how do you stay organized? I'm a big To Do list freak -- what do I have to do, who do I have to call? I have 3 x 5 index cards in five of the rooms of my house and I'm always jotting down a problem that I have to solve.

How important are Twitter and Facebook to building a business and brand? It's a lot easier now than it ever was. If you're creative and have a sense of humor, it's amazing what you can build.

Ever think about what you'd be doing now if you'd stuck with acting? I love acting. If I had an opportunity to be in a movie or TV series, I'd love to do it. But generally as an actor, you might make someone laugh, but you're not really inspiring them. You're not creating major physical mental and emotional changes in someone.

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.