Motivation Articles

The First State of the Spark Address

An Introduction from SparkPeople's Founder & CEO

Hello Everyone!

I’m Chris (SparkGuy), the Founder & CEO of SparkPeople. Thanks for being a member of the site! This is the first in a new series of articles in which I’ll be updating the SparkPeople Community on topics that I think our community might like to know about.

The name “State of the Spark Address” obviously borrows from the US President’s “State of the Union” address. Not that I’m important, but I just thought it was a fun name!

This first address will talk about how and why SparkPeople is a free site. We get many questions about this. The answers help show that SparkPeople is a different kind of company with a different kind of mission. We truly want to help individuals and the world.

On with the address…
How Can SparkPeople Be Free?

Personal History
Back in the 80's and 90's, I developed a personal improvement program while conquering shyness and anxiety as a child and young adult. This program combined elements that help improve your body (fitness, nutrition, etc.) with elements that improve your mind (goal-setting, stress management, leadership, etc.). For example, I set a goal to do 10 minutes of fitness almost every day and turned this into a healthy and fun habit. It became as ingrained as brushing my teeth and helped change my life.

While working at Procter & Gamble after college, I accidentally motivated a woman to lose 50 pounds using this same program. She told me this changed her life. I said to myself, "Hmm…this could somehow become a business that helps many people someday."

First Company
The results of using this program for me were incredible. I had more energy and enthusiasm for life than ever. This gave me the passion and energy to leave my job at Procter & Gamble to eventually start an online auction site named Up4Sale with a friend in 1996. By focusing on PEOPLE, Up4Sale grew into the second largest person-to-person auction site behind eBay—well behind eBay, but second place was good in that category! Our company became eBay's first acquisition just before their IPO, and then I worked at eBay for three years.

SparkPeople Mission
After meeting my wife at eBay (we have the same birthday and met on that day at an eBay offsite), I realized that my improvement program had directly led to my personal and professional success, and that it was replicable to all types of goals (like the woman who had lost 50 pounds). So, I dedicated the rest of my life to Sparking millions of other People to reach their goals, by starting a company named (you guessed it) SparkPeople.

SparkPeople's mission is to help millions of people reach their goals using health and fitness as a springboard to success. We also want to create one of the best company cultures in the world by living our brand. For example, we pay employees a significant bonus for following a consistent fitness & nutrition program year-round.

We help our members reach their goals by showing them how to truly make a healthy lifestyle change. This helps them keep the weight off AND helps them in other areas of life—from relationships to career and finances.

Our team is passionate about this mission because we don’t think anyone else has a program as comprehensive as SparkPeople. In fact, many companies in the huge “diet industry” love that people stay on the diet rollercoaster, continuously losing (and regaining) weight by following a fad diet or taking diet pills. This just gives these companies reason to come up with the next fad.

One of the main reasons we want to be free is to spread the word about this program to as many people as possible! I’m not aware of any premium diet solution that works that has ever been free.

A Great Team (This Includes YOU)
SparkPeople has put together a team of people who are passionate about our mission. Now I'm just one small part of this cohesive team. Our technology leaders also have extensive experience at eBay, so they know about building high traffic sites.

We consider our members to be part of this team. We know that for our mission to succeed, we need our members to get great results and help spread the Spark.

Low Expenses
We work to keep our expenses as low as possible to keep advertising at a minimum. I look at as an example of this. They are able to keep expenses low with a staff of only about 20 people even though they are a huge site.

This is the same strategy we used at my first company and it worked so well we never needed outside financing. Everything went onto our credit cards, which did get quite scary for awhile! Our small team at SparkPeople spends almost all of their time doing projects that will directly help our members. Also, our location in Cincinnati means lower expenses than many other areas of the world, since the cost of living here is relatively low.

Also, I have turned the stock I received from eBay for my first company into a diversified portfolio of investments that have done well. Now, even if we lose money as a free site for awhile, a good chunk of our annual expenses are covered by my investment returns each year. This is another thing that lets us offer our services for free.

Advertisers Help Cover Costs
SparkPeople is one of the most difficult and expensive types of websites to build and maintain because it’s so interactive. We have a staff of highly-trained experts who continue to add new features and content, and find ways to keep the site running smoothly. Without them, this site wouldn’t be possible—they keep working hard to improve their skills as we grow. I’ll be honest and report that our operating expenses for this site are more than $2 million annually—and that’s working hard to keep expenses low. For example, I don’t earn a salary as SparkPeople's CEO.

To support our mission of helping millions of people, we're starting to add advertising to the site. We’re trying hard to balance the placement of advertising so advertisers get their money’s worth without the ads being too obtrusive. The emphasis will be on quality—trying hard to work with companies that support our philosophy.

So, your support of our advertisers is a major key that helps us help you (and everyone else). In fact, if our members strongly support our advertisers, we’ll be able to charge more for advertising space to help us with our mission.

Innovative Ideas
We believe that being a for-profit company is the best way to eventually spread our program to millions of people. So, we will work hard to come up with innovative ideas to earn revenue that our members will also enjoy. Any revenues we earn are used to keep making the site better and to spread the word to more people.

As you can see, I believe in this mission and am putting my money and time where my mouth is!

Thanks for helping us spread the Spark. Together we can make each other and the world a healthier, happier, and more productive place!
To learn how and why SparkGuy founded SparkPeople, watch this video or read his bio.  You can also visit his SparkPage to post a comment.  SparkGuy personally reads every comment on his SparkPage, and often shares them with the SparkPeople staff as motivation to keep making the site better and continue changing people's lives.

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
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Member Comments

  • Thank you Chris .I just found Sparkpeople this Spring .I have been on so many diets only to gain every pound back plus more each time.I need the encouragment and the trackers . Bless You and the SparkTeam.
  • As I have always said, THANK YOU CHRIS for this wonderful site! It is such a gift and a blessing. Thank you for all you and the Sparkteam do to provide this to us!
  • Thank you for your undying concern for the health of America. I've gone to Curves and had good results in loosing weight. I am Bipolar and was put on Seroquel and gained close to 40 lbs. But the gym went out of business and other gyms were sooo expensive. I exercise at home with different CD's by Leslie Sansone, she combines cardio with strength training. She also combines cardio and floor exercising with ab training. She show concern for not hurting yourself and doing the exercises right and she is inspiring. When the gym closed and I gained all that weight I was so upset and depressed about the way I looked. I finally went to Psychiatrist and she took me off of Seroquel and put me on Latuda, then I started Spark People again I have been a member on and off since 2013. Now I am here to stay. Once coming off of Seroquel Leptin was able to tell me when I was full and in 2 months without any effort I went from 191 lbs. to 175 lbs. Since coming back to Spark since mid January I am now at a plateaued 168. Without the support of Spark I would have thought that I could not loose the weight and was doomed to be depressed about my body. Thanks again for your program and since money is tight the program being free is an even momentous blessing. Thanks a lot . Bridgette Baudoin (Franklin, Louisiana)
  • You are doing Great!
    Thanks for the site
    Cheers Richard
  • I found SP mid-DEC 2016,AND IT HAS CHANGED MY LIFE. The trackers has made it easier to focus on my health, and I'm grateful. Thanks a lot! shafferchet
  • Chris I want to thank you for setting up such a great site. It's got a wonderful support system and a great menu of areas to choose from. my only struggle is when i log food in, it takes a really long time to boot up, so sometimes I'll just use my fitness pal bc it's quick, but I really enjoy the articles and support! I got inspired to start a spark team but maybe I need to put on hold till I get more friends LOL
  • Chris, you are as inspiring as the whole site is. Thank you for providing this for free so that people who are struggling with finances can still make a positive change in their lives.
    I know that the only way I can keep on track is to keep recording, reading inspirational stories and sharing successes/failure
    s/fears and hopes. I love the point system, it encourages me when things are hard and gives me a boost when I am low. The various trackers remind me of what I am supposed to do. Knowing I have to track gets me out of my chair when I want to be lazy and stops me putting things in my mouth I shouldn't.
  • Hi, Christ Can't I still stay a member of Sparkpeople even if I don't have a personal coach?
    too many e-mails You don't have too write a book every day
  • Chris you've made a difference in my life as well. I'm down 50 lbs since the second week of January this year. I have about 30 more to go but I'm confident I will lose the rest because of your site. I've gleaned so much good advice and information from this site. I tell anyone that asks about my weight loss about using SPARKPEOPLE. It's made a huge difference in how I think about life, let alone weight loss. Thanks for making this site and making a difference. I'm extremely grateful!
  • Dear Sparkguy:

    While I *do* block ads on websites as a matter of course in my browser (Chrome via AdBlock), partly to make my sometimes slow internet connection and time online more efficient, I REALLY appreciate the sparkpeople site, and the fact that it is FREE!! :D I would welcome opportunities to click on partner ads, *at my time of choosing, on one page, all put together* especially if there were sparkpoints associated with clicking daily.

    Just a suggestion :)
  • Thank you Chris! SparkPeople has helped me greatly, and I have had many of my patients (I am a healtcare provider) receive help in achieving healthy goals by using your site. You have whatever support I can give you!
  • Chris, thank you for this address. It is informative for those who have not read either "Spark" or "The Spark Solution" that I have both enjoyed. I found SP quite by accident in a magazine in the doctor's office. I joined SP in October, 2013, having lost 140 pounds on Jenny and on my own, beginning at 535 pounds. I have lost another 47 on SP. I am 67, went from a wheel chair to a walker, and now a cane. I have made much progress in all areas of my life, and am just starting with a personal trainer. I have a long term goal for another 100 pounds. My family says, "Mom, if you lose 287, you should go for 300!" I just might.
    Thank you for your commitment to the world, and this wonderful place to learn and grow.
    Cleveland, Ohio
    I'm upset because Sparkpeople made me start over because I was forced to change my email address. I've lost all my Sparkpeople history.
    Thank you Chris I love SPARK and feel that I am finally reaching my goals

About The Author

Chris Downie Chris Downie
As the founder and CEO of SparkPeople, Chris is passionate about helping people reach their goals! See all articles by Chris.