The First State of the Spark Address

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, 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.
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Member Comments

As someone who suffers from Anxiety i was really touched to see how much you achieved and how that inspired you to help lift others. A heartfelt thank you Report
Hi Chris and SP-team!

Thank you so much for your program! It makes me healthier and happier. I learn a lot and can help others with my dedication and sticking with SP! The best program out there so far!

Ivana Report
Woo Hoo Cincinnati. I've been an OHIO resident since blizzard of 1996. Your staff could figure out I'd tried Spark 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2016 and now I'm down to one profile and I'm gonna try this time to make it work. I've suggested this to two friends. It's a good program. I just get easily overwhelmed. Kudos to the program and your staff for sorting me out. Report
Good Afternoon Chris and Team,
I can not begin to tell you how very grateful for your program. I've started following it after I found it on Google about 2 weeks ago, then was hospitalized for 6 days. I began again this past Monday and it has truly been a blessing for me. I appreciate that not only do you give us food programs and nutrition guide-lines, you explain/inform us of the components of foods we eat and how they impact our health.
I am so grateful for the excellent exercise videos and articles that include those of us w/limited mobility as well.
Again, thank you so very much and may God continue to bless you and your team for all that you do to help so many of us. Report
Trying to balance my food intake and being chronically ill has been a losing battle the passed several years.Not being able to walk and having had multiple surgeries over the years limits me in many ways making it feel impossible to lose weight. I could go up and down 10-15 lbs seasonally but it was more related to water retention and being sedentary.I was hit by a car about 14 yrs ago and had regained 1/2 of the weight I lost before that when I was able to walk a few miles a a day.
If carbs are in my house I will eat them. It was not uncommon for me to substitute a bag of potato chips for a meal or to skip eating all day to pig out at night.I was 375 lbs 20 years ago but had gone on a diet and walking back in 2004 and lost 140 lbs in 10 months. I was happy with the progress and eating healthy til I got hit by a car and had to stop working and got a bad back and hip that degenerated more each year and becoming a shut in. I slipped back into drinking diet soda and eating fast easy foods that didn't require much prep if any.I definitely got into more carbs.I regained a lot of weight and was back up to 321 on Feb 19 2019
I need a hip replacement but doctors tell me not unless I lose 100 lbs.I began cutting down on carbs but not enough and was still drinking diet soda so slowly weaned onto sugar free drink mixes and increasing my water intake. I cut down and then cut out dressings, mayo, ketchup and most sugars as well as less breads and pastas.My weight began to drop and I hovered between 316 - 306 going up or down a few pounds but still remaining over 300 since Feb 19th.
I have multiple medical problems and allergies so I cant take diet pills or statins but I cant take vitamins and supplements and do take ones that match up as being beneficial with my bloodwork.
I was looking for organic sulfur for joint pain.Its also called MSM but searches mixed in Chicory Root Powder as a dietary source to help with organ issues, digestion and pain so I ordered some and began adding 1 scoop a day as suggested to a beverage as it can be used in... Report
Like so many others, this site has been a blessing to me! I have been so blessed to get the support I need on so many levels it is such a beautiful thing. Along the way I have meet so many wonderful people who inspire me, encourage me along the way and whom I never thought I would also help along the way. THANK YOU SO MUCH for all you do and your great team at Spark People! Report
I have been a member off an on since 2009. and I thank you for this. I don't have to follow any particular philosophy. it has allowed me to explore and do this with autonomy BUT with so much support.
when I waver, I gain. when I return, I get my mojo back.
this is truly a gift.
thank you so much. Report
Thank you Chris and Team. I have used Spark People on and off since 2015 and have achieved some of my goals. I know if I stay on this program I will achieve them all. How can we thank you enough for caring for others and developing and sharing this program with everyone. God Bless you all! Report
Thank you so much! Report
A heartfelt thank you! Report
Thank you for creating a community platform that allows me to share, trust and feel part of likeminded people, no matter our background and history. Report
A simple, heart felt thank you. Report
Thank you for founding this wonderful site that is so encouraging! Report
Thank you Spark Guy. I appreciate all that goes into SparkPeople to make it successful. Report
Thank you SparkGuy! The site never gets old. I like the new changes. Press on, Push forward, Spark ON! Report


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.