We had the good fortune of connecting with Brent Ramos and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brent, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
Brand is literally the most important thing to focus on if you are creating a business. And a hyper focus on this stage, is what makes Koa House successful. Whether acting as an individual contractor, SMB, or an enterprise company, the art of branding will ultimately be your key to longevity and success. It is a three part mix of: Art, Grit, Science. I have always considered myself having a deep brand mind, but could never translate it into success or activation until I learned all of the non-creative components work from a business perspective. The full grasp of brand did not come to fruition until recent years. But once it was found, I actually took it a step further with things people traditionally miss in designing a business. This led me to creating a process called “Soothesaying & Gunslinging”. I run entrepreneurs, and even companies through this program whom are looking for a sherpa from that ideation-to-seed phase, or simply wanting to break-out on their own and have no idea where to start. Most people think brand ends at a logo design or something, but that kind of thinking will get you in trouble when it is time to go to market, not to mention years or decades down the road. You have to make this initial phase of design an incredibly important focus. Not to get too into the weeds here, but when in ideation mode, your brand or business needs to be anchored to a personal “foreverness plan” and tethered to an eventual exit one day. Whether that is selling, closing, or just retiring. Begin with the end in mind. What does that look like? Where are you? What kind of house do you want? What kind of work do you want to do in 10 years? Be insanely specific on this. Your brand should exemplify something that will not fade over time, and exist as something that gives you energy in times when everything looks bleak. Knowing where you want to be, will bring clarity. And with clarity, only then can you actually start designing a business that brings predictable happiness to you, and the world. The next part is all about putting in work. You have to attach your “true north”, to actual business practices. Ask yourself: What is the whitespace? Unfair market advantages? Product differentiation? Personas and market share? What are you product economics? What does your talent look like, and if you do not understand how to execute certain pieces, can you learn, or identify people who can? What does a sale look like? How long is that process, and how involved is it? How do they find you and what tools are used to get them? Where do they live, what do they eat, what do they do on Sunday nights? All of these things plus many more need to be air-tight. This, in tandem with you foreverness plan will be what you tailor you creative design against specifically. Now comes the fun part. How does this all look visually? Not just on logo design, but within media like search, display, video. How do you talk about your brand? What language and semantics do you use? What product placement do you allow? What partners or events do you partake in, or not? What type of talent do you hire and look for? How do you build your ops in a way that supports your brand internally? What culture do you want to build with your consumers? All of these things back into the longevity and power of your brand. If you, or your team cannot live the brand endlessly, then you have no brand, you have a gimmick. Finally, you must execute. It is not enough to create vision boards. You must become your brand. That usually means spending lots of late nights learning things you never wanted to learn, and doing things tactically to make yourself a better founder. Look at how you are spending your time, how do you give back? What is your diet? Your ability to free-think, or the way you can speak? How fast you can execute? What is the tone in the way you write? How agile you can make decisions? What is your ability to learn and do things like website builds, or articulating product economics to investors? As the the old saying goes: “you must live your brand”. In order to have a good brand, you have to first be a good founder. This is how Koa House was designed.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Koa House is a family operated Hawaiian infused spa and martial arts gym. Bringing health and empowerment under a single roof. It’s a program that turns wellness into a conscious journey – located in Littleton, CO. We specialize in authentic Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage services and martial arts training. We are unique in that we blend both spa & martial arts together seamlessly, not just housing it in the same building, but actually as a fused together experiential program. Further, our exclusiveness to 100% Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Massage exists only here at Koa House for the Denver community, and our martial arts system, 108, is the only school outside of the original started in Chinatown. These two services specifically are what we are best known for. However, we also offer Muay Thai, Tai Chi, Yoga and more wrapped up as offerings in our memberships. For massage therapists, we also serve as an incubator for those wanting to run their own program one day, but need a launching pad and entrepreneurial sherpa. We’re proud to offer something so unique, but not simply for uniqueness sake. It is rare to find the depth with which we can present to a client in either our spa or martial arts/fitness side. It’s really important to us to be able to present accessibility and incredible value to the people that walk through our doors. And I do think we’ve achieved that balance. Folks that come to us are going to be able to continually uncover more interesting facets as they return. And I think because we think all of this stuff is so cool, others will get to do cool stuff with us! We have told the origin story of Koa House many times on various levels – which is really the story of our school and time spent running 108, back in Chinatown, San Francisco. So, we are not going to dive back into it here deeply. However, what you see presented within Koa House, is actually a decade of evolvement from our previous martial arts school. It was from this decade long process, that we were able to fine tune our craft, grow as people, and also learn trial by fire how to bring an idea from ideation, to reality, to becoming a business. It was definitely not easy – and the process involves everything from martial arts challenge matches in alleyways, park teaching, dumpster diving, Chinatown politics, exile, failure, poverty, mentorship, finding oneself, re-learning, redemption, success, and figuring out how to be a leader on the pantheon of San Francisco until it was time to go. For the reader, a quick google search can likely return articles in depth, otherwise – we are always open to another interview!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Denver has been an amazing place to return to after living in an ultra urban city for so long. I would first recommend to connect with the land and nature, and enjoy it to the fullest. For something close, checkout Red Rocks on a non-event day and just enjoy transversing the rocks, or paths surrounding the theatre. It is fun, beautiful, and only a 20 minute drive from the city. If you continue down the highway by about 20 minutes – stop off in the quaint former mining town of Idaho Springs, try Beau Jo’s Pizza and a drink at Tommy Knockers while you are there. The drive back will give you a brief taste of the foothills and an entrance into the Rockies – yet only 45 minutes from the city. Roxborough Park and Chatfield are equally close down south, and will lend ways to day hikes, paddle boarding, and more only a short distance from the city. For a deep Rockies experience, we prefer Vail for a weekender. Looking for a nice park? Washington Park is always busy, large, and fun for everyone. When in Denver, I prefer places off the beaten path. Mercury Cafe is a Denver original and community hold out for all things bohemian like poetry nights, swing dance nights, comedy, and amazing organic menus. Stellas Coffee House down off Pearl Street will always remain a favorite, and is an icon at this point to what coffee houses of yesteryear should have been. Make sure to checkout all restaurants and bars on south broadway like Sputnik, The Skylark, and Bowman’s for a punk rock-esque flair, stiff drinks and good menus. Adrift is not quite Hawaiian, but it brings a taste of higher-end Tiki Culture to Denver and can be a fun patio to kill happy hour on. Beatrice and Woodsley transports you into a fairytale amidst a grove of Aspens, and has an incredible brunch. They also own Bang Up To The Elephant on Capital Hill for a cool calypso theme, and a great pizza place – 2 Fisted Marios down on Market street with a Beetlejuice-esque cocktail bar attached to it called Double Daughters (try the red drink floating through the wall-pipes). We enjoy vegan and vegetarian food – so WaterCourse Foods off of 17th, and their sister spot City O City on 13th are the places to be. For luxurious massages, and fun classes with a taste of Hawaii brought to Denver – checkout Koa House!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The biggest shoutout will have to go to my wife, Barbara. She is not only a co-founder of Koa House, an amazing healer and martial artist, but a full time mom that has anchored us through our first school back in San Francisco, and is currently still killing it as a therapist. She is first only above my kids Koalani, Kaimana, my family, and then our ancestors who are the spark for everything we do. However, there has been some incredible teachers and mentors that gave us the opportunity and wisdom to be here in the first place. The following teachers are amongst our most treasured, and adorn the walls of our gym for inspiration: Jeana Iwalani Naluai: Jeana founded Ho’omana Spa in Maui, HI. Which is where we learned all of our massage and spa training. Not only has she made traditional Hawaiian healing practices consumable to a broad audience across the globe and introduced it gracefully to western audiences, but she has also trained thousands to perpetuate Hawaiian thought into new generations. We literally would not be here without meeting Jeana. From Jeana, we found other Hawaiian teachers in our lineage as inspiration, and then sought out other teachers to fine-tune our learning with influences from Kumu Mike Lee, Mark Ke’ali’i ho’omalu, and even influences like Nainoa Thompson and his work with the Hokulea, and Eddie Aikau. These teachers encompass everything from hula, cosmology, plant medicines, understanding of land management, Hawaiian navigation, sustainability, teaching, and what it truly means to be a leader in a very Hawaiian capacity. On the martial arts side, there have been many. The most influential few have been Zheng Man Qing, Benjamin Lo & Scott Meredith for all things internal, like Tai Chi and Xing Yi. We regard this as our secret art – because it is deceptively so simple and we never really talk about it unless you train it. But, it powers literally almost everything we do from healing, to business, mindset, and martial arts. This lineages presentation of form and training is what makes it unique amongst others, and why we train and teach it today in high regard. On the MMA side of things, CSA Gym led by Kirian Fitzgibbons and M.J. totally changed my perspective on how to run a good gym or school. I arrived to CSA as a traditional martial artist with my own school already existing in Chinatown. On day 1 at CSA, I had my ego kicked and bruised, but I brushed myself off and showed up the next day. I ended up learning some of the best Muay Thai offered on this continent and stayed for a few years until I finally moved away. I was not part of the fight team, just a hobbyist that showed up daily to the the 9am Muay Thai and Bag classes. But, beyond the Muay Thai that they are known for, it was refreshing to see how this gym brings people together and how they actually run a gym. The culture is very different then most MMA gyms, and it is by this design that they are wildly successful in curating such a diverse and die-hard fan base, while producing athletes at the highest level at such a fast clip. I try to bring in some of influences from this gym in business over to Koa House, and of course system insights from their Muay Thai & Kickboxing programs. It was through CSA I also started training Jiu Jitsu, but eventually landed over at Ralph Gracie for this training – mostly due to my first professor being Rhalan Gracie – who I really think was just a fantastic teacher. I vibed really well with his presentation. I admired how he ran his classes, treated people as humans, and his overall outlook on Jiu Jitsu. I trained at Ralph’s alongside CSA until the l day I moved to Denver. Lastly, I have to shout out my own school and students back in Chinatown: 108. All of the students, and teachers that existed with us for a decade in San Francisco, all contributed to the evolution of where we are now with Koa House. 108 was a park-group, that grew into a professional school within the most demanding city in the world, in the wildest way possible. That experience, and the way we ran it (much like a pirate ship) paved the way into where we are now (and we still teach 108 material today at Koa house).