Those who know Chris Downie, founder and CEO of SparkPeople.com, today would never know he suffered from social anxiety as a child. But as it turns out, his shy-guy attitude is what helped Chris become the innovator he is today.
Determined to rid himself of anxiety and become a leader, Chris researched health, fitness and personal improvement. He converged the best findings on health and fitness with the best from traditional leadership development, and set out to achieve his goals of being healthy and starting his own company. But he didn’t try to conquer the world in one step. Instead, he broke down his long-term goals into short-term, achievable tasks.
“The most important action step I took was to set a goal to do 10 minutes of exercise before work every day, and challenge myself to keep track of how many days in a row I could accomplish my goal,” said Chris. “I ended up completing my goal for 700 days in a row, and it changed my life.”
Chris credits this important short-term goal with defeating his anxiety and making him a more outgoing leader.
Accomplishing his own goals gave him the desire to help others. In an interview about his successes, Chris reflected on a time when he motivated a co-worker to lose 50 pounds and then found out that she in-turn motivated other people to start making healthy lifestyle changes too. Chris called this a real “spark” for him.
SparkPeople.com is Born
“The program I started for myself gave me so much passion and energy that my friend Rob and I decided to leave our jobs in corporate America and start our own company. Rob had a vision to do a website that was a stock market for products so that people could sell items online. That’s how Up4Sale.com was started.”
About three years after Up4Sale.com was acquired by eBay, Chris utilized his passion for health and started SparkPeople.com with a small team made up mostly of UC graduates or students.
“At SparkPeople.com, we focus on helping people reach health and fitness goals, and then use those results as a springboard to reach goals in all areas of life,” Chris added.
Chris has certainly reached many of the goals he has set for himself in life, and other leaders from his alma mater recently took notice. In the spring of 2013, he was awarded the Christopher J. Nawaleaniec Distinguished Service Award at UC’s annual Entrepreneurship Awards banquet.
“It was a high honor for me to win a ‘service’ award since both of my companies have been based on helping people," Chris said. "This award will serve as an ongoing motivator for me to live up to with my companies and with continuing to inspire UC students when I can!”
Chris credits UC with giving him a great grounding in business fundamentals and a passion for learning more and taking action. He recognizes professors like Dr. Jeri Ricketts and Dr. Chuck Matthews for pushing him to stretch for big goals and become the innovative leader he is today.