When Jeff Harnois made the decision last May to leave his longtime banking career in order to launch his own business, it was, as he says, “nothing short of terrifying.”
Along with his business partner and longtime friend Doug Crawford, Harnois took a leap of faith (with plenty of planning to back it up) and launched WYLI Venture Partners Inc., an entity that Harnois envisions as eventually being an umbrella company for around a dozen small businesses including multiple F45 Training studios in Northern Virginia.
The duo is starting with three locations of the high-intensity workout franchise F45 Training, opening first in Ashburn in March, followed by locations in Tysons, Reston and NoMa.
You entered college with an interest in criminology. How did that start? I grew up as an only child and was constantly around more adults than children. I ended up watching all these “Law & Order” and “Criminal Minds” TV shows with my parents. By the time I left high school, I was sure I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney.
You ended up in financial services. How did your career progress? My first couple years out of college, I spent inside the internal affairs department at the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. I then transferred to State Street Bank and Trust before moving into Wells Fargo as an associate and climbed the ranks inside the specialty banking services. I was recruited with SunTrust Private Wealth and was there from November 2017 until I decided to go do my own thing in May 2018.
Why leave banking? I climbed the corporate banking ladder very fast and worked very hard. And I got to a point last year where I realized I was still looking for my professional identity. It was like I was treading water a little bit. I found myself on airplanes not knowing what airport I was going to. It got to be too much.
What was the reaction when you said you were launching WYLI? My partner and my friends were incredibly supportive. They saw the toll the professional world was taking on me. I think for my parents — they come from a different generation. They were worried about where my income would go. But now, almost a year later, I don’t think they could be prouder of me and that I took this leap.
Where is WYLI headed? We envision this being the parent company for 10 to 12, small to midsize businesses across three or four different industries.
You’re starting with several F45 Training locations. How did you find them? Doug discovered it on a Facebook ad that he was targeted for as a franchise owner. He sent it to me to check out, and that’s how the story goes, really. We knew we wanted to start with a franchise model to tee us up to succeed.
Are you concerned about how quickly workout trends come and go? I envision F45 being our stable product that we keep owning and operating as we venture out into other industries. High intensity training has existed for years. It has transformed, but the one thing that made me buy into F45 was primarily that it's functional. It helps people in their day-to-day lives. It's not about Olympic lifting moves or running a marathon. It's for any age group. Every exercise can be modified.
How did you plan for your financial safety net before you launched the business? Being a financial professional, I had a great deal of advisors around me. I had heard early on that saving in your early twenties makes a big difference than if you start saving in your late forties. It's about understanding what your goals are and living a modest lifestyle. I could not have done this if four or five years ago I'd bought a huge house in Great Falls or a bunch of cars. It's all about a conservative approach.
What’s it like to be working with a close friend? I can’t speak for Doug, but I was concerned about it. But at the end of the day, we know each other so well. And we have very different personalities.
What do you like about Del Ray? It's come a really long way. I love Del Ray. I don't ever want it to change and I can't see myself leaving it.
How do you feel about Amazon moving in so close? From a real estate perspective, you could argue that we won the jackpot. Look, it's the reality. We can't fight things like that. I do feel good. If it's a corporate giant to come in, I believe Amazon is a well-run company. They've done things that are league-changing. I feel good that it is going to give a lot of opportunity to some of the new college graduates.
What do you do with your free time? I do seem to design a lot of my weekend days around F45. I also play a lot of golf and I’m an avid mountain biker. My son loves to be on his bike.
Where do you like to go? I love to play at Hains Point in D.C. I’m a family guy. It’s a public course, it’s well kept and inexpensive. But I can be in and out of nine holes in less than two hours on a weekend morning and be home to spend the rest of the time with my son. For riding, we do a lot of time riding in Del Ray up and down the street. My son still can’t go very far — we’re not quite ready for the cross-country trips yet.
Favorite restaurants? I love Rosemarino, the Italian place on Mount Vernon Avenue. It's my go-to. And of course, my son is a big fan of Los Tios. But I also really like Evening Star as well in Del Ray.
What’s your morning routine like now? It’s interesting how the structure of my mornings has changed since I’ve stopped having to trudge into D.C. It’s the little things I’ve learned that I really enjoy. I get up and take the dog out, make the coffee. I can bring my son to school now. Those things have made me very happy. I make his lunch. I’ve transitioned into that role now, and I love every second of it.
President and co-founder, WYLI Venture Partners Inc.
Residence: Del Ray
Education: Bachelor’s in criminology and law, Suffolk University; MBA, American University
Family: Partner; son Wyeth, 6
First job: Summer camp lifeguard
This article was originally posted on Washington Business Journal.