Michelsen at the Ironman Sports Institute in Houston
This October, when the eyes of the triathlon world are glued to their computers watching the world championship unfold in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Matt Michelsen’s face will be one that pops up frequently on their screens. But for the soon to be 40-year-old San Diego entrepreneur, fame is going to come a lot sooner.
Some would say it already has. As the driving force behind Lady Gaga’s massively successful social media presence, Matt Michelsen has been called a social media maven. Or in his words, he’s “the go-between” between the pop star and Silicon Valley.” (He was the executive producer of the Google Chrome commercial she recently starred in) As The New York Times reported yesterday, the artist’s new album “Born This Way” is officially the fastest-selling album in six years. (The album clocked in yesterday at 1.108 million copies in the United States—the largest since 50 Cent’s “The Massacre.”) In the next few days, articles on Michelsen’s golden touch are expected in Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.
With a varied background in finance, retail, and media, Michelsen is an energetic entrepreneur who has proven his talent for taking the unexpected and turning it into something great … exactly the kind of person who fits the Ironman lifestyle and culture.
The only problem is, he’s not fit. Or at least not yet.
Armed with Encinitas-based coach Roch Frey—Ford Ironman World Championship finisher, and coach of legendary world champions Heather Fuhr and Peter Reid—as well as gear from Aqua Sphere, Trek, K-Swiss, and others, Michelsen began his journey to Ali’i drive just five weeks ago. Over the next six months, viewers can eavesdrop on and interact with Michelsen through various channels (like IronmanLive, YouTube, and Twitter). Through weekly videos and updates, Matt will invite people to experience his real-time metamorphosis from “Average Joe” to Ironman. It’s the first time in the sport’s history that this transformation is being communicated through so many interactive platforms, and Michelsen is primed for it: “Social media’s all about engaging your community and not speaking at them but speaking with them,” he said.
“People … are trying to go back to high school and find all their friends.”
A few years ago, the budding triathlete didn’t even know what an Ironman was. He was introduced to it after his brother-in-law’s 17-year-old son—Michelsen’s nephew—was killed in a drunk driving accident in 2009. His brother-in-law had won a lottery slot to the Ford Ironman World Championship, and Michelsen accompanied him to the island to cheer him on. It was his first time witnessing an Ironman, and he was so inspired that he vowed to do one himself.
Not surprisingly, Michelsen has jumped into triathlon with both feet. Two days after completing the Encinitas Sprint Triathlon, his first-ever organized race, he visited the Ironman Sports Medicine Institute at Memorial Hermannn Hospital in Houston. During his time there, doctors and trainers came up with a fitness routine for him, to prepare him for October’s grueling endurance event. And he’s not done yet: this weekend he’ll run the Rock n’ Roll San Diego half marathon, and in July will tackle his first longer distance triathlon—the Amica Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island. Later this summer, Michelsen will race the Nautica New York City Triathlon, part of the 5150 Triathlon Series. Talk about trial by fire.
On how he manages to fit the new training regime into his already busy life, he said flatly, “I wake up earlier.” He added that he’s very disciplined with his time management, scheduling, and has an excellent assistant. As for this new goal, however, the self-confident entrepreneur said he is “extremely nervous.”
Despite his successful career (he was involved in a number of Internet start-ups in the 1990s), it quickly becomes evident when talking with Michelsen that family is the most fulfilling thing in his life. When pushed to zero in on his work, however, he said that his current projects top the satisfaction list. “We touch tens of millions of people,” Michelsen said, whose company, TheBackplane, coordinates social media for a variety of artists. Watching how this unique partnership between the Gaga guru and one of the biggest endurance sports brands in the world shakes out promises to be a wild ride.
Though he’s regarded in many circles as being at the top of the social media game, Michelsen’s insight into the phenomenon is somewhat atypical: “Nobody’s trained in social media,” he said. “People in this country are turning to it because they can’t go out and do retail therapy, or go to the movies, so they’re trying to go home, go back to before all their worries. They’re trying to go back to high school and find all their friends.”
As he shifts gears to embark on his own social media campaign, Michelsen will certainly gain a few more million of those.