Building a Startup as a Full-time Student

A conversation with student entrepreneur Habtom Ghile, founder of Mr. G Athletics.


Habtom Ghile: full-time student, business owner, active community member and an overall great guy! Today I’m sharing the story of a very close friend that I am fortunate enough to call a brother. We grew up together and I have seen a truly amazing transformation; he has a highly motivating story that I think all students should hear. I have had the pleasure of interviewing him about how he manages all the things he does in his 24-hour day. 

Habtom started Mr. G Athletics in the summer of 2020. He had the idea to start a business several months earlier, and took some time to figure out exactly what type of business he wanted to start. Eventually, he pulled the trigger on monetizing his hobby and delivering a personal training service. Mr. G Athletics is an online personal training service that offers customized workout programs and nutrition coaching. Habtom's goal is to help his clients achieve their fitness goals through healthy and sustainable habits. Habtom also promotes healthy living by posting tips, videos and information about the services he provides on Instagram @mrgatheltics.

Tell me a bit about yourself!

I'm 22-years old, born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. I’m a fourth-year Bachelor of Arts student majoring in Media Studies. I work a part-time job at the YMCA where I am a duty manager, a fitness centre attendant and a customer service desk attendant. For the past 18 months, I’ve been running Mr. G. Athletics, my online personal training business.

What made you want to become a personal trainer? When/how did you become certified?

When I was around 18 years-old, I knew I wanted to have a “side hustle” on top of being a university student. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I wanted to pick something I knew I could excel at. I kept the idea in the back of my mind for a while. One night, at a friend's house, I was hit with the idea of monetizing my favourite hobby: going to the gym. At that point, I had been working out at a gym for about two years and had made some decent progress. I knew that I wanted to become certified as a personal trainer, and decided I would begin a personal training course after my last final exam of the Winter 2020 semester. Even though this was right at the start of the pandemic, I immediately registered because I knew if I had hesitated, I would end up wasting my time by not doing anything productive during lockdown. 

How has running a business changed the way you look at your degree?

I was originally taking a BA in Human Geography with the aspirations of becoming an urban planner, but decided to switch my major after learning more about myself. As my business grows, I am now using my BA degree as a way to develop my professional skills such as my ability to communicate effectively, meet tight deadlines, develop my interpersonal skills and become a better writer. I am also using my time in school as a way to practice running a business. The way I see it, if I can manage full-time classes, part-time work and running a business, then I can be capable of creating and managing a large corporation down the road. I am running my online personal training business as a platform to learn more about sales, customer service, networking, marketing and general administrative tasks. I look at school as a piece of a puzzle contributing to the bigger picture.

How do you manage a full-time course load, part-time job and running a business all at once? 

Everything I do is with purpose. As I said, everything is all feeding towards the bigger picture and that is how I stay motivated. People ask me all the time, 'is it hard?' Of course it is! I need to make sacrifices. I don’t sleep much, I don’t have a lot of free time and I can’t recall the last Netflix series I watched. When you find what you love and are passionate about, you will take the time to go out and get it done.

What is your routine?

I wake up at 5 am and get to the gym by 5:30 a.m.. I usually get home around 7:15 a.m. and will be at the train station by 8:15 a.m.. I will attend any classes I have for the day, and when I’m not in class I'm working on my required coursework. I am usually done with school at around 3 or 4 p.m.. In the evening I will either head to my part-time job, work on creating programs for my clients or work on creating social media content. I usually go to sleep at 9 or 10 p.m.. You can see how little time I have to watch YouTube or Netflix, or scroll through social media for leisure. I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad about how they spend their time, but I just want to show everyone that it is possible to cut out distractions and stay busy, especially when you are motivated. 

How do you stay so focused and motivated when you are busy?

For me, I understand that time is my most valuable asset and if I waste my time now, I know I will definitely regret it later. I’m still fortunate to live at home so I don’t have a lot of expenses and don’t have any serious commitments at the moment, but I know this will change once I get older. I always listen to my mind and body. On the days I feel productive, I go as hard as I can. There are days where I’m not focused, and those are the days I take a break and recharge. My reward is taking the time to relax, whatever that may mean to me at that particular time. Usually, I feel a bit guilty the next day because of the time I wasted, but that is what motivates me to get back on the grind. I enjoy living like this. 

What advice do you want to share with your peers? Is there anything else you would like to share? 

Yes, you can't fail if you don't quit. I always remind myself that consistency + effort + patience = success. Another big piece of advice I would share is: nobody is stopping you from getting what you want except for YOU. Your mentality is the most important aspect when you are working on achieving your goals. Never quit on a goal that you believe in. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

About Nathaniel

Nathaniel is a fifth year BA student double majoring in Economics and Political Science as well as double minoring in Philosophy and International Studies and has completed the Arts Work Experience Program. He is passionate about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and serves as the student representative on the Arts CEDI committee. Nathaniel enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, binge watching Netflix and playing basketball in his spare time.