In 2012, Rochester native Troy Amdahl co-authored a self-help book that changed his life.
Former NFL great Kurt Warner wrote the forward to it. Expectations for how it might sell were non-existent. Which is just as well. The self-published work sold 43 copies in the first three months -- mostly to friends and family.
Then "Oola: Find Balance in an Unbalanced World" took off.
The book led to speaking engagements. That led to sold-out events called OolaPaloozas. Nationwide Oola Dream tours followed.
People wrote their dreams on stickers and stuck them to a 1970 Volkswagen bus. After book sales reached a 100,000, the publishers of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" came knocking and signed Amdahl and co-author Dave Braun to a three-book publishing deal.
"It turned into a thing that had a life of its own," Amdahl said.
Today, Amdahl, a 1985 Mayo High School graduate, estimates that Oola engages a million people on its array of social media platforms. His ambitions are global: To positively impact 1 billion lives within the next seven years through the Oola framework.
Oola is a goal-oriented program that posits that fulfillment can be achieved by focusing and growing in seven life areas. They are called the 7 Fs of Oola: Fitness, finance, family, field (career), faith, friends and fun. Oola comes from the word Ooh-la-la. To find one's Oola is to discover the awesome of life.
"People are feeling stressed and overwhelmed," Amdahl said when asked about Oola's growth. "They are craving something positive, fun, relatable and easy to implement in their life."
Too many people live life by default, he added. Oola offers a path of a life lived by design.
"Rather than just taking what comes at you, why not wake up and tell the day what to do," he said.
Oola has its critics. Some find its books cliche-ridden and filled with generalizations. They say the self-help industry peddles pseudoscience and preys on the unhappiness of others, offering the false hope of fulfillment, all while selling more books.
With the launch of a digital platform and Oola Global, a multi-level marketing (MLM) channel, critics accuse it of being a pyramid scheme "wrapped up in the shifty self-help movement," as one put it.
Amdahl said he was aware of MLM's negative connotations before he and Braun launched their MLM venture. But "(we) jumped in anyway."
To him, the criticisms are reminiscent of the negative attitudes he encountered as a chiropractor, a profession he devoted himself to for nearly two decades in Rochester before retiring at age 42, debt-free and financially secure, thanks to the Oola principles he incorporated in his life, he says.
When Amdahl started his practice in the early 1990s, chiropractic care was viewed as little more than "voodoo."
Mayo Clinic had a dim view of it. His hope was to bring a greater respectability to the profession. Speaking at Mayo Clinic and its medical school functions, he sought to raise awareness about its potential.
Mayo physicians, never enthusiastic about the practice, would nonetheless refer their patients to Amdahl if a patient was set on seeing a chiropractor. Eventually, some of those referrals included VIPs from the Middle East.
Around 2000, Amdahl was asked by at least one of those "influential people" to establish a practice in the United Arab Emirates. So he and his family uprooted themselves and lived there for two years.
"It was fun for me," Amdahl said. "I've always wanted to do big, fancy, fun things. I feel like I wanted to make a difference in the world in a positive way. And it was an amazing experience."
Oola began as an annual tradition among friends. Amdahl would hold once-a-year Las Vegas getaways with Braun and others. Between concerts and road trips, they would huddle together and set goals for the coming year on seven stacks of cards.
"We'd set goals in seven areas of life, not just money or business, but what kind of dad we wanted to be, what kind of husband we wanted to be, what we wanted to do for fun," he said.
Two years after his retirement, Amdahl was jolted by unexpected news. Braun, a one-time intern of Amdahl's and a fellow chiropractor, called with bad news. His life was in free-fall. He was bankrupt and in the midst of a divorce. He once had a thriving practice and a multi-million dollar home.
Amdahl and Braun had lost touch while Amdahl was living in the UAE. Amdahl asked Braun whether he was still doing the "Oola thing." Braun admitted he had drifted away from the practice. Amdahl urged him to get back on track.
"Just step outside of life like we used to do and be honest with where you are. But start creating a vision for where you want to go in seven areas," Amdahl said.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and Braun's life began to bounce back. He was recovering his Oola. In the midst of this recovery, Braun made a promise to Amdahl.
"He said to me, 'If this works for me and this gets me out of this dark spot, I want to share it with everybody," Amdahl said.
That's when they decided to write their first book together.
Within a month of launching their digital platform this summer, Oola had signed up thousands of subscribers in 14 countries, he said. Unlike their books, live events and bus tours, the digital product embeds the Oola philosophy in people's lives.
"We walk you through how to set goals and how to avoid what's getting in the way," Amdahl said. "It's like our greatest hits. When people look at their life this way and actually engage, they're happier and move forward."