Head Start

Building a Race Series

November 08, 2023 Race Directors HQ Episode 66
Building a Race Series
Head Start
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Head Start
Building a Race Series
Nov 08, 2023 Episode 66
Race Directors HQ

Building a race from the ground up, as anyone who’s done it will know, is a tough business. But what about planning, coordinating and growing a whole series of races, all with a common theme and brand identity?

How do you finance and grow multiple races from scratch? How do you choose when and where to launch a new race? And how can you make use of local delivery partners to deliver new races on a budget, while ensuring your quality standards and vision are adhered to?

That’s what we’ll be discussing today with my guest Sam Heward. As the co-founder of Ultra X, the multi-stage ultraramathon world series, Sam has been at the forefront of one of the fastest-growing race series concepts of the last few years, and with his help we’re going to be taking a deep dive into the benefits and challenges of setting up a race series from scratch, including the constant strive for brand consistency, the process of cross-pollinating ideas and small successes between events, and some of the difficulties of coordinating equipment, staff and sponsorship sales across multiple event locations.

In this episode:

  • Spotting gaps in the endurance event market
  • Putting together a business plan and testing the waters
  • Developing a brand that matches the race series' values and mission, and sets it up for long-term success
  • Finding your race series' unique selling proposition in a crowded market
  • Growing a race series through repeat participation
  • Engaging with your audience through multiple channels year-round
  • Outsourcing event planning and operations to local event delivery partners 
  • Using registration fees to bootstrap growth
  • Learning and iterating faster with multiple similar events around the year
  • The challenges of negotiating series-wide sponsors across multiple regions

Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 28,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com.

You can also share your questions about some of the things discussed in today’s episode or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Show Notes Transcript

Building a race from the ground up, as anyone who’s done it will know, is a tough business. But what about planning, coordinating and growing a whole series of races, all with a common theme and brand identity?

How do you finance and grow multiple races from scratch? How do you choose when and where to launch a new race? And how can you make use of local delivery partners to deliver new races on a budget, while ensuring your quality standards and vision are adhered to?

That’s what we’ll be discussing today with my guest Sam Heward. As the co-founder of Ultra X, the multi-stage ultraramathon world series, Sam has been at the forefront of one of the fastest-growing race series concepts of the last few years, and with his help we’re going to be taking a deep dive into the benefits and challenges of setting up a race series from scratch, including the constant strive for brand consistency, the process of cross-pollinating ideas and small successes between events, and some of the difficulties of coordinating equipment, staff and sponsorship sales across multiple event locations.

In this episode:

  • Spotting gaps in the endurance event market
  • Putting together a business plan and testing the waters
  • Developing a brand that matches the race series' values and mission, and sets it up for long-term success
  • Finding your race series' unique selling proposition in a crowded market
  • Growing a race series through repeat participation
  • Engaging with your audience through multiple channels year-round
  • Outsourcing event planning and operations to local event delivery partners 
  • Using registration fees to bootstrap growth
  • Learning and iterating faster with multiple similar events around the year
  • The challenges of negotiating series-wide sponsors across multiple regions

Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 28,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com.

You can also share your questions about some of the things discussed in today’s episode or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Panos:

Hi! Welcome to Head Start, the podcast for race directors and the business of putting on races. Building a race from the ground up, as anyone who's done it will know, is a tough business. But what about planning, coordinating and growing whole series of races, all with a common theme and brand identity? How do you finance and grow multiple races from scratch? How do you choose when and where to launch a new race? And how can you make use of local delivery partners to deliver new races on a budget, while ensuring your quality standards and vision are adhered to? Well, that's what we'll be discussing today with my guest, Sam Heward. As the co-founder of Ultra X, the multi-stage ultramarathon world series, Sam has been at the forefront of one of the fastest-growing race series concepts of the last few years, and with his help, we're going to be taking a deep dive into the benefits and challenges of setting up a race series from scratch, including the constant strive for brand consistency, the process of cross-pollinating ideas and small successes between events, and some of the difficulties of coordinating equipment, staff and sponsorship sales across multiple event locations. Even if building a race series is something that hasn't been on your radar so far, there's many lessons in today's discussion on scaling up race concepts across time and space that would appeal to you whatever stage in your race directing career you find yourself in. So stick around for a very interesting discussion. And before we get into this amazing episode, I'd like to give a quick shout out to our amazing podcast sponsor, RunSignup, race directors' favourite all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events. More than 28,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. And we'll be hearing a bit more from this great company a little later in the podcast. But, now, let's dive into our discussion on building a race series with Ultra X's Sam Heward. Sam, welcome to the podcast!

Sam:

It's great to be here. Thank you.

Panos:

Well, thank you very much for coming on and taking the time from your very busy schedule. Usually, you will be joining from somewhere quite exotic, but not today.

Sam:

Not today. I'm in southwest London and it's a little bit chilly and a bit wintry. I wish I was somewhere exotic.

Panos:

Well, you were telling me that the rest of your team is in Morocco preparing for your inaugural full tracks Morocco race, quite a strong showing as well - 250 participants - for your first event. And you're not going. You're not joining them.

Sam:

Yeah, it's a difficult one and always still feels a bit funny. We're five years in now and I've probably missed three events over that period. This year, I had been at every single event before there were any trail clubs or Sunday runs with some of our ambassadors or things like that. That was 26 weekends. And I think both me and my other co-founder are very conscious about making sure we look after ourselves, look after relationships with loved ones and families, and maintain our own energy levels because whilst, honestly, I would love to be at every single event this year, I'm conscious of the impact it has on energy and the kind of lag it has the following period. And I think we're lucky enough to have a very good team and I trust them to kind of get on with things and deliver a great event without me. And actually, I think the more we grow, it becomes more and more important for us to be able to say, "Actually, I'm not going to be there. You go and deliver this event yourself." So it's kind of partially looking after myself or looking after the team but also partially with the kind of years in the future in mind as well.

Panos:

So it's interesting that we're sort of, like, hitting the ground running here because we're going to be spending quite a lot of time in this episode discussing all aspects of putting on a series and, sort of, doing a number of events throughout the year. And you're already touching on something that wasn't even on my list, which is the whole physical toll it takes on you, the race director, and your relationships and, like, just having to sacrifice quite a lot of your personal time for this, seeing as most races happen over the weekend. Right?

Sam:

Yeah. I mean, it's pretty much always the weekend. There are pretty much always a few days either side and it's incredibly all-consuming. Regardless of how much preparation and planning you do, you are on for that 24, 48, 72 hours and, even the shorter events, we now have quite a range. We have one-day events. We have five-day events. The shorter events are incredibly-- because they're just such long days and such intense days and you're kind of always running around, yeah, they really do take their toll. But I think, there's the energy side but also there's, I guess, the kind of admin side because with a growing business or growing event series, you have one week where you're fully concentrated on that event and you come back and not only you're knackered, not only have you got social stuff to catch up with, but also you haven't done any admin for a week or two weeks or whatever, and you've got a tonne of emails catching up with you on to the next one. So, yeah, it's definitely important to be aware of the toll that the events can take on you and, I think, be kind of proactive about making sure that you're looking after yourself and your team.

Panos:

Yeah, indeed, and yet you chose this. So how did that happen? Tell us a little bit about Ultra X. Lots of people in the UK, predominantly - because you are a UK-based company - would be aware of you. Lots of people on the ultra marathoning side of things would be aware of you. But for the rest of our listeners who aren't, do you want to give us maybe, like, a quick summary of the Ultra X's story?

Sam:

Yeah, I mean, there's a kind of a long story and a short The short story is that I stumbled into the multi-stage story. ultra marathon space completely by accident when I was quite young for people in the sport - I was 22 - and it was supposed to be a scratch, which I did this challenge and then kind of moved on and got on with my life, and I had just the most amazing experience doing this event but found it quite frustrating that so many of the conversations that I had around this event would be met with, "I could never do that. It's not for me," when I just loved it. So I guess Ultra X was founded because we wanted to encourage more people to take on multi-stage ultramarathon, specifically, but more generally big challenges. And I was kind of training with an accountant and not particularly happy in that role looking for something to do on my own. And I guess the passion kind of met what I thought was a bit of an opportunity because I saw this space - this trail running space, adventure space - seeming to grow before me, so I was kind of-- I had the love of it and had the passion but also there's actually a rational kind of backing towards potentially making the leap. So, yeah, five years ago, we, Jamie and I - Jamie is the other co-founder - made the decision to create Ultra X and we now have 14 different multi-stage events next year and are kind of continuing to grow and put on these events and encourage more and more people to get involved in the sport that we love.

Panos:

Indeed, and we should say that most of these events-- obviously, growing a race like that, which is ultra marathons, even multi-stage ones - and I know you want to be growing the sport much more than that - there's still, like, a specific pocket of the industry that attracts a certain amount of people. How many participants are the events up to right now - sort of the more mature events or the newer events? I think I was reading on LinkedIn, one of your posts the other day, that the Morocco one that you're putting on this weekend is gonna be 250 people plus.

Sam:

Yeah, so there is a big range because we now have quite a diverse offering. So five stage events are kind of our bread and butter and that's really what the brand is all about. But we only have four five-stage events and they're generally up to 150-200 people. But then we also have a number of two-stage events which are larger and also open up the final day usually. The final day is 50 kilometres standalone Ultra for those people that might not want to spend a night in a tent and can just come participate and they're typically 250-plus, 200-plus. The largest we've had is about 500, 550. And we have also organised a couple of single-stage events in the past before and they're in the high 700-800s and this year could be up to 1000 on one of them.

Panos:

So it's interesting. So the core format is multi-stage ultra marathon events, always in amazing exotic locations, which I guess is sort of the whole selling point here. But you also, which is I guess quite smart-- you also use the last day of the multi-stage as a standalone event for the people who are more used to the traditional sort of short ultra marathon type distance.

Sam:

Yeah, exactly. And it was actually something we spent a lot of time deliberating over at the beginning because, for us, it's all about the multi-stage format and it is slightly different when you go into a single stage. But I think we eventually kind of got over it with the idea that, actually, if we can really champion the multi-stage competitors and bring in these new types of people to the event, show them what multi-stage event is like, and actually, then you might be encouraging them to come back the following year and do a two-stage event but also bringing a few more people into a race because, actually, at the end of the day, two-stage events are generally slightly less popular than the single-stage ones.

Panos:

So I've been meaning to do an episode on race series for a while and I was looking for a good guest for that because I think there's something special about planning, executing, growing, and scaling up a series as such as opposed, for instance, to just organically growing a portfolio of races which lots of race directors do. There are lots of people in the US in particular who have races that happen mostly to be in the same location or in the same general kind of area, but don't necessarily share a brand or other common components in them, and I just wanted to focus on what growing the series aspects of things looks like, and the pros and many cons as we see, and I think we've discussed in the past of trying to grow a series. There are lots of benefits that come from the single branding and the single everything type thing, but there are also some things that go against it which, actually, I didn't expect and it's quite interesting to go into those. So with that in mind, going back to the earliest days of Ultra X, because that is always a very interesting point in time for me when I'm speaking with race directors, particularly people who say, "Oh, I saw this opportunity and, basically, I started this kind of thing." To me, maybe I'm a little bit more risk averse. Looking around, when you started out maybe, like, a few years back, I would have thought that with XTerra, with UTMB, with lots of great adventure, exotic ultras all over the place, basically, the market would be quite done with that kind of event. And obviously, you've been proven correct so far with the success of Ultra X that there was something there with multi-stage Ultras in particular. So walk us a little bit through that light bulb moment and "We need to do a race series around this concept" kind of conclusion. How did that happen?

Sam:

The concept behind the series came from my own personal experience, but also from speaking with other people who've done the event. And firstly, there were a few well-known multi-stage organisers in the world. You mentioned XTERRA and UTMB. For those who are very specifically single-stage Ultra and very focused on the race element, we were quite focused on the adventure element. And I think, probably the best known is Marathon des Sables, and there are a couple of others similar to that, but they were generally really well organised. People loved them but there were standalone events, which I really thought missed an opportunity, because you had an amazing experience, you had an amazing adventure. But actually, the whole thing about an adventure is you don't quite know what you're going to expect and there was no part of me that wanted to go back to the Sahara to do an event again. So I thought, "Hang on, if we can-- these events you've created, there's really a kind of community focus there. They make you want to go back. They're addictive." So why are these events not offering the customers, the participants another format? So I thought there was a big opportunity there. I thought that for the events that were series, the branding could have been much better, and it wasn't very clear- the pathway. And then I think the third thing for us was, we thought the industry-- and this might have slightly been in hindsight - beginner's ignorance- but our view was that some of the race organisers had got a little fat. And in that respect, I mean, these events had very much grown from grassroots and suddenly 15-20 different people got involved and everyone was kind of taking a cut and they were just very expensive. I came from a kind of finance background and I just thought,"Actually, well, I could create this event, which was still really high quality, just being quite efficient, and I could offer a similar experience for massively reduced price on what Marathon des Sables is or Beyond The Ultimate or something like that," which was really important because, actually, I wanted to attract a type of person that wasn't a 45-year-old person earning a lot of money. I wanted to attract 25-year-olds who could actually afford that on their annual holiday allowance or whatever. So, yeah, that was kind of the initial thought process. And the idea that by creating a series, specifically - an accessible series - the value we would gain would be from kind of attracting customers and then making the business model work based on the lifetime competitive value, rather than just having this kind of one-hit cycle where you kind of churn through competitors.

Panos:

So I guess implicit in that is the assumption that people will keep coming back - that basically, a participant who does one of your races in Jordan would then go back and do another one of your races in the US or somewhere else - right? So How much did you put that assumption to the test? Or was it one of those, like, many when people start a business, which is more of a gut thing, and then you just test it as you go along? Did you ask around? Did you basically pull people to see if that's sort of how they felt? How much did you scrutinise that assumption?

Sam:

We definitely didn't do anything as analytical or as data-orientated as a poll, sadly- we probably should in hindsight. But there were a lot of gaps, there were a lot of conversations with people in the space, and we also did organise-- so we had a little bit of a data set in that Jamie and I had organised this event in Jordan prior to Ultra X, which was a part of a story I actually missed out earlier. Prior to Ultra X, Jordan, which was called the Wadi Rum Ultra, was 20-odd people for two years or three years. And so we had a group of people who did this event who we could kind of throw ideas around with who we were all really good friends with, and close with, and spoke to kind of on a monthly basis. So it was really their initial feedback, but it was a small sample and a lot of it was based on gut. And yeah, I feel like some, sometimes, with these things, you just got to make a bit of a leap. And actually, if we've done a load of research and had got the wrong answer, we're probably still gonna ahead with it.

Panos:

Indeed, indeed. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. But was there some kind of business plan involved at the beginning? Did you put something sort of, like, on paper with assumptions and, like, how many races you want to be doing in your first year, in your third year, in the fifth year? What did that look like?

Sam:

Yeah, we spent a long time. I mean, we launched at the back end of 2018. But after Wadi Rum Ultra in 2017, pretty much two weeks after it, which was October, we started building a business plan. So we actually spent a year kind of in conversations with potential partners and potential race locations, building out budgets, building out assumptions and forecasts, and seeing how this could work because, as I said, at this stage, we're both working and we both left our jobs in summer 2019 and I don't think either of us would have felt confident enough to do that. I mean, we'd still taken a year with nothing, living on Jamie's parents' sofa for it - cliche startup. But on the back of that, we had to kind of have a model which we both believe would work, even if the assumptions were based on very little other than gut, just to kind of get ourselves over the line and give a bit of confidence.

Panos:

Yeah. And, of course, summer 2019-- what a wonderful time to be quitting your job and starting an events business, right?

Sam:

Yeah. So it was actually summer. It was November 2018. So we actually had one year in 2019 where, actually, we hit our business plan, we did everything we were planning to, and we were all set to kind of grow the team a little bit. There were only two of us for the first year, grew the team a little bit and kind of invested a bit more, and created everything we wanted for 2020. But then, yeah, exactly, you know what comes around the corner and the plan changed.

Panos:

What was the plan in terms of how many races you would do? Because the plan was to build out a series. So what did it look like in terms of what you then thought feasible in terms of growth rates? How many races per year?

Sam:

So for the first three years, we're looking at-- we have three events in 2019 - three 5-stage events. We're looking to add two more each year for the next three years. And we're also-- in hindsight, this is very punchy, but we're looking to double the attendance in each year for the first three years, but we're starting very small and that was going to be a mixture of full distance and also kind of half distance, so weekend events, which we have a do more of now, but that was kind of always in the plan to have a kind of mixture of them. And then it was kind of to see where we were in three years time and review. I think, planning so far in advance when we hadn't done anything like this before was probably just a bit of a waste of time.

Panos:

And the brand, which I guess is another very important aspect of all this, how much thinking went into that as you were starting out?

Sam:

A lot. I remember we spent, like, half a day on the colour and we had, like, a flip chart of all the colours of all the brands in the space. I'm UTMB, XTerra, and everything kind of endurance. And we noticed that there was a lot of yellow, a lot of red, a lot of black, and a lot of quite aggressive, quite inaccessible colours, colour schemes, so we found a nice gap. I think there was a bit of a conversation about having pink, but we went for blue in the end- light blue - which is neutral, accessible, and kind of in line with everything we wanted. We had a previous kind of logo/brand from the Wadi Rum Ultra, which we kind of built it in with the Running Man. I mean, somewhere, I've got a list of all the different names. We had before Ultra X but, I mean, some of them are awful. But yeah, we spent a long time on how we were going to make it look - the visuals - and then also the kinds of things we kind of want to stand for. And actually, it's funny looking back. A lot has changed over the last five years if I look at their kind of tactics, the specific delivery, the events we've done, the locations, and the team, but actually, in terms of what Ultra X is in two lines and in terms of the values, that's not changed since day one and I think that is because we spent so much time in coffee shops and in bedrooms just charting ideas down, discussing and speaking with our community, even that, though, was a small one, and working out kind of what we wanted to do and what they stood for. And yeah, I think it's made a really big difference and it's helped us in a lot of our decision-making. When we've got Crossroads or plans changed, we can say, "Okay, does this align with what we set out?" And that makes life a lot easier.

Panos:

That is such an important thing, actually. It's something that I had discussed in the past in a previous episode I did with Peter Abraham, who's a kind of, like, branding expert, and he completely opened up my eyes to the whole importance of brand. I mean, it's so easy at the early stage that you guys were where you had, like, 1,000,001 things to do to just try and rush the whole branding thing. And of course, brand is not just a logo. Brand is so many elements that go into everything that, sort of, the business and the race kind of are supposed to represent. But it would have been so easy to just, like, "Oh, yeah, whatever. Why are we spending two days on the colour here? There's more important things to look at." But it is such a guiding star because, as you say, every time that a difficult decision comes up, you can always turn to your brand and those core values to basically remind you whether something should or shouldn't be done. I mean, it's as important as that. It's like, "Is it us? Or is it not us?"

Sam:

Yeah, it's your roadmap for everything. And yeah, if you ever kind of pulled off track or you just have, like, an internal discussion about a certain issue, it's really helpful being able to take the different personas out of the room and just go back to, "Okay, is this in line with who we are?" Yeah, so it's really helpful, particularly in COVID, where we couldn't do our events."

Panos:

Yeah. And of course, for a race series, you're sort of married to that for eternity, right? I mean, it's something you just-- not that you can't rebrand but it's something you need to get right. You mentioned all the other kind of, like, big names in terms of racing series out there - UTMB, XTerra, all those folks - Otillo, which is another favourite, I guess, more kind of, like, your leagues, smaller in a bit but also quite a niche and very dominant in their niche in swim running. Was there a particular brand that sort of inspired you in there like of all of those-- is there any of these that you would hold up as kind of, like, maybe someone you keep turning towards trying to model yourself after a bit more than the others?

Sam:

I actually don't think there is. I think it's always been a key part of, kind of, our team mentality. Both as founders and something we kind of instill in the whole team is we've got to learn from everyone out there, and that's--yes, in this space when we look at series and endurance brands, but also any experience. What about Starbucks? What about music festivals? What about Apple? Why do we like those brands? What is it that we can learn from those brands? So, there's definitely no specific series we kind of try and align to. When I have conversations with people about Ultra X and they know little, I always use Ironman, which is actually quite a dangerous thing to do, and I always caveat it with the fact that "We are not Ironman. We are not trying to be Ironman. We are Ultra X and we are very different. We want to be Ultra X, we don't want to be Ironman." I think what Ironman has done incredibly well is they have created a brand that transcends the sport to the extent that when you go into your office on a Monday after doing an event, you say, "I did an Ironman," not "I did a long distance triathlon," that's really amazing from a branding point of view, the same way that people talk about iPhones rather than phones. So I think, in that sense, our vision is to-- in the same way you do an ultra X event, you come and say I did an Ultra X rather than an ultra marathon, which is actually quite a confusing and mixed space. Yeah, we do look at all of them. We're constantly tracking UTMB movements, Ironman movements, and XTERRA's movements, some of them are great and we take inspiration. Some of it we follow and we see,"Let's not do that." So, yeah, but I think it's important to try and learn as much as possible and also connect with the people in this space. I've learned so much from speaking with other race directors and business owners and, actually, particularly in the trail and Ultra space, which is very much a bit of, I guess what I call a soul sport in that a lot of people do it because they love it. They're really happy to share stories, share experiences, share what worked well or didn't work well. And actually, I've avoided so many potential issues just because I've had a conversation with someone who's shared their story with me, and I'd like to think I'd be exactly the same if anyone's to reach out to me.

Panos:

Well, one of the things that all of those guys have done, which you also followed, is having a championship. So basically, UTMB, they have their race series across the world - think they're calling it just the World Series or something - and then Ironman obviously has all the races but they all go back to a championship, even the Spartan Races. Right? They have a championship basically, which is sort of where all the best athletes compete to be the Ironman World Champion or the UTMB champion, and you guys have followed that format. How core is this to the project? Basically, how deliberate was it? Was it a bit of an afterthought or was it something that, from the very beginning, you thought, "This is something we need to plan towards"?

Sam:

It was in the plan from day one. It was always something we thought was important. I think, our events, whilst the brandings are very similar and consistent and you're gonna get a consistent experience, there's no, like, league table, there's no, like, point system, so we wanted to have a unifying event which would incentivize-- I mean, 80% of our competitor base are not there to win. They're there to do this amazing challenge and haven't had that story to tell their grandchildren. But we knew that 10%, 20% of people actually actually would and actually giving them that little carrot, that's something which would motivate them to potentially push a little harder or potentially come back and do another event was important. So from that perspective, we thought it was important. I guess on the other perspective, we genuinely believe that multistage racing is an awesome sport. And I think if we spoke to any of the business leaders, the race directors in each of these sports, I expect the real reason they have a World Champs is that they want to create an event which champions the sport, which showcases the sport. And actually, I guess, it's more of maybe even a marketing piece, maybe an awareness piece. But people follow the most exciting people in that sport. And if you can create an event, that has a great story, which is exciting to follow, which gets some of the most amazing people in this sport together, then I think that's only good for the sport as a whole. So, for us, the World Championships was an opportunity to showcase all of the incredible people that do this event in kind of, I guess, an easier way than having them spread across a whole series. So yeah, that was kind of the initial vision. It's definitely still taking some working out, I think, because our brand is so focused on accessibility. I think maybe if I were to go back and, in hindsight, would be to wait a couple of years and launch the World Champs when we're a bit more established and we had events that were full and selling out. But yeah, it's definitely an important part of our brand and I wouldn't necessarily change it for the long term.

Panos:

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Sam:

Oh, yeah, definitely. And it's important to get right because, obviously, you don't want to encourage people to not be prepared. I think the messaging has always tried to-- and it's difficult to get perfect but it's always tried to be, "This is bloody hard, this is a difficult thing to compete, and I'm not going to hide that from you, but these are some of the people that have done it. You can associate it with them. And actually, if you commit, you 100% are capable of doing it." So, accessibility over five years is my kind of definition of it. And what's important to it has probably changed quite a bit. A lot of it now is around education, around providing resources, around providing and protecting information support. I will not deny that an ultra marathon and Ultra X is a really hard thing to do but I really do genuinely believe that anyone is capable of doing it because, actually, with the right preparation, it's not high intensity, it's not going to require significant power or strength. It's just about being prepared and being motivated. But you're right. It's a tricky one to get perfect and we're constantly trying to develop the magic messaging to make that clear. But I think the biggest way of getting that message across is through the storytelling side of things.

Panos:

I mean, it seems to be working out for you. And actually, I had a similar discussion with Amy Charity who puts on the Steamboat Gravel event, which is-- I mean, obviously, they have stages. So, like, they have more accessible events within the race for people to do. She was also pointing out that she has found openness and making the event more accessible and playing down the whole, "Oh, this is the toughest. This stuff has that" Seems to be working for people, even for Ultra events. It seems to be a way forward to make Ultra running more generally grow, which apparently, like-- I mean, trail running is doing well, particularly on the smaller distances, but ultra running maybe has some more issues around inclusivity and just getting more different types of people to come to the sport. Let's move on to some stuff around the challenges of putting on a race series and some of the things that are very specific to race series. One of the very interesting things you were telling me and we sort of alluded to earlier was repeat participation. You wouldn't be putting on a race series if you didn't count on repeat participation. I guess that's the whole bet there. What level of repeat participation do you guys get in your races?

Sam:

We actually get really high. So I think I did actually dig into the numbers. Over two years, we've got 69% of people to do a race with us within 24 months after doing their first Ultra X, which we think is pretty high. I don't actually know about a comparable across the industry but, considering a lot of our events are things that people do maybe once or twice a year as a kind of high level and some of them are expensive and some of them take a week of time commitment, we consider that pretty high. But yeah, it's always something we're kind of working on - how can we retain? How can we try and motivate those people who did an event with us and had a good time to come back? And what we found quite interesting is the fact that we started with the five-stage events and then we had kind of two-stage events, which were actually a bit of a stepping stone. The idea was,"Okay, people would do a two-stage event with us. And then, they might a year later come back and do a five-stage event with us." But what we've actually found is it works both ways. So actually, yes, that happens. A lot of people came and did the five-stage event, it was a massive thing. It was supposed to be their big bucket list item which they tick off and move on but then they have a really good time and they want to do other things and maybe they don't want to commit the same amount of time that they committed to this big challenge. Suddenly, they're signed up for three two-day events over the course of the next year because they know they can do it. It doesn't require the same time commitment and they've got this organiser that they get on well with. They know that events are going to be good quality and they have a bit of a community. So yeah, it's interesting, and working out that kind of customer run a journey through your events is something we're kind of constantly trying to iterate and work on and provide. Yeah, it's an important part of the series and the brand and what we're doing.

Panos:

Well, and of course, the great side of it - you mentioned, like, more than two-thirds of people do more than one event - is that you're keeping marketing costs down, right? I mean, you have someone who comes on, they do one event, they do another event, you spoke of sort of, like, lifetime value. So you're already thinking that every participant that comes in isn't worth just the one signup fee, they're worth the full lifetime value that they can provide to Ultra X, which seems to be sort of a little bit open-ended, seeing as you've only been around for a few years. I mean, there's probably, like, a tail to that that goes into many, many years, hopefully. And you mentioned that there are things that you do - specific deliberate things that you do - to foster that repeat participation. Can you share any of these - anything specifically that maybe other people can sort of benefit from?

Sam:

Yeah, I mean, a lot. So on a kind of-- I guess I'm, like, email marketing slash data collection side, and that we know who's done which event, and we kind of touch base with them after set time periods. But a lot is kind of, I guess, community-focused. I've always had this potentially romantic idea that the moment you sign down for an event, you're on that event journey and it's not just when you turn up at the start line. I think the thing we've tried to, I guess, even take one step further is actually, okay, say, Panos, you signed on for Ultra X Jordan tomorrow. That's great. You'll get a call from a race director within a week and you'll get constant emails. But then, after the event, you will also get a certain series of invitations. You'll get an invitation to a film screening. You'll get an invitation to maybe a community run. You'll get an invitation to the next event. So it's kind of fostering those ongoing touch points and providing people with opportunities to interact with the brand, which doesn't have to be commercial, but it's just a reminder of, "Hey, we're here. We're kind of one big family." And, yeah, so far, it's been relatively successful. I think, as I say, we're always kind of learning and taking inspiration. But I think a lot of it is it's just got to feel like you're part of the family, it just got to feel like this is the right space. And a lot of it comes down to the community and the connections that people have through these events. It's the constant-- I think a lot of people do Ultras and specifically Ultra X initially because they want to challenge, they want to do a race, they want to go a long way, and the reason they come back is because of the people, always. So just investing in those personal relationships over the course of the weekend after the event is, I'd say, the most important retention tool any event director or any organiser can have.

Panos:

It's quite interesting because not many people think very hard about all these out-of-race engagement opportunities, basically. I mean, they do take a lot of time, right? I mean, like, organising any of those things, even in the leanest possible way- like a film screening that you mentioned or even like a community - it takes a lot of time. But lots of-- particularly, people that we mentioned earlier in terms of the competition, in a very broad sense, Ironman does a lot of that, HYROX, which is probably the most successful racing series of late does a lot of that around the year engagement with people outside of races. It's curious to wonder-- what you're thinking about the ROI out of that? Just going back strictly to the point that you have a small team, there's very few of you, very limited time, when you put these things on, there must be moments when you think, "Ah, is this a good use of my time? Is this a good use of resources? What am I getting out of this?" Do you have a feel for that? Is it again, like, a gut thing? Or is it something more calculated than that?

Sam:

Yeah, I mean, you're spot on. It's really difficult to measure. I think there are some things we do that you can track and you can look at on a spreadsheet, and you can say,"Yeah, that worked. That didn't." And there's some things you can do where you know if they're right or wrong and you've just got to kind of trust your gut and I think that's the risk that you take. I think things like film screenings for us or events, we say, "Okay, yes, this is kind of maybe an unmeasurable thing, that this is an investment in retention of people that have done our events, and we see that it's really important. And if our retention continues to be high, then maybe we're doing the right things." I think on the other side, we see these events as big marketing opportunities for us. I think one of the things we haven't necessarily touched on is actually having a series means-- I mean, I think, for most events, if you look at your kind of social media traffic, website traffic, you're always going to get the most reach from an event, from putting on an event, from event weekend. So, by having a number of events, we actually save money on marketing because, actually, we're constantly marketing the next thing through our events. Doing physical events which aren't necessarily races we see as huge opportunities because, at the end of the day, most people might not sign down. Well, I think it's a difficult leap to sign down for something that maybe costs over $1,000 or£1000, and it's a long way just because of seeing something on Instagram or seeing a race page. At the end of the day, they want to have a conversation with someone who's done it. So our events like film screenings are really opportunities where we get people who haven't done an event with people that have done an event in the same room together and let them speak over a drink in a kind of social setting. Again, it's a really difficult one to measure accurately. I guess you could look at the people who have come and haven't done the event, and their signups over the next 12 months. But it's always a difficult one for us because, quite often, people will hear about or first interact with Ultra X and then they'll sign up for something 6 months, a year, or 18 months later because it's that kind of commitment. We've just launched our first 2025 events and we already know a lot of people are kind of planning that, and we're already having questions about some of our '24 races, "When are they going to be in '25?" Because it's a week of holiday, it's a big financial commitment, and it's a lot of training. So, yeah, it's a difficult one to track accurately but, I think, sometimes, if you believe in your idea enough, you've just got to go for it.

Panos:

Do you have a space online where, basically, maybe the whole Ultra X participant, past and future, kind of live, like a Facebook group or some kind of community online?

Sam:

Yeah, we have a few but the most active one is the competitors Facebook group. We create WhatsApp groups for each specific event or some of the specific events like some of the larger ones. We have, like, a Strava group as well but Facebook is generally where people ask questions, interact with each other, and get to know-- it's pretty loud.

Panos:

I can definitely see lots of benefits in having, say, like, group, and this is where some of the synergies of having a series come into play because you can have Ultra X where all of the participants across all the races are in, and it's a constant reminder-- say, I did the Jordan event this weekend. Like, obviously, lots of traffic and conversations about Jordan over the few weeks leading up to the event. Then, things die down, maybe another event comes up in the posts. But me as a past Jordan race participant, I'm there. So, like, I constantly keep getting reminders. I bring myself back to race day. "Oh, it would be great if I did like these other events." So yeah, that community generally is a constant reminder, as you say, a year- round that these races are going on and it gives an incentive to people to become repeat participants.

Sam:

Yeah, absolutely.

Panos:

In terms of delivering these events, which is a big part of this - I was really surprised to hear that you do that out of a very, very small team - what is the model? I mean, I'm guessing you don't have, like, all of the people required in the event going out and setting up races all over the world? So how do you do it?

Sam:

Yeah, work really hard. We have a very small core team of four people. However, we grow massively for each of the events and we have a lot of external kinds of contractors and freelancers and people in different countries. So in the UK, we manage all of our events 100% ourselves. Internationally, which is the majority of our events, we have a local partner in each of those locations, who is a contractor and who is essentially responsible for delivering X towards the event. Now, that varies in each location. Unfortunately, it'll be much simpler if it didn't. But obviously, some people have different expertise in some countries. Those people are literally race directors, so they might have a series of events or a number of events in their country. They might organise trail running, it might be mountain biking, and they take on the kind of overall delivery under our guidance and instruction. And in some of the events, they're much more of a kind of fixed role. So we still race direct the event and they simply provide X amount of staff, permissions for routes, permitting, campsite, setting up of tents, and things like that. So yeah, it does vary slightly but, essentially, we have a local team operating in each of our locations, which helps us because, whilst at a very high level, our operational plan is similar. There's always, like, local intricacies with regard to how you get permissions, who you get permissions from, how you set up staff, what tents you use, and all that kind of stuff.

Panos:

It must be quite scary having a delivery partner and having to depend on someone to help you direct a race where you put your brand on it. It's stressful enough having those partners be, like, hundreds and thousands of miles away in completely different cultures, with completely different laws, and all of that. Like, it must be quite scary. How do you vet partners to make sure that they don't let you down at the last minute?

Sam:

Yeah, it's definitely and we've had difficulties in the past before. I think the way I see it is in the same way as if you're hiring an employee to do an important role within your company. You would spend a lot of time interviewing, you would spend a lot of time vetting, you check their credentials, you check their CV, and you might get some references. And so essentially, we go through this process whenever we go to a new location where we usually speak to a number of potential partners, usually starting with speaking with any contact that we have in the country and getting recommendations, and then, essentially, we require them to kind of pitch to us on a proposal and confirm some things. And actually, by the time we get to a position where we're going to essentially go and visit them in the country, check out the route, meet their team, etc, we're actually incredibly comfortable that they've got the answers to all the questions because we spent enough time on due diligence on calls and, actually, at the end of the day, were still the team on the ground during the event. Every single event, there are six to eight people who have done a number of Ultra X events, managing the whole team. We bring in a medical team from the UK, we bring in the therapist team from the UK. So, all of the kind of senior management at the event are still our team who manage the event. It's really just the physical logistics of moving stuff around and the permissions which we rely on the local team.

Panos:

I mean, it sounds pretty expensive - all that stuff - right? I mean, just packing whole teams from the UK. You mentioned medical stuff, all of that going out for events that, initially, I guess, have only maybe, like, a few dozen people in them, at least, your original events. Funding all of this must be quite challenging as well.

Sam:

Yes. Yeah. Particularly when you can't put on events for a couple of years. Essentially, I mean, we're a pretty lean team, as I say. We don't have really much overhead at all. We spend very little on marketing because we try and do it as efficiently as we can and use our events to market. I guess the benefit of the events model is that when you-- obviously, there's an initial outlay and initial investment for every single event in terms of setup, cost deposits, etc. But actually, once you are comfortable with the delivery of the event, then you get income upfront, cash upfront, which then allows you to ideally pay for all your costs before the event or when the event happens. So yeah, from a kind of cash flow perspective, that's generally how it works, and having a number of events in the future does definitely help that. I mean, we have to be incredibly budget-focused and driven and keep a close eye on everything because it's very easy, particularly with a great number of events, to get in the wrong place, or the wrong side of the balance sheet or whatever.

Panos:

Oh, yeah, definitely. Is it easier than the case that may be, at this point in time, you've advertised, "Three or four events may be open for registrations," and the money coming in through all these three or four events may go into maybe the next event and then sort of, like-- is it this kind of like bootstrapping where, basically, the money from open events go into financing this event, and then hopefully, you add more and more events with larger, larger size and this kind of thing keeps financing itself from the upfront cash flows you get?

Sam:

Essentially, yeah. I think the important thing is that you're always in a position where you have the funding to deliver the events that you've committed to as an organiser. I think there are many events companies - Tough Mudder being a good example. They lost sight of their cash flows and started delivering events based on money coming in for events down the line and down the line and down the line, and then when those events didn't happen or when sales weren't as expected, they couldn't deliver. So I think the important thing is to have good budgets, which you're confident are going to be right, which is often challenging when you're operating in weird and wonderful parts of the world with a buffer, and then providing you're making a bit of a profit on those events, then you can reinvest that cash into a future event delivery. But at the same time, it's definitely-- I mean, it's the limiter for kind of growth and we have launched a number of events this year, but we've also had to cancel a number of events this year. We've always kind of changed our portfolio a little bit this year. And yeah, I think that is one of the kinds of controlling forces in the speed at which we grow the series and grow the number of events we offer.

Panos:

Yeah, because I meant to ask, has there ever been a case of advertising an event, not getting the kind of response you would have hoped for and having to cancel it? It sounds like you want to stay quite agile around these kinds of things and not marry a concept too much.

Sam:

We've never had to cancel events because of sales being poor. We've had events which have been lost making and we've always been-- we say we're going to put on an event, we're going to put on an event. If there are fewer people, we feel like we've got an obligation. We have cancelled several events but those have been operational reasons or because of COVID. So it's a difficult one. I guess, one of the potential benefits about having a series, in particular, a number of quite different format events or different events in different locations, is that you've kind of got a bit of a natural hedge in that you don't have all your eggs in one basket. And actually, if as a business, one location is suddenly less popular for whatever reason, then, actually, hopefully, you have another event which might be up and might be down, and every year, six months, we sit down and we put some numbers together of what we think each event is going to come to and there will always be some which are down, but they're also usually one or two which are up. So, that helps from an events perspective. I feel if you've got one race, particularly for us where some of them are kind of politically sensitive or geographically challenging areas where, suddenly, it's not able to go ahead, then, that's a massive business impact.

Panos:

Yeah, I guess that's the big risk for a series like yours because I don't-- I think, personally, looking at this, the probability that a race might fail because of lack of interest, given the location you put them on which have a huge exotic appeal to your core audience, which is UK-based participants - I think that's very slim. But on the other hand, with exotic, sometimes comes other risks around like political instability and other stuff. You just don't know-- particularly, as we're recording this with everything happening in the world, you just don't know what might be around the corner in terms of-- like, Jordan is in a very precarious position on the globe right now. So, you just don't know whether some of those locations may just stop being safe destinations for races soon enough.

Sam:

Yeah. I mean, we had an event in Sri Lanka that happened twice - most amazing event, beautiful route, incredible partners, we loved it - but the country's a bit of a mess. We've got to be in a situation where we believe that we can put on events securely in 18 months time, and trying to predict that is not easy. So yeah, we had to make the decision to pull out of Sri Lanka and I think it's quite unlikely that we go back despite- basically, we've actually still got some tents out there - being completely set up for it and having invested quite a lot of time in it.

Panos:

Now that you're in this stage where you're putting-- how many events are you putting on right now?

Sam:

Next year will be 14 locations - like, 19 races.

Panos:

Okay, so now that you're in this kind of stage where I would have thought the concept is at least partly tested. I mean, it seems to be doing great and to be getting a good response from people. Has it crossed your minds, sort of, addressing you collectively as sort of, like, co- founders to maybe try and spike the growth a little bit, maybe through some debt financing, equity financing, or anything of that sort just to, like, take it to the next stage?

Sam:

Yeah, we've definitely thought about it. We kind of had a few discussions earlier this year when we were kind of in a tricky position coming out of COVID. I think we care a lot about the brand and we care a lot about the direction of the business, and I think it's important for us that we maintain control. At the moment, we're not in a position where we need to take on board money. And also, we don't really want to grow too aggressively. I think, as we kind of touched on, we spent a lot of time on the brand at the beginning and the brand is everything. The success and failure of Ultra X is all about continuing to deliver quality events, not growing too quickly, not going too fast, and I think we're still-- yes, we've got a good number of races now, but we're still very much learning, we're still very much getting better our whole time. I don't think we were at the stage yet where it's just as simple as saying, "Okay, let's do this across 50 places because we've got this proven model." We'd much rather grow our events at a rate that we feel comfortable with, know that we can continue, or feel confident that we can continue to put on a really good experience for every single one of those runners as a person, not just as a number, during our events and kind of see where we go. But yeah, not to say never but, at the moment, we're pretty content with the way we see us growing without taking on additional finance in the next three to five years.

Panos:

And what is that rate currently - the sort of organic growth rate - that you guys are looking for? Is it the two races per year that you mentioned at the start?

Sam:

Yeah, give or take. I mean, this year was quite exceptional. This year, we launched 11 races and six locations because, as I said, during COVID, we were quite reactive and there were a lot of things we couldn't do and there were some things we could do. So we kind of moved a little bit away from what we had planned in terms of event locations, and ended up doing a lot of things in the UK. And coming out of it, particularly, into this year, we realised that, actually, our event portfolio wasn't exactly what we wanted it to be in terms of we wanted to be focused on bucket list locations, and destination events. And whilst I love the UK, not just a series of UK-based Ultras, because that's not our USP, that's not a differentiator, so we pulled out of a couple of locations, which is actually quite difficult this year, a bit of a shame, but we've also launched a number of events. So actually, the net gain this year has been two or three events. And I don't see us-- I think we'll launch one in'25 but, actually, I don't see us launching any more of the next 24 months until '26 just because we want to-- this year has been very focused on the operational side and, next year and the year after, we really want to kind of focus on the marketing side and get the competitors' numbers up, and then kind of review it. But yeah, I see us then getting back to growing the number of events, provided we can attract the competitors that we want.

Panos:

Yeah, I think that makes sense because, at this stage, I guess, it's much better from an economics point of view to beef up numbers on locations where you already do races rather than go out and have another startup cost for another location scouting, the discussions with the local partners, all of that kind of stuff. So a little bit of a consolidation kind of stage, I guess.

Sam:

Yeah, definitely. I mean, it's always going to make more sense from a purely financial basis to have one event with 1000 runners than two events with 500 runners just because of the way event costs work and a large percentage of them are going to be fixed. That's not to say there are benefits to having a number of events because you're getting access to different markets, you might be getting extra awareness, and you might be attracting people who wouldn't have come to a different location. And I think for us, we were always quite-- it was always very important to us that we did have a number of races, that we were seen as a series, a series that we were kind of credible in that respect. But I think, over the next 24 months, as I say, our focus is on actually delivering those events and growing the size of those events rather than putting on more.

Panos:

One of the things that you mentioned to me the other day, which I thought was super interesting, about being in the business of putting on a series of events that are basically all the same event, just in different locations, is the ability to iterate quite quickly, which I always thought is one of the really kind of frustrating things about building a race management business in that you do your Turkey Trot 2023 race, then you debrief, you learn a couple of stuff, then you need to wait for your Turkey Trot 2024 race, which is, like, the whole cycle of putting on an event because it's usually just an annual thing. It just seems to improve and grow so slowly because you don't get feedback that often, which is not an issue you guys have at the series level because you get feedback from every single event that you can apply to other races.

Sam:

Yes, that is that whole Jeff Bezos mentality, isn't it? You gotta fail faster than everyone else. Yeah, I think we've always been an incredibly hungry team to grow and really interested in kind of learning from our mistakes and getting better the whole time - that kind of growth mindset. So having a number of events and then sitting down after every single event and debriefing, and actually having a format which is similar across everything means that, every race we do, there'll be something which we can take out and implement, usually, within four or five weeks, rather than waiting an entire year to do it again, which I think means just generally in terms of whether it's kind of from a marketing side or an operational side or just an event experience side. We can improve our vendor experience and our operational plan much quicker than we could if we had one opportunity to learn once a year.

Panos:

Where that sort of breaks down a little bit, which surprised me was on sponsorship, where I would have thought that basically the critical mass of having all of these events would be quite helpful for leveraging sponsorship, because essentially, you know, you have, you can go to sponsor with all your alter X events and say, you know, I've got any number of races, we have a total sum of participants, which is something significant to get people interested. But that's not quite how it works, is it?

Sam:

Yeah, it's incredibly complicated and I'm by no means or were by no means an expert at this. We're still in the early days and we've been so focused on the products that we offer, the events that we offer that, actually, sponsorship, until really this year has been a little bit of an afterthought. But what we have found challenging is actually getting that brand message across very clearly because of the number of events. I think a lot of brands are used to working specifically with one event or one location. Because we have 14 locations - 14 countries, essentially - with different audiences, and in different parts of the world, often, we go to a brand and we say, "Hey, we're a UK-based company. We've got a predominantly UK-based audience, and this is our opportunity to market to but we've got this event in Jordan or this event in Sri Lanka." And then suddenly, it becomes a different budget holder or a different team in international or global, and that suddenly means you've got to change your offering. And actually, the way most of our kind of sponsorship or partnership relationships go now is actually we target specific events. So I think one of our, I'd say, big learnings - and I think it's definitely something to consider for organisers that are putting on series - is, that each individual event has to have a reason for existing, and not just because it falls in the series, and whether it's a great event experience, or whether you can say to a sponsor, "We can partner for this specific event." It kind of has to work on a standalone basis. So, yeah, it's definitely been a bit of a challenge attracting those kinds of series sponsors, rather than those specific individual sponsors. But also, I do think there's an opportunity there. It's just we're still early in the journey.

Panos:

So basically, you're saying that your sponsorship strategy is essentially now an event by event kind of, like, sponsor-- there's no synergies there or, kind of, like, scale mass thing to leverage, having the series behind you. It's just every event, a separate sponsorship roster?

Sam:

Yeah, we have kind of almost, like, three levels. One is global, which we found is challenging because of the number of events in different locations. Number two is regional. So that might be event-specific or it might be-- we have a number of events in the UK. So, UK series partner, which for example, ASICS is our UK series partner and has been for this year at the moment, and then individual, which is the standalone events, and that is where we can say, "Come along. Be part of the event village. Get involved more that way." in this specific email comms. But yeah, it's something we're kind of working out and working out what brands and partners want. And actually, I think the environment seems to be changing quite a bit in that we're finding that brands seem to be more interested in working with event organisers almost as an influencer because they want to link up the brand's audience with their audience, and they want to do a specific campaign, rather than necessarily, "I want to be the headline sponsor of Ultra X Scotland. We want to leverage your community to get this message across." So it's about, I guess, being a bit flexible as an organiser, listening to what brands want, what companies want, and seeing what can work and what can't.

Panos:

Yeah, which I guess is harder for organisers. I mean, it sounds like it works great for brands who don't want to commit to the traditional sponsorship kind of role, but it's harder for organisers because it's sort of very unpredictable when these things come around - the whole branding partnership or, like, audience leverage type campaigns that these guys want.

Sam:

Yeah, I think so. But I think it's also an opportunity because, as a runner person, as I speak to lots of our audience, like, there's nothing more boring than being pushed like a typical backpack partner or a nutrition partner, or whatever. And actually, if you can do an engaging campaign with a brand, whether it's an association with an event or in the build-up, actually, it's something that really adds value to your events. So, I do think there are real opportunities there to actually collaborate a bit more with brands in the kind of event process and the competitor experience and actually see it is not just a means to an end to fill up this gap, but it's a way that actually can add value to our competitor experience and improve the event offering.

Panos:

In terms of other revenue streams beyond just registrations and potentially sponsorship, is there anything else that moves the needle for you guys? So you have some kind of, like, merchandise on the side? Is there anything else that you do maybe outside of race days that generates revenue for the series, anything that may be coming down the line?

Sam:

So essentially, race entry fees are still basically everything for us. We have kind of brand sponsorships and then we have that which you've kind of already alluded to, which is T-shirts and caps. In some of our locations, we work with local organisers to do kind of, I guess, travel packages. So for example, in Rwanda or Jordan, there's an opportunity to go and do activities in the location, which we'll then pre-organise for you and allow you to stay with the group of the event, which means if you're traveling to one of these places by yourself and want to experience the event, you can stay-- the country, you can stand that. And I guess the final kind of revenue stream we have which is, I guess, slightly probably comes under sponsorship, but it's a kind of Tourism Board. So not necessarily brands because so many-- particularly because we have very international audience. In most of our locations, we will bring in a good amount of people who will spend 3, 4, or 5 days in the location. So, if they're spending money in that location, it makes a lot of sense to work with tourism boards where we can promote the location. So increasingly, we're seeing people approaching us saying,"Oh, can you do an event here? We will support you to do the event here, whether it's logistical or financial," which is something we kind of bear in mind. But I think what's always important to be conscious of is it'll still be a great event, it can't just be a tourism board with a load of cash. I think there are probably a couple of event organisers out there, which go down the other route. So yeah, important to get it right. But yeah, I think we always will be in a position where race entry fees is the driving one.

Panos:

Well, it's a great place to find yourself having reverse inquiries, sort of, right? I mean, getting people interested in bringing your series to their part of the world. And then I guess, you get to choose, which is always a great position to find yourself in. I want to wrap up with something that's probably not an immediate concern of yours but it always is there in the background for most people running a race management business in general, and I'm guessing particularly one who does a series that you would have had lots of things planned out, which is exiting the business. And again, not something that's obviously front of mind over the next few years. But how do you think this is gonna end for you guys at Ultra X, the series? Are you thinking maybe that you're going to be selling this at some time over the next few years? When does this become sellable, you think, just going into the business of it a little bit in terms of size and scale? Who might be a potential partner? Have you thought about any of these things?

Sam:

I think it's always there in the back of your head. I think I expect most people who say no to that technical question are probably lying. I genuinely love what I do and I would love to be CEO of Ultra X in 2025 years time and be doing this. I get to travel around the world to amazing places, meeting incredible people, and putting medals around their necks, which is a great lifestyle. At the moment, it's quite hard work and I don't take much out of it. So, of course, if the right person came and approached us in 5, 10 years time and said, "Hey, I'd like to take over a good chunk of your shares. And you can carry on in a position which means that you can guide this company to be the company that you want it to be." I think it'd be really difficult to say no to that, but there's no specific financial, "Okay, we need to get to this in three years to make sure we're in an acceptable position." We do have some people-- we had some investors who put some money in four years ago now, which kind of helped us start, and they will want the return on their investment at some point and I'm conscious of that, and I think it's important that we aim to return them. But, Jamie and I still own almost the whole of the company. And so, yeah, we want to make sure that it goes in the direction that we want it to but, I think, yeah, to say that, for a bit of security and safety at some point, I'd turn that down. It'd be difficult to say no to but who knows?

Panos:

Do you think there is a minimum kind of, like, size that would be required to make this interesting for a potential buyer of the buyer that you may think might want to have a look at this?

Sam:

I don't know the size. I think you've got to have a concept that works and can be proven. I think the key thing, if you're looking to sell, is something which is easily scalable and a model that can grow and probably without my involvement, if that's really what someone wants to take on. So, I don't think there's a number of races which suddenly means that it's exciting. I think being profitable is something being-- sustainable is another thing, and being scalable is probably the three key things. But yeah, I think it's difficult to put a specific number on it without putting a finger in the air.

Panos:

And what's the next race you're heading out to now? Morocco. You're staying at home? What's the next one?

Sam:

We got Madeira in three weeks time, two and a half weeks time, which will be our final event of the season, a bit of winter sun.

Panos:

Awesome. Did you get some rest over the Christmas holidays? Or are there still events around there?

Sam:

Yeah, our next event after Madeira will be in Tanzania at the end of February. So we've kind of got three months of downtime before it all kicks off again.

Panos:

I mean, you don't look like you need it but I hope you have a good rest over the holidays - you and Jamie. Like, it's remarkable what you guys do with a team of four - you, Jamie, and the other two folks. You should definitely have a rest. I want to thank you very much for today's discussion. It's been very helpful having a look into the whole race series business. I hope you enjoyed it.

Sam:

No, it's been great. Thanks so much for having me on. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Panos:

Well, thank you for coming on all the best with Morocco and Madeira and all of the other races. I'll definitely be following the growth of the series from LinkedIn and other places. So thanks again for coming on. Thanks to everyone listening in, and we'll see you guys on our next podcast! I hope you enjoyed today's episode on building a race series with Ultra X co-founder, Sam Heward. You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com. You can also share your thoughts about some of the things discussed in today's episode or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub. Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsor RunSignup for sponsoring today's episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don't forget to subscribe on your favourite player, and do check out our podcast back-catalogue for more great content like this. Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races