Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Starting a Running Retreat Business Just Before the Pandemic Hit

Jake Tuber
Jake Tuber
July 20, 2021
Category of startup
Health
Country of startup
United States
Revenue of startups
No Data
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Starting a Running Retreat Business Just Before the Pandemic Hit

Jake Tuber
Jake Tuber
July 20, 2021
Category of startup
Health
Country of startup
United States
Cause of failure of the startup

Jake started Endeavorun, a running company that hosts retreats for recreational adult runners. After navigating through the pandemic and launching an online community, they have already become profitable and have been approached by several investors.

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Hi Jake! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

Hey, I’m Jake! I’m 33, live in Arlington, Virginia, and I’m the creator of Endeavorun, a running company that hosts retreats for recreational adult runners. Our retreats are a hybrid vacation & workshop where runners of all levels join a handful of professional athletes, coaches, and experts (sports dietitians, strength coaches, etc.) for a pro-style training camp.

I launched Endeavorun back in 2019 and our first attempt at an in-person retreat was delayed due to Covid. We pivoted to creating a virtual community during the pandemic that was a huge success and we (finally!) have our first in-person retreat this August in Boulder, CO. Today, I’m focused on all aspects of the business from marketing to product design and customer service, but my main focus is planning our upcoming retreat and thinking strategically about what might come next.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Endeavorun is oddly a perfect blend of my own background. I’m a serious runner, an industrial-organizational psychologist and executive coach, and even spent many of my younger years working at summer camps.

The idea came much more organically, however, than simply trying to amalgamate my various interests. The inspiration came from a friend, well-known fitness author Matt Fitzgerald, who had spent a summer living with a professional running team based in Arizona. Matt was already a sport guru but was amazed by how much he learned simply by being immersed with pro athletes. We talked about how much average adults could benefit from an experience like that and tried to distill it into something far more accessible. 

Originally, we wanted to create a longer-term running program that was much more comprehensive than a running retreat. But when Covid derailed our original plans, it also allowed us to revisit what the market was clamoring for, and that’s how we arrived at our current vision. 

While I do run my consulting firm, I can’t say that I leveraged any specific hard skills from that experience into the creation of Endeavorun. However, there’s no doubt that my background has heavily influenced everything from our external branding to our programmatic design. In particular, my graduate training in adult learning has prepared me to design the retreats with real intent. It enables me to create the workshop elements of our retreat in keeping with the highest standards of professional learning and development programs, rather than simply throwing together a schedule based on convenience and hoping activities are “fun”. That part of my academic background hopefully gives our retreats a unique flavor.


How did you go from idea to product?

I first ran the idea (pun intended) by a few friends who are big in the running industry. Professional runners, professional coaches, fitness writers, running store owners, and entrepreneurs. My explicit goal was to gather feedback and see what obstacles might arise… but I was also really looking for moral support. Did they think I could do this? Did they think anyone could do this?

From there, I just went for it! One of the most appealing elements of the business was the ease of launch. Because we don't make a physical product, don't currently employ anyone full-time, don't need an office, and don’t have to physically transact anything, all we needed was a website and commitments from some key industry leaders to be a part of a future event.

Endeavorun Landing Page

For a self-funded launch, I think it went fairly well. By no means did we become the household name we’d like to be one day, but we popped up on enough radars that customers were excited to sign up based on the promise of our retreat alone.

We opted to price our retreats to reward those who signed up earlier. While our service isn’t scalable like a digital product or service, we can create a model whereby there’s a revenue threshold to cover costs and anything beyond that is potential profit.

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

We relied heavily on our featured experts and professionals for marketing and created an affiliate-type (though more involved) relationship wherein everyone benefits when the retreat does well. 

That helped, but I also made some mistakes. Our first attempt was to offer significant discounts off our starting price through multiple channels, which didn't work as well as I hoped. I think that strategy probably diluted the value of our product, which relative to competitors, is a premium offering. 

Lately, we've focused much more on partnering with local stores and groups around the country to create mutual benefit. These groups have sincere local followings in our target demographic, so we've set up opportunities for them to financially benefit by cross-promoting our retreat. For example, we have a handful of great local running specialty stores around the country that can offer their local clients a $100 gift card on us if they sign up for the retreat. It's been a win-win. 

We also have a secondary revenue stream that comes from sponsors and partners. There are some impressive companies out there looking to market toward our demographic, so we’ve created partnerships with them wherein they get to take part in our event for a sponsorship fee. At its core, Endeavorun is currently set up like a professional conference business: we bring people together around a topic (running) as well as brands that are trying to access that demographic, so we can bring in revenue on both ends.  

How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?

We’re up and running (pun intended, again)! That’s all I could ask for given how bad 2020 was for launching an in-person event business. Revenue is low as we’re just getting started but we are already profitable. We’ve got a few dozen participants signed up for our first retreat and a handful of brands partnering to provide everything from products, services, and even sponsorship fees. 

After our first event this August I’ll have to decide what’s next. We’ve been approached by one or two investors so far and there’s the potential to expand the business significantly. We could not only replicate this event, but we have some ideas in the works to expand similar offerings, branch out into new sports, and add a few more scalable revenue streams that nicely fit alongside our in-person events business. One of the great things is that we need such little capital to operate the business that we could expand organically if we want to without raising any money or taking on much if any, debt. But I have a feeling that if we decide to grow we should go big or go home, in which case we’d probably want to raise money this fall and hire at least one other full-time person to help things expand. 

Since starting Endeavorun, what have been your main lessons?

Don’t launch an in-person events business just as a global pandemic is starting. I don't advise that.....

More seriously, I am constantly learning how much to try and shape vs. respond to the market. Our willingness to pivot without compromising our core mission and vision has kept us afloat and I don't want to lose sight of that balance. 


What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?

My bandwidth has been our biggest obstacle to growth. In addition to my full-time job running my consulting practice, I am also a doctoral candidate completing my dissertation, have a toddler at home, and have been recovering from surgery. So I can't always dedicate the focus I'd like, which is part of why I need to be strategic about what's needed if we are to attempt to grow this fall. 

Beyond that, I’ve made a few tangible mistakes along the way. I’ve spent the money I allocated to marketing inefficiently; I tried a few different approaches just to see what would stick and many of them didn’t. We tried a tiered pricing strategy, created some less-than-perfect-looking online ads, and we hired a marketing consultant to put together a plan that wasn’t any good. 


What tools & resources do you recommend?

I wish I had tools to share… the nature of our business is that we’re very low tech (thanks, Squarespace!) and our secret sauce is in the people and programs we put together!

Most of the business inspiration I have comes from academia. I apply a lot of fairly boring academic work in organizational behavior and business… so the best recommendation I can authentically offer is to get beyond the brightly colored, catchy-titled business books on the bookstore shelves and go deep into Google Scholar.

Where can we go to learn more?

I’d love for you to check us out at www.endeavorun.com and search for Endeavorun on your favorite social channels. We have a lot of work to do and are excited to do it!

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