Will Dean, founder and CEO of Tough Mudder, believes one of the chief reasons his mud-soaked endurance events have gone global is people want more from their friendships than a tweet or Facebook post.
Dean is in Australia to promote his new and improved obstacle courses and says we’re now Tough Mudder’s third biggest market in terms of population (some 200,000 Aussies have done one) and, interestingly, we also have the highest uptake of female participants anywhere on the planet.
He’s loathed to call the events – which sees participants clamber up, over and through all manner of obstacles – a fitness craze. Rather he says it’s a group based event you do with your friends and “not a fitness business per se”.
He told B&T one of the prime reasons for its success – some two million people globally have done a Tough Mudder since 2012 – was that people increasingly wanted more from their friendships than the cursory and depthless experience social media was coughing-up.
“We live in such a digitally connected age, we spend a lot of time connecting with our friends via social media and less time having meaningful interactions where we live in the moment,” he said. “Tough Mudder is this experience that’s pretty raw, it forces you to leave your gadgets, your phone behind, and it forces you to disconnect, and ultimately I think it’s legitimately good fun.”
The business is now reported to be worth $US70 million and stages events in the UK, Germany, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; while Mexico will be the latest addition in 2015.
Dean – a native Briton – came up with the concept as part of a competition while studying at Harvard Business School. He now runs the business out of New York and employs 150 people. He has been named in Crain’s annual 40 Under 40 list and was included on Fortune’s 40 Under 40.
Nor is he worried about a growing list of newcomers trying to replicate his hugely profitable and mud-soaked formula.
“Yes, there’s no great barrier to entry but if you take the (Hawaiian) Iron man competition it’s the original, it’s the real thing and people still pay to do it,” Dean said. “I think equally we’ve got the brand, we put on great events and people want to do it. People will always pay a premium for a brand, and for sure anybody can put up some walls in a muddy field… But we’re doing some pretty complicated obstacles, we’ve got synthetic tear gas, we’ve got 10,000 volt electric shocks; these are complicated things to do and it’s probably harder than a lot of people imagine.”