RunSignUp has become the largest endurance registration company in the US with over 15,000 races using us to register over 4.2 Million participants. Our growth continues to build as more races use us, and our technology platform grows to help races across their race lifecycle from Promotion to Registration to Fundraising to Race Day, all tied together with a single CRM database and completely open to plug and play in any environment.
As we have grown the company, we think quite a bit about designing for growth and making sure we stay aligned with our values. We thought it might be interesting to share some of our significant strategies to handle growth. A lot of this comes from my (Bob is writing this) past experiences with growth companies and lessons learned.
- Core Values
- Hiring Early
- Capital Financing
- Sales Continuity
- Multi-Tier Support
- Self Serve Help
We are focused on providing software technology to the endurance market. We make our money by charging a processing fee.
By keeping things simple, it allows us to focus. Many years ago I worked for Digital Equipment, a computer company that grew from $1B to 10B in the 11 years I was there. I got to spend a half day with the founder/CEO, Ken Olsen, who has been an inspiration to a lot of the culture we have tried to create at the various companies I have been a part of. He said to me that day “I wish we only had 2 products (a micro VAX and a big VAX computer), that way all of our employees and all of our customers and all of our partners would understand exactly what we offered and all would be able to explain it simply.”
We benefit from this focus. Our best marketing is word of mouth from our customers to others in the industry. They can explain simply – “Oh, RunSignUp is the best software for races. You should try it.”
We write extensively about our core values. The key around all of them is they are self-reinforcing systems. If you get the flywheel going in any of the three core systems, you get a growth engine going.
Since technology is what we provide to customers, it is obviously important. But there are two simple related factors that allow us to grow.
First, technology is not easy. If we do a good job building it, then that will be a differentiator and be part of the self reinforcing cycle of growth for our company.
Second, technology will play an increasingly important role in the future. While there are many aspects to running and organizing a race, technology will certainly continue to be more and more important. This means if we build the best technology, then customers will increasingly be drawn to that to be competitive. For example, it may be OK to not give runners a mobile interface to register on today because you don’t want to change registration providers, but that will hurt the brand of your race with millennials and the future growth of your race. And eventually you will seek that technology.
The ability to handle the growth is another reason we are so focused on technology. Automation and efficiency.
We have a single platform for races. It is highly customizable by each race in a self-serve manner. This means two things. First, when we make an enhancement, all of our customers receive that immediately. And we did 1,560 enhancements last year alone. And there was no extra overhead to do that. Second, the customization of the needs for each race can be handled by a combination of people. Customers do not have to wait for RunSignUp to make a change or generate a report – they can get their hands on it right away. This means we have much lower overhead and are much more efficient.
We think this single platform approach also allows for more rapid technology advancements than the custom consulting approach, but more on that in the Capital section.
The other technology decision we made was to be an open platform. This helps us be flexible and adapt to many customer’s needs, as well as be a great partner for many other technology providers like the timing vendors.
We believe in optimizing people for our business. This means hiring the best people who have a passion for their type of job and this type of business. People that fit our core values and can help reinforce those – again a self reinforcing, “perpetual motion” type of employee machine.
We also believe in paying our people above average compensation and providing all employees a path to co-ownership in the business. This way, each person at RunSignUp feels like an owner, and can act in the best interest of the company – meaning all of our employees, customers and co-owners.
Having the best, most motivated people allows us to handle the growth we are experiencing and plan for continued growth.
When people join RunSignUp they often feel a bit under utilized. One of the reasons for this is we tend to hire a bit early, before we need the people. This gives people time to get up to speed and trained before they really get on the firing line with critical situations or projects. This also gives us a bit of a buffer as we grow in occasional spurts, and assures our customers of a high quality, consistent level of service.
Capital is vital to starting and growing a software company. I like to say we are like Goldilocks – not too cold and not too hot. There are a number of small, underfunded companies who can not afford the costs to hire the type of people and the time it takes to build great, differentiating technology. Likewise, there are companies who take too much capital and can not earn enough of a return in the endurance market, so they expand to sell other things like concert tickets or camps.
We feel that there are enough specific nuances in the endurance market that a generic platform can not meet the needs of most races. We have been public about our goals to be a lifestyle company and not grow beyond this market. We will never have hundreds of employees. We will have a very nice business that earns a very good profit that shares that with all of our employees, works with wonderful customers, and create really cool technology solutions for them for many, many years to come. We get approached by private equity companies and others in the industry all the time about getting additional investment, and we frankly just do not care for that future.
To give some more specifics in our case. We were lucky to enter the market when doing just registration was enough. It did not take a ton of investment, which is why there are 50+ race registration companies. The market was growing and a major vendor was shedding customers that helped fuel growth to all of the smaller registration companies. RunSignUp had enough capital to continue doing more advanced development as well as acquisitions that made us a full race lifecycle vendor.
In 2018 we will spend over $1.9M on compensation alone for development. This means we can continue to build on the technology lead we currently enjoy since we have the profit and cash flow to fund this level of investment along with our other infrastructure, sales, marketing, finance, compliance and support costs. This means customers will get more and better features and an easier to use system. It also means we are making investments in our infrastructure to make our own operations better and faster.
We compensate our sales team by giving them a percentage of the gross profit we make. We actually calculate this on a per transaction basis – so each time a participant checks out we calculate the processing fee and subtract the estimated credit card costs and any partner revenue share and affiliate revenue share and then multiple that by a percentage. It is a few pennies. We pay a higher percentage the first year, then a bit less the second year and then a bit less the third year and every year thereafter. This means that a sales person can build their own little business that has continued compensation over many years. This means our sales people do not run away from working with accounts after the first year, but are motivated to build a long term business, just like the company.
We have grown into a multi-tier support structure over the years that has helped us grow efficiently. Our sales people are typically the first point of contact, especially for larger customers with unique questions and requirements.
We surround the sales people with Account Managers, who are compensated with a salary and profit sharing bonus at the end of each year. These people are experts in the system and will typically work with larger accounts or more elongated questions and training. Account Managers also handle reviewing all of the new and renewed races that come in, many of them self-serve (meaning a race we’ve never actually talked with just comes to our site and sets up their race on their own). For example, in January, 2018 over 1,500 new races were created and over 1,500 races were renewed – and the Account Manager team reviewed all of them with the help of some automation we have built.
We also have a team that supports the “email@example.com” queries. This is also our weekend staff that works on Saturday and Sunday. For years we simply did this with email, but recently moved to a ticketing system that will prepare us for having multiple people handling the flow of incoming questions.
Which brings us to the concept of Zero Queue. We are big believers in having a near zero message inbox. And we take this approach with support. This is why many customers are surprised when they get such fast responses, or some account manager sends them an email within an hour or two of them setting up their race for the first time with a recommendation of how to do things a bit better.
Self Serve Help
From the very beginning, we have made an investment in automating our help and support. We are fortunate to have Andrew Sigwart, who has brought “How To” video help to thousands of people.
More recently, we have upgraded to a new Help and How To website and infrastructure. This helps us track case load and volume. Each Monday we review the list of issues and look for “hot spots” in our product where people have the most questions. We then try to come up with enhanced designs to make the product easier, or put extra effort into documentation, instructions or a How To video.
Growth is an important part of a vibrant community. It is good for existing customers, for employees and for the market in general if done right.