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10 Years – the Origin Story

This is Bob. I’m getting a bunch of “Congratulations on your 10th Work Anniversary” on LinkedIn today. At our Symposium, Allison and I talked about this being our 10th year in business and what we have planned for the next 10 years (more of the same in Endurance and, of course GiveSignup for nonprofits).

But the question comes up, when, how and why did RunSignup start? There are lots of answers, but here is the story to the best of my ability to remember…

I stumbled into being a race director in 2004 when I was volunteer helping to coach the Moorestown High School XC team, and they needed a fundraiser. In addition to having a yard sale in our yard, we started a Turkey Trot with only paper reg. Also, my friends Scott Coffee and Bill Van Fossen had started the Moorestown Rotary 8K a number of years ago and sadly Scott passed away in 2005. I offered to try to help Bill out for the 2006, which we renamed the Scott Coffee Run.

That was my first foray into using online registration systems. I was a tech startup guy, and open source internet infrastructure software was my specialty. It occurred to me that there was a need not only for much better software, but a much different business model. One that was more open. That let races own their own data, and not be at cross purposes by selling one race’s data to another race. That charged more reasonable fees, and did not have a per participant charge so families would be more encouraged to sign up together without being penalized. One that had an open API so other software could interface with it easily. One that had a non-exclusive contract so a customer could leave whenever they wanted if they were not happy. One that welcomed a channel for education and support by embracing timers as well as affiliate calendars and promotion. It amazes me that with all the success we have had, very few of our competitors have copied these simple business processes that are a key to our success.

So after the 2007 Scott Coffee Run, I was thinking that maybe I would get back into programming and do this. By the end of 2008 when I had made little progress due to too many other distractions, I realized I was too busy with other things to focus enough attention to become really good at this.

In early 2009 I posted a blog saying we were looking for a web developer to work at the RunningCo of Moorestown, a store I co-owned at the time with Dave Welsh (he bought my half when RunSignup started becoming too busy). The idea was that the new hire would be the 2nd person working at the store, and would only be busy maybe an hour or two a day, leaving the rest of the day to code.

As luck would have it, Stephen’s sister saw the post in the running store newsletter and said he should apply. He was still in college, and I remember our first meeting at the store. It was a very lucky day for me and anyone who uses RunSignup. That summer of 2009 he spent building the first version of RunSignup. A friend in Moorestown, Doug Sell (not our outside tax accountant, but his son) was holding a small 5K for his high school 10th reunion class and became our official first user. We had 8 registrations in August, 2009 and they worked! I used it for the Moorestown Turkey Trot in November, 2009 and over 200 people signed up. Stephen went back to school in the fall, but somehow about 20 races found the site and used it, and it worked!

Stephen was graduating a semester early in December. So at the end of November, I asked him if he wanted to join RunSignup full time in January, 2010. That is what I call the official start of RunSignup. And as they say, the rest is history…

August 2009
August, 2010

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