We often get asked about the reasons for our success achieving 25-30% market share in the endurance market. And as we enter the Nonprofit market with GiveSignup, people are wondering where we fit and whether we will have success there as well.
This will be a long blog about the blueprint we have followed for RunSignup and how we are mapping that to the nonprofit market with GiveSignup. We will discuss the high level strategies as well as business and organizational concepts that have been the basis for our success and hopefully form the basis for what we hope to bring to the nonprofit space.
Is There a Need?
Like many businesses, RunSignup was started because Bob was a race director and saw a need for a better registration system:
- Better technology
- Customers own their own data
- More open
- Easier to use and self-serve
- Lower cost
As we started looking at the market, we realized there were tens of thousands of micro communities that needed technology to help bring them together. Even the largest race organizations were very small businesses of maybe a few dozen employees who could not afford to build their own technology.
Here is a slide from 2013 that crystalized what we were providing that was really not available before:
We also found that customers were not exactly happy with their vendors. They charged too much, or advertised competitive offerings to their participants, or did not pay regularly, or were difficult to use, or did not keep up with their technology.
GiveSignup Market Need
Just like when we entered the endurance market, there is a need. A void of good technology. A space for the tech nerds from RunSignup | GiveSignup to deliver purpose-built, cost effective, self-managed solutions.
Just like 2010 in the endurance market, there are large vendors who are simply not helping their customers enough. We have been to some of the industry forums, and Blackbaud customers are not happy. Many nonprofits are using a generic ticket platform in Eventbrite, not one that is purpose-built. The same thing for donations with many nonprofits using less than ideal PayPal technology and paying too much and losing their branding.
With the current pandemic, nonprofits are being squeezed even tighter. They can not afford the expensive subscription software, and they need ways to generate revenue and step away from “the way it has always been done”.
Is This a Viable Business?
What we found in the competitive environment over the past 10 years has been interesting. The endurance market is actually not very large, with only about $1 Billion of transactions per year from registrations in the US. This meant that when we entered the market 10 years ago there were over 100 very small registration systems, but none of them had the critical mass to build a decent technology platform that would evolve and expand rapidly. While there were a couple of large vendors that had financing, there was not enough of a financial return for their investors just in the endurance market – so they went into other, larger markets.
This set us up as the “Goldilocks” solution. We had some of our own capital we could invest, and as you will read below, we did not rush our growth and let it happen very naturally and cost effectively. We had the advantage of having some extremely talented people and some good experience we could use to help guide our decisions and growth. So we found our spot in the endurance market.
While the market is small, as we got to scale it was a profitable, growing, employee-owned business.
We are a recurring revenue SaaS business. It is a great business model if the CAC/LTV (Cost to Acquire a Customer and Lifetime Value of a Customer) works out. The general problem in this market is that most of the customers are very small. And even the large customers are not that big, so the average first year value of a customer is low (in 2019 we had 6.2 Million participants across 21,000 races – that is only about 300 people per race). So the CAC has to be low, and you need to keep customers around for a long time to get good lifetime value.
We have kept our CAC low with a number of key strategies.
- Technology Investment – we have a single SaaS platform that customers can use the full functionality themselves directly. So there is less need to have costly human interactions.
- Timer Partner Channel – we developed technology and a partner revenue share model with timers that made it much more cost effective to bring on board many more races. Rather than us having to sell 50 races, a timer who used our platform would recommend us to their 50 races and many of them would begin using us over a couple of year period of time with the timers help. This reduced our direct sales and support costs.
- No up front costs – since our revenue is perfectly aligned with our customer’s revenue model. We make money when they make money since we charge a % of the transaction as a processing fee. There are no subscription fees or hurdles to customer adoption.
- Word of Mouth – we benefited from this since day one. You would be able to see use of RunSignup spread in a geography. A race would use us, and the director would recommend us to a friend, who would then get positive feedback from their participants, and then a running store would hear about us, and they would recommend us to people who wanted to start up a race. So we spend more on R&D and less and Sales and Marketing.
- First Year Costs – are higher than renewal years. We spend time doing KYC checks on each new customer, and have people check each and every race set up, and answer thousands of customer questions each week from newer customers. But in the second year of a race, the director typically clicks a green “renew” button.
- Education and Self-Serve Support – we have invested a tremendous amount into a very robust self-serve support set of materials with topic/solution based guides for hundreds of topics. In addition, we have a number of information hubs similarly targeted for customers to learn and improve. We also hold about 50 webinars per year, and during pre-COVID times had a twice yearly Symposium in Philadelphia and Orlando where 300 customers attended (600 total). In 2020, we did a 4 day virtual symposium with over 500 attendees and a 1 day Fall Cram session with over 600. Educated customers reduce support, and provide a more passionate advocate to help increase word of mouth referrals.
The LTV of customers is not something we have accurately measured yet. However, we know that it is greater than the CAC as we ran a profitable, cash flow positive business in 2019 with 25% growth. The LTV is enhanced in a number of ways:
- Low churn – We measure our churn due to no repeat of a race (5.5%) and losses to competitors (2.5%) for events over 500 for the 2 years before COVID struck in March, 2020. This implies a lifetime of 11 years for customers.
- Races are not customers. Many organizations have multiple races either at a Timer level (for example a timer might influence between 10-300 races to use our platform), or at an ownership level (for example multi-race organizations like Corrigan Sports, DelMoSports, Best Damn Race, Vision Event Management and Race Day Events). These typically start with a small race and expand to others over the course of a few years.
As we look to build the GiveSignup business, there are several key attributes we will be leveraging to make it a solid business.
- Leverage the same low CAC approaches we used in the endurance space mentioned above. Especially leverage the low cost of sales by using our technology superiority and low cost with no subscription costs or commitments.
- Initial target of the 8,000 nonprofit customers that already to use RunSignup to cross-sell other solutions to those nonprofits like tickets for galas or golf outings, donation forms and websites, fundraising campaigns like Giving Tuesday or Birthday Fundraisers with our free features like integrated Facebook Fundraising.
- Just like Timers and multi-race organizations allowed us to win one part of a customer’s business, this is even more true of many nonprofits who hold maybe a dozen events, and several fundraising campaigns each year. This will allow us to increase the transaction volume over time.
GiveSignup Market Size
While only $1 Billion of transactions are done in the endurance market, there is over $400 Billion of giving in the US done per year. About $30-50 Billion of that is addressable market for GiveSignup with online giving, membership, or event based tickets, sponsorships and fundraising.
So there is plenty of opportunity for us to carve out a space where we can add value. Of course since it is a large market, there are many very well capitalized competitors. We hope we can leverage our technology advantages to be the geeks in the space that provide the best technology that customers have full control over at a much lower cost than other providers.
Build for the Long Run
One of our favorite replies to people complimenting us on our success is “Yes, we are 10 year overnight success.”
We started RunSignup as a passion project. While it has built into a serious business, supporting thousands of customers and dozens of employees, we are still passionate about what we do. We all want to keep doing this for the rest of our careers.
Continuous Improvement is one of our slogans around here. Much like Bob got pretty good at running in college from doing 5 miles in the morning and 10 miles in the afternoon nearly every day of the year – you can not help but get better if you put some work in each day.
One of the early examples of building for the long run was our scalability project we did in 2012. We migrated to the cloud that year and built and tested (over 300 tests before we optimized it fully!) to handle 50,000 registrations in under 10 minutes (we actually did it in 7 minutes). That year we only had 80,000 registrations – talk about building ahead of the need.
We have designed our development process to allow us to deploy new software many times each day without affecting users. Our customers get free upgrades between clicks in their web browser. We use this not just for releasing new features, but re-writing major parts of our system.
From a sales point of view, we keep Bob’s Grandfather’s saying in mind:
“You’ve got to be patientFrank Bickel
You’ve got to be steady
You’ve got to fish
When the fish are ready”
Our reps will call to check in and update prospective customers literally for years. Just this past year we finally won a customer who had looked at us and chosen a competitor about 5 years ago. That is fine – we will be here when you are ready. Bob’s version of his Grandfather’s quote is “Don’t try to push on a string, it is a waste of energy”.
The same has been true of our extensive help system and educational content. We have literally thousands of content sources to help customers, and push new content continually to try to help customers. And we keep up with 50,000 customers and potential customers in informative, info-heavy monthly newsletters for RunSignup and GiveSignup.
GiveSignup is a new business for us. We know the opportunity is large. Our expectations are that eventually the revenue from GiveSignup will exceed RunSignup. Since they are both built on the same platform, there is synergy with the technology investment, and since there is so much cross-over of nonprofits who use RunSignup, we will be serving all of our customers well together.
Customers, Employees and Owners are Equal Stakeholders
We have had these Guiding Principles from the beginning, and they guide everything we do.
While the first two circles are focused on making sure we are as productive and happy as possible, the third circle is foundational as a business. Bob wrote a blog many years ago about the Three Leg Stool. The basic idea is that there needs to be balance and equity between all three constituents of our company.
- Customers: We listen to customers to make our product better with their suggestions. In fact we log every suggestion in Github and review each week to prioritize our development plan. We have transparent, transaction based pricing – so when our customers do well, we do well, and if they do not get benefit from our platform, then we do not charge them. We also have a non-exclusive contract – customers can leave when they want (we only want happy customers). We also have Customer Advisory Board that we meet with 2x per year, as well as open “Town Halls” that Bob leads at our Symposiums.
- Employee-Owners: We are an employee-owned company, so every employee is an owner. We have a core belief in sharing in our success and rewarding people for their efforts when the company is successful.
Deliver the Art of Technology
Software is not a commodity, it’s a unique masterpiece with billions and billions of 1’s and 0’s strung together in just the right order to create a beautiful, complex system that helps our customers raise money and save time. This is done by an incredibly talented team of developers, who are committed and engaged in helping our customers. In addition, our focus on the endurance & nonprofits gives us the depth & understanding to create this art.
The endurance market needed good technology, that they could control, that lowered costs, and that allowed them to bring their communities together. The technology is the fundamental foundation of why customers have flocked to our platform.
We see the same need in the (much larger) nonprofit market with GiveSignup. More than 8,000 nonprofits use RunSignup for fundraising run/walk/rides and want more of our free & easy-to-use technology for tickets & donations. They are over-served with too many vendors with old, expensive, closed technology. And new entrants seem to have only surface level technology with too many pay walls and custom pricing. So we will keep the same blueprint & approach with RunSignup to grow GiveSignup.