We make it our business to know the ins and outs of our business, and that means that despite us not being the biggest on the block, or the most profitable, we are generally slightly ahead of event trends for a reason.
When we started doing this, we were eager kids with a lot of free time, not a lot of business acumen or long term vision, unlimited energy, and extremely limited income. We landed large sponsorships from recognizable companies, got a lot of local support, and made it feel like this was an easy place to make our way.
My, how things have changed!
In 2010, we had a stable of ten events: adventure races, triathlon, runs, bike races, mud runs, and more. We worked hard, we played hard, and hopefully we made a lot of people happy. In 2016, we’ll be self producing two events. Why the shrink?
A number of factors, many of which affect the future of all events going forward:
- Insurance changes – As time has progressed, events have gotten larger as a whole and had more attention from the insurers themselves. Since land managers won’t let you produce an event on their property without it, insurance is a must. But when the requirements for insurance start to impinge on the ability to produce an event, it starts to become a problem. This could be required coverage increasing over 100% from one year to the next, it could be restrictions on an event’s features (aka, you can’t have water activities or obstacles), or it could be flat out refusal to insure, depending on the event. History, longevity, and safety records don’t matter.
- Politics and resource management crackdown – Whether it’s Florida or California, we’ve experienced more and more difficulty because of permit requirements from management agencies. We’ve had government agencies demand we hire a specific company in the permitting process for a service that charges way more than something any other company could provide, we’ve had safety agencies require above and beyond coverage because of one thing happen with a different event because of poor management and planning, and we’ve had increased demands for permits – requiring thousands of dollars of professional services we used to be able to do ourselves. Things like this limit creativity, and definitely limit profitability for an event. We’re proud of our professionalism and ability to navigate this world and make things work (our 24 hour race this year involved 14 different permitting agencies working in conjunction with one another in a location we’d never hosted an event at, and everyone left happy!), but that’s a benefit of over a decade of learning the game. The newer entries to the event world will have a harder and harder time, especially as we feel the squeeze.
Marketing Challenges – Ten years ago, we didn’t have quite the sophisticated marketing machine we do now. This is good and bad. You can target the heck out of people you think would like to know about your event, but unless you have the $$ to do so, you’ll never get through. An old advertising adage was you have to hit someone 7 times before they engage.
- How much will that cost? We particularly loved Spartan Race’s Joe Desena in an article with Obstacle Racing Media: “When Spartan was first beginning to advertise in 2010, DeSena said he had a “moment of insanity” and was spending about $300,000 a month on digital marketing. In what could have been a warning to potential competitors looking at the Obstacle Course Racing business, DeSena said if he were to attempt to reach that same amount of people today it would cost about eight times that $300,000 monthly expense. “It would be hard for us to recreate that today”.”
- In 2014, we went into $15,000 debt to throw everything we had at marketing our obstacle race and triathlon – and the result was what we expected: not enough. Fancy website redesigns, aggressive online targeting, and billboards just won’t do it. Without a built-in desire by the population to find your event, unless you’re an established something in your community, it’s a massive uphill battle that requires either patience or lots and lots of money. Neither of which is a guarantee of success.
- Community Support – We’re not talking about the racing community here. If you are putting on a good quality event, you’re touching your participants in a sincere and impressive way, and you’re relating to them on a peer level, you’re winning. The key here is getting enough of them. But, no, we’re talking about the larger community: local businesses, governments, and tourism boards getting behind what you’re trying to do. We’ve seen events have a LOT more success here than we by bringing a different game with them: while we’ve been putting on events *we* think are cool, the better tactic for support is finding out what the community wants and bringing that forth. This can be through demographic research, surveys, or asking. But, for us? We’d rather do what we love than do what others want us to.
- Big business/scalability/adaptability – With the advent of the Internet and social media, we’re very, very connected. The local mom and pop event won’t draw to its potential unless you go big. Just like chain businesses where a loss here and there balances out with a portfolio of locations, so too are the more successful event chains.
- At the same time, we’ve watched the rise and fall of attempts through the years, most notably the obstacle course races. Remember Zombie Runs? Man, when all the zombie movies came out, I was sold. But what was promised and what was delivered couldn’t line up. Beyond that, people moved on from zombies to the next trend. The undead are dead.
- Obstacle course races in general definitely peaked a few years ago. We had to compete with two other events locally one fall, both under delivering and blighting the offering as a whole. And, beyond that . . . only a few races have maintained viable numbers (though they are falling vastly from their peak years) from what we can see – and they did it by scaling big time right away, plugging in, digging deep, and expanding internationally. Only so many people have the investment and skill resources to make that work. Certainly not the majority of event producers, and to the detriment of why most get into it in the first place – to have fun!
- The other thing we’ve seen happen here is events that survive, adapt. Again, a great example of that has been The Spartan Race series: started in the heat of passion for the movie 300, thousands of people, inspired by the Greek Spartans signed up to test themselves. The original races focused heavily on the Spartan theme . . . but as the passion for 300 faded, they harnessed the passion for the workout it inspired, and the Crossfit revolution that started around the same time and created a symbiotic relationship there. It was brilliant, it was forward thinking, and it is something most of us lack the ability to do while mired in a million things at once. There are triathlons based on lakes are literally drying up and attendance is waning . . . adaptability is the #1 thing to do if you’re established but want success.
Recognizing that the market is saturated – It is IMPOSSIBLE to schedule an event that doesn’t conflict with a compatible event. You have to either be so cool and different that they have to try yours, or you have to be more accessible in some way or another. And you have to make sure the population that wants to go to both is big enough to fill both.
Bottom line, the only way to make events work these days is figure out what people want, and give it to them. But then you also have to have the means to do so.
Some of our events have failed dismally in the past, leaving us near bankruptcy. Some of our events have been wildly successful one year and then tanked the next, with no reason we can put our finger on. Event production is like playing a slot machine. Put enough money and resources in there and do it long enough, it will hopefully pan out. But do you want to wait around that long if you’re not lucky enough to start with a lot of money or win on the first few handle pulls?
I highly recommend reading Seth Godin’s The Dip to really make this point. Basically, you have two charts:
This chart shows you three possible paths for your endeavors – you’ll feel really good as your effort starts to go up but then . . . CRASH! or you’ll be fighting a good long time and then . . . CRASH!
What you need to be on is The Dip:
How do you get there? By getting better than your competition (and you always have competition, even if you don’t see it yet) and persevering through your competition’s hardships. Again, via money, energy, or time.
Another great, relatable book to our topic is How Bad Do You Want It? After reading the author’s case studies, I’ve found that in many ways, in many different arenas in my life, the answer is “Not bad enough.” When it’s time to crash out, cash out, or just stop feeding the machine, it’s when you answer “How Bad Do You Want It” with “Not bad enough.”
And that is why All Out Events has shrunk in the last five years. Though, arguably, the past few years have been our most profitable both from the ability to enjoy life angle and the events. Singling our attention to the events we actually want to put on makes a huge difference for a small business. We took a look at energy expenditure vs money income and the answer for things like our popular Mud Mash was: “we don’t want it bad enough.” It wasn’t a loser, but it took all hands on deck to make it go and it wasn’t growing enough for us to scale it or make it easier to produce.
This is where we get to the state of our beloved All Out Adventures series. How bad do we (and our community) want it? When we looked at the end of this year’s efforts and it netted a bit of a loss, and when we found out we were expecting twins in 2016, the answer was . . . we don’t want it bad enough. And so, we put it to the adventure race community and asked them the same thing . . . and the answer also was . . . not bad enough.
And that’s exactly the issue with that sport’s success. There are races willing to put in the effort to keep growing and pushing the sport, but unless there’s a large, adaptable, scalable effort on a national level, we’re getting nowhere. While we feel we have the skillset to make that work, we need more powerful resources to make it work. Most help has come in the form of asking us to simply work harder to prove ourselves, but we feel we’re past that, and we’re getting contracts that bank on our skills that pay maximally for minimal effort these days. Where is the motivation?
And so, dear reader, that is the state of events in 2016 from All Out Events’ perspective. We hope this was interesting and perhaps helpful!
Thanks for five years of great memories, you stinky little piggies!
First, we’re really sorry that we haven’t said anything sooner, but we wanted to have a game plan before we communicated with you, you dirty little piggies. Thank you to all of you who have contacted us about this year’s event; we’re so glad that despite our lack of involvement this year in communicating about the Mud Mash, you were still thinking about it and ready for the next one.
Mud Mash has been a fall SLO fixture for five years – and we’ve gained national (and even international) recognition for our work with the event, but the reality is this: despite everything we’ve done, it’s simply not gained the support of the community in important ways to make sense for us to continue to hold it.
Throughout the year all work is done by just two individuals – and when it’s time, we call upon a corps of very talented friends to help us build and staff it. We do a number of other events in the community, some adventure races, the Morro Bay Tri, and we take on contracts with others for events like the City to the Sea half marathon. In addition to this, we also run SLO Op Climbing (we just built a new location in Santa Maria! Check us out!). This is a lot of work for just two people year-round, and the Mud Mash is by far the most labor and energy heavy event we are involved in.
Despite the support of your registration dollars, our awesome event partners, our charity partners, and the countless volunteers (especially the Grizzly Youth Academy) that make it go, the event gets more and more expensive and intensive to put on. Recent changes in city policy have made parts of the course inaccessible to us this year, and permitting fees are going through the roof as a result. We’ve lost our free parking area for you because the Topaz Solar Farm is done, and we continue to get no traction with any sponsors, despite our best efforts.
We’ll be honest, we are spread pretty thin and charging after cash or in-kind sponsors is just one thing we are not great at; w
e’re so grateful to those who have believed in us all this time and made it easy to partner and bring you free beer, epic obstacles, and an awesome mud pit, just to name a few. What we ARE great at is putting on world-class events that get better every year, but we simply can’t find a way to make it worth it any further. We’d hoped last year that our all-in efforts to rebrand and spend a lot of money on marketing would yield a net income that allowed us to hire a staff member to add to the team, but it was not to be.
Therefore, we will not be seeing the return of Mud Mash.
Thank you so much for being a part of something wonderful and fun. We look forward to seeing you guys every year and we didn’t come to this decision lightly.
Thank you for everything so, far, it’s been a heck of a ride,
Kristin and Yishai Horowitz, All Out Events
(But don’t despair – check out the Checkpoint Challenge – all the obstacles nature can throw at you!)
2014: 0ctober 26
2013: 0ctober 26
2012: October 27 & 28
- 2012 5k Mud Mash Saturday & Sunday
- 2012 10k Saturday and Sunday
- 2012 Industry Competition
- 2012 Unknowns
Jennifer Best Photos
Kaori Photography Photos
- 10 K individual ~ 10 K Teams
- 5 K individual ~ 5 K Teams
Like you need an excuse to see our kayaks and epic ropes courses in action?
“For the past 3 years the UC Production Master Class has been documenting the Gold Rush Expedition Race in California. All 3 documentaries have aired on Universal Sports Network and now we are releasing them on demand to support the future of the project and our ability to produce a documentary on our latest filming for Expedition Alaska.
We are in pre-order phase and the documentaries will be available starting on 10/1”
A race outside of Moscow in the dead of winter? Man, Russians are hardy folks. We had our doubts, but he had a great team and they were super efficient with communication and payment, so we went forward with the project.
Tasked with looking at Google maps and designing a course (and obstacles) within a certain budget, our race director, Yishai, got to work. Using Google Sketchup to create a full build guide with materials lists that translated to the dimensions and supplies available in Russia, we got the project done in a month, and checked in periodically with them to see how it was going.
It was quiet.
Maybe it wasn’t going well. But they hadn’t contacted us about any issues they had with our materials or the build out . . . perhaps it just wasn’t going to happen.
And then we got a great report from the team!
Here’s a short version of the course video (if it looks familiar to our Mud Mash, that’s because a lot of those obstacles were incorporated – with a few modifications for -20 degrees F conditions):
Can’t get enough? How about a long version of it?
And help them get going! Like them on Facebook!
They had an amazing planning and build team, and there’s more on the way:
Overall people were happy and seems like they liked it!
We already plan to the second race in April 25th in Moscow and then in May 25th in Saint Petersburg.
If you need an excuse to visit Russia, maybe this is it!
People get into the event business for a number of reasons, but the ones that stick around seem to have two very strong qualities:
- The desire to be in the middle of intense action, even when it hurts.
- Entrepreneurial spirit
I’ve been chatting with our intern during our weekly meetings about what she wants to do with her life. She’s finishing up at community college here and on the path to moving back home and getting the 4-year degree. She’ll be leaving an epic social life and a lot of opportunities. “It just feels like getting that degree is delaying opportunities,” she said. And, surprisingly, her parents are also asking her to reconsider finishing that degree.
All of the principals of All Out Events have four year (or more) degrees, but after ten years in the business, we totally get it. We don’t need a college degree, we need those two qualities above.
Especially for the kind of work we do. When everything seems to be going to hell at once (and yes, it happens, but hopefully you don’t see it), our radios flare up and we call out for support, for reinforcements, for quick-action decisions. Nobody is there to punch a clock, and everyone is there hoping that the hardwork will pay off eventually.
You don’t get people like that by being “the boss” and holding the power for yourself. Sometimes I reckon that putting on high logistics events feel like orchestrating a war. All these factors, civilians, enemies (in the form of problems, nature, complaints), and tons of different angles. There’s a reason great generals are there not as top-down decision makers but also as inspirers.
This video always makes me think of what it feels like. At the end of the day, you’ve got to be left standing, broken, bankrupt, and ultimately responsible. But hopefully your troops got something out of it, no matter what.
The thing that’s missing with the general analogy is the fact that event planning takes a team. A team you can rely on. One you can lean on.
Over time, I’ve learned that if you’ve got people with those two qualities, you can give them everything. You can tell them how much money you’re making (or not), you can tell them what’s going on with marketing, and you can ask them what is going wrong. You’re on the same team – you’re pulling for the same successes. Moreover, you’re not alone when you have to make big decisions. Whether it’s hiring or closing up shop, your team is with you and they’ll be there to make sure it’s not all on you.
That is a blessing. Being the “boss” in events means giving away the “boss-ness” of your relationship and making sure everyone gets what they need to kill it.
When they don’t, looking to yourself first for the reason why. Make sure you’re quick to see effort and note it – even if it’s just “Hey, I saw you do that. I appreciate it.”
And if you see fault, go back to navel gazing for a moment – if these people are on your team, what’s causing the problem? Can it be addressed proactively by you before you even approach them with your criticism? Many times, the answer is yes. Maybe you need to train them more, prepare them more, or make them understand their role in the bigger picture.
Get out of micromanagement and let your team know what the consequences are. There’s no bloated company paychecks or people punching the clock to blame – it’s people bruised, bleeding, and tired right alongside you.
Find people that work like you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life (and they’re fun to go with beers with after it’s all over, too)!
If you work with people in any capacity, you know that John Donne was right when he stated that “No man is an island.” (That goes for ladies, too.)
We’ve been at this event business stuff for ten years (in different company forms, All Out Events is officially five years old) and we’ve done everything from climbing festivals to mountain runs to mud runs and everything in between – and we do it because we love it.
We were recently interviewed by Obstacle Racing Media because we’d been ahead of the curve on the mud run phenomenon and that fascinated Matt B. Davis. He asked us, “So why didn’t you take that idea and run with it like Spartan and Tough Mudder did?”
Why? Because for a long, long time, we were kids putting on events for a community that wanted it. No one thought about dollar signs and investors and 401ks when this stuff got off the ground! We just wanted to be the best and we’re still trying hard to be that.
And, despite that, here we are.
- Brought back the Checkpoint Challenge to rave reviews
- Moved our longest running, uninterrupted event (the Dawn to Dusk adventure race) down to Santa Barbara and brought our adventure racing family a whole new course)
- Successfully pulled off the biggest, most epic Mud Mash ever in its fifth year
- Brought back the Morro Bay Triathlon thanks to our new assistant race director
- Oh, did we mention we had an assistant race director for the first time in All Out history? Woot!
- Worked with the City to the Sea race to put that event on (we’ll be more involved in 2015)
- Successfully developed 21 custom obstacles for a fledgling obstacle event in Russia going off in February of 2015
- Were published regularly in Mud and Obstacle magazine
- Donated over $12,000 to charities as a result of our operations
- Released an event production book!
Why is that? Because of our team. We’ve evolved throughout the years, but none of these achievements are possible with out supportive friends, vendors, and land managers. Heck, Santa Barbara made it pretty hard for us to put something on down there, but as soon as it was done, they were on the phone asking us to come back (not this time, guys!).
We owe that to people dedicated to making sure our participants have the time of their lives, from our graphic design team to our day of staff, to vendors we’ve developed relationships with.
It takes an army to do this right, and we’re so grateful to have them, and you.
So what’s coming up in 2015, you ask? Nothing’s ever set in stone, but here’s what we’re looking at:
- Approaching a new pricing tier system that is not date dependent, but quantity dependent. You get the best deals by being able to buy limited quantities of tickets. Slower sales? You win! Early buyer for a sold-out event? You definitely win. This will help us budget a lot easier than in years past.
- Checkpoint Challenge moves to a new date (and we’re already seeing record entries) – March 28! We’re excited to have partner teams try something new or come back for a new course this year!
- Dawn to Dusk celebrates its 10th anniversary by coming home to SLO on an all new course with much of it not open to the public (HUGE thanks to Bob Hill and the City of SLO for figuring out the logistics for that) that will finish in the downtown mission again.
- We’re bringing back the 24-hour race in a place many people thought couldn’t be done: the Eastern Sierra! We’ll start the course on Mammoth mountain and finish in downtown Bishop. California locals know that this means some epic adventure in some of the best terrain the state has to offer – and we’re looking forward to seeing even more adventure racers come out fro all areas for this reason.
- We’re looking forward to traveling near and far to assist with other adventurous race producers!
- We’ll be heading operations for the City to the Sea half marathon and 5k this year
- The Morro Bay Tri will be back in November with a new swim course and hopefully a lot more road closures and supports in place thanks to the enthusiasm of the city following the success of this year’s race.
- The Mud Mash date will likely be moved to the first few weeks of January in 2016 rather than on Halloween weekend – it’s unseasonably warm then and beautiful and . . . not a lot going on except being awesome – what a great way to stay motivated to be in shape through the holidays!
And finally – you heard it here first . . . we’re planning on launching something completely new in the adventure race world that will capitalize on the amazing, supportive AR community and finally be able to give you what you want in a less passive way than just entering an event . . . we’re not ready to tell you what exactly yet. That’s part of the fun. We’ll reveal more as 2015 progresses.
From all of us here at All Out Events to all of you out there – Happy New Year and may 2015 find you in joy, health, abundance, and adventure! We are thankful for all the opportunities you’ve thrown at us in 2014 and we hope to live up to your expectations in the future!