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Q&A’s with trail runners who’ve started their own businesses
Chris Herbert and Caleb Simpson, co-founders of Bearded Brothers snackfood and energy-bar company.
In Making Tracks in our September 2013 issue (on newsstands August 1), we published an article called ‘Entrepreneurial Endeavors: Lessons from those who had dreams and “ran” with them’—a story on three trail runners who own their own businesses, and the five lessons they’ve learned in the process.
We hope you have a chance to check out the print story, but in the meantime, enjoy the bonus Q&As with each on them here online, beginning with Jenn Hughes of Run Pretty Far women’s running apparel …
Jenn Hughes, 34, of Sammamish, WA
Run Pretty Far
Jenn, pictured with partner Greg Manciagli.
Co-founder, Run Pretty Far: Eye-catching women’s running apparel designed with bright colors and inspiring slogans.
1. How did you get into trail running?
My first trail race was a classic old school ultra in the middle of nowhere, just a small group of friends that wanted to see how much they could torture themselves on a Saturday. It was November, pouring down rain, freezing cold, and everyone was happily miserable. I loved every second of it and never looked back at the road. Since then I feel so blessed to have competed in international multi-day stage races, lots of adventure running with friends and my first 100 milers.
2. Tell me a bit about the history of Run Pretty Far.
As my life became increasingly immersed in running, I was struck by how boring the performance apparel options were. I’m a pretty plain Jane girl—wearing black or gray most of the time—but for race day or for a super long run, I wanted a great tee to lift my spirits. That’s where Run Pretty Far was born: the desire to have true performance options with a fabulous graphic, font, color or message. Luckily, I wasn’t the only running lady who wanted this. In just over two years we’ve had a huge response from our customers, retailers and the press.
3. Where did you pick up the skills to accomplish what you have with RPF? Have you had mentors along the way?
Well mostly, I just have too much chutzpah. I had worked at Nordstrom Corporate so I felt like I had an understanding of the retail world, combined with several years working in small businesses including owning one of my own. I’ve always been passionate about thoughtful consumer marketing and I knew that Run Pretty Far was a story that should and could be told.
I have not had any mentors yet with RPF. It’s been a find-my-own-way adventure. But, I have had many, many people who unfailingly believe in me. Friends, family, and customers that consistently encourage me and remind me how relevant RPF is. I would be lost without them.
4. Do you struggle to find time to run/train while also running a small business?
The first summer we were on the road, exhibiting at races up and down the west coast. My running became very spotty and as a result I felt like a fraud. I learned quickly that keeping my running up is crucial to my mental state, not to mention my backside. I am lucky to have an extremely patient and supportive partner that helps me find the time, but it does require a lot of creative hours to make it work.
5. What has been the most rewarding part of your work? How about the most challenging?
Even with a clear vision, it can take a while for concept and reality to coalesce. So one of the most rewarding things has been, after two years of work, starting to produce designs that are finally what I originally visualized RPF to be. However, since the first day, it has been wonderful to see how much RPF connects with women. I meet so many women that are inspired by our company message and that lights me up and makes me want to keep going.
The most challenging aspect is definitely financial. Trying to keep our personal life paid for while we throw every dollar back into the business adds a lot of daily stress. RPF is entirely self-funded with no investors and as a result that means we are usually very cash-flow poor. Both Greg (my partner) and I work lots of odd jobs to find a way to pay the mortgage.
6. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you have an idea, something that keeps coming back to you as viable in the marketplace, then find a way to cautiously vet it. Get feedback and be open to hearing what people have to say. At some point, though, you’ll have to take that leap where you say, “We’re doing this!” After that hold on, and get ready for your life to change.
Also, find a solid partner. I’ve started another business solo and it was lonely! The value of a teammate cannot be understated. It’s an around the clock, all-consuming adventure and going it alone is rough. Even if it’s not a full partner, find someone that will complement your strengths and work with you on the start-up.
Read on for a Q&A with Caleb Simpson of Bearded Brothers snackfood and energy-bar company …
Caleb Simpson, 34, of Austin, TX
Simpson (right) with co-founder Chris Herbert.
Ultrarunner, climber and cyclist. Dad.
Co-founder, Bearded Brothers: Organic, vegan, mostly raw snackfood and energy-bar company.
1. Tell me a little bit about the history of Bearded Brothers. What gave you your passion for vegetarianism and raw foods?
The idea for Bearded Brothers came after I had been eating a high raw food diet for a couple of years. I had always enjoyed products like LaraBar but wanted something completely organic, so I made my own bars. After posting the recipes on my blog I had people suggest I sell them. The seed was planted, but it wouldn’t be until I moved to Austin a couple of years later that we would actually launch the business. We saw that Austin was super supportive of local products and full of active people, vegetarians and like-minded people that would buy our product.
[Launching a] Kickstarter Campaign gave us some of the initial funds we needed to get started. It took us three months to raise $5000, something I believe we could do in way less time now that we have a fan base. We feel really blessed that so many people donated to our project before we were anything at all.
The bars I used to create were used to fuel my long runs (at the time was 10-13 miles) and rock climbing trips. Chris would make them to take with him while traveling for his full time job. He found it difficult to find good foods to eat on the road, and especially in airports.
2. What did your working life before Bearded Brothers look like?
I grew up in Denton, Texas. I went to college there at the University of North Texas, where I got my BBA in Marketing. I ended up working in Marketing/Graphic Design for eight years before realizing that wasn’t really my cup of tea, even though I was fairly good at it. I was restless during those eight years; I mostly thought it was just the people I worked for but eventually realized I wasn’t cut out to work for somebody else.
3. How did you get into trail running?
I started trail running just over a year ago. When I first moved to Austin I got hit by a car on my bike and tore meniscus in my knees. It wasn’t bad enough to require surgery, but it was bad enough running on the road really bothered them. During my “recovery” phase, which lasted over six months, I read the book Born to Run. Prior to that, I had always shunned barefoot running. I thought it was a dumb idea. But after reading the book I realized it was actually probably the best thing I could do, and would allow me to continue running. Soon after finishing the book I bought a pair of Fivefingers and have been in minimalist shoes ever since, other than a pair of zero-drop Altra Lone Peaks that I ran in during my first 50 miler. I never really liked them, though; it was just too much shoe for me.
4. What are some races you’ve run? Races you want to run?
I have done several of the Tejas Trail races including Cactus Rose, which was my first 50 miler. Everybody told me I was crazy for picking that one for my first 50, but it worked out best for my training schedule since I had a child due a month before the race. I didn’t want to be doing lots of training right after the birth of my daughter.
I would really like to do the Wasatch 100 one day. I recently ran part of the course when I was at Outdoor Retailer. I was in awe of the scenery. I was so taken back I ended up running faster than I had on any of my trail runs all summer, back in Texas. Granted, the temps were better, but I wasn’t used to running at elevation, although I do take frequent trips to the mountains.
5. Where did you pick up the skills to launch your own business?
Chris had co-owned a Health Food Store, and I had been a freelance photographer for years on top of my full time job, I was also a business major, so had a lot of knowledge about business. But ultimately I don’t believe you need to have loads of experience to start a business. It’s really just a matter of having the drive and willingness to learn what’s required. Neither one of us had experience in food manufacturing, but we have been learning as we go.
I meet with several local business owners during our planning phases of the business. They weren’t mentors per say, but were very helpful to the start of our business. We had another friend that was the CEO of a popular social media app. that played a crucial role in our brand development. I’m also really inspired by people like Dan Miller (author of No More Dreaded Mondays) and Dave Ramsey (for his Entreleadership material).
6. What else do you like to do in your free time?
I’m an avid rock climber. It’s actually what got me into running. As part of my training for climbing the North Face of Longs Peak I was running three miles three to four times a week. When I returned from that trip I kept running and eventually started running half marathons. Once I moved to Austin I switched to running trails, mostly. It fits my personality better. I also run more now than I climb, but that is mainly because it’s much easier to get out for a run than to leave for a full day of climbing hours way from home. Living in Austin is nice because I have easy access to trails just five minutes from my house. I hope to start climbing more one day, but for now I’m finding a lot of solace in trail running!
7. Do you struggle to find time to run/train while also running a small business?
It’s definitely a struggle. It’s even harder now that I have a daughter. When I was training for my 50 miler I was only running three days a week. So, anybody who doesn’t think they have time to train for an ultra is just making excuses, it doesn’t take as much time as people think. Ideally I would like to be running 4-5 days a week, but my family and the business are more important than getting in the miles. As a small business owner you have to wear many hats and run many aspects of the business. I look forward to the day that I’m not as involved and can work some more miles in during my week. But for now I’m happy getting in two to three days a week of running, but I make the most of it when I do get to run.
8. What has been the most rewarding part of your work?
There are so many things I could say are rewarding. First of all it’s pretty amazing we are still in business after two years, and we are only continuing to grow. It won’t be too much longer and we will have a strong national presence. That is pretty impressive for a small company to achieve such rapid growth. Other rewarding things have been: meeting Barefoot Ted and Bryon Powell, attending Outdoor Retailer and running the Wasatch Mountains, and building the brand from the ground up, and seeing numerous people setup up to help support us.
9. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Just start! It seems so many aspiring entrepreneurs are held back by fear. Make a plan to make your dream become a reality. It doesn’t require you to quit your day job from day one, but it’s nice if you can do that. Also, be prepared to make sacrifices. Expect to live a lean personal life for at least a few years. You are going to want to invest as much money back into the business as possible, and for a while you likely won’t even generate enough revenue to pay yourself.
For runners it might mean you even have to sacrifice training time, but remember it’s only temporary. You are going to have to hustle a lot in the start, but in the long run it will pay off. We are still in the hustle stage, but it’s easy to hustle when you know your hard work is going to pay off.
Mike Burnstein, 23, of Brookline, MA
Burnstein (right) with co-founder Dave Spandorfer.
Elite marathoner. New trail runner.
Co-founder, Janji: Running-apparel company that raises awareness and money for the global food and water crisis.
1. Tell me a little bit about the history of Janji. What made you and Dave so passionate about the global food and water crisis in particular?
My college teammate Dave and I came up with the idea for Janji while on the bus to the NCAA track championships my sophomore year. We just realized that there was so much potential in the running world. So many people are out there running every day, and we wanted to channel that energy towards something positive. We saw the impact road races have had in raising funds for various causes, but unfortunately that began and ended on race day. We wanted to contribute in a more sustainable way–running apparel.
We chose the food and water crisis because we saw it as the most fundamental problem. Everyone deserves access to clean water and proper nutrition yet there are so many people who go without. Once a group of people has consistent access to proper nutrition and clean water, the social and economic impact is massive.
Also, it’s an issue that hits especially close to home for runners. It would be impossible to get through a three-mile jog, or a 100k trail race without proper nutrition and hydration! It’s our access to these fundamental rights that allows us to participate in our passion, but not everyone is so lucky.
2. What has your running career looked like so far?
I got into running as a freshman in high school as a way to get myself into shape in hopes of making my high school’s basketball team. Basketball was my first love, but I soon found more success in running than I ever did in 10 years playing basketball. I didn’t love running at first, but over time it grew on me.
I was very lucky to be a part of strong running tradition in high school at Brookline High in Massachusetts. We had a dream season my senior year where we won states as a team, finishing with the lowest point total in state history.
I later ran for Washington University in Saint Louis. I moved up to the 10K race on the track, but cross country was my true love. I finished college with six All-American awards, most of which came after barely qualifying for championship meets. College running was a blast. It was a really special experience to be able to train and race with your best friends.
Post-grad I took about half a year off from serious running, where I had some fun playing in a few basketball leagues before getting back into it with a focus on the marathon. I recently competed in the Boston Marathon where I ran 2:28. I’m planning on doing some trail racing this summer before gearing up for the New York City Marathon next fall.
3. A little bird told me you recently discovered trail running while visiting some national parks on a road trip for Janji.
I focus on marketing and product development for Janji, but being a startup, I have also taken on some work in sales. In the fall of 2012 I was lucky enough to head out on a six-week road trip, visiting running stores across the country. One of my first stops on the trip was in Albuquerque where I stayed with a friend. He took me on a trail run on the foothills outside of the city and I was blown away.
Especially after spending 10 hours in a car driving through Oklahoma, it was an incredible experience. It was very emotionally freeing–like all of the small things that had been bugging me didn’t matter because in that moment I was entirely surrounded by natural beauty. Also, more so than road running you need to focus on your footing, requiring an added level of focus that forces you to live in the present. I was hooked.
4. You and Dave are both young entrepreneurs. Where did you pick up the skills to accomplish what you have with Janji?
Honestly, Dave and I are definitely unqualified to do what we’re doing. The good thing is, we recognize that we don’t know everything. We are constantly seeking advice from our amazing group of mentors who have helped us at every step of the way. Now that we are one year in, we’ve learned so much and are light years ahead of last year. However, one of the main things you learn as an entrepreneur is how little you actually know. It’s important to differentiate what you should try to do yourself, and where you need help.
5. Do you struggle to find time to run/train while also running a small business?
We work hard at Janji, but fortunately we also have the flexibility to train seriously. Personally, running helps me organize my life making me much more productive. Also, having a training partner as a co-founder helps. Most of our strategy sessions take place on easy runs after work.
6. What has been the most rewarding part of your work?
Nothing is more rewarding then seeing or hearing about the work from our partnering organizations. Each organization that we help fund does absolutely incredible life-saving work, and it’s truly humbling seeing their impact on a daily basis. It’s an honor to help them do their work.
7. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Think of it like training for a big race. First you need to decide that you’re doing the race. That’s the hardest part. Next, you need to set long-term goals, and establish a plan in how to get there. You need to work hard every day to execute that plan, but that’s not enough. Once in a while you need to stop and think about whether your plan is working or not. If not, you need to adjust and keep plugging away.