The Great Urban Entrepreneur

Five years ago, a pair of adventure loving buddies found a way to bring their love of thrills into an urban environment. They since have grown Red Frog Events into an $85 million business that hosts competitions during which teams solve clues and complete mental and physical challenges while discovering their city in a fresh way. Joe Reynolds and Ryan Kunkel have parlayed their $5,000 initial investment into a successful Chicago-based company with more than 60 full-time employees, three signature extreme races and a serious following.

The company’s most popular event, Warrior Dash, a 5K race packed with obstacles like a pond filled with logs, a rock wall, a tunnel of flames and a sinking mud pit, made appearances in 35 cities across the country in 2011 and drew 600,000 participants. This year the company is going international for the second time, taking its events to Ireland and Great Britain. Reynolds says, “When you’re really passionate about your business, you can see lots of tremendous opportunities.”

Nancy Mann Jackson says (in her Entrepreneur magazine article about him) “Reynolds had previously owned a house-painting company, but had no idea how to contend in the event-production business. What he did know was that he loved competing and creating fun experiences–and he wanted to share his passion with the masses. With hard work and dedication, he’s now doing just that. If, like Reynolds, you’d like to turn what you love into a viable business enterprise, start with these six tips:”

1. Don’t count on passion alone.

“Sometimes passion can blind you to the potential downside of your idea,” says John Torrens, a serial entrepreneur and an entrepreneurship professor at Syracuse University. “The one non-negotiable factor for any sustainable business is that they solve a problem for a specific customer segment in a way that is appreciably better than the next best alternative. Get as much feedback from potential customers as possible. No matter how great you think the idea is, you still need to understand what your market thinks.”

Remember the details. There are tons of ancillary functions that go along with running a business that must be performed well for it to succeed.

Dole out responsibility.  You’ll either have to delegate the primary work to others, or you may choose to delegate managing the operation to someone else so you can continue to focus on the primary work yourself.

2. Hire passionate people.

Having employees who share your zeal for the business will help your company succeed. For instance, at the Warrior Dash Louisiana in 2010, a series of tornadoes tore through the landscape during the event. Neither Reynolds nor Kunkel were in Louisiana, but the staffers who were managing the race stayed up through the night to repair the course and get all the obstacles ready again, so the competitors who weren’t able to finish could complete the course the following day.

3. Share your passion.

If you have a hobby, likely there are others out there who share that interest and would like to learn more about it. Sharing your knowledge can be a great way to build your business.

4. Keep the passion alive.

Reynolds and Kunkel make a point to continue competing in races themselves so they can maintain their love for running and recreation. Rather than feeling responsible for thinking of everything and micromanaging their employees, Reynolds and Kunkel empower their staffers to develop solutions to their own problems.

5. Prioritize fun.

Torrens says, “In the authentically passionate companies, everything grows from that passion, including the people, policies, branding and community relations. That obsessive focus on whatever it is that gets you out of bed can’t be faked, but it takes work to create the circumstances under which it can thrive. “

6. Expand your passion.

Reynolds launched Red Frog Events because he wanted to combine his love for adventure travel and competitive runs. But over the past five years, he and Kunkel have realized they are excited about producing recreational events in general, not just runs. This year they plan to enter the music festival industry, starting with their own Firefly Music Festival, which they hope will compete with some of the world’s largest such events.

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