MF 137 : Moving Forward as a “Running Entrepreneur,” with Nick Symmonds
Nick Simmonds is a competitive racer (a NCAA Div III champion and two-time Olympian) turned entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of Run Gum which produces a caffeine energy gum to help with alertness and focus. Today, Nick will share how an athlete’s perseverance can become the entrepreneur’s greatest asset.
Successes at a glance:
Accomplished Athlete and Entrepreneur:
See Nick’s full accolades at his website
NCAA Division III Champion
Two-time Olympian (2008 and 2012 Games) in Track and Field
CEO and Co-founder, Run Gum
Will be competing in the December 2017 Honolulu Marathon
Setback failure or time when things fell apart:
Nick was a very successful, competitive runner. He was competing as a Division III athlete and made it to the Olympics twice. As Nick reveals, the career of a pro runner can be lucrative with good endorsements, but is short-lived and constantly at risk, should a serious injury occur. Unfortunately, for Nick, that’s what happened. Nick was riding high in his career, having won the Silver medal in the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. 2014 was poised to be a big year. Nick was deep in his training regimen when he tore a ligament in his knee, resulting in an avulsion fracture. This injury effectively ended Nick’s season. Nick fell into a deep depression, knowing he would not be able to realize the potential and promise of a great season. Moreover, Nick felt he lost a sense of purpose.
The “aha” moment that sparked a pivot:
Nick started his athletic career at a Division III school in Oregon. In college, Nick was studying biochemistry as he was going to become a doctor. Nick never imagined he would become a pro runner but upon graduating in 2006, Nick was recruited by Nike and the Oregon Track Club. Since then, he’s been a professional athlete which in turn, played a big part in his transition to entrepreneurship.
As Nick shares on this episode, the career of a pro-runner is fairly short, usually 3-4 years. Nick also knew that one injury or twisted ankle could quickly end his career and the revenue stream he was getting from endorsements. At around the same time, Nick and his coach got into a dialogue about diversifying opportunities so that their income wasn’t solely dependent on Nick’s running.
In true need-generates-idea fashion, Nick’s entrepreneurial “aha” revelation came from his running. As Nick shares, he needed Run Gum, even though it didn’t exist yet. Energy drinks and hydration are a must for pro athletes and Nick was no exception. Nick loved energy drinks ever since turning pro. While the energy boost was great for his running and focus, the problem was that he would often have adverse reactions to the acidic liquid. Sometimes, the experience was so painful for his stomach, he would often throw up. In his mind, Nick visualized chewing gum as the ideal delivery method for the ingredients found in energy drinks. Chewing gum had long proven a successful delivery system of nicotine to help smokers quit cigarettes. So Nick imagined the model could be transposed to energy supplements.
Getting back to 2014. Nick’s injury has put him out of commission and he is in a deep depression. His purpose, which up until then was running and being the best pro athlete he could be, was on hold. Nick realized he needed a new driver, a new purpose. That’s when the idea that had been in the back of his mind all this time, came to fruition. Nick had visualized Run Gum, essentially designing it in his mind for his ideal customer, which he represented. Now that his running career was on hold, Nick could take the next steps with his coach as his business partner.
Even though Nick had this clear vision, entrepreneurship was a scary leap to make nonetheless. Because of his injury, Nick was losing out on 5 and 6-figure endorsements. Now, he was turning his attention to a new venture, which would cost significant time, money and energy to get up and running. As Nick shares, to go from making money to spending $1/2 million on a completely new venture was one of the scariest but ultimately, the best thing he’s ever done.
The risk paid off. As Nick shares, he never imagined he would become a professional athlete, much less an entrepreneur. But he’s much happier than he would be, had he pursued a career in medicine.
Resource or cultural experience that inspired Nick to move forward:
Vice: a media network that curates stories from various sources ranging from HBO to YouTube. Nick shares that consuming stories from all over the world, puts his life and his problems in perspective.
Favorite app/website/resource or productivity hack:
When Nick launched Run Gum, he was living in Seattle, his business partner was in Salem, the COO in Eugene, OR and the head of sales was living in LA. To coordinate and collaborate, Nick and his team utilized a lot of video conference platforms including Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Skype. For Nick, these were vital to keeping that face-to-face contact with his teammates during the first 18 months of the business.
Nick also shares that within 2 years, he made a push to move everyone to Eugene, taking the lead by doing so himself. Since then, the business has run a lot smoother with everyone either based out of Eugene or making regular trips there to meet in person.
How Nick recharges when facing a roadblock or challenge:
Nick goes fishing. He loves being on the river and uses it as a way to meditate, stimulate his thinking, and just get away.
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Advice to past self while going thru a difficult time:
“Chill out!” Nick would visit his college self, who he admits was a “big ball of stress” and tell him not to worry so much. Moreover, the key to success is perseverance, not luck or chance, so don’t worry so much about whether you’ll be successful. Success comes with continuing to work at it.
Parting wisdom (in a few words):
“Exercise every day.”