With 250,000 runners crossing the finish line during 35 events in the last 4 years, the founders of The Music Run, a Malaysia-based startup, have turned a popular pastime into a full-blown experience – and show no signs of slowing down their expansion.
In the midst of a busy and stressful career, former Management Consultant, Sam Middlehurst, like many soon-to-be entrepreneurs, took some time out from the corporate world to figure out how he really wanted to spend his time and energy.
Joining up with two friends from different industries, who shared a passion for active living and were also feeling disillusioned about their traditional career paths, The Music Run was born –– a fully immersive event taking inspiration from the dynamic and synonymous relationship between running and music. Their mission? To inspire millennials (aka 18-34-year-olds) to Live the Beat and lead more active lifestyles.
Middlehurst and his two co-founders are quick to appreciate that whilst there have been some key learnings along the way, they have stayed true to who they are. And, the trio continues to adhere to their values.
Here, Middlehurst shares his insights on scaling The Music Run, communicating locally whilst thinking globally and with over 70% of the brand’s participants between the age of 18-34, how he and his partners have tapped into this much sought-after millennial demographic……….
On Spotting A Gap In The Market……
Our respective professional vantage points enabled us to see first-hand a shift in interest in health and wellness events among brands not traditionally active in that space. At the same time, the growth in predominantly themed running events was causing a stir. But one thing puzzled us: the disconnect between those run concepts and the culture of running.
With our complementary skill sets, we set about trying to create an event concept with an intuitive fit, sponsor appeal and built-in longevity. We couldn’t understand why music and running hadn’t been put together in a meaningful way. Since the Sony Walkman launched back in the 80s, music and running have gone hand in hand.
Music is fuel for runners; not only does it motivate participation, but the right beat can also boost performance and maximize enjoyment. We felt that combining the two in an immersive and social way would provide the foundation for a truly unique race experience. We eventually got to the idea of taking the headphones off and transporting runners through the ‘Soundtrack’ –– our run course which combines inspirational zones with a speaker system pumping the ultimate running playlist from start to finish.
It’s an intensely social running experience…the beat, the base, the feeling it gives you. As we now like to say “running never sounded so good!”
On The Original Mission Behind The Business……
From the outset, we wanted to create an international running series aimed at addressing a growing problem affecting Asian societies – that young people simply aren’t active enough. We use music in an original and compelling way to motivate both first-timers and core runners to achieve their fitness goals. We call this to ‘Live The Beat’ –– It’s a catch cry that’s all about living today better than yesterday and embodies our mission to inspire millennials to lead more active lifestyles. We want people to start living the beat at The Music Run.
On Turning An Idea Into A Reality……
To enable new market penetration at a lower cost and reduced risk, we were quick to establish a franchise model. To ensure consistent delivery of our event experience and brand expression under this model, we developed an industry-leading partner toolkit.
The result is that The Music Run has become the pre-eminent 10k and 5k running series in Asia. We have successfully learned how to communicate and brand-build across different cultures, languages and levels of market maturity. We have dialled up the sponsor value proposition to establish multi-year deals with some of Asia’s biggest brands, such as AIA, AirAsia and Fastrack.
Today the company remains 100% owned by the three Founders, who have bootstrapped and kept the team lean.
On The Shifting Business Of Wellness……
We have absolutely seen a shift. More people are prioritising health and fitness in their everyday lives. This increased demand has brought with it an influx of new players in the market. The rise of social media and event technology has definitely played a huge role, providing some exciting opportunities. The flip side is that the cost just to play, let alone standout, is increasing at an alarming rate. It is certainly an interesting time to be in the industry.
On Staying Ahead Of The Competition……
In mass participation there has been a proliferation of new events; from big corporates looking to enter the space to startup charlatans simply out to make a quick buck. 80% of participation in mass events is through running, with growth being seen in shorter race distances.
Our direct competitors are running events in the markets we operate. Our indirect competitors extend to other international fitness and entertainment experiences. We are competing for both share of wallet of participants, sponsors and partners AND share of voice in the health and fitness space. It’s no cakewalk!
We believe that traditional running events are failing to build a relationship with the growth participant – millennials – the biggest consumers of health and fitness, but, interestingly not of running. We are bullish that we can build on the traction we have established in Asia, where participation in our events has seen our largest event hit 20,000 runners.
On Raising Investment……
Investment is something we are currently looking at as a means of enabling us to accelerate our growth objectives. For us, finding the right partner is key, we are open to exploring opportunities and are always keen to speak with like-minded people.
On Startup Life……
We have certainly made our fair share of mistakes along the way. I would be concerned if we hadn’t. The key is recognising quickly that you have made a mistake, and always asking why it happened and what can be learned. And of course, making sure you don’t do it again.
If I was to pick out a few stand out learnings, it would be 1) know why you exist and for who, 2) act global but communicate local, 3) plan to evolve or become extinct.
On Growing The Footprint……
In 2019 we will continue to grow our event footprint in Asia while focusing on building our community and delivering more value to our partners.
Our big hairy audacious goal is to be the biggest international running series in Asia. If we can tick that off the list, I would be a happy camper!
With Asia its firm focus, backed by a strong foundation of events and a growing community of participants, The Music Run looks set to build on its strong momentum. The brand’s unique offering and understanding of the local market enable it to stand out from the crowd, and it continues to capture the enthusiasm of social-media savvy millennials keen for their next experiential hit.