Ben Parker and Dom Maskell, Co-founders of Runna


In this Q&A, you’ll hear from Ben Parker and Dom Maskell, co-founders of Runna, an AI-enabled running training app. Ben and Dom share how their relationship as coach and client led them to bring personalised, goal-oriented plans to the everyday runner, combined with strength training, nutrition and injury prevention support.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on at Runna?

Ben Parker: We’re building the best way for runners to train for any running goal. We want to make the amazing experience of working with a coach accessible to everyone.

Dom Maskell: Runna is a personalised running coaching app for everyday runners, whether the goal is a first 5K or a faster marathon. Inside our app, we offer a combination of coach-led programming and AI to build training plans that are effective, enjoyable and effortless to follow.

Alongside running, we provide all the support that runners need, from personalised strength workouts, mobility/Pilates routines and nutrition/injury management advice. Users are also supported by our active in-app community and team of coaching experts.

How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to pursue this opportunity?

DM: Ben and I met at university. About three years after graduating, he helped me train for my first marathon as a running coach. I loved the personalisation, like exciting workouts with pace targets and comments, which helped me to develop as a runner.

However, there wasn’t a single app that was remotely close to what Ben was able to offer. At the same time, I was paying Ben more than five times what a Runna subscription now costs. We founded Runna to put personalised running coaching into an affordable and accessible package for the 150M+ runners worldwide.

BP: As he said, I was running my own coaching business with up to 40 online clients, which was going well, and Dom, with his expertise in tech, could see a way to automate it.

One evening he pitched me his plan, which quickly led to us spending a few hours together every night on our MVP (minimal viable product). Nine months later we launched the first version of the business.

How did you turn your idea into a company?

DM: Our first version put the “minimal” in minimal viable product. We worked round the clock to develop the initial engine behind Runna. We personally paid for an ex-colleague (Walter Holohan, now our CTO) to deploy our engine to the cloud and output personalised PDFs.

A user would come onto our website, pay £80 for a marathon plan and type in details about their running history. Our engine would then take these details, build them a personalised training plan, wait five minutes (to make it seem more complex) and then email the PDF to the user.

We ended up selling over 1K plans and realised we really had something. From there, we were lucky to be joined by ultra athlete Joshua Patterson, who invested in Runna and joined the team. This gave us enough money to convince Walter to join us full-time, as well as Katie Goble, who built our marketing, partnerships, and more.

Our final step was sourcing investment. We decided to crowdfund in January 2022, as well as seek capital from angels. We’ve since gone on to raise £3M in total from our different investors, including most recently Eka VC. But, we wouldn’t be here today without our earliest backers.

How big can this get? What’s the addressable market and how do you go about capturing it?

DM: There are between 150M and 600M runners worldwide. Running is one of the fastest-growing sports out there and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Fifty years ago, if you ran a marathon, it was a lifetime achievement. Yet, now, over a million people run a marathon each year (more than 50% of first-time runners) and people spend months working to take minutes off their time.

Our target market is the everyday runner, supporting those as fast as 13 minutes for a 5K up to 45 minutes. Our plans range from couch-to-5K to multi-day ultramarathon.

We capture users through a number of channels:

  • Organic (especially referrals)
  • Performance marketing and influencers
  • Partnerships

In terms of partnerships, we’re privileged to be working with some incredible brands, from JustGiving (UKs largest fundraising provider), to Let’s Do This (UK’s largest race booking platform), The Running Channel (world’s largest running YouTube channel) and events such as the LA Marathon and the Hackney Half.

We’ll be exploring more channels over the next couple of years. We firmly believe that if you invest in building an exceptional product, team and community, then the users will come, especially in a market where runners love to shout about what they’re up to.

Who is the core customer? How are you acquiring customers? And how will you grow the customer base?

BP: You’d think that, as a running coaching business, we’re helping a tonne of serious runners on their 10th marathon or beating that eye-watering PB, but while that is a small segment of our customer base, the vast majority of our audience are just normal everyday runners, people training for a first 10K or half-marathon.

This really excites us, as it shows we’re developing the right product. We want to build the best way for any runner to train and make running more fun and accessible to those who perhaps haven’t been able to find a love for it before.

Looking at your road map, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?

BP: We’re now rated as the best running app on the App Store, so from a customer perspective we’re doing well. However, there is so much more we can do to improve the experience for our runners behind the scenes. From syncing to treadmills, which is coming soon, to adapting around real-time running performance and other factors – it’s all in the works behind the scenes.

DM: The next few months are about going full steam ahead on our engine, which is at the core of what drives our running plans. We’re also growing our AI team to make our plans more personalised than ever, factoring in data such as HRV, sleep score and menstrual phase.

Whilst a coach might be able to study 100 runners a year, we can learn from millions to A/B test different workouts, assess different methodologies and predict improvements and injuries more accurately than ever before. Additionally, our engine will be able to adapt automatically based on previous runs, illness, holiday, injury, busyness, laziness, club runs, parkruns, free runs and on-the-day readiness.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers?

DM: I’d love to talk a bit more about one of our values: We’re here for and because of our users.

We get to do the best job in the world because of our loyal subscribers who support us, and we’re incredibly grateful to all our users. We genuinely want to build the best running training experience in the world. We believe this is the driver behind our exponential growth – we can’t share exact numbers, but after launching our subscription service in March 2022, we’ve grown at ~30% every single month since.

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