Finding Customers

The Founder of Tough Mudder Explains How the Company Expanded Its Loyal Fan base

The popular race company had a problem: It needed to change, without upsetting its loyal fans.
The Founder of Tough Mudder Explains How the Company Expanded Its Loyal Fan base
Image credit: Michael Nagle | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
Editor-in-Chief
4 min read

This is an episode of our podcast, Problem Solvers. Each week, an entrepreneur reveals how they overcame an unexpected problem in their business -- and were happier and more successful as a result. The show is hosted by Entrepreneur’s editor in chief, Jason Feifer. Listen below, or subscribe on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Every entrepreneur wants a loyal fanbase. That’s the dream -- a passionate group of repeat customers who will evangelize for you.

But superfans come with challenges too: They love a company exactly the way it is, and they do not want it to change. That’s not very helpful, because every business needs to change. It needs to expand, experiment and find new ways to reach new people. And when a brand has superfans, it needs to somehow do this while not alienating its greatest champions.

Related: How Yogurt Brand Noosa Thrived By Cancelling Its Biggest Retail Deal

Tough Mudder founder Will Dean knows this problem well. His company, which puts on obstacle course races around the world, has attracted fans so rabid that 20,000 of them tattooed the company logo on their bodies. But at the start, those fans were all the same. “We were getting lots of men in their 20 and 30s that are already in shape,” he says. “And that was great. But that isn’t most people. And most businesses aspire to grow.”

To set Tough Mudder up to be a successful global company, Dean would need to strike a delicate balance. Without diluting his brand’s ruggedness -- the thing that initially attracted those young men -- he’d also have to attract more women, older people and less physically fit people. And yet, his first solution wasn’t an obvious one. “The first thing we did was create World's Toughest Mudder,” he says, “which is a 24 hour, non-stop Tough Mudder where you do as many laps as you can.”

Related: Dollar Shave Club for Couches Shows Upside in Asking 'Why Are Things Sold the Way They Are?'

On this episode of Problem Solvers, we explore the surprising ways that Dean struck this balance -- creating new kinds of races, new ways for fans to engage with Tough Mudder, and even a new franchise gym, all while attracting hundreds of thousands of new racers of all kinds.

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