Some business plans are the result of months of careful planning and analysis of strengths and weaknesses. Others come from a few moments of inspiration. Jim Mee’s moment of inspiration came on the side of a mountain.
It all began when he decided to give up his marketing job at Red Bull to “become master of my own destiny”. Realising that his new company, Rat Race Adventure Sports, would need some compelling events, he decided to do some brainstorming during a hiking trip.
He returned with his journal full of ideas for a unique “urban adventure”. His plan was to host a race around the streets of Edinburgh that included climbing, abseiling and canoeing in the docks.
To fund his dream, he sold his house and took out a small business loan that raised a total of £100,000. Media publicity ensured that 300 people took part in the event, while Volkswagen came on board as a sponsor.
Mee admits that initially “creating experiences came first, with building a sustainable business a distant second”. However, he quickly realised that he’d have to run several events a year, and take the business side much more seriously.
Even so, he admits that as late as 2005 he thought about winding up the venture and “taking a job in a bar while I re-established my corporate career”. Despite these moments of doubt, his belief in his idea would get him “through the hard times”.
By 2007, Rat Race Adventure Sports was so successful that Mee was able to cover the costs of each event from entry fees alone, making sponsorship the “icing on the cake”. The transition “from a lifestyle choice to a business” was also completed by taking on a partner, David Powell, in 2007.
Powell’s role is to deal with the administration and “back-end”, which, Mee admits, “is not my forte”. Splitting the load has enabled the firm to expand the number of events it runs. The bottom line has also been further bolstered by the decision to start a retail operation selling equipment and branded clothing to participants.
Mee thinks that only starting the retail business when the events had created a decent customer base was the correct thing to do, “since if we had started it on day one, I’d probably have gone bankrupt”.
The retail operation’s revenue has grown rapidly from £234,000 in 2010 to £1.4m in 2013. Overall company revenue is expected to hit £6.3m in 2014, up from £5.1m last year.
You might think that the current vogue for themed races and challenges such as Rat Race Adventure Sports’ “Man versus Mountain” event is just a fad. However, Mee is optimistic about the future.
He argues that once people take part in one event, they tend to get a taste for pushing themselves and seek out further challenges.
In his view, a successful entrepreneur needs to strike a balance between tenacity and keeping “a steady head on steady shoulders”. While self-belief is important, too much confidence can lead to arrogance and people becoming “blind to the facts”.
Mee also thinks that people starting up their own company need to focus first on how they can make money from their ideas, “rather than trying to launch ten products each day”.