The Build Cycle Podcast #021 – Wolfpack Ninja Tour’s Noah Kaufman

“We’re building a sport. We’re building a head-to-head racing sport.”

As a doctor, Wolfpack Ninja Tour president and cofounder Noah Kaufman sees all to well the obesity epidemic. So, while his American Ninja Warrior aspirations were originally centered around winning that million dollar prize, their popularity has given them a platform to speak to youth everywhere. This sounds warm and fuzzy, but he’s putting some seriously smart business decisions behind the Wolfpack Ninja Tour to make it happen. If you’re considering an events-based business or operate in an industry with a lot of similar competition (don’t we all), he’s got some great lessons for building your business here…

DISCUSSION TIMELINE

  • 01:45 – How Noah got into ninja warrior, and the origins of The Wolfpack.
  • 06:30 – What happened to Isaac Caldiero after winning American Ninja Warrior?
  • 07:35 – How Wolfpack turned into a business.
  • 11:10 – They even tried athlete representation.
  • 18:30 – Details on their small-scale event business.
  • 21:50 – They tried to launch the event series on Kickstarter.
  • 27:00 – Rent as needed while you grow.
  • 28:00 – What they learned from the first full-scale event.
  • 32:50 – Where does the revenue come from?
  • 38:00 – Could reaching a larger audience be a conflict with NBC’s American Ninja Warrior?
  • 44:30 – Who’s their real audience? How do they reach them?
  • 51:30 – How do they plan on scaling?
  • 55:30 – What are their opportunities? And which ones will they jump on?
  • 1:02:50 – Who is their competition? And how do they deal with it?

interview with noah kaufman about the wolf pack ninja tour

POST GAME ANALYSIS

One of Noah’s comments that’s closest to my heart is how they built a business to try to provide his group of friends with .

Another great lesson is how the business has morphed from simply selling T-shirts into a national event tour that’s likely to draw hundreds of thousands of competitors in its first full year. Business models need to be fluid. Had they simply said “no, we can’ t put on an event, we’re just selling T-shirts”, then they wouldn’t be building a business capable of supporting many of them.

This lesson continues as they develop their event tour. Noah says “Build, measure, learn.” They learned a lot from their first event, and it’s informing the changes to the format, scheduling and crowd management to make the event better.

And event the “world tour” didn’t just happen. They built small courses and took them to local events. They offered lessons. And then they got noticed by the folks behind The Blue Man Group, which provided the expertise and funding necessary to host larger events.

For the smaller local events, they have a portable course that fits inside a truck trailer, and events pay them to show up and run it. While there, they can also sell merchandise and continue to build their fan base, which helps them grow their business down the road.

What’s interesting about their Kickstarter attempt, beyond the geographical customer base lesson they learned, is that they were planning on renting equipment rather than owning. And they continue to rent the trucks, trailers and drivers. Which makes sense while they’re only putting on a couple of events per year. As they grow, that could change, but it allows them to grow on a much smaller budget than if they’d bought everything up front. My dad used this strategy with employees early on, using a temp agency to basically rent workers until it made sense to bring them on full time. This has the double advantage of letting you test things (and people) out to make sure they’re the right fit while someone else worries about maintenance (trucks, equipment) or payroll and benefits (people).

At the events, they offer things at various price points, ranging from free to almost $1,000. This provides something for everyone, which helps them attract a larger audience. That audience means they have value to sponsors, which lets them bring on bigger brands to support the business. Ultimately, ticket sales are not likely to be the big revenue driver…sponsorship is. And that’s true of many events. In my own experience creating and running 24 hour mountain bike races, even with a sizable crowd, entry fees will usually just barely cover the costs of putting on the event.

An additional revenue stream is media. An event will only reach a small local audience compared to web and TV. They’re looking at ways to broadcast their events, which allows for more sponsorships and/or ad sales. Think about how your event or service could reach a larger audience.

Who’s the real audience? It might look like they would draw hardcore athletes that want to compete. The reality is families and kids. Make sure you know who your customer really is and cater to them, ideally without alienating other user groups.

To reach their customers, Noah’s negotiated deals with local media to have other advertisers pay for their TV and radio marketing. It’s brilliant, tune in at 47:00 and give it a few minutes.

It’s refreshing to hear Noah’s take on competition. He truly believes that a rising tide lifts all ships. For a burgeoning sport like Ninja, having more properties brings more awareness to the sport, which brings more people to their events. How can you work with similar businesses to build your industry as a whole? Can you do this to position yourself as an industry leader?

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