The Build Cycle Podcast #037 – The Sufferfest founder David McQuillen

“The best entrepreneurial ideas are when someone solves their own problem and then realizes there are other people out there that have the same problem.”

Think about a product you use weekly, then think about every way you could make it better. Then figure out how you could turn that into a product even without a the budget. That’s exactly what David McQuillen did when he launched The Sufferfest, a digital download series of cycling trainer videos that’s grown into a streaming app with exclusive rights to UCI race footage and global audience. While he may have lucked into a better distribution method, he made something infinitely better than the alternatives of the time, and has continued to improve it to stay at the top of his game and remain relevant amongst a slew of new virtual and digital competition. Here’s his story, full of lessons for any entrepreneur!

DISCUSSION TIMELINE

  • 01:45 – The idea was born from wanting something better.
  • 06:40 – How a nobody negotiated exclusive rights to UCI race footage.
  • 15:05 – A side project ramps up.
  • 17:10 – Switching from downloads to streaming.
  • 22:40 – How often do they release new videos? What’s the creative process?
  • 33:30 – How are their partner/providers compensated? And why?
  • 35:25 – Who’s the competition and how do they differentiate?
  • 52:40 – Creating proprietary features to make their product unique.
  • 59:10 – How to use third party music and video.
  • 1:03:40 – Do free trials convert to paid customers? What about discounts or cross promotions?
  • 1:12:42 – The economics of an all digital product.
  • 1:15:40 – The business decisions behind real world marketing.
  • 1:21:30 – Sufferlandria – does your branding go this deep?
  • 1:27:55 – What challenge keeps him up at night?
  • 1:31:20 – Parting advice for entrepreneurs.
interview with The Sufferfest cycling video trainer founder and entrepreneur David McQuillan
David McQuillan is the king of enterPAINment.

POST GAME ANALYSIS

The Sufferfest started simply because David hated the cycling trainer videos of the time, which consisted of a bunch of people sitting in a spin studio with a coach barking instructions. The re-watchability and enjoyability diminished quickly. And you had to buy them on DVD or VHS. They were horrible. The alternative was to buy very expensive DVD collections of past races and watch those. David combined the enjoyment of watching a race with motivating music, then edited them into something fun to watch. He liked them, friends liked them, so he figured there was no harm in calling up the UCI to see if he could license the video and actually sell his videos.

“Don’t be afraid to try stuff just because you don’t know how to do it.”

While David had no experience negotiating for video rights, he made it happen by clearly showing all parties how it would benefit them. And he limited or eliminated the downsides, showing that they had nothing to lose by working with him. When negotiating, how you can you show the other party the value you’re bringing the table first, and do your research to back up your numbers.

With the UCI, he created a royalties deal where they get a percentage of revenues. But with other suppliers, like Apex Coaching who creates the training programs and plans, he simply pays them a flat upfront fee to create that content, and then The Sufferfest owns it outright and can do what they want with it.

Transitioning from a media company to a technology company

David’s original program offered digital downloads that you’d buy and own. Which provided a big hit of revenue every time they released a new video, but meant they needed to continually launch new videos. It also meant his videos could be pirated and shared illegally, and it limited their ability to program the controls for smart trainers that more and more cyclists were using.

So, they made the decision to switch to a 100% streaming, subscription-based program, which solved all of their problems. You couldn’t pirate the videos, they could embed ANT+ and Bluetooth trainer controls, and control the entire experience while also smoothing out their revenue stream. You can’t be afraid to pivot just because the status quo is “working well enough” or “that’s just the way we’ve always done it.”

They also haven’t been afraid to evolve their training plans, which improves the user experience and keeps it fresh. It also keeps them relevant as other training programs and apps have upped their game. They’ve also added training plans that combine individual workouts into a month- or season-long training program to keep users on board year round rather than just the typical indoor training winter months. You can’t rest on your laurels and expect to keep your customers happy.

interview with The Sufferfest cycling video trainer founder and entrepreneur David McQuillan
David’s team is global, it’s rare to have more than a couple of them together at any one time.

Part of their transition was moving from a partnership with other apps (like TrainerRoad) to a standalone app that included all of the smart trainer sync technology. That partnership made sense at one point, but to really grow as a platform, they had to bundle all of those services into their own thing. Ultimately, they needed to control the entire experience…much like Apple or Disney, that’s the way to ensure everything works the way it should. It’s another example of pivoting quickly as needed.

HOW TO DEAL WITH COMPETITION

Competition is good because it drives you to improve. It also validates your concept and proves there’s a market. The trick is differentiating yourself. In The Sufferfest’s case, their primary competitors are Zwift and TrainerRoad. Compared to Zwift, which is like a virtual world video game, TS offers a more structured workout program. Compared to TrainerRoad, TS offers an entertaining video component on top of the structured workouts. These features provide The Sufferfest with something the others don’t offer and give them a unique selling proposition. All three are competing for users’ time and money, so they have to offer something both unique and compelling. And they had to define who their customer was so they could design their product’s features to make it the right choice for those people. How can you differentiate your product enough to make it the obvious choice for your target customer?

They’ve also created a proprietary technology and system to further improve their customers’ experience and results. Their 4DP training system took very advanced concepts that the pros were using to train, then simplified it dramatically. What advanced concepts can you bring to the masses by automating and systematizing it so it’s easy for the end customer to use?

CAN YOUR CUSTOMERS BECOME GREAT EMPLOYEES?

David found his most passionate users make some of his best employees because they already understand the brand and the culture. And they’ve bought into it. That type of thing can’t be taught, but technical skills can. Sometimes it makes more sense to hire for a cultural fit and passion then teach them the job.

As such, David’s team spans the globe because great people are everywhere. Check the Links below for some of the tools they use to run their company.

LINKS & RESOURCES

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