Business Rx: ‘Zombie’ company needs right employees
Ryan Hogan didn’t set out to work with zombies. While serving in the Navy, he created an athletic apparel line called Warwear, targeting military personnel. With stiff competition in the performance apparel industry, he enlisted a friend, Derrick Smith, to brainstorm marketing ideas. They liked the exposure and growing popularity of adventure races, such as the Tough Mudder and the Warrior Dash, that combine athletic races with outdoor skills challenges through mud and obstacles. They decided they could pull off their own event and started Reed Street Productions. Hogan and Smith came up with the name first — “Run for Your Lives.” But they thought “running for your life” should mean running from some sort of danger. That’s when they decided to enlist zombies.
“‘Run for Your Lives’ is a zombie-infested 5K obstacle race. It has runners racing through fields and wooded areas, over barriers and splashing through water tinted to look like blood, all while dodging zombies who are trying to snatch two flags the participants wear. The goal is to slide to the finish line with at least one of your flags in tow. Our events also include bands, entertainment, food and a full day of activities — the finish line is basically a giant party. It’s like a Warrior Dash, meets Lollapalooza, meets a movie set.
“We had our first race near Baltimore in October 2011 and attracted more than 11,500 participants. That set the bar high and we’ve expanded quickly. We have 13 races set for 2012 across the country, with our largest event so far in Boston earlier this month.
“Our ticket sales average $85 for participants, and our zombies are even paying to participate. They get to be part of the production and experience the event from another perspective. With this and the popularity of our races, we’re planning to continue our rapid expansion, with nearly 40 events for 2013. We’re also looking to diversify and explore additional event and production opportunities.
“It’s been a great year-and-a-half. We just hit 25 employees but we’re growing so fast that we’ve already outgrown our 2,500-square foot office in Baltimore (we’re knocking through the walls to triple our space). As Reed Street Productions grows, hiring is our biggest challenge. We need to find the top talent quickly that can take us to the next level.”
John LaPides, principal, Shadow Point Capital; entrepreneur-in residence with the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship
“This business is off to a great start. The trick is to keep trying to maximize every opportunity even though it seems everything is great. The competitor data can be immensely valuable.
“Zombies won’t live forever (no pun intended) and it’s never too early to work on the next concept. Ryan, you need to figure out what it is that you as an individual brings to the organization and concentrate on maximizing that element. As the company grows, you won’t be able to do everything, but the results show that you bring some type of magic to the group. Focusing on that will reap big rewards.
“As you expand and continue to hire, the crucial element to protect in any growing start-up is culture. All new hires should be screened to ensure they not only have the necessary skills but the right personality to fit with the rest of the team.”
“John nails it on the head. While my physical presence within the company remains limited, I am active in building the right executive team that can take our organization to the next level. Diversifying will be the key to our long-term success, while maximizing current revenues will ensure sustainability for the duration.”
Reed Street Productions recently won the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship’s Cupid’s Cup business competition at the University of Maryland. The competition was held as part of the UMD Entrepreneurship Invitational, a showcase of the university’s impact on venture creation and economic development in the region. Cupid’s Cup is sponsored by alumnus Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour, the Baltimore-based performance apparel company.