#095 – How do you stay motivated in running or other areas of your life when things get difficult. Bob Bickel, founder of RunSignUp, shares advice on how to stay motivated along with his story of resilience throughout his entrepreneurial career.
Bob walks us through his journey as a runner at Bucknell University, professional career in the software industry, and most recently founder of RunSignUp. Don’t miss this insightful and inspiring episode!
Tips on how to stay motivated and keep running interesting
Importance of resilience during challenging times
Benefits of the running community and ways to get involved
Power of RunSignUp in supporting race organizers and their causes
Bob is a runner, entrepreneur, and founder of RunSignUp. He went to Bucknell where he learned the value of teamwork from his Lydiard inspired Coach Art Gulden where he ran 100 miles a week culminating in helping take the non-scholarship team to the NCAA XC Championships in 1978 and running a 29:07 10K in track.
In 2002, Bob decided to divide his energies in two areas. Professionally, he began consulting to other startups in the Internet Infrastructure market by helping coach a couple of entrepreneurs thru the process of growing a technology business where he had several successes like JBoss, Hyperic, JasperSoft, Princeton Softech and Bristol Technology. The second area was running where Bob became a part time volunteer assistant cross country and track coach to the local highschool team and was able to run with the team. He also opened a running store, built some trails for the high school team and the town, and became involved as a race director for a couple of races including the Scott Coffee Run.
In 2009, those two sides came together along with meeting Stephen Sigwart and RunSignup became a reality in January 2010 when Stephen joined Bob full time to begin working building a technology platform for endurance events.
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Richard Conner: [00:00:00] Hi, my friend. Do you find it hard to stay motivated, especially when it comes to running? Well today, we’re going to sit down with Bob Bickel, who is the founder of RunSignUp, the largest registration platform for endurance and peer to peer fundraising events and Bob shares, tips and advice on how to stay motivated when it comes to running. But as a bonus, he shares his own journey and how running gave him. A wonderful opportunity in his professional career. Hope you enjoy.
Hi everyone. Welcome to inspire to run podcast today. We’re here with a very special [00:01:00] guest, Bob Bickel. He is a runner and ran at Bucknell. He has been involved in a number of startups and is the founder of RunSignUp, which started in 2010.
There are 28, 000 races and 8 million people per year who sign up on RunSignUp. Welcome to the show, Bob.
Bob Bickel: Thanks very much. Nice to be here.
Richard Conner: Well, the pleasure’s all mine. I really enjoy bringing founders, uh, of companies who serve our running community on the show. I learned a lot about them, learn a lot about what they do and how they support and help the running community. So pleasure’s all mine. And, you know, let’s just jump into the conversation, learn a little bit about you.
You’ve got a great running career, great professional career with startups and run signups. So maybe we’ll start with your running journey.
Bob Bickel: Yeah. So I was in high school and in upstate New York, everybody in my high school went out for football. And I was 125 pounds [00:02:00] and our football team, my senior in high school was like number one in the state of New York. So there’s no way I was getting beat up. So my gym teacher did a one mile and I did pretty well.
I said, you should go out for cross country. So I started running when I was a sophomore in high school and I was, um, pretty good. I wasn’t great or anything. And then I went to Bucknell and, um, Coach Goulden had a program there that was just amazing and kind of really gave me so much of my kind of foundational, you know, kind of life beliefs.
And And everything like running was very, very important and I ran, you know, we ran five miles every morning and 10 miles every afternoon and what I learned is that if you keep consistent, you keep working, you get pretty good after a while. And we became a decent team. My senior year, we were a non scholarship school, but my senior year, our team qualified for NCAA [00:03:00] cross country championships.
And it was, yeah. It was really fantastic. So, so that’s my, that’s my running career. It was, it was, it was really, really sweet.
Richard Conner: I love that. And, you know, we share a similar journey. I started running in high school as well, sophomore year as well, cross country, and we didn’t have football at our school, but I still didn’t feel like I was, I could do or get into the other sports. I mean, it felt. I got into cross country somehow, probably through a recommendation like yourself.
And, you know, I, I enjoyed it. I was like, hi, this is something I could do. And I wasn’t the fastest runner on the team, but you know, I think I did pretty well in my time there and didn’t win all the championships your team did. But, um, it was definitely a memorable experience. So, um, that’s cool that we kind of share that in a way of how we started running.
Bob Bickel: Yeah. A lot of people, you know, have that, have that experience, early experience, and then they come back to it later on in life. I became a coach for, for a part time volunteer assistant coach at the local high school. And one of the [00:04:00] things that makes me happy is I see some of those kids coming back and running, you know, after they’ve gone off to college and gotten lazy and everything.
And then they, they decide to go out for a 5k and then do a half marathon and stuff. It’s, uh, it, they’re running such a great, great sport.
Richard Conner: Yeah. And, you know, it’s funny because a lot of the guests that I had on the show, they started with running at some point in their career. Their career, whether it’s, you know, in high school or whether it’s later on in life, but the ones that have started early, it’s gone, just as you said, you know, they take a number of years off, maybe after college, they start their life.
They start a family and they’re at some point, some turning point where they’re like. I need to make a change in my life. And, you know, many of them turned back to running and it, and it serves as kind of that way for them to, to do the things that they enjoy and love and kind of get getting back to doing them for themselves.
So, so yeah, for, for sure. So, you know, so thank you for sharing that and, you know, love to hear. Your journey on the professional side,
Bob Bickel: [00:05:00] so, so, I was an electrical engineer, and, and, uh, worked in the computer industry, and then, in the early 90s, I started working for a small, uh, software consulting firm, and I started up a little software business inside of there, and those were in the days of Unix, and, and, um, When doing systems in Unix and we developed this product that allowed you to create applications on Unix workstations and about that point in time, the Internet started and around the time that the Internet was only like maybe a thousand websites total.
Um, uh, we kind of came up with this concept that geez, you could. Make applications on the web. You can put databases on the web and have people sign up for things and so forth, which was really quite new in 1993. So we began building a tool. Um, uh, Bluestone Software is the name of the company and we wound up kind of going through the whole cycle of getting venture capital.
We actually went public [00:06:00] in 99. Our stock went from 15 to 130 back down to 15 during the whole bubble, uh, back then, and then, uh, and then, uh, Hewlett Packard acquired us. Um, so it was quite a ride. I learned so much. Um, and it was, uh, it was great. We had such a great software development team, and that was kind of my, my core focus is trying to figure out what products we should build and trying to keep the.
Software team kind of pushing in the right direction so that we could build a business around it. So
Richard Conner: love that
Bob Bickel: Yeah, and then um, unfortunately the story turns south there a little bit Uh hewlett packard decided to buy Compaq and that they didn’t really want to get into software And unfortunately, I was head of the middleware division at hewlett packard And, uh, they decided to close that division and my responsibility was to lay off 600 of [00:07:00] the 700 people.
And so I, I, I did that as, uh, humanely as possible and laid myself off as well. And then I was, um. I was just devastated, you know, like going through that is just a horrible, horrible experience. And, um, we were talking a little earlier about running and motivation and stuff. And, and I, I gotta say it sounds a little corny, but running kind of saved my life in some ways.
Um, you know, being able to go out for runs and just. Think and, you know, get calm and things like that. But what I wound up doing is kind of sitting on my porch for several months. And then I came up with a plan and I kind of split my life in half. So half of it, I hung up a consulting shingle and I started helping just a couple of software companies at a time that I felt had.
You know, really smart founders and a really good, um, you know, concept and so forth. And then, um, the other half of my, my life, I dedicated [00:08:00] back to running because I had been somewhat fortunate on the financial side. So I, went over to the high school and said, Hey, can I help you coach across country and track teams?
And Lorenzo Eagle said, yeah, sure. Why not? And it was, uh, it was great. So I was able to run with the kids and stuff. And then, , I wound up building a number of trails, became involved in some races, , open up a running store on our main street of our little town and stuff like that. And so it was, it, it, it, it really was a key center to my life.
Um, so, uh, so on the. You know, business side, how I made my money is I would get a few shares of of these small companies and a number of them wound up being fairly successful, kind of like bluestone, and so that supplied me with income and then I was directing some races. And I was like, geez, this, this technology isn’t very good.
I could do a lot better. [00:09:00] And so I started thinking that I would get back into that. And I, I wound up never having full, full enough time, but in the summer of 2009, I, I, I really wanted to start RunSignUp. And, uh, and I saw it’s kind of like this merging of my tech background and, and my love for running and, um, so I co owned the running store at that point in time and I put up a blog post looking for somebody to work at the store who was also a web developer.
And, uh, a young man, Steven Sigwert walked into my life and he, um, wound up being genius. He’s our CTO and he’s probably the key reason why run signup is successful. So we just started building run signup. I call the official start date 2010 because he was still in college in 2009. So he graduated a semester early cause it’s kind of bright.
And then, um, he joined and we started the company and, and, uh. [00:10:00] And I thought it would be, you know, small and it’s wound up being, you know, fairly successful and, and it’s, it’s, it’s been a, it’s been an amazing journey. So that’s, that’s hopefully I didn’t take too long on that and I didn’t bore you too much, but there you go.
There’s, there’s the Bob Bickel life story for you quickly.
Richard Conner: you didn’t bore me at all. It’s an incredible story and I’m sure our listeners are enjoying hearing your story. I mean, it’s, that is truly, truly incredible how you went through a challenging time and you decided to make a change in your life as a result. And running was a part of that. And that’s. You know, again, that’s core to a lot of the stories that we share here is how running is helps folks go through, um, different times in their lives, whether they’re looking to make a change or whether they’re having challenges or whether there’s looking for an outlet, right.
To have fun running is there for them. So your story is, is really wonderful and I appreciate you sharing that.
Bob Bickel: Sure. Yeah. The other interesting [00:11:00] thing about running is that. You know, people often think of it as an individual sport, but I really think of it as a team. Um, sport, I think of it as something that where you’re building community. , one of the, one of the great things about RunSignUp as a business is that pretty much everybody is nice, you know, and everybody that’s involved in putting together races is, is basically has pretty altruistic, um, You know, ambitions, either they’re raising money or they’re trying to make people healthier and stuff.
Um, so, uh, and it’s a community that is easy to connect with. I think
Richard Conner: Yeah, for sure. . All right. So, you know, let’s talk a little bit about RunSignUp. And, you know, I know the platform is, has grown immensely over the years, I think beyond expectations. , so first off you told us about, you saw a need or a problem that you could solve and you could do it better.
So you, you started the site and what was your objective? Like, what were you trying to [00:12:00] do to help the running community with RunSignUp?
Bob Bickel: I just felt that, , some of the, , software that was out there, um, kind of had an advertising type of an angle to it. So like if you signed up for it. The registration site would wind up owning your email and kind of spamming you or making you sign up for things that you didn’t want to sign up for. And I found that the costs weren’t very good and that the experience wasn’t very good.
And it wound up, you know, like it wound up being a far more interesting and difficult technical challenge than I thought initially, because there’s so many pieces to it, um, you know, from race day and checking in and getting results and so on and so forth. And so it’s, uh, it’s, it’s been a really kind of interesting journey.
Richard Conner: Yeah, I can imagine. And you know, I know that, you know, just kind of reading up on, you know, your background, your [00:13:00] story and through conversation, I know you went through some challenging time, right? So, uh, you were able to solve this problem and you’re in a period of growth and you’re doing great now, but.
Um, you went through some challenges and adversity. So, you know, tell us a little bit about that.
Bob Bickel: Uh, well, um, you know, COVID was just. Disastrous. Um, so I still remember it was, uh, Friday, March 6th. I was reading this article and it was this interview with this, uh, British mathematician. And all of a sudden it hit me of how bad COVID was going to be. And so I stood all weekend long and I went in on Monday and I was like, we got to shift everything.
So we started shifting like everything by the next weekend, I think around the 15th. Um, basically, the country is starting to shut down and, I remember going for this long walk. I actually went over and talked to, uh, the track coach, uh, on [00:14:00] Thursday and then on Friday morning, Um, I had a company meeting and we’re a distributed company.
So we’re all, we’re all on, you know, zoom type of thing. And, um, and I tell everybody, I don’t know what’s going to happen. , our business is going to basically stop. There’s going to be no revenue coming in the door. We don’t, you know, we have a certain amount of assets, but we, we, we don’t know how long we’re going to be able to last.
If you can find a job, go ahead and find it. But what we’re all going to do is we’re going to just try to stay in this together. And, um, effective immediately, uh, everybody’s getting half pay. What there were two really amazing things that really moved me. , one is nobody left. , second is that several people approached me and actually said, , I’ll work for free. And for them to make that kind of like commitment and sacrifice like that, just, you know, they cared, they cared about each other. And this [00:15:00] kind of gets back to this team concept I talked about. It’s like, it’s all about the team and everybody cared about each other. Kind of everybody worked twice as hard and and we build a whole bunch of virtual tools and they started to save us.
We build a bunch of tools to help our customers kind of notify and explain things to their participants that are already signed up and had ways for participants to change their registration fee into a donation to the organization and and things like that. And so the potential onslaught of chargebacks.
was held abated, uh, just because again, the running community is just so good. They, they kind of stick together, you know? And, we got PPP money in April. We were able to put people back to full salary then. And what we did is we said, okay, when we run out of the PPP money, We’ll pay people whatever percentage we are break even.[00:16:00]
And so I guess it was probably maybe, uh, end of July or August, people were at 77% of pay because that that’s basically what we were. And we would measure that every two weeks. And that’s, that’s what would the paycheck would be. And, uh, by September we actually had recovered because what was happening is that.
All these virtual races were coming to us, all these nonprofits who had, um, galas that were canceled were starting to put on 5k fundraisers. And, you know, we had cut a whole bunch of our other costs and everything, but we were able to get back to paying people, you know, full compensation by the end of September.
, And then, you know, kind of a lot of those base of people that kind of came over during the pandemic customers. I mean, you know, virtual races, um, they kind of stuck around. They liked us and they, you know, they liked our service. They liked our technology. , they appreciated the work that we had done to try to, you know, [00:17:00] save.
And, uh, or save us all together and, yeah. And so that kind of momentum coming out of COVID has, has carried on to today. And, and now we’re back to being a really solid business, you know, where we’re growing and we’re profitable cashflow positive, um, and the company’s owned by the employees.
It’s a nice situation. We do profit sharing with our employees. So it’s very much, we try to take this kind of team approach, this, you know, full circle, you know, feedback loops type of an approach to, to our business.
Richard Conner: Love it. I love it. Uh, so first, you know, congratulations for managing through such a challenging time, obviously it was a challenging time for everyone in the world and everyone had to deal with it in their own way. But just hearing your story about the way you did it and the positive response from the team and the outcomes is truly remarkable.
So congratulations on that. And I love what you said about team. [00:18:00] Um, you know, just not your team, but the entire community coming together to work through, you know, something that was unprecedented. So, you know, that that’s awesome. And, you know, this is something I haven’t actually talked about on the podcast in quite some time, but this podcast was born out of the pandemic.
It was one of those things where I’m like, you know what, I want to start a community and I was really active in the running. I was running outdoors a lot more. I’m like, well, you know what, I want to be able to share my story a little bit broader, but also share the stories of others, right? Like yours and the podcast originally started as inspire virtual runs and part of it was because of the virtual community.
But the other part was virtual races as that was, you know, that’s what all we could do
Bob Bickel: that was the only thing we can do.
Richard Conner: Right?
Bob Bickel: crazy too, because like, and this again, uh, you know, kind of, uh, echoes back to the community theme. A lot of people did these virtual things to be a part of a community, you know.[00:19:00]
Richard Conner: Yeah, for sure. And, you know, it was great how the organizers still sent medals and t shirts and, you know, you could, there’s so many advantages to doing a virtual race. I mean, even today. So I know, you know, a lot of folks will be like, I want to do an in person race, right? There’s a lot of advantages to that.
But if you don’t want to be somewhere at a specific time on a specific day, you want to run in your neighborhood, maybe you’re shy. It’s your first five K. Right. Maybe you just want to kind of do it on your own instead of front of people. Like there’s a lot of advantages to doing virtual races. So I think that’s one good thing that came out of this is now it gives runners more options.
So the in person races are still there and there’s still great options to do, but you know, you still can do a virtual race. Um, if you choose to do so, that’s
Bob Bickel: Yeah.
Richard Conner: So, you know, just thinking about, you know, just kind of shifting gears a little bit for our listeners.
So, you know, like my story, I’ve been running five K’s, um, and then just started doing a little bit more than five K’s over the last few years. So, [00:20:00] you know, let’s talk a little bit about that. Like, you know, what would you say, you know, for someone who it’s just not. Maybe in the mode to, to be training or to run or someone who’s running five Ks and maybe looking for more, like, what would you say to those folks?
Bob Bickel: One of the, one of the interesting things about this, this sport is that there’s lots of kind of iterations and tangential types of things that you can do. , the race actually that, that started run sign up, uh, that I’m, that I helped be a race director for Scott coffee run in Morristown, New Jersey.
, and it’s And so it’s different than the 5k and it allows people to kind of experiment and step up and, you know, one of the great things about, you know, running and road road races and things like that is that you may feel like, oh, everybody’s watching you and what your speed is and stuff like that.
It’s okay to walk. You know, it’s, it’s not the end of the world. There’s this famous coach, Jeff [00:21:00] Galloway, that has a run walk program. He actually, he actually advises people to, to take a break and walk. And, um, and so experiment with different distances. And then the other thing is that there’s all sorts of different types of things that are out there.
So my daughter. Did a, , a swim event the other day, an open water swim event in a lake outside of Philadelphia, like knock on Nixon. And, , and she did it as kind of like a break. She had never really, you know, been into it and she just had a blast doing it. , this weekend, she’s actually doing a, , an odyssey swim run up in Casco Bay, outside of Portland, Maine, where you run across an island and then you swim to the next island.
You run across that island, you swim to the next island and stuff. Um, you don’t have to do crazy stuff like that, but there’s, there’s trail races out there. There’s adventure races out there. I think that you do some obstacle course, racing and stuff like that. [00:22:00] And you don’t. You don’t have to choose really crazy things.
You don’t have to do a hundred miler or anything like that. , but you can find motivation, , by kind of mixing it up and, and, and you can, you can go to various different race calendars, , You know, running in the USA, half marathons, that net, if you go to RunSignUp and up in the right hand corner, there’s find a race.
And if you click on that, you can actually search for different types of races, , cycling races, do athlons, you know, swim runs, , triathlons. There’s all sorts of different things that you can do to mix it up. . I remember, remember when my wife was turning 50 and she was like, I’m not going to wind up like my mother.
I’m going to get in shape. And she started running and then she wanted to kind of mix it up. And she really challenged herself to do a women’s triathlon. And it was a short women’s triathlon, but. It, it, you know, she and several of her friends, you know, trained for it. They trained [00:23:00] hard. They did it, you know, they felt so accomplished.
They weren’t setting any world records, but they felt good about themselves by doing it and, and, and doing it together. Um, there’s just so many different ways to kind of find communities, find a running club. It, you know, instead of doing a five K for yourself, Do a 5k and do some fundraising for, you know, some sort of nonprofit, you know, there, you know, like 95% of the races that are on our platform actually are connected to a nonprofit in some way, shape or form, you know, might be helping, uh, you know, cancer might be helping, you know, homeless victims.
It might be, you know, like there’s just thousands of causes out there that you can find your cause. You can find a community. You can. You can, you can have an impact beyond yourself, um, which I think is one of the great things about this, uh, this whole endurance community.
Richard Conner: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I love the advice [00:24:00] that you shared about trying out different races. But even on the last point about running races affiliated with fundraisers, and that’s actually something that I’ve been doing for a number of years. So one of the types of races or effort activities I get involved in is pancreatic cancer awareness in memory of my mother in law.
So that is something I’ve run and walk in the past and support and we’ve had on this podcast. But also I’m looking to do a lot more going forward, you know, in the future, as I’m thinking about running even longer races, how do I affiliate myself and run on these teams for, for these organizations? So I think that’s a really important point that, you know, you can run for yourself and it’s good for your physical and mental wellness, but you can also run for others and that’s another great reason to run.
Bob Bickel: I have one more idea that, and I, and this is, not many people actually do this, um, but it’s surprisingly easy to do if you want it, and it’s actually a lot of fun. And next time you go to a 5k and you run the race, go up to the race [00:25:00] director, thank them of course, but say, hey, next year, can I help be a volunteer?
And… Hand out water cups, get some water splashed on you. , you know, help with setup, you know, , help put up a tent and hope it doesn’t fall down. You know, there’s all sorts of things that you can do to, , to help, , the community and, and kind of, you know, , be, be more of a part of the race. It’s, it’s a great thing about this, , about this sport.
, ask the race director about, you know. How did this go for you? You know, what, what was good? What was bad for, from your perspective? You know, how can I help you? Um, so, uh, lots of different ways to get involved.
Richard Conner: I love it. Sage advice for our listeners, Bob, this has been a great conversation. I thank you for sharing your journey, your personal professional journey, which ultimately led you to run signup. So, you know, congratulations on that. And thank you for sharing your story about how you led through adversity and how the [00:26:00] team and community came together to really move through such a challenging time.
And, you know, I really love what you said about, you know, motivation, which is, you know, the. Third pillar out of the three pills you talk about is how do you keep going? How do you stay consistent? How do you keep moving and doing different levels of races or running for a good cause or volunteering are all really great ways to stay motivated, stay moving and stay involved in the community.
So, so thank you for sharing that, you know, and kind of as we wind down here, I’d love to hear what’s next for you, Bob, and what’s next for run signup.
Bob Bickel: What’s next for me is continuing to get older. I’m, I’m an old broken down man. I can’t run anymore. So I walk a lot and, , and I ride, I ride an indoor bike every, every morning to try to keep somewhat fit. , but I just love RunSignUp. It’s, it’s so much fun to kind of, . I like the team is so good and our customers are so good and it’s such a good business small.
I just want [00:27:00] to keep doing that for RunSignUp. , you know, , companies can get stagnant if they’re not growing and we probably have like 40% plus market share and. And in races in the U. S. And so, , so we’ve decided that we’re going to move into helping other types of events with our technology. And so we now have a ticket platform and we call that TicketSignUp.
And with our ticket platform, um, we’re starting to help a wide variety. Some of some of the users of ticket sign up or users that RunSignUp. And they’re involved in running and stuff like that. And they’re using us for spectators for track meets and stuff like that. , , and you know, one of the measurements that we use is that.
You know, how, how much money have we helped customers raise? And so, uh, last year we did about 400 million of transaction volume on our platform. And so hopefully in the next, [00:28:00] you know, uh, four or five years, we’ll, we’ll hit a billion dollars a year, um, to help our helping our customers. And it’ll be a variety of, you know, endurance, um, races, as well as other types of events that.
Kind of just bring people together. So,
Richard Conner: Incredible. Incredible. Again, congratulations, Bob, on all of your success, you and your team. And thank you for all the work that you do to help the running community. So, you know, how can our community find you and follow, you know, run, sign up online.
Bob Bickel: well, you can go to runsignup.Com and, and we have a blog and we’re extremely open and transparent and you can, I write a lot of blogs, , talk about our business, if you’re interested in the running business and stuff like that, , but you can also, , go to our site and. and find race. , and then, you know, we also host a lot of guest blogs.
So you can find a lot of different other types of resources that are, that are happening in the running community [00:29:00] there. , and you can sign up for our blog and newsletter and things like that. , but, you know, I think my biggest, you know, takeaway is. Is not necessarily it’s not about run sign up. It’s really about finding your local community of of runners Something that you’re passionate about, you know running club start a running club if there’s not a running club around where you are Um, I think running clubs, you know had a real tough time during the downturn downturn of covid , and I think running clubs are due to come back in a pretty massive way.
So yeah, I, I, you know, follow your own path, stay motivated, have fun, put a smile on your face. .
Richard Conner: Thank you so much, Bob. I really enjoyed this conversation. I will put the information for run, sign up in the show notes, and I appreciate all the advice that you shared. So again, thank you for coming on the show and you know, with that, have a great day.
Bob Bickel: Yeah. Thank you. And thanks for putting this podcast together. I, I, I’ve listened to a few episodes now. , [00:30:00] I wasn’t introduced to it before and you do a really nice job of trying to, to inform people and motivate people and, and, , like I said to you before, I wish I had your voice.
Richard Conner: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you for all of the compliments there. And I do appreciate that. And, you know, we do the best we can, uh, to inspire and motivate others to, you know, along their health and fitness journey. So, yeah, I appreciate that very much.