The State of GORUCK, Edition 1: The Back Story

State of GORUCK_Summer 2013_01
As usual, the heart wins. People that work here and friends I trust advised against it. Something about competitors will know and so will suppliers and that’s bad for business and what about competitive advantage and if you start here where does it stop. It’s risky and naïve and you need to understand that. And then I smiled and said I hear ya but what I don’t get is why every company doesn’t do this. Life has risk and I’d rather build trust with truth than skeptics with silence and when you have an opportunity you have to seize it.

So, this is my first post on the State of GORUCK: The Back Story Edition.

State of GORUCK_Summer 2013_02
I don’t have the same passion for revenue that I do for people, but money is kind of like water on a Challenge: you have to have it. It’s not something we brag about at GORUCK and it’s not something we hide behind, either. It is what it is.

GORUCK Key Metrics_Full Time Employees_Events Cadre_Revenue_2010_2011_2012
Growth is expensive, and growth is what we’re buying with our cash. We’re creating jobs and building infrastructure and upgrading systems that will help us run things more smoothly. The goal being that we want your experience with us to be first class. As there are more of you, there have to be more of us. Currently we have 38 full-time employees and 45 Cadre, decorated combat veterans of Special Operations, that all believe in our central mission to do right by people. We’re not perfect but we try to be and when we’re wrong we own it and we make it right. Without all of my mistakes the numbers would be much higher and without all of your support the numbers would be much lower.

State of GORUCK_Summer 2013_03
Failure is wisdom’s muse. When she sings you listen and I’m no stranger to her call. 2008 was the year. Emily and I were still married and had spent 4 years of separate training and deployments around the globe. No expenses and too few shared experiences behind us, we put about $70K toward what would become GORUCK – things like designers and logos and websites and legalities and prototypes and mistakes add up. When we went our separate ways in 2009, I got GORUCK and Java and we both lost a ton. The song was a tough one to hear over and over kind of deal. But life’s a funny place and humility goes a long way, especially if you have a sense of humor. Emily took Challenge Class 003 in NYC in 2010. When it was over, we laughed and said it’s so cool even your ex-wife wants to do it with you. Ha ha, right? Later, events she had run in Africa while serving as a Diplomat became the blueprints for GORUCK Scavenger and Trek and we’ve built them out into our corporate-focused leadership training side called GORUCK Solutions. And now she works at GORUCK and I’m probably the only person in history to hire his ex-wife to work for a company she inspired and helped start. Oh yeah, I forgot that punch line. In 2007 when we were talking about what I should do when I moved to Africa, she said ‘you should do the GORUCK thing’ and I can tell you that without Emily’s support, GORUCK would be a very different place and by very different I mean much worse or not at all. And without the wisdom that failure taught me, I would be half the man I am today.

State of GORUCK_Summer 2013_Jack and Jason
With the idea for GORUCK fresh on my mind, I called two people from the US Embassy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, West Africa: Jack (above right, next to me) and Mike (below). Sitting in some back corner cubicle using some special code to call back to the States, I heard two things: I love the name and it could work. On the spot Mike became a one man Board of Advisors and Jack would later run point for things like logos and website layouts and we designed GR1 and the other rucks in his apartment in the East Village in 2009 as my marriage was burning. If you’re ever in a bad place, ask a friend for help. You’d be surprised how much people will do for you. And I was lucky to have Jack in my life to ask.

State of GORUCK_Summer 2013_04
Fast forward to the summer of 2010 after my first year in business school and GORUCK needed more cash. I had a couple hundred bags on hand and more in production but few buyers and life is expensive. You can see in our 2010 numbers that we only did $52,356 in revenue. 100% of that came after May 2 and the majority came at Christmastime. December of 2010 we did something like $20K and it felt like we were printing money. In the Spring of 2010 I had started asking family and friends for money even though it felt like begging and nobody likes to beg. Mike, who knew everything GORUCK to date – and who by the way helped raise me (he was married to my mom for 12 years) – became and has remained GORUCK’s only investor. He bought 20% of GORUCK for $150K based on a valuation for GORUCK at $750K that he did himself. The point is that I didn’t know what I was doing on the numbers side of running a business. What’s fair and what’s not? – I had no idea. I trusted Mike and he wanted me to succeed. If you ever need to take money to fund something, two pieces of advice: (1) wait as long as you can and (2) trust the source.

Venture Capitalists (VC’s) were another option. I did not go that route for a few reasons: (1) I didn’t personally know any VC’s (the trust thing), (2) obtaining funding can become a full time job. If I did that, when would I find the time to do the things I needed to do to help GORUCK grow, and (3) I would have been way out of my league. I always wanted to do things differently, and I was pretty sure VC’s would not get it. That’s not a fact, that’s my projection.

So whatever Mike’s shares are worth now, I got the better deal because I had him even more in my corner. Mike’s been running a pretty large company for years, has several hundred employees and the experience to go along with it. And he’s always the guy you call when you need advice. Like I did with GORUCK. And much the same with Emily and Jack, without him GORUCK would either be vastly different or non-existent.

Two funny things, though:

(1) Mike recently told me with a smile that he thought he would never see his money back. His theory was that I’m not very good at failing but he still thought it was too tough of a business to ever see real growth. Niche product was his internal assessment.

(2) In early 2011, I was almost out of cash again. The GORUCK bank account had ~ $20K in it. Mike advised me to take additional capital and double down on the gear side, that The Challenge would be impossible to scale because the class sizes were small and required a Cadre to lead each one. But there’s nothing like people showing up to prove a concept. Recently he took Challenge Class 653 (aka it’s scaled) in Daytona Beach, Florida, with 14 other folks from his company. And when it was over, he even smiled and 3 years later everything made a lot more sense.

The point is that we were building a brand, not selling widgets with ads. There’s no other company out there (that I know of) that has the internal DNA to produce both gear and events. And our growing pains to get there were significant and I made more mistakes than I can remember and I can remember lots.

State of GORUCK_Summer 2013_05_v2

Like in the summer of 2010 I had this horrible I mean great idea to drive to all 48 states. To meet people and get into adventures and figure it out. I had Mike’s cash on hand and an endless road trip was my solution to growth. I had a few bags. And I had Java. And these were some of the loneliest days I will ever live driving around our beautiful country. Sleeping in the GORUCK Truck, crashing on couches, and always trying to find a place for Java to swim. Retail shops said nothing which meant no thanks and people, our people, hadn’t even heard of us. Thank God for Java because without him I would have collapsed with GORUCK. I owe him forever and he tells me as much every day. I suspect most companies that fail in the early days fail because something gets in the way. And my life almost got in the way.

State of GORUCK_Summer 2013_06

Peace and Love Committee_GORUCK Light_Jacksonville Beach

But it didn’t. And time worked its magic and in that process people showed up. And by those people I mean you and you brought your friends and I’m grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to run GORUCK as a company that is accountable to you. I want us to make you proud and somehow I get to do things like run around with the Peace and Love Committee at GORUCK Light Class 051 and design gear and put policies in place that make it easy for people to smile when they think of GORUCK. This is not a job and how did this happen to me cross my mind frequently.

To further this conversation, expect The State of GORUCK: Edition 2 in the coming weeks. I’ll talk more about what’s currently going on and the decisions we’ve made to get there. That means marketing and operations across gear and events and our strategy for future growth. I’ll talk about our Cadre, Events registration #’s past and present, training page goals, shipping center expansion, retail growth, new gear in the pipeline, and how we can give even more back to the Green Beret Foundation. And no doubt I’ll talk about Java and I’ll tell you that I’m having the time of my life and I’ll end with two words: thank you.

44 comments

  1. Geoffrey E says:

    Another great news post. Goruck Class 079 changed my life and introduced me to some great people. Goruck provides a beacon of hope in this crazy world we live in. I’m sure I speak for most of the GRT family when I say thank you for being you and creating such a great company and family.

  2. Matt Morrison says:

    Great write up Jason! This is why you have such a dedicated group of customers. Your transparency, quality products and unflinching customer service, combined with just plain doing good all around is why you have customers for life. Keep on keeping on! And you have my vote whenever it is you decide to run for office.

  3. June says:

    GORUCK changes lives with its events, and sells amazing gear at the same time, and the family grows every weekend and its exciting to see.

    Thank you Jason for never giving up on your Dreams.

  4. Dan says:

    This is the stuff that makes GORUCK, in my opinion, one of the best brands in the world. Awesome post and I’m looking forward to the rest of the State of GORUCK. Congrats on a great company and one of the most loyal customer bases out there. Continue the great work.

  5. John M. says:

    This post right here is the main reason why GORUCK is not only a company but a damn great community. Jason finds a way to make us feel involved and part of it all.

  6. Eric says:

    Thank you, Jason, for believing in and building a company like GORUCK. Not only did you help introduce me to myself, but along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the “quiet professionals” who do things we never hear about. I’d like to think that I can count at least a couple of them amongst my friends. –Eric, Class 477

  7. Jared says:

    Thanks for bringing jobs to our great country, especially for those that deserve them the most. I’m honored to be associated with such an amazing idea turned into reality.

    -Jared, GRC 617

  8. Everything about the way you run this company and allow us to share in the evolution of GoRuck is incredibly special. You and your team have built something truly unique. I’m proud to be a part of this family and a dedicated customer of one of the finest companies on the planet. Thank YOU.

  9. Jim Edwards says:

    Jason, Really awesome post! So many lessons to learn about life, business, mission and vision. Thank you for sharing — you’re inspiring people to do, be and share more in their own lives, probably more than you’ll ever realize.
    – Jim, 623

  10. Dave says:

    Transparency is a hallmark of trust and a building block of relationships. And transparency is what you’ve continually given us. Sure I’ve paid money for gear and challenges, but I’ve never viewed my dealings with GORUCK as a retail relationship. GORUCK has gained from a revenue standpoint, but I’ve gained friends, experiences, and a new sense of self that I couldn’t have paid for anywhere else. This State of GORUCK post and all the other news stories, and the GRT Facebook community, make all of us truly feel a part of the GORUCK family. Thank you, for your vision and seeing it through to success.

  11. Frances A. says:

    Another amazing post, Jason!

    Thank you for letting us become a part of the GORUCK family! My Tough patch means the world to me.. I will continue to spread the good gospel of GORUCK and everything it stands for. American-made and creating jobs here at home. Amazing!

  12. Justin says:

    So, me and my hot wife were sitting around last night having a drink and of course I started talking about Goruck. She cracked a smile and asked me why I do these challenges. My response was simple…therapy! So as I finished my drink and began to think; I wondered, how much does Goruck therapy cost? Here’s my answer:

    In total I have paid $494 to participate in five challenges (Light x2, Tough x2, Custom Heavy x1). Time wise I figure I will spend a minimum of 60 hours in Goruck therapy in the next four months.

    $494/60 hours = $8.24/hour for the best physical and mental therapy I can imagine. I got the silent nod of approval to register for more events. Thank you Jason and the entire Goruck family.

  13. Jeff says:

    Jason, wonderful blog post. All your friends here at Georgetown are very proud of all your success. Hope to get you back to campus soon.

  14. Tyler says:

    GORUCK is more than a brand to its followers. It is a way of life – one that you and your company embody… truth, honor, integrity, and determination.

    A big thanks to you and your Cadre for being an example for other individuals and companies to emulate.

  15. Sean says:

    Jason,
    Thanks for sharing all of this with us. I think I can speak on behalf of most of the GORUCK community when I say that we don’t view GORUCK so much as a company but more as part of our lives. Your willingness to include us in the story and share this insider info on how the company works furthers our desire to support the company and see it grow. GORUCK has truly changed my life and I can’t wait to see where you take us next.

    -Sean

  16. Thank you as well for establishing a great company, setting and further exemplifying the standard for above and beyond great customer service, and for gathering the funnest and craziest group of people (aka the GRT’s).

    Furthermore, thank you for your service to our great country. You rock!

  17. Hunter says:

    Great post, I blew out my knee training for USMC and thus could not join. After getting a job I wanted rehab it but didn’t have a goal. GORUCK gave me that goal and the Challenge was the best test to make sure I was all better!

    GORUCK IS MY THERAPY!

  18. Joe says:

    I like to see people and companies succeed, and, every now and then, I see people and companies doing the right things (yes, that includes the failures) to give themselves the best shot at success. GORUCK is certainly in this group.

    While I have yet to do a Challenge (my first is scheduled eight days from today), I recently completed the Utah Spartan Beast, using my wife’s Echo for hydration and to carry a bit of food and other items. Along the course, several Challenge veterans introduced themselves to me, complimented my choice of gear, and mentioned how much they enjoyed the Challenges and how much they loved their GORUCK gear.

    Several people not familiar with GORUCK asked me about the reverse flag patch, and seemed very interested in the brief explanation I gave them — I hope GORUCK has earned some new customers from this group.

    Not many companies inspire a sense of loyalty and belonging, nor do they often inspire people to want to participate–GORUCK is doing both.

  19. Ben says:

    Jason, you guys are changing lives. I never thought buying a ruck would lead me to so many life changes. Completing a challenge is not enough for me now, and it’s not enough for those around me. Everyone I share my experience with become addicted exactly the same way I did. It’s a rare mixture of quality, sweat, patriotism, dedication, bricks, friends, Budweiser and confidence. You, your staff and the cadre are part of something special and by sharing it with the rest of us you have built something truly great.
    My wife no longer rolls her eyes at a shipment from Goruck. Even she gets it now and is working toward her goals inspired by the Goruck community.
    It’s hard to think of Goruck as a company. It has become a way of life for so many of us, crazy as it may seem.
    Thanks man.

  20. Dace Crawford says:

    Great post. A lot of this was about “failure”, the falling down and the screwing up. But you always mention bouncing back, getting back up, and learning from that failure to make you, your product, and maybe even the people around you better. My question is about the thing before failure: fear. How do you take the leap? When you are so worried and certain you will fall you are paralyzed into not moving at all? You have a history in the SF community and though failing must still be scary it probably doesn’t compare to other times during your service when you met fear. How do you overcome it? It’s got to be more than “growing the balls” or “just doing it”….idk I guess I just never hear about how people took that leap to make their dream into a reality. But no matter what thank you for your service, the great company you continue to build, and for giving myself and so many a goal to work towards and someone to share a beer with.
    tldr; you have done all the preparation, but how do you defeat fear/self-doubt in order to take the leap to whatever goal.
    Thank you in advance

  21. Brent Gannon says:

    GORUCK is kicking ass, I’m glad GORUCK is going in a direction you never imagined and its better than ever. Continue to stay true to yourself and the people.

    Your post should also have started with “in the beginning there was go GORUCK and the earth was barren” and finished with “Amen.”

  22. Tim says:

    Awesome post Jason! The brand you have build with Goruck is second to none and has truly inspired me. Good livin has become a motto that I now live by. Thanks for everything you do!

  23. Bear says:

    This was an awesome story thank you so much for sharing!!! I have found something that I truly love in Goruck and can’t remember ever enjoying being a part of something so great! The best part is that you have made all of us feel like we are a part of you and what you are doing. I think that is why the bond between those who complete Goruck is so strong! We are all a part of something bigger than ourselves and have a purpose that we may not have had before! My wife can not understand why I am so intrigued by all of this and why I’m trying to convince other people into joining me but one day I will convince her into completing her first Goruck and then she will know! Something’s just have to be experienced… Thank you!!!!

  24. Michael McGruddy says:

    Another good little Goruck story:

    I can’t remember which year this happened, but it was towards the beginning. I remember calling the GoRuck # back in the day when I couldn’t decide between a GR1 and a GR2. No answer (it was 8 or 9 at night, central time), 2 seconds later I get a call from some guy driving in his car…it’s Jason and he’s ready to answer all my questions. I still couldn’t decide because back then there were too few pictures and man those bags were expensive at the time. So we agreed to meet in D.C. 2 weeks from that day while I was on vacation (I live in Texas). Sure enough, Jason meets me in Rose Park with Java and a few bags. Its amazing to see this grow from that experience to the international company it is today. Even back then as a customer, I knew something special was going on. Congrats on everything Jason! P.S. It’s nice to know you upgraded your payment system – I believe we accomplished it with taking pics of my credit card :)

  25. nathan says:

    It takes a ton of guts to write what you did, Jason. I admire your humility and your drive to carry out your dream – something that you firmly believed in and continue to believe in to this day.

    Knowing that I have registered for an upcoming event or gear on the way is an unmatched feeling! Thanks and keep up the exceptional work.

  26. Ted Disque says:

    Best way to show how much I appreciate what you and the goruck team have done is to buy your stuff. Which I have done and will continue to do. next step: Challenge. thank you, Jason, for an inspiring story.

  27. Jason, you and this community inspire me. Thank you so much for taking up the challenge, failing forward, and not giving up. I am honored to take my first challenge this August 16 in Portland, OR. It will be great!

  28. E-Centric says:

    Jason — the best thing I can say to this post, is a quote I read from USMC vet:
    Right is Right, even if no one is doing it.

    Thank you for being an example of leadership, in an otherwise diminishing realm. Looking forward to my first challenge Aug. 16th, Portland, OR.

  29. Curt Hingson says:

    BZ Jason and welcome (back?) to Jacksonville. I am spreading the word around town about GORUCK little by litte, and have schlepped around Italy for a couple weeks wearing my GR2. Your story is inspiring, and I want nothing but success for you guys.

  30. John says:

    Jason,

    From my point of view GORUCK’S evolution was a kind of Field of Dreams story. “If you build it, they will come”.

    You didn’t invest so much in a gear company as you did in the people in the market demographic. You had faith in them and it paid off. ;-)

    Hearing the words, “Welcome to the family,” at the end of a challenge is a very sweet sound.

    I’ve seen first hand how much a group of individuals can grow into a team that cares about and encourages its members to succeed in the span of 1 day or night together. It is amazing and humbling.

    I firmly believe that it is the team aspect of this phenomenon that is the key to GORUCK’S success.

    In my humble opinion the GORUCK gear is first rate!

    I wish you much continued success.

    Thank you for growing this thing that is GORUCK.

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