The State of GORUCK: Edition 3: Gear and Events and Magic and 1+1=3

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Growth and change are instruments of pain and we have felt their force reign down on us with a vengeance. Magic struck a few years back and for some no good reason I assumed that made us magicians, and then I assumed that we had invented magic. Such is life and then the world smiled wryly back and here’s my take:

Somehow, magic has to find you.

Wherever you are and not where you think you can find it. If it takes forever, wait forever. And when it does find you, if it finds you, stay humble and of course Garrett will hold Old Glory while you bake some sunup sugar cookies and don’t forget to smile, they’re delicious.

And hah! let me know if you want that recipe it’s a good one.

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Nobody wants the world to prove them wrong and life would be so much easier if the solutions you planned in your head worked on the problems you actually face. But that never happens and oh the time we spend trying to justify our own ideas. Like here’s a good one from 2010: GORUCK is just a gear company. Gear =1. So where did that Prada sign come from and why are they smiling 13 hours later? Events =1. Then we added them up and 1+1=3 and I thought huh, how did that happen?

You found us and not the other way around and that’s the magic and as we’ve grown, so has the magic and the closer you get to the Sirens, the louder and more majestic their voices. Just a little closer, you say, look at how beautiful they are. But magic is impossible to love first and the Sirens won’t love you back, no matter how close you get. Being infinitely human, still we try.

And we got our ships pretty close and now we’re rocking out to the radio stations in our own garage, loving the magic and the more the merrier. This is that story of the last year or so.

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We have 72 Cadre, all of whom were skeptical about GORUCK Events until they weren’t. And good on them, I was too. Something about sure I had to do this but why would people pay for it. This is stupid. And then, like me, they can’t believe how rewarding it is to build a team and when’s my next fix? It’s grassroots growth at its finest and everyone who does one of our events remembers their Cadre and it’s hard to find better ambassadors than Special Operations guys. On the right weekend, Bert and Lou might jump into your class and I might turn them into casualties and they might experience how humbling it is to get carried by our people to the end. And then I’ll smile a smile they know too well and say welcome to GORUCK since forever.

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So gear and events and 1+1= 3 and don’t forget about the magic. And more better is the goal for events, and more better is the goal for gear. The tie that binds is an absolute commitment to quality. We always wanted to represent the very best of American manufacturing and nothing less and don’t forget there are only two grades at GORUCK: A and F and A- rounds down. And if all the animals I mean GORUCK gear is created equal, some are more equal than others I guess and at some point GR1 became One Ruck to Rule Them All. Yes, I’m an Animal Farm and a Lord of the Rings fan and don’t forget to smile. We have sold ~14,000 GR1’s since May 2, 2010, and the price has remained the same at $295 since our first website launced. That’s four years worth of data for those of you who are into that kind of thing.

In the early days every order placed at goruck.com sent an alert to my phone and it was never a nuisance because it almost never buzzed and when it did I was surprised. Especially when I didn’t know the buyer. Thanks, Jill, for so many emails back then. Sure, paying for quality only hurts once and Buy American! and support jobs at home and all GORUCK-built gear comes with our Scars Lifetime Guarantee. Got it. But none of that changes the fact that $295 is a ton of money and if it weren’t a great piece of gear nobody – including me – would use and abuse it all over the world and nobody would recommend it and you get the point. GR1 is our Levi’s 501 and it will never go out of style. All I can say is thanks for the support and we’ll continue to build the best.

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An important part of our transparency, for me, is to share our numbers. I’m not mired in reports but GORUCK is a business and there are a lot of great ideas that turn into businesses and then go out of business. Jack and I joked and it wasn’t funny at all way back when about how GORUCK isn’t an art project. Sure, we can do things the right way, but we’re not special and if we don’t pay our bills they’ll come gunnin’ for us kind of deal. The man doesn’t care about our commitment to the hard right over the easy wrong even though we do, the man just wants his rent check. Cash/check/credit/whatever.

So. Numbers can be deceiving and they never tell the full story. If you live in Excel, don’t forget to look around from time to time. The two ** are cases in point. 31 full-time employees. We were up to 43 and I had to do a round of layoffs early April 2014. GORUCK’s first ever and it sucks if you ever find yourself in that position. Kinda like if you’re in a relationship and you love the other person but timing is everything and the heart is not a fair judge and when you realize it’s just not gonna work out, you end it. It this case, the head had to trump the heart. We had spent too much money on things that didn’t work out and we had too many people focused on the wrong things and that’s on me. Aka we got too far from the basics. Too much inventory on hand that we didn’t know how to sell and there’s further proof that we’re not a gear company in any sense of that title. Gear companies advertise and have seasonal launches and sales and stock out of things and all that good stuff. We’ve got a ways to go.

The other number. 72 Cadre. Next year we’ll have double that. That’s the goal anyway. So the question becomes why lay some people off when you’re still hiring. And it’s a tough question to answer. Basically, we need more Cadre to lead more events because that’s the basics and we need more of the basics. Reporting and increasing layers of bureaucracy disconnected from those Cadre – we don’t need that as much and life is full of hard choices. We’ve said build it and they’ll come since forever and the Cadre have built it and people have come. So we need more of that because it works.

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But let’s back up a year or two. Big bites from big sandwiches and go big or go home. The Challenge is great but not sustainable as the growth driver for all of GORUCK, as it was for our first few years. No, we’re not softening The Challenge – in case anyone would misconstrue this statement. Not that anyone ever does that on Facebook or anything ha ha. We just have to focus on other growth drivers while we’re still leading Challenges. So we got into a bunch of new things like Corporate Solutions and GORUCK Nasty and Firearms training and some gear like Shoulder Bags that were really hard to get right but that had nothing to do with our Events or with training. Plus we started work on developing a line of apparel and making it in America, which has proven impossible at our size. Some initiatives we’re still pursuing, others we’re shelving. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and that is an attractive culture to work in but 2014 is the year I brought my shotgun to the sniper competition and didn’t represent the team as well as I would have liked. Luckily, failure is wisdom’s muse so we’re a lot wiser than we were before.

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GORUCK Nasty was the biggest initiative for us last year and we were planning to ramp it up significantly in 2014 and beyond, complete with a PX (Post Exchange) to offer gear and the best obstacles Green Berets could possibly build.

We just had to learn how to do it first, of course.

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You won’t find a more legitimate obstacle course outside of military bases than Nasty. Our Cadre designed the obstacles and ensured that they were an authentic representation of Nasty Nick and other Special Operations obstacle courses. Confidence climbs at 30 feet high are a lot scarier than you think, if butterflies in your stomach are any indication. I hate heights, they get me every time. Anyway, Nasty 001 came to an end and I’ll always associate it with Java’s decline, which is not fair to the event. Looking back now, Nasty was a huge goal and a distraction that basically sucked the life out of us, internally.

We used up a lot of resources to make it happen, and it will prove to be one of the great forks in the road of GORUCK’s youth. A nice experiment we were not ready to fully commit to. Not in terms of personnel and not in terms of resources. I pushed too many people in too many directions and we lost focus.

Couple that with Java’s passing right afterward, which was personally devastating, and GORUCK was in the midst of its first winter.

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Winter brings storms and when they’re brewing around my dad’s garage aka my favorite place in the entire world to drink a beer and GORUCK’s spiritual headquarters, we sit in the garage and swap some tales and kick back some cold ones. The storm rages around us and there’s nothing we can do about it except ride it out in style. Those are the basics and pretty much what we do when the weather’s perfect, too. Master the basics, then branch out. If you branch out too far, go back to the basics.

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Planning for more better GORUCK stuff only got me so far. In fact it got me nowhere. I’m a dog person and life’s boring without ‘em. I didn’t really have a plan to get another one other than in the abstract and that never works. In fact, the abstract is kinda like waiting around for magic to find you. I also didn’t have a plan, but someone I love knew that the Goddess Fortuna favors those who call the breeder and ask if they have any chocolate males and somehow, with a little effort, in the middle of the coldest winter of my life, Monster found me and welcome to his life inside a Bullet Ruck and when he outgrows that one we got plenty more that’ll hold him just fine and you can call that magic or a plan, take your pick I’ll be smiling either way.

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The absence of a plan cannot sustain itself forever, but it sustains itself for much longer with the right team.

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So Monster’s cute and Big Daddy has no problem attacking a machine gun nest but what’s the plan for GORUCK. OK, here it is. We’re gonna bank the company on a new product … called patch books. Tyler is skeptical but Jack’s happy to be livin’ the dream in Montana and no, we’re not betting the company on patch books. Hah! The basics are the people that work at GORUCK, and doing more of what we do really well. Tyler and our Cadre are masters of the ruck and team building and firearms training and gear. And Jack and his team can build the toughest gear around so we’ll do that. Firearms gear is coming this year. Good Livin’ Events continue in full force and rucking as a sport is coming this year and next year and every year until the end of time.

More on rucking soon and doesn’t the word rucking have a nice ring to it?

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Plan or no plan don’t forget to smile and do more of what you’re good at. We’ll continue to build new great gear, and the classics too, and Monster is certain to be everywhere because what’s not to love about perfection? Except that sometimes it seems like he inherited Java’s kingdom and he didn’t have to earn it for one day. So goes it with the American Dream and I’ll just love him back and tell him to enjoy his youth and do more of what makes him happy, like GORUCK.

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Gear and rucks and stuff. We continue to prove old gear at our events and test new gear at them before you ever see it. It’s literally abusive what we do I mean what you do and it keeps us honest throughout our entire supply chain. When our sewers see pictures of the gear in war or at our events, it makes a ruck about a lot more than just the ruck.

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But that doesn’t make us an experienced gear company with reliable forecasting. We’ve focused more on the top line (growth) than the bottom line (profitability) and that can get you into trouble if you assume your plan is going better than it really is. Layoffs and Steals and Deals were born of necessity. Not in the moment necessity, the 6 months away necessity but bad news doesn’t get better with time so we had to focus a lot more on our cash position.

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So then we launch Steals and Deals and you crashed our website, again, in like 3 minutes. Monster crawled in a Budweiser box and found the solution. Treat a crisis in the moment, treat a war with strategy. This was a crisis, so he brushed up on his HTML and fixed the back end. As the Wolf from Pulp Fiction said, “I’m talking fast, fast, fast.”

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Hard work and reacting to problems, which will always exist, never ends. Not. Ever. It’s not a magic trick, don’t go buy a magic set in the hopes that it will teach you to fix anything that a little elbow grease can solve. And elbow grease solves most problems.

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Come up with a plan and communicate it to your team, which is what my grandfather seems to be doing in this shot and man what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall back then or to have him still around these days. I love the old school style because for me it never goes out of style even if some of the plaid around you may.

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When chaos descends, hard decisions get easier and if they don’t, the world will make decisions for you. And because the world’s will to survive is greater than yours, that won’t work out well for you. Telephone booths will go the way of the dinosaurs whether you like them or not kind of deal. Times change and there is value in the change and if we think less about ourselves and more about the overall mission, clarity comes as if divine intervention.

If the mission is to invade hell, kill the devil, and make it out alive, choose your team wisely. Building Better Americans is a little more realistic than killing the devil, though the crossover from our Cadre who would want both missions is about 100%. Anyway, the growth has been rough on everyone who works at HQ and we’ve fought our way out of a lot the old fashioned way. Welcome to the Wild Wild West and I hope your gun slinging skills are sharp kind of deal. I used to always joke that the GORUCK training program was pretty simple and it went like this: figure it out.

Ha ha and all but that’s completely unsustainable. Failure is exhausting and we can’t live in the Wild Wild West forever because at a certain point if you’re still fighting duels in the middle of one horse towns, your life expectancy is pretty low. So my goal is to build the best team and set goals that are impossible until we do them. Go big or go home and to do that we have to grow. A lot.

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The most humbling part of my role at GORUCK is spending time with the people who believe in what we’re doing, people who could do anything in the world and who choose to work here. Insert Big Daddy, who is as of recently in charge of all of GORUCK Events. He’s spent a distinguished career in the US Marine Corps and ARUGAH! and when he told me he wanted to retire and come on full time I told him my hope was that GORUCK was the last place he ever worked. I’m an Under Promise, Over Deliver kind of guy and I’d promise a lot with Events under BD’s watch.

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For all of the change in the last year, GORUCK has been the constant in my life. I love what I do, I love who I work with, I love GORUCK Nation and this is a gift. Java’s passing was horrible, worse than words can describe and yet everyone I know has felt the devastation of loss. Somehow that unites all of us in the most basic, human way. I can wish for an easier life and that’s the worst wish in history. Monster has been a Godsend and he found me and has added years to my life already but Java remains the standard and if we just attack the problems at hand instead of fearing the world’s judgment, the path forward comes a lot faster.

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Mud comes off, eventually. If it doesn’t, don’t pretend life was sparing you anything anyway.

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And you can plan all you want but don’t plan on magic, just do what you love and crash a pool party with Bud Heavy and your dog whenever possible and watch what happens. I’ll betcha a case of beer you smile till your face hurts and can any of us really ask for much more than that?

The best moments of our lives never go out of style and the magic of the universe exists in your heart when you know you’re living in one, for a minute or an hour, and that’s the kind of magic I believe in, a magic that never dies and that always seems to find its way into the fabric of our lives just when we need it most.

As always, thank you for the opportunity you’ve given me to find magic despite my planning at GORUCK.

Love,
jason and java forever

12 comments

  1. Wolf M says:

    Thanks, Jason!
    Your transparency (financial and emotional) is one of the things I love about you and GORUCK. I also think it is part of what makes this a family supported by a company instead of a company pushing product at customers.

    Very happy for GORUCK’s success. Hope to be around to say “I knew them when…”

    Wolf

  2. CWS says:

    Definitely more Firearms Training please. I really do miss being able to shoot and move, move and shoot and being able to do it outside.
    Unfortunately some of the Firearms Training or shooting courses near me are the equivalent of signing up for the local militia.
    Am former USMC(old & broken) and always want to keep my skills sharp without having to deal with a bunch of goof balls who think they are mercenaries or PMC.
    Would much rather do this you guys…

  3. Mike P says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share this Jason. Layoffs are always tough, for both parties. I hope Challenge takers continue to get the good livin’ as prescribed. Keep headed in the right direction of building better Americans and I hope our paths cross again soon.

  4. Joseph Jones says:

    Im going to start off by saying when it comes to gear that I need or want this is the only company I will buy from, I have a GR1 and the 32L kit bag and I just ordered the 10L bullet ruck I love this gear im proud to have it, its great to see an american born company thrive and be successful. Im Crash Fire Rescue in the marine corps and every chance I get I tell people about goruck and show them my GR1, I just wanted everyone at Goruck to know that I appreciate their hard work and dedication to make great gear, thank you so much, i wish GoRuck many more years of success.

  5. Scott says:

    Thanks for sharing Jason. To lose Java in the middle of everything had to be horrific. You’ve got a great program here and and a very loyal base that’s growing fast. Monster’s awesome. I have a 15 week old chocolate female named Bailey. She’s my constant companion on Rucks and in life.

  6. John says:

    Let me put it in these terms.

    I trained for a Challenge and wound up shadowing it instead due to a bout of hypertension.

    It was a bitter disappointment not to be in the Challenge but I shadowed our son and seeing him earn his TOUGH patch was sweet.

    For my birthday our two boys gifted me with a Radio Ruck that I use for a great weekend travel bag.

    Medical issues under control our son and I made lasting memories by doing a LIGHT together. 😉

    I loaned my GR1 to our son’s roommate and I used my Radio Ruck in that LIGHT. Good Livin’.

    I use my weighted GR1 on training walks to stay in shape.

    Recently I shadowed a LIGHT in my home town so that I could combine a workout and pleasure.

    I visit this site regularly reading the News, Training and AAR pages.

    The GORUCK Life as I’ll call it has kept me in the gym and on the move. I’ve seen individuals become a team and it’s an amazing thing to behold.

    The gear is great but the mind set and camaraderie keep this engine running.

    Java is missed but fondly remembered. Monster is the perfect successor.

    I wish GORUCK all the success in the world.

    BTW I’ve got a buddy pass burning a hole in my pocket that I’m dying to use. 😉

  7. 33AD says:

    Full disclosure takes a lot of humility, but is part of what makes your organization one to admire.

    Keep focused in 2014 and beyond; we’ll keep supporting!

  8. evan fabricant says:

    Jason,
    You make an amazing product which I use daily for work and on vacation-I’ve never used better!And though I’m too old and broken and solitary to do challenges, I understand their appeal. My only comment is to take a step back, relax, don’t drink and post(if that was in fact the case), and continue with what you do best: make rucks and organize activities that showcase your rucks and expertise.
    Best wishes, and please bring back the black Radio Ruck!

    • jason says:

      evan, hah! to the drinking and posting thing. Some as in most nights I end up staying up pretty late and writing, usually with some Bud Heavy on my desk. But I always review in the morning because there’s nothing like a fresh set of eyes (even my own)! Thanks a million for the support!

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