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On The

S t r e e ts Of


Will Dean Tough Mudder

A series capturing the candid and often brilliant quips we hear daily working side by side with our clients and friends in middle market M&A and corporate development. Keep reading for insights on opportunities, challenges, tips, tools and lessons learned on navigating acquisitions, managing growth and capital infusions.

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On the Streets of SoHo Will Dean, Tough Mudder

Will dean Will is a graduate of Harvard Business School, where he finished in

Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10- to 12-mile obstacle courses

the Top 10% of his class despite sadly finding much of his time there

designed by British Special Forces to test your all-around strength,

very boring indeed. Prior to business school, he worked for the UK

stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. As the leading company in

Diplomatic Service, where he worked in the Middle East and South Asia

the booming obstacle course industry, Tough Mudder has already

overseeing UK Overseas Counter Terrorist Finance Operations. He also

challenged half-a-million inspiring participants worldwide and raised

worked on the investigation into the 2005 London Bombings. He has

more than $5 million for the Wounded Warrior Project. But Tough

founded two companies; (an online Vintage

Mudder is more than an event – it’s a way of thinking. By running a

Bollywood Poster Gallery) and Just William T-Shirts (a national supplier

Tough Mudder challenge, you’ll unlock a true sense of accomplishment,

of UK University Graduation T-Shirts). A native of Great Britain, Will grew

have a great time, and discover a camaraderie with your fellow

up in the Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, England, where his family

participants that’s experienced all too rarely these days.

still live. He is a keen sportsman and has competed in the marathons and triathlons on three different continents. He lives in Brooklyn with his fiance.

DISCLAIMER: Tough Mudder is not a client of Accordion Partners and Will Dean’s responses are entirely his own. 1

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On the Streets of SoHo Will Dean, Tough Mudder

Work, Life Balance ...kind of

Pictured Above Accordion Analyst, Stuart Winchester, not so gracefully charging through the final obstacle at Tough Mudder New England, on July 14th, 2012. Yes, those are electrical wires dangling behind him. Yes, it did hurt. And yes, he 2 would do it again.

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On the Streets of SoHo Will Dean, Tough Mudder

Q: When you set out to create

a ‘race’ but rather a team exercise?

Tough Mudder, how long did it take to get from the idea stage to hosting your first event?

A: It’s essential to the experience. We want

But what we’re seeing is that people are

people to measure success based on helping

hungry for a truly unique experience.

they’ll get shocked, crawl under barbed wire, and jump into a dumpster full of ice water.

others and feeling a sense of accomplish-

A: I came up with the idea of Tough Mudder

ment upon completing an incredibly difficult

while I was getting my MBA at Harvard Busi-

course. A Tough Mudder challenge is about

Q: WHat makes a Tough Mudder

ness School. At the time, I was a bit bored and

the journey and the camaraderie that comes

started to do marathons and triathlons, and

with it. There are hundreds of races to sign

was disappointed by how boring and solitary

up for if you’re interested in shaving off a few

challenge special or different from all other endurance challenges?

they were. I wanted to train for something

seconds of your PR time, but people come to

was challenging, fun, and social. I entered

Tough Mudder challenges because they feel

A: The fact that it’s not timed is a key,

the idea for Tough Mudder into Harvard

like they’re part of a team.

differentiating factor; no other event shares

Business School’s Business Plan Competition.

our ethos about teamwork and camaraderie

Although we made it to the semifinals, we

above course time. We also have the most

didn’t win because most of the professors

Q: Have you found any business or

innovative and toughest obstacles out

were skeptical that we could attract enough

life lessons from Tough Mudder since you started the company?

there. We’re constantly developing new

customers. They told me that no one would pay to do an event that was not timed. After

ones to challenge the mental and physical toughness of our participants, from Everest

graduation in 2009, I enlisted my friend, Guy

A: I’ve learned that a business is only as

(our greased-up quarter pipe) to Electroshock

Livingstone, and we put on our first event at

good as the people who build it. The reason

Therapy (a field of live, dangling wires that

Bear Creek, Pennsylvania, a year later.

that we’ve grown so fast is because we have

deliver a 10,000-volt shock of electricity). It’s

been vigilant about hiring people who fit our

also not easy; anyone can try, but only 78% of

entrepreneurial culture and are passionate

participants actually finish. It’s a true test of

Q: Were you surprised by the

about building a world-class experience. I

stamina, mental grit, and endurance.

success of the events early on?

now know that surrounding yourself with the right people is even more important than having a great idea.

Q: What obstacles (pun intended)

a part of, and we set a goal for ourselves of

I’ve also learned that you don’t need a ton

have you faced in founding and building Tough Mudder?

getting 500 people to our first event. We

of money to start a business. We had a

ended up having closer to 5,000. Since then,

marketing budget of about $8,000 and spent

A: It was an uphill battle getting from the

our numbers have been rapidly climbing. We

most of it on Facebook. The power of social

idea to the first event, as no one believed

recently completed our biggest event ever,

media and word-of-mouth has been crucial in

this idea of an untimed obstacle course

with a record 27,000 participants at the 2012

building our brand.

challenge would work. We’re growing fast, so

A: Guy and I believed we were creating an experience that people would want to be

the challenges change every day. Right now,

Tri-State event. Finally, I’ve learned that experience is the new

we’re focused on continuing to put on the

luxury good. Some people are incredulous

most challenging, fun, and well-organized

Q: How important to you is it that

about the fact that participants will pay to go

events in the world, while hiring the highest-

a Tough Mudder challenge is not

through a grueling mud course, during which

quality talent to meet our growing needs as


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On the Streets of SoHo Will Dean, Tough Mudder

Some people are incredulous about the fact that participants will pay to go through a grueling mud course, during which they’ll get shocked, crawl under barb wires, and jump into a dumpster full of ice water. But what we are seeing is that people are hungry for a truly unique experience _ Pg 3 Have you found any business or life lessons from Tough Mudder since you started the company?


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On the Streets of SoHo Will Dean, Tough Mudder

we move from a small start-up to a company

Tough Mudder brand has always been

participants. Through surveys, on-site

of more than 130 people and three offices

unconventional and edgy; as we gain more

observations, and by reading up on our social

around the world.

participants, we need to make sure we

media communities, we seek to identify

maintain all the elements of the brand that

what’s working, what’s not, and what people

make it unique and don’t water it down by

are asking for. The work we do every day to

trying to appeal to everyone.

improve the Tough Mudder experience is

Q: How many Tough Mudder events are held every year? Does Tough Mudder have plans for growth? New locations/lengths, etc? Acquisitions?

guided by participant feedback. Finally, we need to keep delivering an experience that people want to come

As far as the tattoos go, it’s evidence that

back for, time and time again. We’ve hired

our brand resonates on an emotional level.

more resources to focus purely on obstacle

Participants know what we stand for and why

A: In 2010, our first year, we held 3 events,

innovation to ensure that we continue to

it matters to them. If we weren’t delivering

with a total of 20,000 participants. In 2011,

challenge our participants.

on that promise, we wouldn’t have more than

that went up to 14 events with 140,000

1,000 people walking around with our brand

participants. In 2012, we put on 35 events

Q: How does Tough Mudder build

forever imprinted on their bodies.

with close to 500,000 participants going

and maintain its brand? How does the Tough Mudder tattoo play into this?

Q: How important to Tough

through a Tough Mudder challenge. This year, we’re planning for 52 globally and expect close to 1 million participants. The

Mudder is supporting Wounded Warrior Project? Is there any particular reason you chose to support this charity?

demand is high, and we’re constantly getting

A: Tough Mudder has always been a brand

requests to bring Tough Mudder to new

with a strong stance; we know who we are

regions. In 2013, we will see expansion into

and what we stand for. We provide “Probably

Germany, as well as continued events in the

the Toughest Event on the Planet,” and we like

A: We are extremely proud of our

UK, Canada and Australia. We believe there’s

to push the envelope in terms of what that

relationship with Wounded Warrior Project.

a huge opportunity to bring this event to

means. We’re not afraid to put a stake in the

When Guy and I were building the company,

more people across the world, and we will

ground and to fly in the face of “acceptable

we knew from the outset that we wanted to

continue to explore options for additional

norms” for experience brands.

select a charity partner. We chose Wounded Warrior Project because we strongly believe

host countries. Since Day 1, we’ve had a clear brand and

in supporting those who have sacrificed for

mission: to create life-changing experiences.

their country. Not only have we facilitated

Q: What are Tough Mudder’s

That clear focus means that every employee

more than $5 million of donations to

biggest opportunities and challenges going forward?

is aligned on the same vision and knows what

the WWP, many Wounded Warriors have

they’re working toward.

participated in our events and have written

A: It’s crucial that we maintain our culture

We’ve also created the TMHQ Credo, a list

during this rapid expansion. I never want

of core values that our team works to live

Tough Mudder to become a hierarchical,

by every day. We can’t deliver on the brand

boring, or uninspiring place to work, and

promise if we don’t live by those same values

that’s a bigger challenge when you grow


to tell us of the impact the experience has had on their recovery and confidence.

Q: Do you have any tips or best practices for running a company

past 100 people. In the same vein, the We are firm believers in listening to our 5

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On the Streets of SoHo Will Dean, Tough Mudder

of this size and style? What about those guys out there who want to start a company?

A: The event is physically challenging, so we recommend strength and endurance training. With the help of Nigel Thomas, our Chief Training Officer, we’ve developed a training program to get you prepared, regardless of

A: The four pieces of advice I would give to

fitness level.

an entrepreneur are: We’ve got more than 50 events planned 1. Only hire “A” caliber people. “A”s hire other

across the globe for next year, some of which

“A”s, “B”s hire “C”s, and “C”s kill a company.

are already open for registration. You can

Hire only the best, and hire people who

sign up as an individual or teammate via our

represent your core values and will be

website, here.

guardians of the culture you want to create. 2. Empower your team to solve problems, and reward them when they find problems. This is so contrary to how most organizations operate, but it’s crucial if you want to constantly improve. We give out awards for employees who recognized a problem and provided a potential solution. 3. Always ask why. If something goes wrong, ask “why?” and then ask it again. Be inquisitive, and don’t settle for the obvious answer. Ensure that you’re using metrics to assess progress, and have benchmarks from which to work. 4. Prototype your ideas. We use MVPs, or “Minimum Viable Products,” as a way to test our hypotheses before investing a great deal of resources into them. It’s the best way to learn which ideas have legs and those that simply won’t work.

Q: Do you have any tips for people looking to participate in their first Tough Mudder event?


Accordion is a specialized financial services firm that executes critical operational and transactional initiatives. Our team is composed of the most seasoned, senior-level CFO leadership and former investment banking and private equity professionals. Accordion’s specialized expertise has positioned our firm as the go-to resource for private equity firms and corporate development teams. Accordion’s ongoing mission is to drive value for our clients by providing the full spectrum of solutions across the finance function, all while offering unprecedented pricing and resource flexibility.

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Streets of Soho with Will Dean