Article by Kevin Tiller, owner of CoolRunning.
I have just re-read what I posted to CoolRunning back in October 2003 - please read it here - and its sad to say that nothing has changed : CoolRunning has got bigger and bigger with ever more readers and I spend more and more time working on the site. Our income has got bigger but so have our costs. We are at pretty much break even point - every year we are plus or minus $1000. I guess this is good for a website, as traditionally websites lose money. I am pleased to report that the original aim of this website, as written in 1997 when we eventually launched, still hold true.
We won an industry award at the end of 2004, so its good to get some recognition but although I now have a small group of helpers, I am personally doing 90% of the behind the scenes work. I spend 6 months of every year flat out organising and/or recovering from my other big hobby, the Six Foot Track Marathon, and the other 6 months franctially trying to catch up with the CoolRunning work.
Have a look at a snapshot of the last few months activity - every month is an upward curve. This is good but with more people, more more more, there is a time cost to myself and I have noticed myself "loosing" it with alarmning regularity - so I apologise to anyone who feels they have been on the receiving end of "weirdness" from my end.
There are a variety of options for how to move forward and reclaim a life and I think that after 8 years working on the site, and now its almost at the point of being a full-time job that I need to do something more drastic as every year it squeezes more and more out of my life - I owe it to my wife and children, even if I don't owe it to myself.
Since the middle of last year I have been floating a number of ideas past a variety of people, some involved with the site, and some not. Of course no one gave me the same feedback - ask 10 people and get 11 different answers !! (one example here).
I have had offers in the past to buy the site from me, most recently last year, but they were generally very lame efforts to really buy the readership and let the site crash. I have watched what has happened to sites I respected like TrackStars, and I don't want that to happen to CoolRunning. Maybe we have been lucky (or it could be good management) that the site has never really been a loss-maker, so the money aspect hasn't been a struggle. We don't chase advertisers, they chase us (and I am so disorganised they virtually have to force me to take the money).
People have suggested that I quit my day job and just work on the site, and although tempting, I don't want to sit at home plotting how to extract money from everyone. Running is a hobby for most of us, and I still want it to be fun for me. I am more keen that the site keep operational for the next 10 years and the 10 after but just cannot seeing it pay for me to quit my day job (as an IT nerd on an IT salary). I am good mates with the CoolRunning USA crowd and none of them work full-time as their only paying gig and if they can't do it in the USA then it won't happen here (they are heaps more organised, miles bigger and charge a bloody fortune for ads/ websites etc).
There are enough people now visiting this site on a daily basis to see that CoolRunning is the only running website that matters to the non-track'n'field side of the sport, and that it is the best place to find out what is happening in our sport, and that is because we all pool our ideas, our news, our results and help each other out. It is far better for 15 people to work 2 or 3 hours a week on the site than me trying to squeeze 30 or 40 hours on top of my day job, my family and let's face it my own running (which is totally gone to pot, again).
But it needs to be structured right - people working on the site want clear visibility of where the money is coming from and going, people want to be assured that they won't be personally liable for any financial/ legal ramifications.
At the moment, the site is legally a "sole trader" - me, and I am personally liable for all the mis-deeds of everyone. I fill out the tax return as part of my own tax return, and although we have reasonabe records, it leaves a messy trail through the Tiller finances.
I think that the site will be better managed set up as a non-profit organisation, with a small committee (I am not really a committee person, so it won't be onerous) and a more rigid financial structure. At the end of the day I am not an accountant, an advertising manager, a graphic designer, a web nerd etc and I am sure that there are others more qualified in some of these roles. I have become a jack-of-all-trades and a master at none, and maybe its a sign of intelligence ;-) that I know when I have reached my limits and know when to ask for help. (For more similar thoughts, I have been inspired by this article - The Pro-Am Revolution ).
My main questions are :
1) What do our readers think about being set up as a non-profit organisation ? I mean its been run like a "de facto non-profit" anyway, we might as well make it formally one.
2) What would be the best structure ? I think small is good, but am keen for interstate reps to be involved.
I think this will be a good platform for the future, as I am quite sure that other people have very valid, and possibly better ideas than me by myself - I am a great believer in "many hands make light work".
To answer a few questions :
a) timeframe - I will be working out the best structure etc over the next few months - everyone will be kept full informed of progress (or lack of).
b) quality - this should improve - it doesn't mean I am stepping down or even cutting back (yet) - it will likely mean we can do more.
c) people - can people volunteer or make suggestions ? of course, either on the feedback comments or to me via email. But at the end of the day the first committee will be from a short list of people that I select - I am very keen to keep CoolRunning operating with a high level of professionalism, a high standard of website, a high level of ethics and morality, and for the good of our sport as well as good relations with the Sport's official organising bodies (and very much a positive influence as to runners' needs). Whether I choose the people or whether there is some kind of elections is yet to be decided. It's best to let me know what you think!
As I said at the start of this article, I have been mulling this over since the middle of last year, so its not the latest dummy-spit and hasn't been brought on by any particular recent events. I have consciously waited until after this years Six Foot Track Marathon (there will be some changes there also) before announcing anything but its now the 4th complete yearly cycle I have been though and it just won't change unless something forces it to. I just have to get this off my chest, so that I can move to the next step.
However I have always prided myself on seeking feedback before doing anything too drastic and I am sure others have good ideas too (Lots of others are noticing that openness is necessary). I have set up a non-profit organisation before so am well aware of the mechanics of this.
ps when I say the "end of an era" I mean "end of CoolRunning as owned/managed by Kevin Tiller" and the start of the era of "Coolrunning as owned/managed by Australian Runners". It doesn't mean the "end of CoolRunning" as we have never been bigger or healthier and we have a very rosy future.
Please note, as of 10th November 2005, Part 2 is available here.