CoolRunning 10th Year Retrospective
Before reading this, it makes more sense if you read the historical background to CoolRunning, and particulary these:
Of course when we started CoolRunning back in 1997, we (Kevin & Ian Kemp) had no idea if it would last the test of time - it was just a damn good idea then that should be acted on, before anyone else did, and though we didn't know what happen down the track, we knew that we were both intelligent people in it for the long term. We also realised that although back in 1997, many people still didn't have email accounts or web access, we knew that in a few years EVERYONE would and that prediction has certainly come true. (More than a couple of times we joked and said we'd hold on for a sale to Runners World for a few million$). We even had a few offers during the crazy dot-com period, but there comes a time when you realise that what you have built is quite good, and passing it over to some goose who knows nothing about running - and even worse - doesn't particularly even care about running - is a silly idea. Certainly I knocked back one offer because they would have stuffed up, as they didn't know or care about the sport. I'd like to think that one of our advantages is that we really do "walk the talk" - we don't just sit in an office talking about demographics & webpage hits, but we do get out and run ourselves, races & training and organise a stack of runs each year, so should never drift too far up our own rear ends (and please tell us if we do, please). So at some point, I realised that (Ian had moved to NZ by this time) I had invested too much time to give up the site, and as there was still no competition around, it made sense to keep going, and I think this is when we got really serious and laid out some cold hard cash and paid for our 1st software, the "old" forum software. (It was soon after that we laid out $35 to become one of the first worldwide users of blogger). It's funny but until this time, almost no one knew that I was looking after the site single-handedly. I think one of the things I didn't like, and still don't, is what I'd call the cult of personality where people confuse me with COOLRUNNING and vice versa. I like working in the backroom, but don't really like being called upon to be any kind of spokesman, I am just a runner with his own (off-beat) set of biases. I hope that comes across to those of you who know me.
Some memorable highlights in the first 10 years
- Seeing the site go live on day one. I seem to remember being sick from work for a week or two and putting in some massive design and coding sessions, and of course learning about isps and registering the domain name etc
- Being invited to meet CEO of Athletics Australia to "help assist" them with the "out of stadium" running events. I guess it was some recognition that CoolRunning had earnt a place at whatever official table there is in Australia. (Yes it turned out to be a lot of hot air and we probably wouldn't bother in future).
- The first CoolRunning drinks night in Sydney. We had an idea that people were feeling passionate about the website and meeting at races,but it was good to translate that into real peoplewilling to give up some real time.
- Getting called into meet the Sydney Marathon organisers (I should stress not the current organisers) as they wanted us to give them positive spin. Again recognition that people were reading and acting on information found on the site.
- Winning industry awards, against "professional" outfits like Athletics Australia etc. I never go to awards functions but its does give you a warm glow.
Some good things we have done
- When I started to get emails from people that claimed stuff they read on CoolRunning encouraged them to stay with the sport, such that they ran their first fun run, marathon etc. Actually getting those emails on a regular basis probably encouraged me to keep going with the site, as I was struggling big time after Ian left for NZ. Make no bones about it, apart from the first year (1997), from 1998 through 1999, Ian did the lion's share of the work.
- We have provided a national forum for runners to comment about races, and even the race directors read and respect the openness of the postings, and to a degree this has encouraged race directors to lift their game, and show them how they can improve.
- I think people in Sydney are more in tune with Melbourne, Brisbane etc and vice versa than ever before. The old Fun Runner magazine (in Sydney) was very Sydney-focussed and there was no news of any scene in any other place. It feels like together, WE are a sport, now and CoolRunning has definitely helped here.
- The CoolRunning gear is definitely recognisable all over the country (and overseas) and that has helped identify who is part of our community. I remember that a design criteria was "must stick out like dogs balls" but even I was taken aback when I picked up the very first order at the sheer brightness of it. I was tempted to bin it and start from scratch but we had about 80 orders already paid for that I had no option but to take a deep breath and send it out. Oh happy days.
- The community aside, we do actually provide a decent service, good calendar, club listing, links to help race directors, cheap website hosting for races and clubs. We get a few referrals from article in mainstream media who link to us. We have done this from day one, as we intended, and I can't ever see us stopping doing that. Even things like the Australian Running Guide, great idea, partially implemented, but soo useful to all runners in this country.
Some "not so good things"
- I don't think there are many, but here is a list of things that annoy me:
- I have heard it said that people writing on the forums are very negative in general. I know its easy that in a thread with 50 posts the ones that stand out are from a wally with a chip on his shoulder. I think if you actually read the forums, they are overwhelming positive. I am a positive kind of guy, but its does get me down when I read negative things.
- I takes us so damn long to do anything. I know everyone is busy but sometimes there is a good idea out there, and it takes us ayear or two (!!) to act on it. Its frustrating but better late than never.
- I have heard it said that CoolRunning is getting too big for its boots. I just don't buy it. However if you walk into a room of 1000 people it is a different experience than walking into a room of 10. Even if the 1000 are all your family it is hard for people to feel they know everyone.
- We used to get people threatening to sue us, take us to court etc on a very frequent basis. This annoys me as in general, its not me or the website they are lashing out at, but some wally on the forums (see above dot point!) - don't shoot the messenger. If we get any threats we will out them as bullies. Be warned.
- It does annoy me when people say "there isn't a track running forum, we're going to start our own". Sure people are free to do what they like, but how about asking if we can stick a track section on CoolRunning. Happy to give you everything for free. We even offered to buy out Trackstars and let the guy keep running the site (with us covering his costs) but he decided to kill it off. Yeah I was disappointed by that, it was a great website and a shame to see it go.
Some things I want to focus on over the next 10 years
- Certainly I want CoolRunning to still be around, still doing the "bread & butter" basics that it has been doing for the last 10 years.
- Its imperative that I am not a blockage in the process and that we want more people to contribute to the site. Its better to have 10 people doing 30mins a day, or 100 people doing 10mins per day than one person doing 8hrs per day. We are starting to do this with the new wiki format.
- Maybe in 10 years I wont be so hands on, and someone else might be the main person in charge. I will never walk away from the site whilst I live in Australia, even if I just sit at home and update the running guide. That's the kind of timeframe I am looking at. I might even get booted out sooner....
- Obviously new technologies come and go and CoolRunning needs to shift with these. We started at static html, then had a lot of blogger code and old forums, we have updated the forums, the wikis, the calendars, the helpdesk etc - the technology will change and we just have to make the best use of what we can but not throw the baby out with the bathwater or have change for its own sake.
A Personal Note
I must say that one of my main motivations with CoolRunning has been inspired by events that happened when I was a teenager. I was just a kid at a West London comprehensive school that fell in love with Punk Rock, not just the music but the attitude: "no one cares about us, we can create our own fun with music, gigs, independent record labels put on by ourselves for ourselves". (Huge influences being Crass and Rough Trade Records). I saw the same thing happen with small health food stores which I also spent too much time/money at. I feel the same about running in Australia, the only people that really care are the runners and a few running store owners and event officials - so it's up to ourselves to look after ourselves and share the knowledge and info we can. Working on the website is a bit like community service, and its good to be working on something I feel so passionate about, and we are well on the way to handing over to someone else (or group of people) to be worked on in the same way. Sitting at home working out how to make more money out of our readers is not something I have ever done, or ever will do.
30 Sept 2007