Meet Jeanne Schaaf, Race Director and Co-Founder of Ultra Expeditions. Ultra Expeditions creates incredible running adventures, organizes races, and develops custom coaching programs for all ability levels.
Meet Jeanne Schaaf, Race Director and Co-Founder of Ultra Expeditions. Ultra Expeditions creates incredible running adventures, organizes races, and develops custom coaching programs for all ability levels.
I’ve interviewed several past founders who, along their journey, created race companies. They’ve even shared some behind the scenes of what is needed to execute one. Yet, for the very first time, during my conversation with Jeanne, I heard a side of the running experience I have never heard before. It was a side which focuses on the journey leading up to the race, and less about the finish line. That is when I realized the running experience closely mirrors the entrepreneurial journey.
Jeanne’s story is rooted in one of the most unique dimensions of an entrepreneurial story, the immigrant story. She takes us through what life was like as a child and how her parents encouraged her to think outside of the box. She shares some insightful thoughts about limiting beliefs, by runners and maybe even aspiring entrepreneurs. This is Jeanne Schaaf’s Startup Story.
“I believe anybody with passion and desire can accomplish quite a bit.”
—Jeanne Schaaf, Ultra Expeditions
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Special Guest: Jeanne Schaaf.
The Startup Story - Jeanne Schaaf
Jeanne Schaaf: Hi. This is Jeanne Schaaf, the cofounder of Ultra Expeditions, and this is MY startup story.
Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: Before we jump into this week's episode, I want to say thank you to the team at Fuse Dynamic Workspace for allowing me to use their podcast studio to record this episode. If you ever find yourself in the Dallas, Texas area make sure to visit workatfuse.com.
Now, each week we read a review from Apple Podcast and this week we have a review from a UK listener. Heart Mate gave the show a five star rating and wrote, "A must listen to podcast for every budding startup. I've now become a regular listener. It has been helping me during the ups and downs of my startup journey." Well, thank you Heart Mate for taking the time to write the review, and thank you for sharing the impact it has had on you. Please know that you are not the only one the show is impacting, because I get the DM's on Instagram each week from other listeners.
The reason the show resonates is because the incredibly successful founders I've had on the show do not hold back when it comes to unpacking their entrepreneurial journey, and that is why I created the show, to tell the real side of entrepreneurship, the side that does not get a lot of coverage in the media outlets, the side of entrepreneurship that can cause many to quit because they think they're alone in the challenges they're facing when the reality is that challenge is not really that unique to them. They just need to hear from someone who has overcome that challenge and reached a level of success. So thank you for being a loyal listener, Heart Mate.
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Our guest this week is Jeanne Schaaf, cofounder of Ultra Expeditions. Ultra Expeditions creates incredible running adventures, organizes races, and develops custom coaching programs for all ability levels. Going into my conversations with Jeanne, I was not quite sure what to expect. I've had past founders who along their journey created race companies. I've heard a bit of behind the scenes of what is needed to execute a race company. Yet, for the very first time, I heard a side of the running experience that I have never heard before. A side of the running experience that focuses more on the journey leading up to the race and less about the finish line. In fact, as Jeanne was unpacking what makes Ultra Expeditions different from any other race company out there, I realized that the running experience closely mirrors that of the entrepreneurial journey. Now, I won't unpack it here for you because it fits so beautifully into Jeanne's entrepreneurial story, a story that is rooted in one of the most unique dimensions of any entrepreneurial story, the immigrant story.
Jeanne Schaaf: My parents, they were not entrepreneurs but they were very adventurous people. They travelled all over the world and they brought that home to us in the sense that they wanted us to always think outside the box, be unique, be different, challenge ourselves in ways. So I think that helped me a lot, and even as a young child with my sisters I would start little companies in my home and try to sell things out of my home. When I was really young, I did a lost and found company out of my house, and I would find items in the house-
James McKinney: Like your siblings stuff?
Jeanne Schaaf: Yes, my siblings stuff, and I would try and sell it. The problem was we used Monopoly money so nobody paid their bills with it, and sort of the pursuit continued for me.
James McKinney: That's awesome. You mentioned your parents travelled a lot. I believe travel can play a big part in our journey and how we view things culturally. What were some of those travels that you were exposed to?
Jeanne Schaaf: We went all around Europe as a child. We went to Ireland.
James McKinney: Were they in the military? Why all over Europe?
Jeanne Schaaf: No. My mother was born in Ireland-
James McKinney: Oh, okay.
Jeanne Schaaf: … And my father was born in Jerusalem and so they actually met in Africa, and came to the states on their honeymoon, and then became citizens. So when they had us, they were actually they were looking to move to California and they stopped in Ohio to visit family. Dad found work there and then we ended up staying in northern Ohio.
James McKinney: So really your entrepreneurial story has a bit of an immigrant story to it.
Jeanne Schaaf: Yes.
James McKinney: We've had a few founders that were either first generation citizens or they were children of immigrants. When you think to your upbringing, and I believe the immigrant story is a fascinating story, but when you think to your upbringing, how did the fact that your parents were Americans by choice play into their overall work ethic and therefore your work ethic?
Jeanne Schaaf: Great question. They definitely wanted to be here and they loved this country. They worked very, very hard, probably harder to most, to establish themselves, to work hard to provide for family, and I saw that. We just knew we would work hard. We would do whatever we needed to do to go to college, to better ourselves, to learn, to grow. We saw that in our parents, and we saw that fight and that struggle in them. My dad spoke completely a different language, so English was a second language to him. Just to try to learn the culture here and the language, and the people, it was incredible to be a part of that and be raised with that.
James McKinney: That's awesome. So growing up, you're selling your siblings goods back to them, which I love in and of itself. Just from a sibling rivalry perspective, I love that. And so you're growing up and this is your side hustle if you will, even though it was Monopoly money. What did you think you wanted to do at the end of high school? And the reason I ask that question is high school is that natural chapter for a lot of people. Obviously, within the decades they each have their own focus as to what the expectations were of a high school graduate or a college graduate. But coming for you at the end of your high school year, what did you think you wanted to be?
Jeanne Schaaf: You know, it was always actually very easy for me. I was going to go to the Ohio State University. I was going to go into business and I was going to open my own company. It just was a natural path. It was something, I never really had to question what I was going to do. I just knew that was my path. And with the Ohio State University right around the corner, that's where I was going, and that's what I was doing.
James McKinney: You said with certainty that is what your future held. Why with certainty did you know that at some point you were going to own your own business?
Jeanne Schaaf: I think for me, and possibly because of my upbringing, I always knew that I wanted to think outside the box. I wanted to grow something. I wanted to challenge myself. I kind of wanted a struggle. I wanted a little fight. I wanted to see how far I could go and see what that looked like as an adult. I picked things in high school that were tough. I picked sports that were tough just to kind of always challenge myself. So I knew that going into business and becoming an entrepreneur would be something that wouldn't be necessarily conventional and it would be a struggle, and it would be something that I would learn the most about myself doing.
James McKinney: What year did you graduate high school?
Jeanne Schaaf: 1983.
James McKinney: So 1983. I'm thinking about this contextually. So 1983 you graduate high school, so economically it was a challenging time.
Jeanne Schaaf: Mm-hmm.
James McKinney: And I have to believe that had an impact on your parents and your upbringing.
Jeanne Schaaf: Of course.
James McKinney: And so why was the idea of stability not attractive to you? I say stability from a job perspective. Why was that not attractive to you?
Jeanne Schaaf: I guess that it ended up being that way for a while for me, but at that point in time I just really wanted to see how far I could go, because I saw what my dad did and what my mom did coming from other countries. I saw how they beat all odds, why couldn't I? It was never an option to not go out there and try to beat out all the odds. That's why I picked what I did. It just it was never in question for me.
James McKinney: Did your parents ever try to… One, did your parents know that was your vision coming out of high school entering college, and if they did, did they ever try to talk you out of it, having experienced challenges first hand from them?
Jeanne Schaaf: Yes, they did. My father would say, "Honey, there's easier paths. You'd be great at this or that." And I would say, "Dad, this is what I want to do." I actually remember the day specifically when I finally told him I'm going to Ohio State. I'm going to major in business. I might specialize in hotel and restaurant management, but I'm doing it and I'm going to open my own business one day. He finally threw his hands up in the air and he said, "Okay, good luck." But they were the most encouraging for me. They stood behind me. Once they knew my mind was set, which they tried and they saw that it was, they were the most encouraging of everybody.
James McKinney: That's awesome. I'm not going to lie, when you said your dad threw his hands up in the air I was picturing him not using English for his response.
Jeanne Schaaf: He probably didn't.
James McKinney: So you enter college and you're coming to the end of college. You said you focused on hotels.
Jeanne Schaaf: Hotel and restaurant management.
James McKinney: Hotel and restaurant management. So was the idea that you wanted to own a restaurant? Because again, you went in saying this is what I'm going to do and I want to own my own business. So were you thinking, and I ask this question because a lot of people they get stuck in this idea that whatever we think we want to do at age 18 to 22, in that four year window of college, that that's what we have to do for the rest of our life. And so did you go in thinking I want to run a restaurant, I want to own a hotel? What was the, at that time, what was the business you wanted to own?
Jeanne Schaaf: You know, it was really the hotel side of it and it website because I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to do as my parents did and I thought that going into the hotel side would get me more opportunity to travel the world, so I focused more on that side and did some internships in that side. And it was great, and I enjoyed doing them but it wasn't something that I enjoyed for a long time.
James McKinney: Yeah. So you finished college. What was your first gig?
Jeanne Schaaf: My very, very first gig was a Marriot Courtyard manager and I lasted… I didn't enjoy it. I ended up going into actually food service and it was a company called Sanese Services, and we sold corporate cafeterias and vending to businesses, prisons, anyone that needed those types of service.
James McKinney: That's interesting that you sold food services to businesses in the eighties because a lot of people probably attribute that to oh, well Google was one of the first ones. The tech boom, you talk about those concessions they give to the culture as far as cafeterias and everything like that, but yet it was happening decades before.
Jeanne Schaaf: Absolutely.
James McKinney: You know, I want to ask this question because of a past conversation with a previous founder. Her name is Eva Gerrits with Energetek and she services the industrial space. Very blue collar, very male dominated and we're talking 2019 so I have to believe that this question is relevant to your story in the mid to late eighties. Was it hard as a woman selling to a business that is heavily male dominated, in a very blue collar industry?
Jeanne Schaaf: Back in the eighties, absolutely yes, that was a struggle. That was very difficult. I was the only female on the entire sales force for a while and the owner was a wonderful man, but he started the business in the forties after the wars. He started with cigarette machines so it was just so male dominated and so locked up in so many ways. But yes, it was very difficult but I believed in what I was selling. I loved the product and I just believed that I could make a difference with this product. I could bring it to the people and give them food, and give them an opportunity they wouldn't have. I just focused on that a lot and just kept believing that I could do good with this great product, and I did.
James McKinney: That's awesome. And it is, you emphasize that it was in the eighties. Again, we're in 2019 and while there are some differences, there are still a lot of similarities and the challenges that women founders approach especially. And again we talk about just from the investment side, less than 3% female founders are VC backed. While we've made some progress, there's still a ton of opportunity for us to grow a culture in supporting female entrepreneurship. Even female salesmanship. One of our past founders, Will Reed with Paige Robinson, they're focusing on trying to build this pipeline of women in technology sales because they're underrepresented in that.
Jeanne Schaaf: Right.
James McKinney: Just because it's not… it hasn't been the norm to date, and they're trying to create a norm. So I love asking those questions just because I want to keep pushing my listeners to just thinking outside of what they know to be the norm, and very much you are not the norm for that industry, but yet you still paved your own path. But we know that we are not talking to you today because of where you were then. So how did your journey progress? What were those next steps?
Jeanne Schaaf: So I was in Columbus and I was working with this company, and Pepsi Co actually came to the university in Columbus, Ohio State, and asked if there were any females that had stayed sort of in the restaurant management arena and that had had success. So they found me at Sanese Services and offered me an interview for a couple different places around the United States to go help run an area and be like an area district coach for them. Through the interviewing process, I chose Virginia Beach and went to Virginia to become an area coach there in that area.
James McKinney: So they came to Ohio state looking for women that have excelled in sales.
Jeanne Schaaf: In the food services.
James McKinney: In the food services industry. They found you and not only did they hire you because of your expertise, but they now are putting you in charge of training within that discipline. That's incredible.
Jeanne Schaaf: Yeah, it was great. It was a wonderful opportunity. But once again, it was a very male dominated situation in Virginia, and I think in a lot of the markets they picked for me to go into. They wouldn't to see that I had been successful and could work through some of those challenges.
James McKinney: And you were with Pepsi Co for quite some time.
Jeanne Schaaf: I was.
James McKinney: And having gone through that journey, now just I'm going to come out of here left field a little bit with you. If you were to think back to that season, why do you think Pepsi Co was seeking out females specifically for those leadership roles, since you had mentioned it was a heavily male dominated space?
Jeanne Schaaf: The climate at the time, and it was a lot of the things you just mentioned today, but I think they wanted the diversity. They knew that they had successful women in the organization. This was one of the things they told me. But they weren't rising them up. They weren't giving them the opportunities. The women weren't taking the opportunities. So they said they wanted to have role models that could come in and show these women that hey, it's okay to dream big, to go after it, to do something great for yourself as well. So they were looking for change in their organization at the time.
James McKinney: That's awesome. So how long were you with Pepsi Co?
Jeanne Schaaf: It was Pepsi Co and then it was the division of Pizza Hut, and I was with them from 1992 to 2004. Then I ended up contracting with them for another 10 years.
James McKinney: So you were an employee of theirs for 12 years. I mean obviously, within a 12 year journey there's lots of great things that you've gotten to do.
Jeanne Schaaf: Absolutely.
James McKinney: You were there for 20 years because you probably loved being in that space.
Jeanne Schaaf: I did.
James McKinney: But was there a part brewing in the background that you were remembering what you had said to your dad going into Ohio State, that I want to own my own business some day. Was that a quiet voice or was it just not present at the time?
Jeanne Schaaf: No, it was a loud voice still, very much a loud voice. And what happened was I was working in Virginia and very much in an operations role, getting to lead great operations, run great restaurants, and grow people. I was very much, the other side of me was I loved to bring people along, I loved to grow people and develop people as well. So that was fulfilling me, but then I had the opportunity to move out to Dallas and work in the world headquarters. That sort of fulfilled that niche because then I was able to help develop new products and grow them the way I wanted to. It was a real challenge.
James McKinney: What year was that?
Jeanne Schaaf: That was in 1996.
James McKinney: So it sounds like '96, four years into your Pepsi Co journey, now you're starting to work in an intra-preneurial environment-
Jeanne Schaaf: Exactly.
James McKinney: … where you get to create things, just not your wallet.
Jeanne Schaaf: Right, right. So I did that for many years and it was phenomenal. We also as a company experienced a spin off from Pepsi Co to what is now called Yum brands, and that was phenomenal to get to work and be a part of what that culture would look like for a brand new Fortune 5 company.
James McKinney: So real quick, just to add some context for our listeners, because I don't know necessarily if everyone knows Yum brands. So what are all the brands that are under Yum brands?
Jeanne Schaaf: Today, they are Pizza Hut and KFC and Taco Bell.
James McKinney: That's right, Taco Bell.
Jeanne Schaaf: At the time, we spun off as Tricon and now today we're Yum brands.
James McKinney: So Yum brands was a brand new, brand new brand. That's a lot of brands. Within Pepsi Co. it wasn't an acquisition, it was they created it.
Jeanne Schaaf: Well, Pepsi Co spun off the restaurant division and we became our own Fortune 5 company, yes.
James McKinney: Wow. That's awesome.
Jeanne Schaaf: Yeah. It was wonderful. So at that point in time, I'm still getting to kind of feel like I'm helping lead and develop something from a very large stand point, so I was fulfilled to a point.
James McKinney: To a point though. What was missing?
Jeanne Schaaf: I think for me it was still that opportunity to really challenge myself and see how far I could go.
James McKinney: But did you understand that in order to do that, it meant there were a lot of things that you didn't have to experience building something with Yum brands. Obviously, payroll.
Jeanne Schaaf: Yeah, exactly.
James McKinney: Benefits, you know, cash flow is kind of a big deal. So the idea that and I want to keep poking at this a little bit because I think this is part of the story that really only The Startup Story brings to entrepreneurs is the reality of what it means to run your own business. So the idea of wanting to see how far you could really go un-tethered, did you have a full awareness of what all that meant?
Jeanne Schaaf: To be honest, I don't think so. I knew that it was going to be what I called an absolute leap of faith. You know, I was leaving my career at the height of it. It was the kind of corporation people were really trying to get into. People were doing everything to be a part of this brand new organization, and here I was leaving. So I was asked to look around, find what I wanted. They would help me create it if it didn't exist. If it existed, they would help me-
James McKinney: So they were fighting to keep you.
Jeanne Schaaf: They were wonderful. I loved that organization and still do to this day. They were and they even gave me time. They said take some time and look around, and if you find it we're there with you. And I couldn't find it. And I think what that was, was still my desire and my need to go off on my own and build something, and bring along the people that had been such a big part of my career. So I did. I left and it was scary.
James McKinney: What year was this that you left?
Jeanne Schaaf: I left in 2004.
James McKinney: So 2004, so I want to, before we jump into your first entrepreneurial endeavor, I want to talk about the latter season of your time with Yum brands. We had a founder by the name of Scott Paul who had multiple startups. I think all of them exited. Just a tremendous success record. But one of the things that he said, because he works with entrepreneurs now, he encouraged entrepreneurs or want-repreneurs, to leverage their time as an employee as if that employee was their first investor. So live lean to where you can save some money and sock some money away, leverage your time there to learn a ton so that when you do go off and do something that whole season was just a tremendous value add.
So you were with Pepsi Co for 12 years before heading onto your own, but the last couple years you just had that, there was something missing. I want to say lack of… it wasn't really lack of fulfillment because you loved what you did, but you just knew that you really wanted to test the waters of what am I capable of. Did you look at those last years with Yum brands in the same way that Scott Paul had encouraged entrepreneurs to do so, to live lean, stock up, save up, and get relationships aligned so that when you took that leap you were on a little bit better footing than starting from nothing?
Jeanne Schaaf: Absolutely. And actually in my entire career, I looked at it the way that he mentioned. I always put money aside. I saved for that day that I would start my own company and times would be lean. I also realized all the wonderful people I worked with along the way. I stock them up in my mind as to who I would bring with me. Yes, that was something that always followed me throughout my career and definitely within the last few years of my time there.
James McKinney: So in 2004, you take the plunge, you take the leap, you're on your own. What was that first venture?
Jeanne Schaaf: I started a consulting company called Schaaf Creative Designs, and it was a company that would develop new product processes, training materials, and graphic work. I did that, and actually I still have that company today. Wonderful company, a lot of learnings, a lot of hardships, a lot of imbalance in work and life, but I think it prepared me really well for where I am today.
James McKinney: And I'm assuming consulting within the food and restaurant space?
Jeanne Schaaf: Yes.
James McKinney: Is it safe to assume that you were able to attain Yum brands as a client?
Jeanne Schaaf: Yes, it was.
James McKinney: Okay. I mean that helps ease the transition a bit, right?
Jeanne Schaaf: It did.
James McKinney: You know for sure. But if one client is your entire pipeline, that can be challenging because at some point brands stop consulting.
Jeanne Schaaf: Right.
James McKinney: I assume you had other clients.
Jeanne Schaaf: I did.
James McKinney: What were some of the challenges that you experienced? Again, once you left the safety net of a Fortune, I guess they're a Fortune 100 company. I don't know how big Yum brands is, but Fortune 100 company, once you left the safety net what were some of the surprises that you encountered within your first couple years of being on your own?
Jeanne Schaaf: Having to manage everything, from not just putting in quality work that I was always used to doing. I had to manage finances. I had to manage people that didn't really have to work for me. They weren't held to a paycheck; they were contractors as well. Motivating them. Also a little easier for me was finding the companies to work for, but just the internal pieces. The marketing, all of it, that was new to me and probably the biggest struggle for me.
James McKinney: One of the things you said earlier was the balance, because now my assumption is you worked out of the home so there's no building you're going into. There's no set time where everyone kind of leaves so you start mentally saying time for the work day to end. It's you 100% of the time.
Jeanne Schaaf: That's right. That was really difficult and I will say I didn't do the best job at balancing life at all. I was in my office and I don't even go in that room anymore because it was just so… in that office for years and I wasn't even taking care of my own health in a lot of ways. I was always a runner and I wasn't running. I wasn't enjoying some of the things that I was used to doing, and I was also very social and now everything was online, and it was over the phone, and I wasn't having that person to person interaction anymore.
James McKinney: Let's talk about that topic a little bit when it comes to entrepreneurship, and it's that balance idea. Especially for those that are jumping into something for the very first time on their own. It's not an uncommon story that someone jumps in, they're working 15 or 20 hours. I think part of it is because it's the narrative we read in the media. When you go to these networking events, it's like oh how's life, oh it's crap, 15 hour days. Part of it is like a merit badge almost to some degree. But I think there's something at a deeper level as to why entrepreneurs have a hard time with that balance. And I think it's a little fear almost, as if I'm not putting in the work, this isn't going to take off. If instead of working a 10 hour day, by me doing an extra five it's going to ensure success in some degree, to where we put our health at jeopardy.
As you said, you're a runner so you probably stop doing fitness activities. And I speak from personal experience as well. It's almost like there's that joke for when you go to college, the freshman 15. You add weight because you're not within the confines of your house, you're not nearly as active. As an entrepreneur, it's the same thing. You first year you potentially gain weight because you just stop doing these things because you're so people call it laser focused. I think there's some truth to some of it, but the reality is there's a level of fear. We stop doing those things, we put more time into work because of the fear that if I'm not, it's not going to succeed.
Jeanne Schaaf: Exactly.
James McKinney: And the reality is if you don't take care of yourself, it's going to fail 100% of the time.
Jeanne Schaaf: Absolutely. Yeah, that was definitely my proving ground for not having the work/life balance that first company was.
James McKinney: And did that play into your journey leading into Ultra Expeditions?
Jeanne Schaaf: Absolutely, yes.
James McKinney: How so?
Jeanne Schaaf: So I finally decided I've got to stop. I've got to get a balance in my life. I had a child now and I wanted to show him even a good work/life balance. I wanted to show him that mom's healthy and so I joined a gym and I decided to put that as something really important in my life, and give some equal time to that.
At that gym, I met the owner who is Jason Gates who is now my business partner today. Jason lived the lifestyle I wanted. He was a runner. He took great care of himself. He also owned a business and I was secretly watching him, saying, "This guy can do it. Why can't I?" Just in becoming friends with Jason, I also learned he just had this belief that you need to keep challenging yourself in all ways possible. He suggested that I start running longer distance. I was in track in high school and in college, and he suggested that I challenge myself in a greater way and start training for a marathon. First, my thoughts were I don't have time for this, I can't do this, all the things that you kind of talk yourself out of. But I ended up doing that and Jason and I ended up becoming great friends in the process as he was my coach.
James McKinney: But running was a hobby then. It was a fitness endeavor to help strengthen you for your consulting business.
Jeanne Schaaf: Yes, right.
James McKinney: There's a big gap between a hobby and a business, right?
Jeanne Schaaf: Yes. Yep.
James McKinney: How did that come to be? Because there's lots of people that have tremendous hobbies that have potential to make money doing something that they're doing. Etsy is proof of it. Etsy is full of people that are monetizing something that they love to do as a hobby. In fact, these people make hundreds of thousands of dollars on Etsy. It's crazy.
Jeanne Schaaf: It is.
James McKinney: Probably even millions. In fact, if you're an Etsy creator making millions of dollars, hit me up at TheStartupStory.co, hit contact because I want to talk to you. Those stories fascinate me.
Jeanne Schaaf: I want to hear it, too.
James McKinney: And so, but again how did you… what was that journey from I'm really enjoying this new addition and enhancement in my life to I want to build a business around this?
Jeanne Schaaf: So for Jason and I, Jason is a very avid runner who had ran many types of races, all across the world. And myself just getting back into it and really enjoying the running and the competing. We started kind of looking around and we noticed that a lot of the races that we would want to run weren't out there. There was nothing that was enticing to us.
James McKinney: Real quick, what do you mean there was not a race you wanted to run? As someone who does not enjoy running, I'm thinking nothing sounds enticing. But are we talking everything was about the fun runs and you weren't interested in that? What do you mean?
Jeanne Schaaf: Yeah. The market is very heavily saturated which in that has a wonderful spot in the industry as well. What I love about that business is it brings people along, and it tells them they can do it, and then they go farther, and farther, and farther. So yes, that's heavy in the market but also we were looking at it from the standpoint that Texas is a beautiful state and it's very, very diverse. It has every eco region in the world in Texas. There were so many untapped areas. There were places that we wanted to run that there were just no races. So we were saying hey, why don't we put on a few of these races? Why don't we get together and collaborate?
Jason was looking at putting on an expedition company at the time, and I was sort of helping him with that and looking at what that could be. I said, "Why don't we join forces here? We'll bring the races side to the expedition side, and we'll make a company." Sure enough, within a short time we had a race, and it went really well. It was our Oktoberfest race and we had a clamoring from our runners to put on more. They wanted to see more and more from us, so that's how we grew.
James McKinney: From the time that you decided let's combine expeditions with running to your first race, what was that window?
Jeanne Schaaf: Well, we started talking about this I'd say in early 2015. Really joined forces together as the race company and the expedition company in September 2015. Our first race was October 2016.
James McKinney: So a little over a year to put that together.
Jeanne Schaaf: Yeah, a little over a year.
James McKinney: What were some of the challenges? First off, how did you approach I'm going to call it the formation of the company, Ultra Expeditions, in we'll call it September 2015? How did you approach your go forward strategy? Did you pick a date that your first race was going to be and kind of backed into it? Or did you have a strategy for the first few months and then it was like okay, now we're ready for a race? What does that first year look like and how did you roll with it?
Jeanne Schaaf: It's a great question. We really had to build a foundation first. We had to find a name. We had to decide who we were as people, and what we wanted to build. We spent a lot of time in that development and then, and only then, could we start putting together a website, and talking about who we were.
The first race came about while we were still really trying to develop all that. It was picked because of a region we wanted to be in. We were in Dallas at the time, and this is known as a prairie land area. We found a race that we loved the trail that it was on and it was an old converted railway system to a trail, and we wanted to run on it. So we went to the town and we asked them, "Hey, do you guys put on any races here? Have you ever?" and they said, "No, we'd love to have you." So it was born and it happened fast for us. But at the time, we were still developing who we were, what eco regions we would run in, what would our races look like.
James McKinney: How was that first race different than everything else in the marketplace when it comes to races?
James McKinney: I hope you're enjoying this episode of The Startup Story. Throughout the month of January, we are highlighting the mission of Destiny Rescue. For just $1500 we can save a girl out of the sex trafficking industry. Think about that, for just $1500 we can completely change the future for a young girl. My hope is that all of us, the entire The Startup Story community, the tens of thousands of listeners can come together to save not just one girl, but to save 10 girls during the month of January. That's just $15,000. So throughout this month, across our shows and social channels, you will see calls to action to get involved and contribute. Visit thestartupstory.co/rescue to help today. We will also include a link in the show notes. When you see these posts, share them across your profiles. Let's see what this community can do to help save girls out of sex trafficking. Now, let's get back to our episode.
James McKinney: How was that first race different than everything else in the marketplace when it comes to races?
Jeanne Schaaf: Well, for us personally it was such a collaboration of our family and our friends, people that just wanted to see us succeed that came out and ran with us and helped us, helped us run. We were so tired. We were so dead tired after that race. It was a lot of learnings. But I think as a company, it was such a wonderful race because we got to show a trail system that had not been used. We were able to give back to that trail system and help them so that they could continue to develop that trail system. That really kind of shaped who we became.
We believe in giving back after all of our races and we have a Wild Places Initiative where we want to give back to people and places and cultures, so people can be outside and be on trails, and be the way they used to be. Be in towns the way they used to be and run races along so that we can bring our racers along to show them these towns.
James McKinney: So it sounds like part of your vision for Ultra Expeditions has an environmental side to it.
Jeanne Schaaf: It does.
James McKinney: And that's what that wild-
Jeanne Schaaf: Wild Places Initiative.
James McKinney: … Wild Places Initiative, okay. What are other areas that make your race different? Because when I think of I'm going to call it the race industry, I don't even know if that's what it's called, but I'm going to call it the race industry. You have Zombie runs and you have color runs, and you have I think every city has like a turkey trot or super bowl Sunday run. I think every city has got something like a 5K. Schools use 5K's for fundraisers. There's a lot of things out there in this space, but your audience is different. You're not pulling from the millions of people that want to participate in these runs. Your market is narrower than that. Am I wrong?
Jeanne Schaaf: No, and it is. We want people to love where they run. The reason we started the whole company, we wanted to run in areas that we enjoyed. All of our races have a little challenging component to them. They range from 5Ks all the way up to 100 milers through the mountains.
James McKinney: 100 miles.
Jeanne Schaaf: Yeah.
James McKinney: Wow.
Jeanne Schaaf: Yeah. Bottom line for us, we're just really, really proud of anybody that comes out and does something different for themselves that the industry is very prone to giving medals and t-shirts, and awards and glory and accolades. We're sort of purists in the sport and while we love all those things, and of course we develop beautiful medals and shirts, we want people to experience something a little different. We want them, no matter what distance they run, we want them to come out and feel a struggle, what the sport was intended to do.
It's tough like you mentioned earlier. It's a tough sport. We want people to come out and feel that challenge. That's who Jason and I both are. We love the challenge. We want people to be challenged. We want them to work hard. We want them to actually even suffer a little, because we really believe that the growth and the learning isn't in the medal. It's not even in crossing the finish line. In a lot of ways, it's not even about what you do for your health when you run. It's about struggling, having failures, having successes, and then taking that and applying it to your life every day. With those learnings is how people grow. So yes, it's about the race and yes we love to see people succeed, but we hope and it is our hopes and that's why we develop some of the challenging courses we do, that people will leave and remember those struggles, and remember what they just accomplished so that it kind of tones down the rest of life for them.
As runners, we felt that before. Anything that's difficult in life you can kind of draw back on those experiences when you're running and say, "I've got this. I've done harder. I've struggled. I've had to dig deep." And that's what we're trying to create as a company. Sure, we'll be there and we always are with the medals, and we love to give it to people, but we want them to learn the reasons why they do these things because it's hard.
James McKinney: I feel like you've just described the entrepreneurial journey.
Jeanne Schaaf: It is exactly that.
James McKinney: I'm not even a runner and I'm sitting here thinking yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. But I'm thinking it in the content of my own life story, whether it be the Marine Corps, the various startups, ventures, and failures. Like whatever the case may be, because I do lean back on those experiences to strengthen me for the challenge that I'm up against at this immediate moment. Is that why you're drawn to running? Because much of your life story that we've sat through together was all about proving to yourself what you were capable of. You wanted to be untethered when it came to your career because you wanted to see how far can I go.
Jeanne Schaaf: Mm-hmm, absolutely.
James McKinney: When it's all dependent on me, what can I do. Is that why you're drawn to running?
Jeanne Schaaf: Yes, most definitely. It is the exact same feeling. It is how far can I go, how far can I push myself, what can I learn about myself in this process, how can I challenge myself. There's a lot of ties, absolutely.
James McKinney: So there's a question my wife asked me when I did my The Startup Story episode that I'm now taking into every single episode that I record for The Startup Story. It's an amazing question, but I'm going to modify it. I'm going to ask it o you eventually, but I'm going to modify it for this immediate question and that is do you believe anyone can be a runner?
Jeanne Schaaf: I actually do, yes I do.
James McKinney: Anybody can be a runner?
Jeanne Schaaf: I absolutely, I believe this.
James McKinney: Sell me on it.
Jeanne Schaaf: I believe that we are designed to run. Forward motion for us is normal for our bodies. Some other sports I question whether or not they're good for our bodies, but forward motion, running walking, absolutely. And I think that people limit themselves not with their physical capabilities but with their mind. It was just like me when Jason suggested run a marathon. I said, "I can't do that." Oh, I did that and I did it well, and I did it well for my age group because I changed my mind set. So yes, I do believe anybody can be a runner. I've watched it. I'm living proof myself and I've watched people go from being coached from never running at all to running 100 milers.
James McKinney: From not at all to 100 milers?
Jeanne Schaaf: Absolutely. We see that every day. We coach as a company people that the 100 miler is sexy, it's new, it's fun. It's like I want to do this. They come to us, "I want to run a 100 miler." They have no idea the journey they're about to take, and their timelines are always completely off. So that's where we-
James McKinney: I can't even imagine what a timeline would be to get to there.
Jeanne Schaaf: … we help them. It's a long journey, but it's an important journey and it's the training that matters. It's never, ever the race day. That's just the glory. That's just the fun. It's the journey along the way and how it changes you to become a runner and to train yourself to do something so wonderful.
James McKinney: Unbelievable.
Jeanne Schaaf: Yeah. It's great. It's great to be a part of it.
James McKinney: In a million years, I never thought that I'd be sitting recording an episode saying that the runners journey is similar to the entrepreneurial journey, but as you described it so beautifully I can… the parallels are unbelievable.
Jeanne Schaaf: They really are. I'm glad you brought that up. I think I've learned some things along the way even sitting here talking to you.
James McKinney: I still think I would prefer entrepreneurship to running, you know?
Jeanne Schaaf: Let me try you. Let's get you started.
James McKinney: So as you're now building Ultra Expeditions, you've got your first race under the belt in 2016. What has been some of the greatest learnings over the last four years for you as you were building this out?
Jeanne Schaaf: One of the learnings, probably one of the more difficult learnings for us, has been trying to change the mindset of some of the runners that come to us. And understanding where they are and that not everybody will share our reasons for why you run. I have a lot of people that come to me and say, "Hey, I'm not going to sign up until I see a medal or I see a shirt, or know what kind of social media presence I'll get at the end of this." I just want to say forget all of that. So I think we've had to learn to work with a variety of people, and hopefully change mindsets. I also think that we've learned a lot about the industry as a whole, and where we would like to see it go in the future. I think that through some of our races and some of the things we're building that we're helping to shape how that will change in the future.
James McKinney: We recently had Ryan Hogan, co founder of Hunt A Killer on, and part of his story included races. In fact a zombie run was one of his things. The reason he started, I was fascinated to go back and listen to it, but he started it because he had 250,000 shirts that he couldn't sell from a previous venture and so he thought hey, I'm going to create a run that will help sell these shirts. That was a brilliant idea to move that inventory. But one of the things, the challenges that he said that in his journey of the races and why the zombie run is not around anymore is that the use of land was challenging. As people with land saw the opportunity, the price to rent land just kept going up and up, which made the ticket price for the races outside something that made sense. The race wasn't profitable.
You're not in the same space as a zombie run would be, so just a general farmer's pasture probably is not the environment you're looking for. Do you have similar challenges within finding the places to run? Because now you are getting to that environmental space and there's other considerations when it comes to environmental. I have another friend in California who runs a race company and she has a hard time with trails because the parks and services want to keep trails unaltered if you will. So do you have any challenges when it comes to where to have races?
Jeanne Schaaf: Yeah, and I think for us even more so because we're trying to run in each eco region of Texas, so we have to be very specific to the region and only hold one or two races in each of those regions. But I have to say in Texas, our state park system here is phenomenal and we've been so blessed to get to run in some of the most beautiful parks in Texas. And for the most part, they've really welcomed us in. they see what we're trying to do, they love it. They love to know that they're the canyon race or they're the mountain race. They welcome us in.
We have also worked with municipalities and cities, and we've explained to them we're going to bring in a lot of people here. We're going to bring in spectators and runners and families and our own crew. We want to help the economy of the city. When we come in for a few days, in some cities we completely grow the population and triple it at times. So when we explain to the people what we're trying to do and that we have a give back, that we want to give back to them with, it hasn't been so hard for us. Hasn't been so hard.
James McKinney: So four years in, right now, as our time together comes to an end, what is the greatest challenge that you are facing in growing Ultra Expeditions, and where do you want to see it in five years from now?
Jeanne Schaaf: I still go back to growing and changing the mindset of the people. That will always be… and changing it for the right reasons, like I've said. Changing it because you want to come along and try something hard, and you want to challenge yourself, not doing it for the wrong reasons. I do think that has changed and I think that we have a big following that is now about a lot of the same things we are. We're staying purists in the industry and I think that's being rewarded. In the future, I would love to see kind of a throwback mentality where people are running like they did in the seventies, where they're enjoying the sport for the sport. And we hope that with our races and what we're building as a company with our expeditions, our races, and even giving them coaching to get there, that they will see that they can experience a whole lot more than just a finish line.
James McKinney: Right now, you're just in Texas correct?
Jeanne Schaaf: We are. Our trail races are all in Texas but our expeditions will be across the world eventually.
James McKinney: Can you help define the difference between expedition and races?
Jeanne Schaaf: Sure. A trail race is just a one day event or sometimes two depending on the distance, but it's one continuous event. An expedition could take place over three or four days, and it's all done under your own power. You traverse an area and then at night you rest, you eat, and then the next day you traverse the next area. It could be done three, four, five days. It's a stage race of sorts.
James McKinney: Is that the 100 miler?
Jeanne Schaaf: No, the 100 miler is all done in one continuous, under 30 hours. So the expeditions are more like a stage race, but it's not a race at all. It's an experience, it's an expedition across land.
James McKinney: Interesting. How many of those have you had?
Jeanne Schaaf: We've done one and we're planning one next summer in California.
James McKinney: In California?
Jeanne Schaaf: Yeah.
James McKinney: Oh, awesome.
Jeanne Schaaf: So yeah, definitely staging for that one.
James McKinney: Awesome. As our time comes to an end, there are a few questions I ask every founder. One of them originates because my wife asked it to me. I asked you earlier about can anyone be a runner and you gave a great answer for that. But the question that my wife hit me with that I now ask every founder, do you believe anyone can be an entrepreneur?
Jeanne Schaaf: I don't know. I think that if you are passionate about it enough, you will do it. I believe anybody with passion and desire to do something will do it. It does take a whole lot of passion to be an entrepreneur. You have to want to do it. You have to want to do every bit of it 24/7. So if that desire is there, yes I think you can do it. So I would never limit anybody.
James McKinney: I love that. So now the two questions that have been with us since the beginning of The Startup Story from episode one, and that is about gratitude. When you look back along your entire journey from the time you were a kid until now, who are all the people that you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to your journey? The reason I ask that question is I believe if we lose perspective of that, of the fact that we're here because we stood on the shoulders of other people, then we will begin to think that we did it ourselves and that isolationist mindset will inevitably lead to our failure, because we're not supposed to be doing t his alone. So who do you look to with such tremendous gratitude for their contribution to your journey?
Jeanne Schaaf: I love that you ask that because I think a lot of people think that the entrepreneurial journey is something in themselves and of themselves. It is not. It's a community. It is 100% about a community and the people you bring along, and the people that shape you. And so for me personally, it has to start with my adventurous, wonderful parents and family and my sisters that always supported. They just knew I was the daughter that was going to go off, I wasn't going to stay in Ohio, and they supported that, and they continue to. So of course my family. My friends that have followed me around the country with my visions and my desires and my passions, and have stood there and helped me humbly at my first race, and still help me today to do what I love doing. But you know even in our industry, there's people that we've brought along. It's our contractors, it's our suppliers, it's our runners. It's our ambassadors. It's our volunteers. These people are people we hand pick and we want to be part of our team.
One company that has come along with us is a title sponsor for a few of our races is Destiny Rescue. They help rescue missing children. So we're so honored to get to work with them and learn their industry, and get to help put their message out there to rescue children. So they're a title sponsor for a few of our races. It's people like Destiny Rescue we want to thank, and all of our sponsors that believe enough in us to come along on our journey.
James McKinney: Yeah, Destiny Rescue is an incredible organization that we've been pushing them all month as January being human trafficking and sex slavery awareness month. Their mission, man, it's just so incredibly important. I can't imagine something more important so to have them, and they're very entrepreneurial in the way they approach fundraising, and outreach in general. So I love that they are sponsoring your races as well.
Jeanne Schaaf: We love having them.
James McKinney: The last question as our time does come to an end is we've been talking to tens of thousands of listeners about your entrepreneurial journey. I view The Startup Story like a digital mentor, but what I'd like in this last couple moments is to take the audience from the tens of thousands down to the one. So I want you to imagine having a coffee with this one entrepreneur or want-repreneur. Maybe this entrepreneur/want-repreneur is someone who has a business but they're frustrated at the lack of traction or how hard it really is, and they're just not sure they want to keep doing this.
Or maybe this is the person that has a book full of dreams and ideas, but also has a lot of reasons as to why they don't want to take that leap of faith that you took in 2004 when you left Yum brands. Whether it be a mortgage or a spouse with kids, or benefits, or whatever the fear is they just can't get themselves to just take that leap.
Or maybe the person you want to talk to is the one who has tried time and time again but continually gets punched in the gut and is about ready to call entrepreneurship off completely and stop pursuing their dreams entirely. Of those personas, who would you like to sit with and what do you have to say to that person?
Jeanne Schaaf: I think the person that I will pick in this scenario is the one with the dream that can't quite take it out of the clouds. Possibly because I've been that person. For a while I have been. And I know what that leap feels like. I would like to tell you to envision yourself at the end of the finish line. See what it feels like to cross that finish line and reach a goal. If that feeling is something you just can't live your life without doing, then stop where you are right now and figure out how you reverse engineer that to get there. Do not sit there and have a dream your whole life that you don't move forward with, because that is confining, that is limiting, that's actually very sad. You need to move that forward and you need to envision yourself there.
James McKinney: I hope you found some real value in Jeanne's The Startup Story episode. As the month of January comes to a close, so does the raising of awareness for the mission of Destiny Rescue. That said, it is incredibly important that we do what we can to contribute to eliminating human trafficking. In every single episode this month, we have pointed to the work of Destiny Rescue because I believe that you, The Startup Story founder, the small business owner, you have the ability to change the future for some young girl through your contribution to Destiny Rescue. It only takes $1500 to save a girl from the sex trafficking industry and provide an entirely new opportunity for a brand new future. Now, that doesn't mean that you have to come up with the entire $1500, but we all know that you can come up with something. Please visit thestartupstory.co/rescue for a quick link to a donation page. And of course we will have a link in the show notes as well.
If you're currently running a business, please hit me up on LinkedIn so I can help connect you with Destiny Rescue to discuss how you can partner directly with them. This is a mission worth being a part of, and that's why Jeanne and the Ultra Expedition's team has done the same with them as well. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. For that reason, please help support Jeanne's startup and connect with Ultra Expeditions on Facebook and Instagram. Just search Ultra Expeditions on both platforms and they'll be easy to locate. Let's show up for Jeanne in a big way by connecting with them online. We'll include a link in the show notes to all the social accounts for easy access. And now, for my personal ask.
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If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.