Startup Stories: Ben Parker, Co-Founder & Head Coach at Runna

Dive into the world of Runna and learn how Co-Founder Ben Parker’s passion for fitness and innovation led to the creation of a running platform that’s transforming the lives of runners worldwide.

by hao-nguyen on April 3, 2023

Welcome to our latest Startup Stories interview, where we had the pleasure of speaking with Ben Parker, the Co-Founder and Head Coach at Runna. Runna is an innovative running platform that offers world-class training, coaching, and community for runners of all levels.

With Ben’s extensive experience as a personal trainer and running coach, Runna is revolutionizing the running coaching space by combining technology, expert coaching, and a strong sense of community. In this insightful interview, Ben shares how he co-founded Runna, the challenges he faced along the way, and how the involvement of British Olympian Steph Davis has elevated their coaching programs.

He also discusses Runna’s impressive growth, with over 7000 paying subscribers in 155 countries, and how the team stays innovative in the constantly evolving fitness and wellness industry. Don’t miss this exciting conversation with Ben Parker as he takes us through the journey of Runna and reveals their plans for the future!

Are you looking for a global startup or scaleup recruitment agency? We can help connect you with world class talent around the globe, get in touch with us today!

As a PT and running coach for over 5 years, how did your experience in the fitness industry inspire you to co-found Runna, and what were some of the early challenges you faced in building the business?

As I started out in the fitness industry my goal was to learn as much as I could personally to become the best coach I could be, but also to work out what I did and didn’t like about the industry. Learn from businesses / individuals that are doing things well and avoid making the same mistakes some were making too. The biggest thing I observed was that there were two clear overlapping priorities that were apparent within the fitness industry.

Companies either looked to make money as their primary goal or companies prioritised helping people as their primary goal. Obviously it’s less black and white and most companies had a balance of both but it seemed obvious to me that the key to being a successful individual or business in the industry was to help people as much as possible. Genuinely helping people, providing a good service or being a ‘good’ business would lead to long term customers, referrals, good reviews and ultimately a long term strong income which is what any good business or individual in an industry needs.

As I grew my own online coaching service I reached the limit in terms of the number of customers I could help before I had no time left, and rather than compromising on my level of service to these people and taking on more clients to line my pockets, I knew we had to use technology to satisfy this demand without compromising on level of service – and ultimately going onto improving on it!

Can you talk about how you and your co-founder automated the running coaching process, and what sets Runna apart from other online running coaching services?

My co-founder is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met – he got the top honours in Electronic Engineering at one of the best uni’s for engineering in the country, we met at uni and I coached him to various running goals in the years that followed. After training for his first marathon together, he could see my business picking up steam and suggested exploring automating this.

We started with Monday evenings after work exploring and working on the idea, this led to Monday and Thursday, before it was 9 months of every night of the week until we went on to launch the most primitive version of what Runna is today.

We take all the key factors that I would previously learn from a phone call with a client in a simple form and run these through our engine to populate the optimal workouts, distances, paces and schedule for the runner. We deliver this in a beautiful app while also syncing the workouts to individuals’ Apple / Garmin / Coros smart watches or allow them to be guided directly through their phone through their headphones too.

There are a lot of complexities to automating the running coaching journey, not only do you need to build the optimal coaching, but you need to deliver and communicate it to the runner in a digestible and motivating way, you need to build a brand to inspire new runners and so much more.

No one has ever been able to do what we’re doing before; to get people to train for a running goal in an automated capacity, pay for it, leave a good review, and grow organically. Since launching the app just 11 months ago we have 7000+ paying customers in 155 countries and are top of the apple store ratings!

How has the involvement of British Olympian Steph Davis impacted Runna’s coaching and training programs, and in what ways has her expertise contributed to the high level of coaching that Runna provides to its subscribers?

Steph has been a huge part of the business since the day she invested and joined the team. All of our plans and sessions have been improved, tweaked and reviewed by one of the fastest and smartest runners in the country (and the world!) Not only can we be even more confident that the coaching is world class but she also acts as a role model and inspiration to our runners, allowing people to train with an Olympian, learn all of her tips and tricks at a fraction of the cost of a conventional running coach.

All of her favourite sessions, coaching practices are worked into the automated engine at its core. Since Steph joined the team we’ve been able to grow the number of plans and goals we cater for, the range of abilities has grown to now have our free couch to 5k offering and extend up to our new ability ‘elite plus’ for elite runners looking for even more mileage than our previous ‘highest performing athletes’.

Can you talk about some of the major milestones that Runna has achieved since its launch in March 2021, and how Runna’s subscriber base has grown to over 7000 paying subscribers in 155 countries?

It’s been a roller coaster which can really be seen when looking back at some of these milestones! We launched the business in March 2021 in its most primitive form, a website where you could tell us about your running history and we’d build you a personalised PDF sent to your email – we also had a different name, ‘The Run Buddy’. In the first year we helped ~1000 runners this way before going on to raise £500k from 300 investors in a crowdfund selling 10% of the business.

We went onto launch our app, move over to a subscription service and rebrand as ‘Runna’ in March of 2022 on the back of this fundraise and have since been growing very fast. It took us 9 months to get to 3000 paying customers from launching the subscription service, and less than a further 2 months to reach 6000! During this period of time we went onto raise our next round, becoming a venture backed company raising a total of £2.25million.

The internationalisation of Runna has happened somewhat organically. We’re a digital service which is hyper shareable, when people train for a marathon or any running goal they’ll post it online, on their instagram & strava, they’ll tell the person they sit next to at the office or at the coffee shop – as a result we’ve slowly spread all over the world! Excitingly now we have more customers signing up from outside the UK than inside the UK!

As a co-founder and head coach at Runna, how do you balance your coaching responsibilities with the day-to-day management and growth of the business?

This has been the biggest challenge for me personally. There are so many directions that are pulling my time. From marketing to partnerships, tech, legal, finance, events, kit, customer service, as well as of course coaching means it’s hard to give each area of the business the time it needs.

That’s where having the most incredible team around me comes in. I have total confidence in each member of the team and commitment to the business. As I mentioned earlier, having Steph (and some other amazing coaches yet to be announced as the team grows) by my side means that as those other responsibilities grow we’re still moving forward on all fronts. 

How does Runna stay innovative and ahead of the curve in the constantly evolving fitness and wellness industry, and what plans does Runna have for future growth and expansion?

Without writing down our whole road map, I think it all goes back to what we first spoke about, building the very best service that puts helping people at the front of all decisions. We want to build the very best running coaching service, that is motivating, social, easy to use, super streamlined the list goes on. We want to build the best product that speaks for itself while also building a strong brand so that if anyone thinks of training for a running goal, they think of Runna!

Are you looking for a global startup or scaleup recruitment agency? We can help connect you with world class talent around the globe, get in touch with us today!

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