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Will Dean, CEO of Tough Mudder Didn’t Let the Haters Stop Him From Building His Successful Business

When Will Dean was a business student at Harvard Business School, he came up with a novel idea. He enjoyed endurance events, but found them to be a lonely venture. When Dean floated the business plan for Tough Mudder, his professors told him that his idea was terrible and that it would never work.

Dean sat down with Bold’s Dr. Woody and explained the philosophy behind his business venture. “What I wanted to do was build an event that was all about teamwork, camaraderie, having fun, absolutely testing yourself physically and mentally, but at the end of it feeling like you’ve done it as part of a team, and it not being about you versus the clock,” Dean said. Mass-endurance events are largely for-profit, enabling him to match his passion with his work life.

Dean didn’t let his detractors stop him, and proceeded with his business plan in spite of being made fun of by his academic advisors. He said that fear is part of starting a business.

“I think starting a business is a pretty intimidating thing to do,” Dean said. “In all likelihood it’s not going to succeed, we all know the statistics around that.” Moving beyond that initial fear, and understanding that he would be able to recover from failure is what prompted him to continue moving forward.

“The second you start saying: what do I really have to be scared of if I fail?,” Dean said. “Will some people laugh at me and some people tell me I told you so? Probably, but is that something that should stop me from doing what I want with my life?”

Tough Mudder is now a sweeping success with global recognition. Overnight success can often be daunting, as companies grow to accommodate large increases in demand. Dean told Dr. Woody that the key to scaling up your operations is a well-established company culture.

“The key to scale is company culture,” Dean said.  “Company culture in general is how people behave when you’re not looking. You have to be confident that you have people who are going to behave how you want them to in tough situations.

Dr. Woody said that one of the challenges of being a manager is having to “work through people.” Dean said that overcoming that challenge is ultimately about recruiting the right people.

“We’ve done a lot to promote a culture where people take on a lot of personal responsibility,” Dean said. “It’s certainly a challenge to grow and maintain that culture.”

Tough Mudder is an event that that has 10-12 miles of mud and obstacles designed to “test your mental grit, camaraderie and all around physical fitness.” Designed by the British Special Forces, it’s designed to be a fun exercise with “no winner, no finisher meal, and no clock to race against.”

For more information on Tough Mudder, click here to visit their website.

Photo by The 621st Contingency Response Wing

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