Dan’s passion for creating structure to support some of the world’s most risky and unstructured events is what sets him apart as our Event Director of the Month.
How did you become an event director?
Completely by accident, I studied English Literature at University, then picked up a one-year contract as an in-house reporter for the world yacht race. After that I was jobless and homeless, so I entered the second edition of the now world famous Mongol Rally. There were 6 teams on the first rally in 2004. I competed with 42 other teams in 2005. We drove 7,500 miles to the capital of Mongolia in an un-modified 988cc 1995 Nissan Micra that had 130,000 miles on the clock before we’d left London. Less than half of the teams made it to the finish line that year, so we were pretty happy.
About a year later, founder Tom Morgan turned the Mongol Rally into The Adventurists and needed some help launching more adventures. So I gave up my thoroughly sensible job doing marketing stuff at BBC Bristol to help with his fight to make the world less boring. I’ve been at The Adventurists for about 8 years now.
What was the craziest event you ever took part in?
Driving to Mongolia in a tiny Nissan Micra is quite stupid on paper, although it’s easier than it sounds when you actually give it a crack. Cross the English Channel, turn left, don’t give up.
We had some dodgy moments in Kazakhstan but our most stupid episode was self-inflicted: In Western Mongolia, I drove into a rock on a dirt track and tore the fuel tank apart. A guy we were with rigged up a temporary fuel tank with a 20-liter gas can called a jerry can, and garden hoses. The tank was strapped to the inside of the passenger door and the hoses went out of the window and into the engine via a hole we cut in the corner of the bonnet (hood). It sounds like it shouldn’t work but we drove 800km across Mongolia with our jerry can fuel tank.
A few years ago, I also went on our Mototaxi Junket adventure and drove a really junky three-wheeled motorbike over a big chunk of the Andes and through the Peruvian Amazon. The most hectic bit about that was the massive, sheer drops-off at the edge of the mountain tracks. Some of them were above the cloud line, which can get a touch worrying at times.
What has helped you become successful in managing your events?
Working with the right people. Some people just aren’t cut out for events; anyone who has run events already knows what I’m talking about. We’ve been most successful when we’ve worked with smart people who can make stuff happen in random and challenging parts of the world.
Also, ignoring the boring types who have repeatedly told us our plans were terrible has been quite important for us. Every time we’ve announced a new adventure, at least one person has told us it’s not possible. Knowing when to ignore the boring-brigade is just as important as identifying and heeding decent solid advice when it comes your way.
Why did you decide to use ACTIVE Network?
ACTIVE rescued us from a creaky old system we’d built ourselves over a few years. It worked, but our customers hated it and it had no flexibility. To get anything changed we had to get a developer on the case.
We switched to ACTIVE because it put us in control of the whole process. We’ve been using the system for all our adventures for well over a year now and it’s made a massive difference. We’ve gone from a system best described as ‘a bit rubbish’ to a proper professional system with shedloads of flexibility that also gives customers’ confidence when they use it.
How do you keep your participants coming back to take part in more adventures?
We specialize in adventures that will make your Mum cry and your mates laugh. For us, it’s about coming up with more old-school adventures and extreme adventure races that have the right blend of chaos, pain, mayhem and adventurism. It doesn’t get much more complicated than that, really.
How do you differentiate yourselves from other challenge type organizations?
Our adventures and races are, generally speaking, bigger, longer, more dangerous, riskier or more stupid than (most) other similar challenges out there. We’re also not overly righteous about the charity fundraising side of things. It’s important, and we do genuinely want to save a bit of the world by funding Cool Earth’s work in protecting and preserving rainforests and the communities that want to carry on living in them. But the adventure comes first for most people and we’re always up front about that.
What set of marketing tactics have been the most effective for you?
By a long shot, it’s been word of mouth. The majority of people who come on our adventures are already planning the next one by the time they reach the finish line. They tell their friends, colleagues and family all about it both during the adventure via social media and when they get home.
Personally, when I drove that broken-down Nissan Micra to Mongolia, I felt about 4 inches taller and was pretty keen to tell my mates what I’d managed to pull off. It helped with my short-man complex and, let’s face it, everyone’s got a bit of an ego to varying degrees. If you’ve nailed the World’s Longest Horse Race or driven a tiny rickshaw thousands of miles across India, you’re pretty likely to tell your mates about it. Whatever the race or event, I’d say you need to give your participants a reason to shout about it and tell people. If there’s no obvious talking point, then you need to create one and promote it.
Apart from that, we’ve got pretty good media coverage over the years and a few bits of TV. I’d say the most effective thing for convincing people to sign up for adventures is the promo videos we’ve made. They’re cut from footage of previous teams and do a good job of conveying the sort of mayhem we encourage.
Do you have any advice for race directors who might just be getting started?
Don’t expand an event or race too quickly, you’ll get caught with your professional pants down, as it were. When you’ve got something kicking off and going really well, I’d recommend resisting the temptation to make it too big, too quickly. Grow in line with the resources you’ve got and don’t get cocky about your ability to rapidly expand. And always ignore the advice of the boring-brigade. Exciting stuff always comes with a bit of risk.
What does the future hold for the Adventurists?
Launching new adventures and trying to make the world less boring. The next one is the Icarus Trophy, a long distance para-motoring air race. Our Founder and Chief Tom made this video about our product research and development, which highlights the rigorous process we go through to formulate our ideas via the Institute of Adventure Research. We’re announcing a new adventure in Africa too, in a couple of months’ time.
We also want to encourage enough fundraising to help our official charity, Cool Earth, save a massive chunk of rainforest from destruction. We figure if you’re privileged enough to thunder off into the mountains on a big old adventure, then you should try and save a bit of the planet at the same time. Plus, without rainforests, there’d be less places to go and get lost, which is important.
We dare you not to be inspired by Dan’s take on life and event management!