As a fan of adventure sports, London based PR consultant Ross Williams was finding spare time to indulge his passion for thrill-seeking increasingly difficult to come by. Long working hours coupled with extensive travelling times meant coordinating action-packed weekends among his group of friends was becoming more and more problematic. Williams began to question whether other city workers might be experiencing similar drawbacks and this led him to create sport, adventure and social club, 8th Day Adventure. What is more, Williams gambled everything, quitting his job just weeks before the start-up’s launch to focus fully on turning what had been his weekend hobby into a commercially viable business to support both him and his family.
Williams explains: “It took a year in the making from idea to launch, during which time I did all the necessary background work while still in my previous job, which I then quit two weeks before the launch date. The hard part was to get through the first few months when the membership was still very low, and to make sure we still filled events and made it a fun club, so I was lucky to have reliable friends who came along to a lot of things in the first six months.”
In the beginning especially, Williams describes how minimising costs was pivotal: “I was able to fund the venture initially with £20,000, gained from loans from the bank as well as a friend. All I needed to get going was a website, adequate insurance, and then whatever money I could find to support me during the first few months until the company started bringing in money.”
Williams highlights that he was also required to adopt a similarly prudent approach to his marketing strategy which consisted of: “Flyering around London, and also trying to set up links with other related businesses and getting on their newsletters, and then of course PR where we could get it. A very small amount of advertising, and the occasional exhibition. When the various social media sites came along we also made sure we had a presence there.
Since its launch in 2004, the club’s membership has grown from zero to around 350 members, based in cities including London, Bristol and Brighton and turnover is well in excess of £100,000.
Williams is based in the company’s South West London office and is himself still effectively its only employee with those individuals working on behalf of the business, in charge of city-specific clubs, taken on as contractors. With that in mind, Williams explains how the birth of his first child has been the businesses' greatest challenge so far.
“As a small business of which I am a fundamental part I was heavily involved in many of the events, being present at many. Having our first child has meant that I have had to cut down on the number of events I attend as much as possible, while not losing touch with the club. In the process, I have had to establish a system of more official hosts to run events in my absence. However, the arrival of my children changed my outlook somewhat; making me look at the club in a much more business-like way, and instead of wanting to run a club that I really liked, I now also wanted to run one that was a really sound business.”
Like most sectors, the adventure sports industry has been hit hard by the recession. Williams has no doubt that had the economy’s health not taken a turn for the worse, 8th Day Adventure and the adventure sports industry as a whole would be flourishing even more.
“It feels to me that more and more people feel they can be involved in outdoor activities as they're just so accessible and well marketed these days. And there's so much choice for things to do. There seems to be a new sport or new take on something popping up all the time, so not only must there be something for everyone, but also it keeps those keen on the great outdoors in the first instance constantly interested and able to try new things. So I think when the economy does pick up and people have more cash to spend the industry should be in a good position to take advantage of that.”