Joe De Sena - Spartan Race Founder & CEO

  • Joe’s first business: The head of a Mafia family asked me to come over to clean his pool. He paid me $35. I got more leads from him. Over time I built up a base of 700 customers.

  • Avoid shortcuts: I think people take all these shortcuts on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. They wake up late. They eat unhealthy food. They don’t train. These decisions compound over time. You pay small prices along the way. You feel unhealthy. You are out of shape. You get aggravated more easily. And then you pay the ultimate price by dying younger.

  • A counterintuitive idea: Discipline sets you free. If you are disciplined and focused you have more time. You are healthier. You are able to do more.

  • Why Joe is relentless with his kids: [They wake up and train every day at 5:45. Then study mandarin and math and drink green juice.] You can’t get that time back. In the future, they won’t say I wish I knew less math. I wish I knew less mandarin. I wish I wasn’t in such good shape. You usually regret what you didn’t do.

  • What Joe learned from gold medalists rowers: Winning a gold medal required training 7 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 12 straight years. 

  • Joe’s schedule: I wake up early. I workout no matter how I feel. I eat healthy. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t drink alcohol. And I don’t stop until the work is done.

  • Don’t complain: When someone asks how my day is I say I am alive. It doesn’t get better than that. Anything is better than dead.

  • I don’t really think things through completely: I’m not a believer in detailed business plans. I like that Mike Tyson quote: Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. If you plan too much you will talk yourself out of it. I tend to just fire. Then get ready. Then aim.

  • What Joe learned from marathon monks in Japan: They go around a 25-mile loop 900 days in a row. After they are done they are asked: What did you learn? The answer: Nothing matters. All the stuff that frustrates us at work and in life doesn’t matter. Food, water, shelter is all that is important. This gives you perspective.

  • How do you obtain so much information? I go wide and not very deep. I will try to get the quick points from 5 or 6 books. I’ll skim magazines. I consume info in bite-sized pieces.

  • Why create The Death Race? I wanted to create something that emulated life. All the other races are hard but they are catered training days. Every mile someone is giving you water. Life isn’t like that. There’s not always a safety net to catch you. You run a business and it’s hard. All these things [competition, lawsuits, insurance, payroll] coming at you at once. I wanted to design a race that reflects the complexity and unpredictably of life.

  • Identity helped Spartan reach 6 million customers: People define themselves in all different types of ways. They buy a brand they want to identify with. We give them an opportunity to identify as Spartans. The opportunity to not live passively. To actively take part. To sweat, suffer, breathe heavy, and bleed.

  • Traits Joe looks for in team members: Passion, clean, organized, resilient, relentless. Domain expertise you can teach. You can learn to program a computer or handle company finances. Those other traits? You either have those or you don’t.

  • How do you define success? I am healthy and alive. If you are able to move and get stuff done you are successful. It has nothing do with the traditional definitions like how much money you have.

  • Full podcast here.