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From IIM Ahmedabad to 25 years of working with corporate honchos and now an entrepreneur literally ‘running’ his business and ‘living’ his passion. Meet Rahul Verghese, the founder CEO of Running and Living Infotainment, a marathon organising firm in India. In the present day workaholic world, where people are actually looking for ways to keep fit by ways other than gymnasiums, Rahul Verghese, it seems has found the right venture – one that makes people run and connect, and even holiday.
While Verghese got into running ‘accidentally’ in 2001, it wasn’t long before it became his passion. He started loving running to an extent that he decided to quit his job at Motorola, give up on a secure salaried job and begin a venture that organises marathons. At 40, Verghese set up Running and Living Infotainment and has been pacing to glory. We spoke to the almost 50 years young entrepreneur over a candid meal and heard stories about his entrepreneurial journey.
Starting the venture
Running and Living was born out of 25 years of Verghese’s marketing experience with corporate masters like Unilever, Nestle, Motorola in India and in different parts of the world, and a newly-found passion for running. Running happened to him in 2001 and he found it to be giving him a high, he found that it boosts his self confidence and does all sorts of things apart from the wellness and fitness part, that was a given.
“I started reading about it and meeting a couple of people, and I travelled a lot. I used to run whenever I was out travelling and I would meet people of different nationalities and talk to them while we were running and meeting. They would tell me stories about how running had changed their lives. I got the fact that running makes you a more positive and much more self confident person. So, when I got back to India from California, I thought of doing something with running and see if it could be some sort of a business,” Verghese said.
Verghese then tried different formats and decided to start Running and Living, with a focus on building communities of people to get started with running. He looked at community running as something that was sustainable to the society in the larger scheme of things.
Verghese did not follow the crowd and started off with smaller marathons (though he did give bigger marathons a thought) in 2008 and continues with the same format today as well. “We decided to do smaller runs with about 500-1000 people where you can get to know each other and network. I started Running and Living with a vision to get 200 million people inspired to run and unleash their potential. We experimented with a large format initially. We went and met up with the Athletic federation of India. But then we realised that was the wrong way to go as that was all about how much money each party could make out of that one run. I wanted to be super efficient at delivery. We realised that instead of doing four runs with 50,000 people, we’d like to do 500 runs with 1,000 people each and go with a totally different business model,” he explained.
‘Running’ the venture
When Verghese started off with R&L, it was a time when the digital marketing platform was gaining pace. He, therefore, started off with putting out content on running on his website. He even wrote articles on different media vehicles like the Times of India, Hindustan Times etc and started getting them translated into different languages to reach out to at least 10-15 million people. Running schedules were also put up on his website, and that is when he started getting responses from people saying how he has changed their lives.
It was then that he started reaching out to corporate through workshops, lectures etc. But, why just corporate? “That’s the crowd I understood and I could empathise with. I thought they would probably relate to a person like me as I’m not an athlete, I’m one of them but now also into running. Then I thought if I can start at 40, anyone can do it. We tried to make it as simple as possible to start,” he said.
Verghese’s marathon venture saw no profits initially. It was then that he reached out to possible partners. He looked at operational partners like Reebok, Nike, or gyms; the media to help in amplifications and third, the marketing partners like car companies, banks, imaging companies and anyone who was not selling a low unit value item as they needed more people.
Another very interesting thing he brought to R&L was travelling and running. He organises offbeat runs at offbeat locations to get people to travel and therefore, spend some days with families as well as making new connections. These runs usually take place at destinations like Shimla, Corbett, Rishikesh, the Himalayas, Sikkim, and such places. And, there are also some crazy summer runs like ones in the Aravallis during the month of July.
“We also do runs on the Formula One race track and get some car or tyre brands to associate with us or have companies whose employees can be part of the run for team building etc. So, according to the location, there are some runs that are money spinners, and there are others that are not,” he told us.
As for the fee, his least expensive fee for a 5km run is around Rs 500, and the most expensive fee for a full marathon goes up to about Rs 7,000.
Verghese started off with almost no investment, but a risk of losing a regular salary. But he wanted to follow his passion and now ‘runs’ a business that gets him over a crore each year. He is also the author of a book ‘Running and Living’ that is also part of his dream of getting millions of people to run. In fact, he is also looking at taking his e-commerce biz of running gear to the next level as and when he finds the right person to do that with him. He has run quite a distance and yet has miles to run.