Name: Tim Navin-Jones
Day job: Executive MBA Recruitment Advisor – Cass Business School
On the side: Founder, City Runners running club
Since: May 2010
Where: Central London
Tim Navin-Jones works by day as an Executive MBA Recruitment Adviser for Cass Business School in London. Unable to find a running club near his office in central London, Tim decided to find out what the interest was for a more local club, and asked some friends to join him for a regular run. City Runners now has over 750 members, with around 90 people running each week in groups, taking a scenic 6km route along the River Thames through the centre of London. The club offers discounts at various fitness related shops, and is soon hosting the first large-scale City Runners event in Southwark Park, sponsored by Runnersneed.
What’s your day job?
I’m an executive MBA recruitment adviser for Cass Business School, based in Moorgate, London. My job is to recruit people onto an executive MBA. It’s a two year part time MBA, which costs £42,000. Those on the course are normally people aged about 35 in the middle of their careers.
What’s your hobby?
I’m a really keen runner.
So how did you turn that into more?
I was a member of a running club called the Serpentines, which meets near Marble Arch in London, which is a long way from Central London where I work.
I realised there were no running clubs in Central London at all, which seemed ridiculous.
They are all further out in Wimbledon, East London, Victoria Park, places like that. As an experiment, in May 2010 I asked some friends to join me for a run. We started off with 7 people on the first run, and there are now about 750 people in the running club, which I decided to call ‘City Runners’.
The club has become a key part of the local community. We meet every Tuesday just near London Bridge, at the Shortwave Cinema and Bar. We normally have about 90 people split into different groups, all running the same circuit. Our route is about 6k, taking us over Tower Bridge, past the Tower of London, over Millennium Bridge, and all the way back. It’s a really beautiful, scenic route.
I also arrange events for the club. Previously I’ve done cross country races, but the first big event we’re doing, which I’m really trying to promote, is a 10k event in Southwark Park. I’ve managed to get the local MP Simon Hughes along to start the event, and Runnersneed (the running shop) are sponsors, providing goodie bags. Southwark Council and Shortwave Bar are also very supportive of the event, which will be raising money for Breast Cancer Awareness.
How do you promote the club?
Initially, I got articles in Runners World, the Southwark Weekender and Southwark Life, and just tried to promote it wherever possible. A friend of mine helped me realise I had to get higher on Google’s rankings, and as soon as people started to find us on Google, I no longer had to promote the club.
Now I don’t promote it at all, there are so many people it’s become like crowd management.
Each week we’ll get around 10-15 new members. The fact that we have so many people running gets people’s attention more than anything.
Why should someone join City Runners?
We’re a really sociable club, that’s one of our biggest focuses. We have regular socials, and we run in a non-competitive, really relaxed environment. Also off the back of it, we get really good discounts for our members, for yoga, sports injuries treatment, running shop discounts, all sorts of different things.
It’s also completely free, and I want to keep it free. At the moment the event coming up in Southwark Park is the first paid for thing, but I think I’ll keep membership free, and just have paid for events. Most running events now are ridiculously expensive. The ‘Run To The Beat’ half marathon will set you back £47, which is crazy. I’ll be arranging events that are really well organised and fun, that are more like £15.
Do you see yourself making money out of this in future?
The club has grown completely organically, and now it’s just about deciding what I want to do with it. You can’t make much money out of a running club, you can only really charge members about £20/30 a year, but there’s lot of scope for things I could do. A lot of people nowadays are doing running tours around London which cost quite a lot - around £36 - and there’s people making a lot of money from that. There are also some who have established running programmes similar to British Military Fitness, for which they charge huge fees, and people are paying for it! I’m aware there’s a lot I could be doing there, but I’m not particularly driven by money. I think people can see I’m just a mad keen runner, and the atmosphere of the club because of that is why it’s been a success.
Our meeting point is very near to The Shard, and obviously when that opens our membership could grow. I think at the point where we have 200 people running each week, considering that I run this club on my own on the side of my day job, that’s the point where I might have to start considering charging people. I would prefer to charge a big corporate to sponsor us rather than charge to join the club though, it might change the atmosphere.
Do you have to deal with any business concerns?
Mostly just managing people, for example we meet at Shortwave, and I have a great relationship with the guy who runs it so we can leave all of our bags and stuff there while we run, which has worked really well. The people who have redeveloped that area are all massive supporters of anyone who is promoting fitness around there, so they’ve got on board, and we even got a grant initially which has helped me to set up the new website and get designers to do flyers for the event. The Council has paid for me and someone else from the club to do a course for insurance purposes to make sure we can take groups out. It’s more about managing those kind of partnerships, which have been really beneficial so far.
Are there any particularly hard things to deal with?
My biggest worry is that someone will get hurt, run over by a car or something. At the start of every run I let runners know that they run at their own risk, and I write that on every single email.
Does it ever conflict with your day job?
It has become a big part of my life. The hours aren’t very punishing at all, which is how I’ve managed to make this hobby a success alongside my job. My boss is very supportive, which has been great. Most people are quite staggered by the amount it’s grown, but I think it’s down to the fact that it’s free, and giving back to the community.
Does anyone else help you out with it?
Because everyone knows it's free, they are really generous and supportive. The guy who designed our new website has done it for £100 and it looks great. The designer who created the flyers and posters also did it for £100. That’s something which would normally cost a lot more. The guy who has printed them is now a keen member of the club. It’s more about using people within the club to help promote it, rather than anyone working alongside me as such.
Why do you do this?
I would still run the club if there were only 10 people in it, and I’m almost as amazed as everyone else is. I just like running. Ironically, I quite like running on my own. But I do like running with other people because it makes you much faster. Geographically I didn’t want to finish work and have to travel far to meet a running club, and I wasn’t a member of a gym. It’s interesting now a lot of running shops are trying to establish their own running clubs, none of which have been very successful. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a running club in central London, and the fact City Runners has grown so quickly illustrates the real need for one. A club makes you better at running, you want to be running with people faster than you. There are lots of different levels of ability in the club, from really fast runners to people who had hardly ever run before.
It can be intimidating, the prospect of joining a club with everyone in their tight lycra, but we’re not like that.
Some of our members had never even done 5k, now they are at the point of considering doing marathons, and they’re doing regular half marathons.
We’ve even got members who are couples who have got together and are quite likely to get married, and one guy credits the running club with saving his life. He has had some health issues recently, and he believes the fitness he got from the running club is the reason he survived.
Is it still enjoyable for you?
Yes, running is really relaxing for me. I do two runs a week with the group, and I have to organise those or get someone else to. That is insignificant in comparison to the amount I enjoy it though, and the buzz I get from the atmosphere. It really is a labour of love basically. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it. The only thing that slightly frustrates me is when I get people who have been members for a year, become better runners, are now aware of events that are happening around the city, and have had discounts for running related products, who then email me saying ‘take me off your distribution list’, as if I’m some sort of direct marketer. That’s the only thing that really gets under my skin. Other than that, there’s such an amazing social element, and such a friendly atmosphere. And there’s a massive need in London for this club!
Is there anything you don’t like about it?
There was one girl who had her wallet stolen while we were out running. It was her own fault, she left her bag wide open where we had left them all, but I do feel guilty and responsible.
I get frustrated by the amount of people trying to use you as a route to market.
I get contacted by a lot of charities, running shops, sports massage therapists, and there’s a lot of sifting through it all, working out what’s any good. That’s growing as the club becomes more well known. That’s one of the reasons why I’m really glad Runnersneed have sponsored the Southwark Park event. Other shops had been offering discounts and flyers, but Runnersneed stepped up and said they were happy to sponsor the whole thing as long as there were no other companies involved with sponsorship. It makes it easy for me to tell everyone else to go away! Runnersneed are great, there’s lots of shops around the city, everyone’s heard of them, so they’re a good brand. They’ve provided race numbers and goodie bags for the event, and just generally been really helpful.
I do think there’s more I could do in terms of sponsorship. One other running club, Run Dem Crew, are part government funded, and free to join, but they are also associated with Nike. It’s really Nike promoting their own stuff, promoting running and doing their ‘corporate social responsibility’ bit, but it’s good to have a big corporation behind you. I’ve gone to Asics and Adidas, but I’ve not had enough connections and now we’ve got Runnersneed.
What’s your advice for anyone who wants to grow their hobby?
One guy I knew wanted to set up a running/triathlon club and I gave him all the advice I could about getting high on search engines, but he wanted to charge for membership. Having seen what had happened to my club, I think he was excited by the potential to make money. What I’m doing isn’t particularly financially driven.
When you can see that there’s a massive demand for something which you’re already passionate about, and you find it so frustrating that you want to do something about it, then impulse takes over, and it’s a fantastic feeling when you think ‘I’m just going to go for it’. To then watch it grow is a fantastic buzz. You should take the risks and go for it, as long as they’re calculated risks. Particularly as City Runners is free, I haven’t really had to pay. I’ve had to buy relevant domain names, and I paid to become part of British Athletics, but as long as you keep your costs to a minimum, it’s a calculated risk. Now it’s grown so much I need to decide what I’m going to do with it, and that’s a nice position to be in.