Since young, Augustine Chua had always aspired to be an entrepreneur and he was constantly brimming with business ideas.
His first venture was a T-shirt printing service, which started back in school. When it became profitable, it sparked bigger desires within him to run his own business.
When he graduated, he got himself a job in the Human Resources (HR) sector but quit soon after to “immerse in programming” in hopes of establishing his own tech startup.
“After quitting my job, I started to join hackathons to expose myself to Singapore’s coding community and to test my programming skills,” said Augustine.
He would participate in various hackathons together with his friend, Zhou Mi, who also shared the same entrepreneurial dreams.
For Zhou Mi, she started her first business while studying, which earned her $80,000 in the span of just 8 months.
One particular hackathon in 2014 saw them building a mobile app prototype that allows travelers to find local friends, who could also act as guides to bring them around.
They ended up emerging as the winners, bagging a $10,000 cash prize.
Not one to rest on their laurels, the 29-year-duo decided to use their winnings to turn their app into a startup.
Not A ‘Run’-Of-The-Mill Travel Platform
Both Augustine and Zhou Mi are marathon enthusiasts.
On average, about 20% of marathon participants are tourists, but there weren’t any existing travel services that cater to runners who want to run overseas.
They also noted a huge market opportunity in China – there are more than a million Chinese marathon runners, with an estimated US$200 million market size.
As such, they wanted to tap on this opportunity and targeted both Chinese and Singapore outbound marathon travellers.
Traveling can pose as a challenge, as it requires accommodation, transport, and itinerary planning.
As runners get busy preparing for the marathon, they would not have the leisure of time to do the travel planning, so 42Race wants to help out in this aspect.
“Our travel packages and services [were] designed to serve the runners and their families. We [offered] specialised services such as training advices prior the marathon [and] recovery plan post-event,” Augustine told TravHQ.
“Our hotel rates are also highly competitive [compared to] DIY marathon trips due to collaboration with our partners.”
In addition, their platform also allows runners to leave comments and reviews to help foster an online community of runners.
Their travel packages typically range from three to five days, and its first event was the Great Hakka Marathon in Fujian, China.
42Race even bagged several awards, such as the People’s Choice Award in Thack China 2015, People’s Choice Award in Startup Pitch, and Web-in-travel 2015 in Singapore.
But in the long run, they realised that this concept simply wasn’t sustainable and it racked up a lot of expenses for the company.
“We figured that instead of bringing people overseas for offline races, it’s better to create a platform where people from all over the world can come together to participate in a race,” said Augustine.
Pivoting Into Virtual Races
42Race started offering virtual races in 2016. It was a very new concept then, making them the first company in Singapore to offer it.
According to Augustine, the cost of organising virtual races is not as high as organising offline races.
“A virtual race does not incur costs such as fees for setting up road closures and water stations. As such, we do not need to get sponsorship to organise such races,” he said.
For those unacquainted, a virtual race allows runners to run anytime and anywhere, as long as they record their run with a GPS-enabled tracking app or device.
There’s no set pace and no set route, so it offers extreme flexibility and convenience for runners.
Unlike marathon runners, you don’t have to deal with waking up early in the morning to get to the starting point, and jostle with other runners along the route.
Besides being less restrictive, virtual races are also much cheaper. Marathons typically cost about $45 and up, but 42Race has a low sign-up fee of $9.90 per entry.
Albeit ‘virtual’, racers still get to enjoy all the perks of a regular race, such as race bibs, goodie bags and medals.
After each race, participants can submit their record to 42Race. Upon verification, the team will mail medals to the participants who have completed the race; and provide finisher certificates that participants can download online.
However, virtual races have a higher risk of people cheating, so how do they prevent fraud?
“Our system compares runners’ average pace and distance, and alerts us if there are any discrepancies. The system will also alert the team if there are any abnormalities in the speed of runners,” Augustine told The Straits Times.
“Our staff will scrutinise each of these alerts, and also do random checks for every race. We will deactivate user accounts if they are found to have submitted fraudulent results.”
Their first race, the #MayDayBattle in March 2016, saw 500 runners from Singapore and China participating.
But as it was their first time, they inadvertently faced a couple of challenges along the way.
According to Augustine, 42Race was a small team of four back then; and none of them knew anything about virtual races, logistics, or payment gateway.
With zero experience to back them up, everyone had to “learn on the job”.
“One of the challenges was the logistics of packing and sending the medals in the fastest and most cost-efficient way. We also needed to create a system to answer users’ enquiries,” he said.
Expansion Is On The Business Map
To date, 42Race has organised more than 60 virtual runs, with an average of 3,000 participants each.
Their pool of racers do not just hail from Singapore, but all across Southeast Asia, with a few others from Europe, North and South America as well.
Their recent Reebok: Be More Human Race surpassed past attendance rates; and for the first time ever, they “held a race for more than 7,000 users”.
Since this event, they also had many runners from Thailand joining them as well.
Although they broke their record, the team hopes to be able to reach a million participants in the future.
“We want to build a social network in which people around the world can take part in races together. And we want to create a race with millions of people running together from around the world,” said Augustine in an interview with The Straits Times.
He also expressed his dreams to “grow the community in various countries … and impact many more people.”
42Race is also looking at expanding their business further overseas, but said that they would need to factor in and address some concerns first.
“When expanding to a new country, we will need to localise our application to their native language. We will also need to solve logistics challenges such as finding the best way to deliver the medals to the users.”
“Sometimes, credit card penetration is low in the new country so we would need to incorporate new payment methods such as bank transfer into our platform as well.”
Augustine said that he also intends to bring more brands onboard their platform so they can provide more value to their community.
When asked to impart a piece of business advice to fellow young entrepreneurs, Augustine said that “ideas are dime a dozen, [but] the execution itself is key.”
“It is important to have mentors to learn from and bounce ideas with. One of the most important qualities of an entrepreneur is grit – to never give up – and enjoy the journey ahead of you as much as you can. It’s tough, but also rewarding.”
Featured Image Credit: 42Race