It Takes a Tribe

It Takes a Tribe

Building the Tough Mudder Movement

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Editorial Rating



  • Concrete Examples
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  • Insider's Take


When Will Dean was at the Harvard Business School, his professors assured him that no one would pay for the opportunity to crawl through mud, race through a gauntlet of live electrical wires or dive into an ice bath. Dean says that, in true entrepreneurial fashion, his only reaction to their advice was a strong desire to prove them wrong. The result was Tough Mudder, a multimillion-dollar business that hosts obstacle races on five continents. In this entertaining memoir, Dean describes the struggle to make Tough Mudder a reality. He analyzes the challenges of continual innovation and of remaining true to a growing company’s founding principles. His observations on turning a customer base into a fanatical “tribe” offer illuminating advice to any entrepreneur. getAbstract recommends his casually told, insightful memoir to business students, investors, sports fans and anyone running start-ups or fast-growing young companies.


Beating the Obstacles

Will Dean went to the Harvard Business School to learn to be an entrepreneur. He came away with a strong conviction about how not to do it. Hyper-competitive Harvard regarded success as a zero-sum game. In such an atmosphere, Dean came to believe, the race to outrank everyone else undermines the potentially greater gains of collaboration. In the true entrepreneurial tradition, he developed a desire to prove Harvard wrong. He also had no interest in a financial or consulting career that proved the usual follow-up to a Harvard business degree. 

A fitness enthusiast who had run marathons and triathlons, Dean conceived of an endurance race that didn’t focus on competition. Instead, it would emphasize cooperation and teamwork. Rather than trying to outdo each other, participants would forge a community. The race’s reward wouldn’t be “winning;” participants would triumph by becoming part of a “tribe.” 

Dean’s brainstorm was Tough Mudder, an obstacle-course event that debuted in May 2010 at a ski resort in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The first Mudder attracted...

About the Author

Will Dean is founder and CEO of Tough Mudder, Inc. He received the national EY Entrepreneur of the Year Emerging Award in 2013. Crain’s named Dean to its 40 Under 40 list and Fortune cited him as one of its 40 Under 40: Ones to Watch.

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