Spartan Race Inc., the company known for setting up challenging obstacle-racing courses throughout the U.S., is courting private equity firms in an effort to expand in other countries.
So far, Raptor Consumer Partners — the private equity arm of Raptor Capital Management LP — has invested. The Boston PE firm, which specializes in sports and consumer brands, acquired a minority stake in April 2012 for undisclosed terms. Spartan Race founder Joe DeSena (pictured) is looking to build on that momentum and is currently on the circuit, speaking with PE pros at various Association for Corporate Growth events and hoping to gauge interest from other financial sponsors. (See “The M&A Scene” slideshows “ACG NY On Tap” and “8th Annual Northeast ACG Stratton Ski & Snowboard Conference”)
The race, which consists of three levels of courses — 3-mile sprints, 8-mile Olympic distance “supers” and 10- to 12-mile “beast” races — requires competitors to run, jump and swim their way through mud and some dozen or so obstacles, including spear-throwing and crawling under barbed wire.
The Raptor deal has allowed Spartan Race to leverage the PE firm’s expertise, but DeSena is looking for more. Spartan Race, also based in Boston, has already made its way to various emerging markets, including Mexico and South Korea, says DeSena, who created the company in 2010. Previously, he was a managing director of brokerage firm Tullett Liberty's New York equity division, a unit of London-based Collins Stewart Tullett in 2006. Before that, he was the chief executive of Burlington Capital Markets, an institutional agency brokerage firm.
DeSena spoke with Mergers & Acquisitions about his Wall Street background, how it helped shape the company and how a PE investment could help meet his ultimate goal — making Spartan Race an Olympic sport.
How has your background in finance helped with the Spartan Race and how has that been reflected?
Knowledge in finance helps in all businesses. You learn how to make quick, yet thoughtful, decisions. You also learn how to make sure you do not waste money. Through my years in finance, I learned that lean is the right method for a startup like Spartan Race. And so far in 2013, the company has seen 100 percent growth over 2012, which is exciting.
What markets are you looking to bring Spartan Race to next?
International is an incredible growth engine for us. Mexico was by far our most exciting response. But anywhere we go comes at a giant expense. You got to let people know who you are, what the brand is and why they should pay for the product. Next we’re headed to Japan, Brazil, Russia, Ireland and the rest of Europe. South Korea is all set to go.
Can private equity help?
With private equity, it is less about cash and more about expertise and hand-holding. Whether we like it or not, the world is a digital place. Between email segmentation, analyzing data or executing the 10 different social channels that are out there, our frustrations are centered on executing the digital space. Imagine doing excavation work with a pick axe and someone asking for a bulldozer. We need people who are incredible savvy in the digital space and can leapfrog the business.
How has the 2012 investment from Raptor Capital Management LP been able to help Spartan Race?
Raptor’s expertise in brands and sports can help take us to the next level, which includes bringing this sport to the Olympics and being known and operating in at least 50 countries. I’m 100 percent serious about getting Spartan Race into the Olympics. Our long term vision is to have it up there with ping-pong and curling.