Purpose-Led – from 13 people to 6 million

In 2020 I will be writing regular posts featuring businesses that are truly Purpose-led and are highly and sustainably successful.

This is all part of a mission to build bridges to CEOs, and specifically to address the doubters that believe that Purpose as the core driver for Leadership is only “window dressing”. Whilst I agree that there is more and more “Purpose-Washing” that goes on from cynical CEOs, Boards, Shareholders, by writing about the success stories I hope to open eyes and hearts and reduce some of that cynicism.

Going from 13 people to 6 million

Today I want to talk about a business that launched with only 13 customers in 2004 and now has over 6 million and passionate staff in the hundreds of thousands.

I started my New Year’s Day yesterday by attending one of their events, at which an event attendance record was absolutely shattered.

What is this business worth? Is it a “unicorn” tech company valued in the billions? Why haven’t you heard of it? Ah, now this is a story for sure!

So, who is this amazing business and why haven’t you heard about it in the global media as would befit such a huge success story?

It is called ParkRun and perhaps the reason you haven’t heard of it as a hugely successful business is that it exists to make an impact, not to make a profit (yes, I refer you to the model above!).

ParkRun began with 13 people going for a timed run in a public park in London in 2004. By 2007 it was in multiple countries with over 50,000 organised runs completed that year. As a recent blog on the ParkRun site looking back at 15 years notes:

By this point, many entrepreneurs would have realised they were onto something, and the temptation to monetise the movement and cash-in would have been too much to resist. The Saturday morning experience was so special, surely people would pay to take part? Think of the millions that could be made as growth continued!

But, sticking to his guns, Paul was adamant that events should always stay true to his founding principles: free, weekly, for everyone, forever.

Regular readers know my focus on what I call the “new triple bottom line”, where Purpose, People and Planet come before Profit, with Profit as a focal point simply to scale impact.

ParkRun is clearly an alternative business model, anchored on community and volunteerism.

The event I attended on New Year’s Day in London had over 900 people running and walking the 5km course at 10:30am on the first day of the year. The simplicity of these events meant that less than 20 volunteers were needed to operate the event. Oh, and the ParkRun ethos is that runners take time out of their weekly running of ParkRun to volunteer multiple times per year, and they (and I am one of them) love it. It was a truly wonderful way to start my 2020.

Now it is 15 years in, ParkRun is now beginning to turn a focus a little more to generating sustainable income and some profit for further growth, yet this closing passage of the blog linked above makes it abundantly clear that this is a business built around Purpose.

By 2024, more than one million parkrunners will be participating every single week. But putting the numbers to one side, what will always make us proud, and importantly always direct our focus, is the impact parkrun has and will continue to have on improving health, wellbeing and enhancing communities around the world. Together, we are creating a healthier, happier planet.

Purpose, People, Planet.


A winning combination!

Purpose-led quote Paul Sinton-Hewitt

Also published on Medium.