I’m Mark, the Founder of Virtual Strides. I won’t always be the one writing our blog posts, but I wanted to be the first to welcome you to this new part of our website. So without further ado, welcome to the Virtual Strides blog!
Why are we adding a blog? For a few reasons, really. First, we want to create a place where we can communicate with our supporters a little more in-depth than we are able to elsewhere. I tend to be a bit wordy at times (understatement of the post), and 140 characters or less doesn’t always cut it for me. We try to keep our Email List messages to a minimum (no more than three per month and kept to a reasonable length), so that’s not a great place for long-winded messages either. Most importantly though, we wanted to create a blog because there is so much more we’d like to share with you than we currently do. Yes, we post each of our events and we share your finisher photos in galleries and so on, but we want to start sharing much more with this amazing community that Virtual Strides has become. This blog is now a place for us to do just that.
For this initial post, I’d like to catch everyone up on how we have gotten to where we are now and let you know a few things we have in store for the future. So, here goes…
The Beginning of Virtual Strides
This website launched in December of 2014, with our first virtual race – the 2015 Resolution Run – starting on January 1, 2015. That event had nearly 200 participants in total, enabling us to donate $800 to Children International (and another $200 later in the year for registrations made after our initial donation), and Virtual Strides was quite literally off to the races. The business operated out of my home office initially. My business partner Mike was instrumental in getting the site up and running, and my wife Lisa came up with most of our medal designs.
By May of 2015, I had to hire one friend to help me with the shipping and another to help make our custom digital bibs every day, because there was no way I could keep up with it all in the evenings after my full-time day job. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe we ever created bibs manually, but we did!
Fast forward a few more months to November and we were bursting out of my home office, so we moved to our current space in the historic 1900 Building in Melbourne, FL. Built in 1924, this building was originally the Melbourne Hotel. We’ve had no sightings of Amelia yet, but you never know.
Since then, we have continued to host new virtual races every month, featuring lots of amazing charities. Along the way, we have made several improvements to Virtual Strides features and processes, including automating our bib generation process, creating a user-friendly system for participants to enter their results into our website (including integrating with a number of popular run-tracking services), and giving you complete control over exactly when your medals ship. We’ve added shirts, visors, jewelry, and gift cards to our online store, launched our Partners Program, set up a Helpdesk to provide better customer service, and made far too many website improvements to list.
Virtual Strides Today
We have now completed 24 monthly virtual races and have donated more than $230,000 to charity! That number represents only the donations we have made directly to our featured charities, and does not include any matching gifts that our donations have qualified for ($31,000), the money we have raised for charity through our relatively-new Partners Program ($63,000), or additional donations made by our participants ($??,???). When you add it all up, we have raised more than $324,000 for charity to date, and that is still not including any of the additional funds donated from our event participants or others as a result of the awareness we spread for so many great causes.
Our team has grown to a total of nine people working on Virtual Strides part or full time, not counting the freelancers we often hire to help with design work, complex programming, and so on.
I never dreamed that Virtual Strides would grow this much and would be able to raise that amount of money for charity in only two years’ time, but now that I have seen how this small business of ours is truly helping make the world a better place, I couldn’t be more proud of the work we are doing, and I am really excited for what the future holds.
We couldn’t have done any of this without your support. It is your enthusiasm that motivates us more than anything else. Reading the comments you make about how much you love our medals and seeing photos of your smiling faces as you complete your virtual races is awesome. We have had people of all ages and abilities participate in our events from 42 different countries around the globe! Along the way, we’ve read some incredible stories you have shared about overcoming adversity, reaching your personal goals, and motivating others to challenge themselves while supporting causes you believe in. It is stories like these that we hope to start sharing more on this blog.
So, What’s Next?
We have a number of goals for this year and beyond. It goes without saying that we plan to continue to host monthly virtual races with great medals in 2017, but beyond that, we really want to focus on improving the user-experience of Virtual Strides participants along the way. Specifically, we plan to:
- Release the long-anticipated Virtual Strides Mobile App (very soon).
- Create the Virtual Strides subscription service many of you have asked for along with a loyalty/rewards program.
- Start offering premium, custom printed bibs to those of you who want them (Why don’t we already do this?)
And those are just the big things. We have several other small improvements in the works as well, but we have to leave some surprises for the road ahead, right?
We are thrilled about how far Virtual Strides has come, but we know this is only the beginning. We’re excited about what the future holds and we sincerely thank you for supporting what we are doing and being part of this journey.