State of GORUCK: Monster’s Muddy Q1+Q2 2015

Monster Muddy_Rose Park_DC
Ho Hum Q1
Ho Hum Q2
Ho Hum 2015

On paper anyway is something wrong nope but what’s wrong, really?

Nothing’s wrong. Really.

I love military analogies but I also love Monster analogies. Monster’s muddy and it wasn’t an accident. Fact. Call him happy and you’d be right and say he’s planning for more of what’s next because he is.

But planning isn’t nearly as sexy as mudding or running around doing whatever you want but it sure does work out better in the end. If you plan, that is. As for what that means there’s no new shine on a muddy coat but isn’t Monster sexy anyway yes, he is.

That’s the right answer. Yes, he is.

Budweiser_GR1_501_Red Wings
Back to the basics the fundamentals and do them really well but what does that mean. Big brands you love didn’t start out with a million things they started out with something. We started with GR1 “One Ruck To Rule Them All” and yes we call it that because it is. Maybe it’s – you fill in the blank – to compare it to Levi’s 501. Maybe it’s, ummmmmm, awesome to compare it to Budweiser – you tell me. I’ll just say that this ruck, somehow me and Jack got right out of the gates. First piece of gear and then came the Challenge it’s a match made in heaven. So how do we best support that operation. Not the operation of new, the operation of the fundamentals. Because we sell more of GR1 than anything else and more people take the Challenge than all our other Events combined by a huge factor. And luckily if it’s luck the Challenge actually sells gear for us. Which means we need to order more, and get better at it.

We used to order black GR1’s 500 or 1,000 at a time. And they’d last as long as they lasted. Then we’d order more before they were almost out. This year we’ve moved to quarterly ordering for all of our best selling items. Meaning, every quarter we tell our vendors how many we want each month for the next three months. Plus they manage the raw materials meaning they order everything. We have to plan a lot more and we pay the vendors more, but we don’t have to do it internally and time is worth more than nothing, always. Switching systems is a painful process even though it sounds like it should be easy. It’s felt like moving from the barter a cow system to a gold standard, or something like that aka it’s very hard to implement and puts strain on everyone. But we’ll be better off for doing it. Laying tracks in 2015 isn’t it sexy?

Sony sewing_son_mike
What’s our most important partnership? I’m not sure what you’d guess or maybe you think GORUCK doesn’t have any important partnerships. Here’s what I’d say. The vendors who build our gear are our most important relationships. Without them we cannot grow because we don’t have gear to sell and now you get it. So here’s me and em and lil’ Jack with Son and his Uncle Mike who owns Sony Sewing. It’s an interesting thing the vendor stuff. You have to convince them that they should take your business. I always thought everyone would want to say yes to everything more business but the places that survive say no all day long.

All day long they say no. If you can’t scale then they waste all their time learning how to build something and then you don’t want to build any more of them because you can’t sell them etc. And they’re out a ton of time and made very little money.

Eventually a few years ago we told Mike the story and the vision for GORUCK and in that process convinced him to take our business but it’s never plug and play. It takes time for everyone to learn how to work together that’s true in war in sewing in relationships in everything. It takes time. Our standards are notoriously really high and they can only really know that by working with us. The good news is we work really well together and that’s a testament to Son who manages the relationship and our team in Bozeman for setting him up for success in terms of clearly outlining our standards for how the rucks must be built. Again, this is our foundation for gear. We have a few vendors in sum but our order fulfillment and quality control departments are co-located in the same building as Sony because they do the most volume for us.

So if you’re one of the TRVLSQD folks love ya Ferg or you’re in the PNW and you were wondering, wonder no more. Mike at Sony and his team are why we’re in Seattle. And if you own one of our rucks his team probably built it. Something about math and probability.

2014 2015
Q1 revenue $2,367,601 $2,050,597
Q2 revenue $2,724,633 $2,637,270
Total Q1+Q2 $5,092,233 $4,687,867

Oh yeah, the numbers. Like I said, Ho Hum. We’re behind last year and the Jone’s’es or however you spell it whatever. And I’m not known for being the whatever kind of guy which is fair. It’s just a conscious decision we’ve made to get better before we get faster and it comes down to our time, and how we spend money. We’re focused on the future which means not next week not even this quarter but next year and the next years. It’s horrible and humbling how important process is especially if you’re the kind who likes big guns and fast cars. But if you don’t know how to balance your checkbook and then you play in the NFL and you have tons more money and you still don’t know how to balance your checkbook you’ll probably go bankrupt which almost everyone who plays in the NFL does. That’s another fact.

Let me be clear because I never really understood how this would happen till I did. We could have a lot more revenue right now, this first half the year. And you’re like then do it if it’s so easy. If I if we spent more of our time on selling today if we ran more promotions more sales more fab dot com stuff whatever we’d have more revenue today. But we’re not. Like I’ve said before I want GORUCK to outlive me. To be around forever. And to be one of the most respected brands in the world. If it weren’t ambitious, if it weren’t hard it wouldn’t be worth doing. So we’re at a point in our young history where we’re able to take a tactical pause even for a year or so and plan and grow our team and lay tracks together.

It’s kinda like if you want any backpack go buy any backpack the cheaper the better I guess and you can have it today go anywhere and pick it up at Whatever-Mart it’ll cost ya $20 but sometimes we have to save cash money for things we really want. Maybe some or most of you have done that for a GR1 because it’s really expensive and I get it. And internally at GORUCK HQ we’re saving up not so much cash but we’re investing our time, and our cash, in processes to be the best we can be for years and decades to come.

There’s no shine on a muddy Monster but he’s still sexy lol.

Feb 10th Monster got super excited and so did a bunch of us because Jack was born. It’ll change your life and it’s changed mine and Mocha Mike told me GORUCK would be all the better for it and that’s a dude I’ll follow anywhere and he’s got a couple years on me and he’s right. It’s fun and you don’t sleep much it’s all true but emily bears the brunt of it and moms – no matter how much we love ‘em – we can never say thank you enough, moms are always under appreciated. It’s a helluva thing they do for us and to see it firsthand takes me back to my youth with my mom who was only 18 and it all makes more sense. And I’m infinitely more grateful.

That which leads us home and the people we find there will always hold a special place in our hearts. Our roots are our own and we ignore them to our peril. That’s true in life and in work.

And amidst what will still be a growth year for us, it’s less new and more of what we do really well and doing that better. Strengthening our roots. GORUCK fundamentally has two monopolies: GORUCK gear and GORUCK events. And without either of those we wouldn’t exist. We’re not big enough to threaten big players but we’ve got potential. And we’re gonna do what we do better because of what we’re doing behind the scenes that honestly doesn’t sell us anything today.

It’s a good place to be and I can see the future as if today. The trick except it’s not a trick at all is to stay on course and adapt as we must. And as we need to. Don’t get married to your plan but have a plan and our plan is to plan and to build a company and a community around rucking. It’s a tall order to attempt to monetize your own revolution. Nike sparked the jogging thing in the 70’s and sold shoes, Reebok monetized the aerobics craze in the 80’s. They’re both billion dollar companies. There are lots of other examples but not that many because everyone has heard of every single company that gets it right. So like I said if it’s not ambitious it’s not worth doing.

I took my first Tough Challenge ever and it brought me back to Special Forces training and to GORUCK’s roots in one shot. A few years ago I was in massive burn out stage. There was this class in NYC on my first weekend off in basically forever. Then last second I had to drive up and lead it through 15 degree rain and I showed up angry and that’s the hardest worst class I’ve ever led. It was also an opus to leadership and how to do it – based on the fundamentals of Special Forces and refined and adapted for use at the Challenge and in your daily life. Lesson after lesson about accountability and responsibility and communication when life gets stressful. And it got stressful and it wasn’t in vain, it wasn’t for nothing. But at the end of that Challenge I didn’t feel good about the way I led that class and I walked away for a while. Anger cannot be the well for lessons, it’s a destructive place and anger doesn’t inspire even if you cover it up, which I did.

Anyway I say all that to say that when you get burnt out you have to come back to something willingly, on your own timeline. You have to fall in love again. And fast forward a bit and I led a Challenge or two and then fell in love with the Light because it was fun because I made it fun for me and for you because that’s what it had to be for me to want to be there. Period. And the Tough our signature event still kind of sat there all standoffish like. Then from Afghanistan Dan sent me a note and said hey bro it’s been 4+ years I think it’s time for you to finally take one of these. Sometimes you need a nudge from an old friend at the right time and Dan was right and other than Jack’s birth which is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of, the GRT Reunion Challenge was the coolest thing I’ve done in a long time. And I fell in love with the Challenge all over again, and with GRT’s and GORUCK Nation in a new way, not just as a Cadre but as a participant and I felt really humbled by the whole thing and I cried when Dan gave me my patch and then I cried in front of the entire class while we toasted to the community we’re all a part of. Fact.

Surprisingly maybe to some life and the Challenge are very similar. There’s stress and there’s a lot of unknowns. And you have to embrace it and adapt at all times. Life isn’t an obstacle course with a course map you can study and it’s not a race with a finish line and a clock at the end. That stuff is fine but the Challenge is more like life and the lessons you learn at a Challenge apply more to you guessed it, life.

So what does that mean what’s an example how does it work etc.

When in charge, when the Cadre puts you in a position of leadership, think of the Cadre as your boss. He’ll outline the mission, the do’s and the don’ts, and he’ll define success for you. Then he’ll expect you to take charge and make it happen, and he’ll coach you and the class along the way as much as you need it. Leadership is not telling people what to do. It’s not making a decision and walking away. It’s a constant process of persuasion and communication about how the team can achieve mission success. They’re working and you’re managing so you can see things they can’t about how the system is going and if you make bad decisions they’ll suffer. You have to live with that and adapt quickly, for their benefit and for yours. Sometimes you’re a cheerleader sometimes you’re an enforcer. Ideally you’re always calm, losing your temper does not breed confidence. You’ve got good rapport with your team, and you over-communicate to everyone. A few tips from start to finish:

  • Listen to the Cadre. After he’s explained the mission, give him a brief back to ensure that you’ve clearly heard and defined mission success to his liking.
  • Formulate a plan – assign an assistant team leader to help with navigation or whatever you require. Ensure they understand their responsibilities. Don’t assume you have all the answers – ask for feedback from your team aka the good ideas club is open for business. This is not a sign of weakness – usually one person doesn’t have the absolute best plan. But do not keep the good ideas club open forever. Make a decision. You can fix even a bad decision with execution but you can’t fix a non-decision and the clock is ticking.
    Communicate the mission, the plan, everything to everyone in the class before you start moving. If you have to move faster, communicate at the earliest possible time even if that’s on the move.
  • Adapt to Win. As things happen don’t stay married to your plan. Stay married to whatever will get you to mission success. For example, the same four people can’t carry the heaviest load the entire time. Swap them out sooner and save the collective energy of the team for whatever’s coming next. Of course, you don’t know what’s coming next and that’s the point. We never know. Your job is to make sure you have the right people in the right place doing the right thing to achieve mission success.
  • Over communicate to everyone. Telling someone in the front what’s going on doesn’t help anyone in the back. It’s very demotivating to not know what’s going on and you need your team to be motivated. Silence from a leader doesn’t work.
  • Make sure to smile. They’re infectious.
  • After Action Review (AAR) once the mission is complete. The Cadre will spearhead this as well. Was it a good plan? Did you communicate it clearly? Did you define success? Did you adapt? Did you win aka achieve mission success – if not, why not? We have to learn from our mistakes, and we have to learn to process criticism. In life, make sure your boss gives you AAR’s as often as possible. They don’t have to last more than a couple minutes but feedback is highly valuable.

The Cadre put me in charge for the last mission imagine that and the things that really hit home for me were the need to over-communicate and the need to motivate with positivity aka smiles. It’s no different at the Challenge or in life but it’s easier to see the effects at the Challenge – it’s instantaneous with instantaneous feedback. People can’t hide their disdain in an email they spent two hours crafting all diplomatic like. I think the Challenge is one of the coolest, most meaningful events ever. Yes, I’m biased. And it’s very much our roots at GORUCK and we’re doubling down on the Challenge now at almost 5 years after Class 001. It’s called “Charming the Snake” and you’ll hear a lot more about what that means in the coming months. Basically though it’s a method, a frame of reference for how to solve the toughest problems in life. And we’ll be teaching it at the Challenge and you’ll be living it and you take those lessons back to your daily life. If you wanna be a better leader, if you wanna be a better team player, this is the place to learn. There are no shortcuts in life, the best leaders lead and they get better the more they do it.

If you haven’t done a Challenge yet, it’s time. If you’ve done lots, expect more of yourself at the next one.

jungle boots_GORUCK_Special Forces Qualification Course
Boots and our roots. And everyone in the GORUCK Tough Group just smiled it’s a thing people love to ask as if boots make the man, or the woman. They don’t but they sure can make life better for your feet if you have better ones. Anyway these are mine from the Special Forces Qualification Course and I dusted them off because we explored an opportunity to create some rucking boots and shoes – and these were my inspiration. It would have entailed a title sponsor for all of our events and we made a lot of friends in the process, two of whom are very dear to us still on a personal level. But the cultural fit wasn’t right and 15 months later still wasn’t right so we went our separate ways. On good terms. If I could get more specific I would. You might call me crazy or you might not I don’t know. Maybe it was bad timing maybe it was a bad fit. But we did what we felt was best for us, in our hearts. And it’s tough to argue with that.
Partnerships and such are behind the scenes until they’re not. And we have a few we’re very excited about, the most relevant one being Ingress. It’s a video game you play on your cell phone and some of you are probably like that sounds like a horrible fit. Except that it’s a perfect fit here’s why.

  • You have to move to play Ingress. Meaning, in the real world. Basically it’s a capture the flag kind of alternate reality game.
  • Ingress is accessible to just about everybody. All you need is a smartphone which because of the awesomeness of American ingenuity pretty much everyone has now.
  • Having spent some time with the folks from Ingress HQ, what motivates them is the impact that they’re having on peoples’ lives. Not as just a video game, but because people are getting out of their houses and getting more active and healthier and you can’t ask for better motivation. Ingress is an offshoot of Google (who pays their bills btw) and they take seriously the culture of “don’t be evil.” In my estimation their team is easy to work with, fun, and very smart. We do very different things, there’s no competition between us in any of them meaning we complement each other. And perhaps most importantly, personally we get along great.

So where’s it going?

Ingress has large physical gatherings all over the world (1,000’s of people per event) and GORUCK has already integrated into a couple of them. We’re working behind the scenes with the Ingress team on what additional integration looks like, and where. And about how to integrate GORUCK specific missions into the game you download and about how our Cadre can best add additional elements to the human terrain at the Ingress Live Events.

Leading people in real life is different than leading them online. And we think it’s really cool that a so-called video game has brought so many people together, and that some of them want to do more and become the tip of the spear within their community. Of significance is that Ingress has 12 million downloads and 1 million active users and personally I believe in the game (Level 8 Bam!) and the Ingress team and I believe we can add a really cool layer to their events and their storyline. I think we can help the Agents (what you may call players) stay even more engaged and get even more active. I mean, if you’re gonna walk you might as well ruck.

GRT_Challenge-445_roc myers
Oh yeah how did this come about no thanks to me is how. Emily spearheaded this with our friend Roc (pictured from the Challenge we did together) and I told em this was a total waste of time, that Google would never give us the time of day we’re too small etc. That was two years ago and of course she didn’t listen she just kept it going behind the scenes like she does and here we are and I was wrong. Either way though meaning whether this proves really successful or if it doesn’t – however anyone can measure, we can’t judge life just on outcomes good or bad. We believe this is a good fit both ways, we’re doing everything we can to be a strong partner, and we’ll take it as it comes. Lots more to follow on this.

In DC aka the capital of freedom you’ll find the roots of GORUCK’s early start-up days. I was in business school with a hobby called GORUCK and before you knew it there were a few people working out of my condo sharing frozen pizzas and beers for dinner and Java was there for all of it. The walls still talk and they talk memories important to me and to my life, and I’ll always enjoy going back. Once you’ve gotten through the toughest parts of the life you’ve lived so far and that phase was the toughest for me, it breeds the kind of confidence that you can get through anything. And in my case I’ve wanted to tell the story of those early days but not so much about GORUCK, about the transition from the military to the civilian world. So I went up to DC back to the beginning to put that story to paper. It’s a war story and a love story and a story about a dog named Java. It’s barely about GORUCK but of course GORUCK is in there, too.

Ultimately it’s a story of hope. I’ve grown tired of hearing about how broken and PTSD riddled my generation of warfighters is. Then their story ends call it Hurt Locker, people feel shamed into donating to military charities, but the myth grows that military veterans are unable to work at home in America, that we’re lepers of sorts. I’ll fight the rest of my life to dispel this notion and we collectively need some success stories that are overtly human and overtly approachable. The tragedy of Chris Kyle is that unlike the fictional Hurt Locker his story was the makings of the ultimate success story, back home in America, until he died may he rest in peace and my heart goes out to his family.

I printed up 5 copies at FedEx Kinko’s as time in DC wound down and 5 friends from various walks of life and professional experience read it. A banker a Green Beret a Brain doctor a reporter for the Washington Post and a hostage negotiator.

Not all reports are in but the feedback so far is pretty consistent:
It’s a story worth telling, with universal appeal. And you’re not close to done. Which is tough to hear because it was a process similar to visiting a graveyard with all your loved ones’ bodies in it and you have to dig them up one by one and describe them now and then you put them back in the ground. It’s a rough process, cathartic and humbling. And hopefully worth it for more people than just me someday. But if it’s not done it’s not done. And should it end up just for me and it sits on the shelf for Jack to better understand his dad someday, I’m cool with that, too.

But the hope if they’re right is that the backbone is there and that’s the hardest part. I still have to write a bunch more. It’ll take me another year best guess, then I’ll engage someone to aggressively edit it. As was told to me by someone who understands how to sum something up succinctly, style is not the same as voice and the voice is strong but the style can use some polish. Kinda how a muddy Monster gets a bath when he’s done mudding for the day. Ultimately, there’s plenty of time to see this through and I want to do it right, not just rush out the first thing I can shove out the door.

jack_Reds game_DC
Oh yeah, the business stuff we’re behind where we were last year and I’ve got excuses as to why maybe they’re convincing and distracting and feel good and fantastic I’m an author what a waste of time you say and probably I’m rationalizing my own decisions and cheerleading us because that’s what I have to do. And I’m gallivanting around and I’ve given up on the day to day needs of GORUCK because it’s too hard and I want to go to Reds games with Jack and em and anyone else who wants to join us for $9 beers.

Or something.

Nope not it at all really but a Reds game or any baseball game for that matter in the summertime is not to be missed but let me be a little more specific. A year ago we had about $1 million dollars less in inventory on hand (COGS). In essence, we’re ramping up aggressively for Christmas 2015. Last year’s Q1+Q2 numbers were artificially high in that we had tons of inventory on hand in January and we ran Steals and Deals in April/May. This year, neither of those were the case. We didn’t have the inventory to support that blueprint because Christmas 2014 exceeded our expectations by about $1 million in revenue aka a lot of extra stuff got sold and this January and February our shelves were empty. It’s impossible to grow if you don’t have anything to sell. This year, 2015, our first million dollar month was in May because of the launch of Ruck Plates, the only new product this year to really move the needle for us. We see them doing well till, I dunno, forever. And operationally we love ‘em because we don’t have to build them ourselves.

So what’s coming for Christmas first of all more. We’re not gonna almost run out of GR1 Black’s like we did last year and if that happens it’s because of something nuclear and that would be a good problem to have. Point is, we have lots of them. Plus some newer stuff than our original ruck lol but you’ve seen most of it already, sort of. We just have to message them and sell them: made in USA GORUCK apparel, Kid Rucks, some additional colors for our original rucks.

And a new ruck more geared around rucking and Ruck Plates than laptops. We’ll see how it does and that’s about all I got to say about that. For now.

The main point though is that we’ll have a lot more inventory on hand than we did last year which allows us to do more with that inventory. Marketing and such. Sounds pretty basic and shooting between your legs on the move seems sexier than being in a position where you don’t have to thank you Hollywood. But it’s not. Sometimes meaning as often as possible you have to go back to the 20 meter flat range if you want to stay proficient and just like leadership, marksmanship is a perishable skill and if you master the fundamentals then you can flex those fundamentals later. But not today. Not till they’re mastered.

It’s probably wholly demotivating where’s the shiny new stuff and like I keep saying it’s no coincidence that Monster is muddy. That’s the plan this year.

Eventually when we’re done in the mud we’ll shower up and see what we can do. Once we can hit the 20 meter target dead center every time we’ll see if we can shoot on the move at 20 meters.

jack bow tie
But know this. We also happen to love playing in the mud no matter if we’re wearing a bow tie and pumping our fists like a boss. Fact. So that might happen for a while maybe forever and we might find out we prefer the mud to the shine. Maybe muddy suits us just fine and we’ll polish up only when we must. Never say never.

Thank you for the opportunity to not work for a living, to do what I love at a place that means so much to me, and hopefully to you. A place called GORUCK that isn’t a place at all.

Got questions ask questions. And side note I’m considering doing more like weekly random posts about the inner workings of GORUCK and summing those up twice a year or so into these State of GORUCK posts. I have no idea what the appetite is, or how interesting it would be. But it would be more conversational and if there’s no conversation then it’s probably not worth exploring much.

But these SOG posts, I enjoy them and plan to keep doing them as long as you’ll let me like I say … not work for a living.

As always, thank you.


  1. Margaret says:

    Thank you, Jason! Not many company’s out there that you can 100% get behind, they change your life, make you better and then they pull back the curtain and you still 100% want to back them up, buy from them, tell your friends about them.

    Don’t know about everyone else but I enjoy & am motivated by these SOG posts. Please keep ’em coming.

  2. Linda Rubin says:

    I can’t wait to read your book, Jason. Love your writing, Jack, Monster, Emily, Rucking and you.

  3. D. Hall says:

    Jason you should submit this to The Harvard Business Review. No fucking joke. This is good shit for others to learn from.

  4. Jono says:

    Well written Jason, thanks for sharing details of the inner workings of your company, but also your thoughts on and experiences in life, business and society. I’ve only recently found out about GORUCK, but the respect builds the more I read.

  5. Jonathan McMenamin-Balano says:

    Was thinking the same thing. Or U of Chicago…. you get the idea.
    Keep up the good work.


  6. Michael says:

    Great post Jason! I’d definitely enjoy more posts about the inner workings of GORUCK, keep them coming. It’s incredibly hard to balance work and life as a founder, so this is a great reminder that living is essential in order to keep us going for many years to come.

  7. Its touching that you right about wanting to be success story in the generation of ptsd riddled vets… and i’m not even American. speaking of which any plans for resellers / sales outside of America Australia to be specific ?

  8. Joe Agraviador says:

    Thank you, you and your life changing company has been my topic of papers in my last two classes (one currently) to get my MBA. Thank you, and I count on your company being around forever.

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