Thursday, August 14, 2008

Prerace Jitters Exclusive Interview: Ross Krempley and—Touch The Sky!

Oregon’s Ross Krempley is one of the most exciting leaders in track and field, but getting off the ground and getting respect has been difficult. This year the veil comes off.

This is the final article in the three part series, Pioneers in the Internet Landscape of Track and Field. Previously, we had the distinct pleasure of highlighting Tom Borish of the legendary and Steve McGill, the curator of is to track and field social networking what Paris Hilton is to being a celebrity. In November 2007, the website launched bringing the track world an opportunity to have customized profiles, event web pages, messaging, tons of videos-on-demand, and countless other features. Think Myspace or Facebook with a track twist.

When meeting founder Ross Krempley, it is immediately evident that he is the man behind a website that caused an internet movement. He has a certain quality that you cannot put your finger on, but you know when you see it.

For Ross, managing is his journey, his doing which is vital to his destination. He is working on not solely for the outcome of a wildly successful website that fattens his bank account, but he for the track experience.

After a bunch of phone calls, the interview finally happened. It is seemed only fitting that I met with Ross at the Olympic Trials track meet to discuss how influenced the landscape even before launching in November of 2007.

The former standout 800-meter runner at the University of Oregon was tapped by Vin Lananna to help direct the OTC Elite, and take the position as Frank Gagliano's assistant coach, while maintaining his roll as director of Team XO.

Most importantly, Vin wanted Ross to make sure that the needs of both teams were met and that the teams worked together. Vin wanted to make sure there was no clash with the post-collegiate teams there.

During our conversation he also cleared up any confusions about the similarities between and

Here is what Ross had to say about the genesis, struggle for validity, and the grind to shine effort in a sport that has inspired him to put everything on the line.

PRJ: How big is your crew at I look at your site sometimes, and it looks like the entire city of Eugene is working on the website?

RK: It is pretty incredible sometimes the amount of work that people will do when they are enjoying themselves. We have a crew of about 14 people. Everyone varies from two or three hours a week to just working on events. The only way it can be like that is because of the energy that is involved here. You could never have a track and field website that was paying people’s salaries. You could have one person, and they would have to have a part-time job.

PRJ: Is there one person that you would like to interview that you have not been able to thus far?

RK: I still can’t talk to Allen Johnson--he has always been so high up there for me.

PRJ: What is your background in track and field, and what led up to the creation of

RK: Right after college, a bunch of other athletes were going to continue to run, jump, and throw. We decided to start a post-collegiate team called Team XO. That team has been alive ever since. It focuses on athletes that were not good enough to get contracts and some that could get contracts, but could still use a good team atmosphere to stay motivated.

Through Team XO, I became interested in other events. Before that, I was just focused on the 800, to be as good as I could be. We were trying to build a complete team with runners, jumpers, and throwers. That brought me to where I was meeting a lot of people and trying to grow the team.

He [Vin] asked me to help direct the OTC Elite and be Gags assistant coach while still maintaining my roll as director of Team XO, so no one would step on each other's toes. I think we have done a great job making everyone feel as though they have a place and the track community has seemed to embrace both teams.

PRJ: Who was involved when you started Runnerspace?

RK: First, let’s put to bed the myth that we have some crazy funding from Nike or that Vin [Lananna] controls the website. We cover what is in the northwest because that is what is close to us. We cannot afford to fly everywhere. We are at all of the Oregon meets because I live two blocks from there. We are at the Washington meets some, too. The site was very regional from the beginning.

Two and half years ago, I came up with the full outline for the site. It took me about a 1.5 year to gather the resources and find the people to launch it. When we were ready to go, it still took another eight months to launch the website. If the site had launched 2.5 years ago, I couldn’t imagine where we would be now. But we didn’t have money, so where were we supposed to come up with that?

PRJ: If we are sitting down talking five years from today, what do you see looking like?

RK: Currently, the site is about 70% completed based on the original outline that I created 2.5 years ago. We are somewhat limited with what we can do at this time.
Right now, we look very similar to Flotrack for the average viewer. But, that is because of the website capabilities today.

This site is headed towards event management software. . If someone in Idaho has a meet, and they want to make a really cool events and photos page, they can make it. The way the website is set up, they don’t have to ask us. Then, we will feature that new page. I would much rather feature someone else’s work, rather than our own pages.

That is where we are hoping the site goes. We want to spread that message about where we see the future going for

PRJ: A lot has been made about the similarities between and Flotrack. Can you shed some light on the subject, because it sounds like you have a larger vision for than what is in place today?

RK: Those dynamics are an interesting piece to the whole situation. What is interesting is that before Flotrack was launched, Mark [co-founder of Flotrack] and some others were collecting videos and training logs. He and some other people from Flotrack came out to Eugene and were trying to get Team XO and OTC on the training log portion of their website. They asked could they come over to the house and show me what the training logs would do.

So, Mark came over to my house and we talked. I said, "I am coming out with a running site. We are going to have blogs and events. We can include your training logs and do some revenue share if you're interested." I probably said more than I should have. I figured that our site was going to launch two months after this conversation, but it ended up coming out 12 months after our initial conversation, because the funding got all messed up. Once we got to our launch, there were certainly some similarities.

While we were waiting on our launch it was a little depressing watching new features coming out on Flotrack while our site was sitting in limbo. Mark and I have interesting relationship. It's not like a lot of the ideas today are crazy, revolutionary ideas, because some of the features are out on Facebook, but a few years ago they were. I hope that people don't think we hate Flotrack, not even close. Just like in any competition, we use similar tools to win the race and there are no hard feelings.

PRJ: What is the most difficult aspect of managing an organization of 14 site volunteers, other volunteers, and folks uploading their content to

RK: I’m not gonna lie, it’s extremely difficult. The coordination that is involved is non-stop. If coffee was not invented, then I would not be able to do it. If people were not dedicated to helping the effort, then could not exist.

When you are talking about a project on this level, you need the equipment, hosting fees, coding, promotions, and travel… the costs are ridiculous. It takes so much money to make it happen. My dad was so gracious to loan me the money. It is his life savings that he entrusted me to pay back.

PRJ: How does it feel knowing that he gave you money that he saved up for his life? Does it come with any added pressure?

RK: If I had to pick one thing, the money would be the most stressful piece of the entire project. My dad is counting on me to make this happen. It’s not like he’s counting on me to make a bunch of money—where we are sitting on a yacht, one day. He knows that I want to have a situation where I feel passionate about my work and I’m self-sustaining. If I can just do, have a couple people working part-time, and pay him back, then he is good with that scenario.

PRJ: What do you see as the business model where you can generate the kind of revenue that you are speaking about?

RK: At the bare minimum, would have to generate about $75,000 to $80,000 a year in order to be self-sustaining. We have to develop a product that people like enough to come back every day, maybe even multiple times each day. It would have to have ads, maybe 3 to 4 ads on each page. I would love a scenario where we don’t put up ads, but that is not a reality. If a site wants to be to be self-sustaining, it needs to have ads unless it does some very creative sponsorship and promotional pieces.

PRJ: Are you doing some of those promotional pieces already?

RK: Yeah, we just started to do some. We are going to do more as the fall approaches. It just has taken awhile to prove ourselves. You have to build relationships. Before, we would ask for an interview, and we could not tell the athletes when the interview would be published. Today, people see our folks in t-shirts, and they say “What are we going to do?” That has been a huge development. We have experienced that sort of break through with meet directors, team managers, and those kind of industry people.

PRJ: What is the thing that you are most proud of since starting two years ago?

RK: The amount of effort put in by people is the thing I am most proud about. And, something like two nights ago watching Symmonds, Smith and Wheating all make the team. We are from Eugene. We have been able to follow Wheating since no one knew about the kid. We put out a video where he lost his shoe and still ran 1:51. We were like, "He is good, just trust us. He is gonna do big things." Our work was rewarded with the 800-meter final at the Trials.

PRJ: Your reputation among many of the internet players is that the leadership of are team players – that you are willing to help out any website in whatever capacity you can. What are your thoughts on that assessment?

I think I learned a lot trying to get Team XO to the next level. When you are a post-collegiate team that is trying to prove yourselves, you are grateful when anyone helps you out. That mentality has been a value that I tried to bring to this project. Why wouldn’t you want to be in that boat, instead of fighting people?

For example, when Tom Borish of puts a link to our site, we are so appreciative and want to hook him up for doing that. The more our sites can link together, the more complete the coverage will be. The more the love for this sport will grow. That can go all the way down to the local papers.

A local reporter asked if was trying to run the newspapers out of business. I responded that I guarantee we have pushed out more hits from our site to other newspaper websites than vice versa.

PRJ: Anything that you wished that I would have asked you or anything that you would like to share?

RK: I don’t think we have ever had the opportunity to thank some people. I’d like to thank Tom Borish at and also thank Thanks to people who gave us media credentials when we hadn’t earned it, everyone who linked to our website, the meet directors who have been great to us, and those who have supported what we are trying to do at All of these people have been amazing.

PRJ: Ross, thank you for your time and sharing with our readers the insights of We wish you and the best.

By Jay Hicks.

Seed Runnerspace

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