Alex is the co-founder of Let’s Do This, the online platform that helps people find and book mass-participation sports events. LDT is the exclusive registration partner for the majority of endurance events in the UK, working with thousands of events from the London Marathon to local cycling events and everything in between.

What did you do after leaving Radley?

After leaving Radley I went to Cambridge to study Natural Sciences which is their umbrella term for chemistry, physics, and biology. I switched to Chemical Engineering after my first year as I wanted to do something more applied, but then realised I didn’t actually want to be a chemical engineer, as this would mean working on oil rigs or something equally unappealing. So, I changed courses again to spend my last year reading Management at the Cambridge Business School (which was definitely the easy option). It was a real pic’n’mix degree in the end!

Did you have an idea of a future career while at university, or were you studying what you enjoyed?

I had no idea what I wanted to do after university … as you can probably tell from my indecision about what to study. I suppose I did switch to chemical engineering partly because I thought it might open the door to some interesting career options, but I quickly realised they weren’t for me. I got my first job as a management consultant on the back a summer internship and took the graduate job for lack of any better ideas. If I could wind back the clock, I would study computer science.

Your first job was at Oliver Wyman, what was your role?

Oliver Wyman is a management consultancy similar to McKinsey or Bain. Management consultants are typically hired by big companies to advise them on strategy or to work through complex projects or changes. As a consultant you typically work on a new project every few months, so you see lots of different companies and work on a range of different problems. You can see why it appears to be an appealing first job for people like me who don’t really have a clue what they want to do (helped by their aggressive graduate recruitment programmes). I specialised in financial services, so spent most of my time working on projects for investment banks, private equity firms, and even financial regulators and central banks.

I soon realised that what excited me was the new companies that were challenging the stuffy old incumbents, but I wasn’t sure how my experience was going to help me work for one of them. What they needed were people who knew about marketing or who could code, not someone who was good at “strategy” (whatever that means!).

What sparked the idea for a sports-based company?

My co-founder, Sam, and I had both grown up playing a lot of sport. I rowed at Radley and then at university, and when we arrived in London this evolved into weekends running trail marathons or cycling with friends. Sam left university to help start a company that organised multi-day ultramarathons in amazing destinations. It was around this time that Tough Mudder was at its peak and Ironman had just been valued at $1bn. We figured we could build a similarly big company if we could just figure out what the next big thing was going to be!

Were you working for Oliver Wyman and starting Let’s Do This simultaneously?

Ha! No, I quit my job as soon as we had the first inkling of an idea. In hindsight, that was hasty as our idea was half-baked at best, but we had nothing to lose and I’m glad we didn’t try to do it on the side. Starting a company is really, really hard and I wouldn’t recommend trying to do it alongside a demanding job. Three months later we were no closer to figuring out what the next big event concept was going to be. However, we had spoken to hundreds of people who took part in or organised events, and what we had discovered was that there were thousands of amazing events out there, often run by small and passionate teams, but it was difficult to find them or to figure out if they were any good. The idea for Let’s Do This was born.

How did the idea turn into reality?

The new plan required us to build software. Given neither of us were software developers we needed to employ people who were, which meant we also needed to raise investment so we could pay them. We started out raising a relatively small amount of money from family, friends, and a few angel investors, and used that to employ our first few software engineers to build a first version of the product.

Do you and Sam complement each other’s skill sets?

Luckily yes. Sam is the best salesperson I’ve ever met, and being able to sell is one of the most important skills in a start-up, essential for raising investment, selling to your first customers, or persuading people to leave their secure jobs to work for your risky new venture!  My job at the beginning was mainly product management, which involves speaking to our customers to figure out what their pain points were and then working with engineers and designers to decide what we needed to build. I’ve worn plenty of other hats since then and right now I spend most of my time working on consumer growth and marketing, as well as building our new partnerships business.

Covid clearly had a massive impact on your business, mass sporting events were one of the last things to be given the ok to start again.  How did Let’s Do This survive?

Covid was terrifying for us. Every single event was suddenly cancelled, and we watched our revenue plummet to zero overnight. Fortunately, we had managed to raise our Series A funding round only a few months earlier and so had most of that cash still in the bank. We put some staff on furlough and others accepted a salary cut – our team were really amazing in the way they rallied around. We quickly launched a new product to help event organisers run virtual events and also built an app where people could do take part in group fitness challenges with their friends and families.

You now have a 5-year partnership with London Marathon Events, is this your biggest event to date?

We were already working with some pretty major events like the Great North Run and the Hackney Half, but the London Marathon is on a different scale when you consider all the people who apply for a place in the ballot. It’s the most popular event in the world in terms of the number of people who want to take part. The previous record for applications was around 480,00, set in 2019. For 2023 it was estimated half a million people were going to sign up; it was a big test for our software!

How were the nerves on the day the booking system opened?

We were confident the platform would be fine and had tested it to within an inch of its life, but still, it would have been catastrophic for the business if something had gone wrong. There were 20 of us crammed in a meeting room watching all sorts of monitors and dashboards for most of the marathon weekend as the web traffic spiked during certain key moments in the BBC broadcast. Last April we set a new world record was set for the largest number of people ever registering for a running event with 578,374 applications.

Have you got your eye on other events you would like to tap into?

Of course! There are so many other amazing events we’d love to work with. We’re entirely focussed on the US at the moment and have recently started working with some fantastic events over there including the Honolulu Marathon and the Peachtree Road Race (the largest 10k in the world).

Endurance events are just the starting point for us. In the future we plan to expand into all sorts of new industries, which I hope will eventually include music festivals and concerts (my other love!). I hear Glastonbury is in desperate need of an upgrade to the way they sell tickets …

I’ve read that Serena Williams and Usain Bolt are investors, how did that come about?

We took part in Y Combinator, the startup accelerator based in Silicon Valley which spawned Airbnb, Stripe, and Dropbox. Whilst we were out there Alexis Ohanian, who co-founded Reddit, got in touch with us about investing in the company. When we realised he was married to Serena Williams, probably the greatest living sportsperson, we asked if we could speak to her about investing instead. It turns out she’s a prolific investor in start-ups! As for Usain Bolt, he was unfortunate enough that my co-founder Sam recognised the London bar he was in when he shared an Instagram story, so Sam tracked him down and offered to buy him dinner in exchange for listening to our pitch. As an aside, anyone starting a company should apply to YC, it was a completely life-changing experience for us.

What have been the highs and lows?

Without a doubt, the best part of this job is getting to build something tangible that customers use and value. At times the day-to-day is a slog, as with any job, but I’m proud of what we’ve built and even more excited about everything we are going to build in the future. In terms of some specific recent highs, running the London Marathon ballot and breaking the record was mind-blowing. I remember Sam and I dreaming near the outset about whether we’d one day sell tickets for the London Marathon.  It was beyond our wildest imagination at the time!

As for lows, the hardest part of a business always relates to people. The world has changed over the last year as interest rates have soared, and the cost of money has dramatically changed. Every company has had to think carefully about how much they are spending to ensure that their future is secure, us included. As a result, we had to lay off about a third of our team just over a year ago. That was the lowest point for me so far.

Did you learn any skills at school/university/first job that stood you in good stead to become an entrepreneur?

Yes and no. All three taught me solid fundamental skills, the ability to solve problems, and the confidence to communicate with pretty much anyone. Things I suppose which stand you in good stead for any career. However, the skills that are really valuable when starting a company are the ability to build a product (in our case that would have required me to be able to code) and to sell that product. The former I still can’t do (but wish I could), and the latter I’ve learned a lot about since!

Perhaps more valuable than any skills I learned were the friendships I made at each, especially university where Sam and I became close friends.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs wanting to start up a tech business?

Learn to code. I don’t believe AI is going to replace software engineers any time soon, it will just make the good ones much more productive. Find a co-founder. It’s almost certainly the hardest thing you will ever do and none of your friends and family will really understand what you are going through. Apply to Y Combinator.


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