Walker Webcast: 29029 Co-Founders on Overcoming Self-Imposed Limitations
“It’s a safe place to challenge yourself,” 29029 co-founder Marc Hodulich said on this week’s Walker Webcast. “Are you willing to put yourself in an environment where you don’t know what the outcome is going to be? And that’s entrepreneurship, right? Starting a business, you don’t know how it’s going to end up.”
That “safe place” calls on participants to perform the equivalent of summiting Mt. Everest, all 29,029 feet of it—without Sherpa guides, without extreme weather, without going anywhere near the Himalayas. Instead, participants climb a private mountain in the U.S., take a gondola back down to the base and repeat—as many times as they’re able, over the course of 36 hours. Participants have said the experience is life-changing in terms of creating a feeling of accomplishment.
“The common theme in endurance sports is, it comes down to one thing, and that’s: will you?” said Jesse Itzler, 29029 co-founder and author of the memoir Living with a SEAL. On Wednesday’s Walker Webcast, Itzler told Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker about a conversation he had at age 21 with an older, successful entrepreneur. “There’s a big difference between ‘can’ and ‘will,’” the entrepreneur told Itzler.
Applying that distinction to his present-day track record as an endurance runner, Itzler continued, “Of the 500 people on this call, everyone could probably beat me in a 50-yard dash or lift more weight than me. But I’m really good at running a really long time without stopping. And that comes down to will.”
One reason Hodulich and Itzler founded 29029 was to make endurance sports available to anyone willing to literally go the distance, even if they’d never competed in an Ironman and didn’t consider themselves accomplished swimmers, cyclists or runners. “When people leave our event, we always say, ‘Look what you just did. Think about what you came here and thought you could do. Maybe you only ran a 5K in your life and it took you 40 minutes. You just went for 28 hours and climbed the equivalent of Mount Everest,’” said Itzler. “What we were giving people was showing them that the limitations that they’ve been putting on themselves are self-imposed.”
Digging deep to complete that Everest equivalent is part of the 29029 experience. “There’s no shortcut here,” said Hodulich. “It’s really hard. And I think what’s inspiring for everyone is sharing that mountain together because you’re working the same course and it just creates real community. That’s what I’m most proud of.
“What we built is a really strong community because when you’re at the front of a race, you never see the back end,” he continued. “When you’re at the back, you don’t see the front end here. You’re constantly fighting those same elements together on the same track. And I think those who are slower feed off those that are fast and those that are faster are saying, ‘I’m so much more physically fit than some of the people on this mountain, yet they’re finding a way to get this done.’”
Hodulich and Itzler’s entrepreneurial acumen goes beyond endurance sports, although the fact that they sold 29029 to NordicTrack in 2021 attests to their success in that arena. (The co-founders now fully own the company again.) During the hour-long webcast, they also discussed the stories behind Marquis Jets and Zico coconut water—concepts that were nearly hindered, rather than aided, by resorting conventionally to PowerPoint presentations. “Don’t ever underestimate enthusiasm and passion,” Itzler advised. “Don’t ever underestimate what that can get you.”
On-demand replays of the Oct. 25 Walker Webcast will be available through the Walker Webcast channels on YouTube, Spotify and Apple.