In this episode, we learn from Joe De Sena, the Founder of Spartan Race, the world’s pre-eminent obstacle race. He talks about the influence of his mentors, about grit, resilience and how to use adversity as an opportunity.
Joe De Sena, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., has been an entrepreneur since his pre-teens. De Sena has done everything from selling fireworks at age eight, to starting a t-shirt business in high school, building a multimillion-dollar pool business in college, and creating a Wall Street trading firm. This next phase of his illustrious career centers on transforming the lives of an estimated one million obstacle racing enthusiasts who will participate in one or more of the 130 Reebok Spartan Races this year held in 17 countries.
De Sena is a game changer, intensely passionate about making a difference when it comes to solving the crisis of childhood obesity and poor nutrition.
Personally, De Sena inspires by facing physical hardships few businessmen have ever endured. He has completed more than 50 ultramarathons (in conditions ranging from minus 30 degrees F. to 120 degrees), and 14 Ironman events, including the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, the 140.6 mile Lake Placid Ironman, and a 100-mile Vermont trail run – all in a single week.
Joe’s message of inspiration and personal transformation makes him a popular speaker for a variety of business groups, including Pepperidge Farms, the Association of Corporate Growth (twice), Florida Venture Forum, and the independent TedX BeaconStreet.
De Sena resides in Vermont in a hundred-year-old farmhouse with his wife and four children. His goal is to one day see obstacle racing become an official Olympic sport.
(03:58) When people ask you what do you do, what’s your typical answer to them?
(04:52) I know that you grew up in Queens, what’s your family background? Do you have any siblings? What does your parents do for work?
(05:51) How do you think you could have gone the wrong direction there? Was there a pivotal moment early on, or somebody who pulled you out of a potential bad situation?
(07:34) What was it about that gentleman that you wanted to listen to him, that you respected, that kept you on track?
(08:48) It seems like there seems a theme of that throughout your life and your entrepreneurial endeavors too. Can you tell us about getting into that first big business in the pools?
(10:38) What was it like, 780 customers you ended up, with at that point?
(11:05) When did you start the business?
(12:01) I’m interested in the difference between what you think is opportunity and serendipity, where, some of this is obviously a lot of hard work and hustle. But what about some of the figures in your life?… How much is opportunity and how much is serendipity or luck there?
When you’re on a path, and you’ve got a true north, it’s easy to quickly sift through the noise.
(15:32) You talk a lot about “frame of reference” which I think is such a pivotal thing. Can you explain why you think it’s so important and why it is?
(18:58) How do you put [your kids] in the position to get the frame of reference, when they don’t have that sort of financial or social challenges that you may have had? Or your father may have had?
(20:46) How long are you staying in Singapore?
(24:18) Does your sister have the same perspective that you do?
(25:37) Dr. Taub’s research
(26:38) Let’s dive into the Spartan Race. This is the physical interpretation of overcoming obstacles and using adversity to your advantage. Tell me about the Spartan race, how it came to be, and the impact it has made so far.
(29:00) Do you find people just signing up for the race and creating that sort of stakes, like a keystone habit or like a domino effect for all the things you mentioned – eating healthy, community…
(31:15) Have your kids done the Spartan races as well?
(34:12) I heard you talk about how you want the Spartan race or the obstacle race to be an Olympic sport. What’s that process? Is that still top of your mind?
(35:18) So if you get the go-ahead, what’s the first Olympics that it would happen in?
(36:16) What book has most influenced you and why?
(37:00) What about documentaries? Do you watch them? And if so, what’s the one that most impacted you?
(38:27) When you hear the word “successful,” who’s the first person that comes to mind?