During a year when most events were canceled, many race directors were forced to either refund participants or rollover registration fees. Most ultrarunners sign up for races months in advance, and a majority of spring and summer events were already full when COVID hit last year, making it difficult for registration sites like UltraSignup (USU) to navigate these uncharted waters.
Nashville software company Atiba Labs had already started a conversation with USU founder, Mark Gilligan, in the fall of 2019. “UltraSignup dominates the trail running registration space – they are already established,” said partner Jay Kelley, who is also an ultrarunner. “We were looking for an investment where we could bring value.” Jay Kelley, David Callahan and JJ Rosen are the three partners, all associated with Atiba, working together on the purchase of USU that was announced at the beginning of the year.
However, after COVID hit in mid-March, Atiba decided to pull back. They watched race registrations screech to a halt, but were impressed with the resilience and community of the customers, all while being aware of the risk when it came to refunds. It was then that the three investors knew they could take the popular race registration site to the next level by helping it grow but maintaining the value it offered to both race directors and runners.
After witnessing USU’s survival of a global pandemic and the return of racing, Atiba re-engaged with Gilligan and closed the deal in late September. Gilligan had been running USU and doing the programming on his own since its inception in 2009 and Rosen, Atiba Labs’ founder, saw that adding a few more people would be a positive boost for the platform that hosts race rankings, results, registrations and more.
“People should be excited to see where USU is headed. There are a lot of things in the hopper,” said Callahan. The partners say they plan to stick with the brand’s look and feel, but will address the website’s need for more horsepower. This will help increase the speed when web activity is at its peak (i.e. multiple race registrations opening simultaneously) and allow for a broader platform.
The company’s “do no harm” policy will help the website perform better without dramatically altering the user experience. When asked about protecting that magical feeling of clicking the registration button when signing up for a race, Callahan said, “We embrace and love the ultra community, and want them to see USU as the portal to their next adventure.”