Hassan Esufally.

An adventurer on the Cambridge Judge Business School entrepreneurship programme seeks to monetise marathons, mountaineering and memoirs

1 August 2022

The article at a glance

He has completed marathons on every continent, and now Sri Lankan Hassan Esufally (MSt Entrepreneurship 2021) seeks to build a business model for his adventures through the Masters in Entrepreneurship programme at Cambridge Judge Business School.

He has completed marathons on every continent, and now Sri Lankan Hassan Esufally (MSt Entrepreneurship 2021) seeks to build a business model for his adventures through the Masters in Entrepreneurship programme at Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS).

Hassan Esufally sat by the side of the road in the middle of the Australian Ironman in Cairns, ready to quit. He had completed a 4 km swim and was halfway through a 180 km cycle when he felt he had nothing left. Competitors were giving up all around him, and he’d vomited seven times due to a buildup of lactic acid. Even if he completed the bike ride, he still had a 42 km run ahead. He prayed, and a race official directed him to the next station to get some rest.

“I thought I just need to take it one step at a time,” he recalls. “After I got back on that bike, I felt I could achieve anything. I still feel like that.”

Since completing the Ironman in Cairns six years ago (in a time of 15 hours, 33 minutes and 49 seconds) he’s become the first Sri Lankan to run a marathon on every continent – including Antarctica. The 7 Continents Marathon Club says that 293 men and 96 women had achieved that feat as of 22 June 2022.

Training for an Antarctic marathon in a blast freezer in tropical Sri Lanka

Acclimatising for minus-20 degree conditions in the 30 degree heat of his native Sri Lanka may seem impossible, but Hassan simply contacted the owner of a local business trading tea and coconuts, loaded his treadmill onto his Jeep, and trained in the factory’s blast freezer. Running in full kit in the industrial freezer, he worked out where to store his gels, electrolytes and water bottles so they wouldn’t freeze during the race.

“I wanted to put Sri Lanka on the map for something other than cricket, rugby and tea. And I wanted to have an impact, to leave a legacy in the world,” he says.

Hassan applies the same drive and focus to business. “You need to have the mindset of persistence, determination and resilience, particularly if you’re an entrepreneur. You have to be able to work in a team and give other people credit. You need to believe in yourself and have the confidence to set big goals for yourself.”

Background in tea exporting and hotel sales

Before starting his Masters in Entrepreneurship degree programme at Cambridge Judge Business School last year, Hassan earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Management and Marketing. He has worked in the family tea exporting business in Sri Lanka and in sales roles in hotels in Sri Lanka and the UK, but realised he had the entrepreneurial bug and sought to start his own business.

Initially, the plan was a sports supplement start up selling protein shakes, electrolyte drinks, and carbohydrate sachets. Through the Cambridge Union and Cambridge University Expedition Society he then met several other adventurers including Bear Grylls, Alistair Humphreys, polar explorer Ben Saunders, mountaineers Mostafa Salameh and Jake Meyer, and realised they were making a full-time career out of their endeavours. All have slightly different business models, but with their mentorship, Hassan hopes to show he can develop self-sustaining sources of income without being a household name.    

Unconventional business model to monetise adventures

Hassan’s plan revolves around a 5-step model:

  1. Secure a full-time remote job as a marketing and sales director, or a fitness director, that gives him flexibility to train and take part in marathons.
  2. He then hopes to secure a book deal. Hassan has already written 30,000 words of a memoir / self-help book focusing on persistence and resilience, and is currently looking for publishers.
  3. Secure regular speaking engagements. These can be extremely lucrative with corporate events offering £5,000. Hassan has already spoken at multiple events across Sri Lanka, Australia, the Philippines, and the UK. He’s in negotiations to speak at the National Running Show.
  4. Social media marketing.
  5. Endorsements from companies for financing, equipment, and services. In the past he has worked with Adidas, Red Bull, two banks and a private equity firm.

The hope is the income from the later steps in the model will eventually exceed the income from the job.

Hassan acknowledges it’s an ambitious plan: “One of the main challenges of being a ‘working adventurer’ is that it’s not a guaranteed source of income at the beginning. In my email inbox when I woke up today, I got rejection from this, rejection from that, because you’re applying for so many different things – travel grants, expedition funding, book deals, and not everything will go your way. I would say for every one deal I got I would have got 20 rejections. But having met people who have managed to monetise being an adventurer in this way, I believe it’s possible.”

Benefit of support from CJBS mentors

Hassan is full of praise how CJBS has responded to this unorthodox model, in particular Tim Curtis, Chairman of Lifestyle Fitness and one of the mentors on the Business School’s MSt in Entrepreneurship programme: “When I told him I wanted to switch business plans he was incredible and very encouraging”. He also credits the School for teaching him how to negotiate contracts in a methodical way, to read body language, and to structure emails to get the most out of a potential sponsor.

He is also a realist: “If you’re going to be an entrepreneur you need to have a Plan B. My Plan B is if all else fails I still have a master’s degree from Cambridge and I can get a corporate job.”

It doesn’t feel likely Hassan will be falling back on Plan B anytime soon. Disarmingly laid back with a broad smile and easy laugh, the only time you get a sense of the intensity that drives him is when he discusses his fundraising for underprivileged children for UNICEF. “Where you’re born and the circumstances you’re born into matters so much to the trajectory of your life. Children don’t choose where they’re born. One thing every child deserves is to get a good education.”

Climbing Everest – the ultimate challenge

A firm believer in goal setting, the 31-year-old’s current goals are to visit every country in the world, achieve financial freedom by the time he’s 35, and to climb Mount Everest in 2025. “I first heard about Everest when I was eight years old, and I remember reading about Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and thinking people who did that were superhuman. Now to be in a position where other people who have done it believe I can do it myself is a really incredible thing. I believe I have the physical and mental capacity to do it.”