Nick Kozak
Case Studies

Outdoor adventure competition has $10,000 to give away, but needs staff

Vital Stats
Josh Howard
160 Steeprock Drive, Toronto, M3J 2T4
Events and marketing
1.5 years
Event and marketing development, management and consulting

Part survivor-style elimination competition and part adult summer camp, participants of the inaugural Element Games this summer will climb through a ropes course, sift through sand, race through water and solve puzzles for their chance to collect the $10,000 grand prize.

It’s organizer, Josh Howard, is no stranger to event planning. The founder of Knactivate — a Toronto-based event and marketing development, management and consulting company — has already helped organize a number of unique charity events, including the Intercamp Classic, Compete for the Cure, Swing Fore the Answers and Project Art.

The Element Games, which is the first project to be conceived in-house at Knactivate, will take place over three days in late August at the Tamarack Adventure Centre in Bracebridge. While its initial iteration won’t include a charity component, he hopes it grows big enough to incorporate a fundraising element in the future.

But finding employees with a wide enough skill range to orchestrate such a massive and unique event is proving to be a challenge, especially as a young company on a limited budget. With the summer fast approaching Howard needs to find staff to help boost sales as well as contribute to event programming, but with limited funds he can’t afford to hire for two positions, nor a single person qualified enough to handle both responsibilities.

“I really want someone who can wear many hats and has experience, but that person is really expensive, so what do you do?” asks Howard.

The Element Games themselves are mostly planned out already; Howard just needs to find an affordable employee who can help bring it to life.

At the start of the event participants will be broken off into groups of 18 to compete on land, water and climbing ropes in challenges that test their intellect as much as their physical endurance.

Losing teams will be forced to vote off a player until the remaining few are merged into a single unit to compete in individual challenges. During the closing ceremonies on the final evening those who have been voted out will get their chance at redemption, as they ultimately choose who takes home the third place prize of $1,000, the runner up prize of $3,500, and the $10,000 grand prize.

The weekend has much more to offer besides the competition, adds Howard, which is especially good news for those who get voted out early. Participants are welcome to enjoy some of the Tamarack Adventure Centre’s amenities, such as the rock climbing wall, beachfront, kayaks and canoes, basketball and tennis courts, or pay a little extra for watersports like waterskiing and Flyboarding.

“Probably the biggest thing that I think people will be doing when they get voted out is follow around the game,” said Howard. “You’ve got a front row ticket to watch this whole thing unfold.”

Admission fees to the Adventure Games range from $319 to $279 per person, depending on the size of the group, with a $249 option for those who wish to attend without competing. Tickets also include food for the weekend and accommodations — either a cabin bunk or grounds to set up a tent — as well as opening and closing ceremonies and a party on the Saturday night featuring a live band and DJ.

While Knactivate has earned enough revenue to get the event off the ground, the year and a half old company is too young to support a major staffing effort for the inaugural Element Games.

Howard’s two permanent staff members are already stretched pretty thin launching the event, but without more help in sales, marketing, and overall planning and coordination in the next few weeks, the grandiose adventure weekend might not advance past the planning stages.

“In a startup you want people who have the biggest variety of skills so you may have them do something on one day but you want them to be able to do something else the next day,” he said. “Everybody wants the most talented people, but unfortunately those people demand the most amount of money.”

According to Laura Machan, a partner of recruitment solutions with Knightsbridge Human Capital, it’s not uncommon for small businesses to require staff that can take on multiple roles.

“You need to find the people who have the capacity to grow with the role,” she says. “That’s a tough one to identify in potential candidates.”

Machan recommends that small business employers focus on applicants’ experience and hobbies to find skills that go beyond their previous job titles. Furthermore, she says that providing the opportunity to work on a unique initiative like the Element Games could be used as an incentive for potential hires.

For his part Howard has utilized recruiting resources ranging from social media to Youth Employment Services to university job postings, but continues to attract candidates that are under qualified or too expensive.

One perk that will help his recruiting efforts is that while resources are slim for the inaugural Element Games, there is potential for continued growth, which Howard has seen in his other annual charity events that continue to get bigger every year.

“We’re proving a concept right now, and we’re excited to get it off the ground,” says Howard. “If it works in one place, we believe it can work anywhere.”


As Interviewed by: Rosemary Westwood

Generally it’s easier to find people to do logistical planning and execution. I train juniors all the time for these duties and as long as they have good organizational skills and common sense it’s pretty straight forward. Finding someone to do sales is the hardest position to fill. It’s a unique skill set, and not a lot of people like to do it or can do it. Not having the money to pay that new hire narrows the field even more. I’d look at non-traditional ways to find staff. Sometimes I find them in everyday life. The person selling me my car, shoes, insurance policy. Josh needs someone over the summer, when teachers are not working, and a lot of them like to pick up jobs. They’re smart, have persuasive powers, patience and good communication skills. I also sometimes turn to waiters and waitresses: They often have great sales skills and personality. Another option is paid interns, but you have to interview them to deduce whether they have the right skills — work under pressure, handle adversity, organizational skills and thinking on their feet. If he can’t find other people to do the sales job, sometimes you have bite the bullet, do it yourself and hire people to take on what you were doing from a logistics standpoint and other tasks that are easier to do.

by Hala Bissada, CEO

This is a great idea. The price is great — $300 for a survivor-style weekend. And there’s real potential for growth to run these events year-round, as corporate bonding weekends, kids summer camps, stag and doe weekends. I think Josh can find someone to take on both marketing and sales. Sales won’t be a problem once he gets the word out. So he needs someone who knows event management and marketing, and to get them, he needs to loose the corporate lingo in recruitment ads and write something really creative. What does that person look like, what kind of skills, personality, values, experience? And I don’t mean typical corporate experience. He wants someone gregarious, organized and connected. They may not have a marketing degree or event planning career, but if he looks at what else they’ve done, the skills are there. Someone who spent their youth at summer camps. Someone who’s organized events before and driven up sales, so there’s a proven track record. There are a lot of 20- and 30-somethings underemployed or unemployed. If he markets the job properly, he can attract them. Use the event’s potential as an incentive, selling it as a summer job that could become full-time for good money. Just like they’ll be taking a chance on him, he needs to take a chance on someone.

by Deirdre Fitzpatrick - GBC

Josh has a unique concept with the experience likely to make Element Games work. The challenge is in finding reliable, talented, temporary, generalist personnel willing to work for a relatively low wage on fairly short notice. While the odds seem stacked, Josh has some options. First, he could solve the low-wage issue by increasing the price for participants, which seems low. Josh should adjust the registration fees based on the fully allocated costs of running the events. To calculate pricing per participant, calculate the event costs (in full, especially human resources which are often the most costly line-item), then add the desired profit (this can be altered to bring prices up or down), then divide this number by the projected head-count (accuracy is critical for profitability) — the result is the required fee per head. Second, Josh should work his network online, in the community, and with family and friends — people are most willing to help when they know you, like you, and believe in your vision. Finally, Josh might consider taking on partners that are vested in the long-term success of the company, could wear multiple hats, and wouldn't be vexed by delayed wages — this circumvents the shorter-term budgetary concern but requires longer-term profit-sharing.

by Brynn Winegard - SEEC