Is it possible to create a space for 30,000 people to gather and achieve an experience that is unique to them and them alone? A place where you can mourn, meditiate, celebrate, relax, reconnect or mentally realign?
I never would have thought that my career would have been in events. I went to college and began to study economics with the intention to earn my MBA after my undergrad. So I asked Kim Clark, who was the Dean of the Harvard Business School at the time, for advice. What he said changed the trajectory of my life. “Create a company that does something unique that you love. Don’t worry about how much money it will make. Doing what you love will make you happier than being wealthy and people love a passionate founder.”
So we launched a 200 mile running race called Ragnar. Friends made fun of us saying we’d never make a good living. But it didn’t bother me. I was a poor student anyways. Remaining poor while doing what I loved was fine with me.
I believe the participants felt that passion. For 8 years I lead Ragnar as it’s CEO and President to the point where we had a dozen races and 100,000 participants annually. Hundreds of our participants tattooed the Ragnar logo on them. It was a family and a tribe and I loved it.
After Ragnar, my circumstances had changed a bit. I had a family and 3 kids so living off of passion with no concern for income was not an option. But I still wanted to create something that pushed the boundaries, something that I could be proud of. So we created Electric Run, a 5k that lead people through 5 distinct “worlds” of light and sound. Within 18 months, Electric Run had accelerated to a point where we were operating events in 17 countries and hosting half a million participants per year; it was a lot in a very short period of time – amazing, but like I said, a lot.
I was traveling all over the world and had so much going on in my life at this time; I was constantly stimulated with people, races and new places and was beginning to forget what calm felt like. I began craving yoga studios and wellness retreats. I was also missing that passion like I had for Ragnar; I loved Electric Run, it was such a fun creative experience, but something was missing for me.
Then while in Thailand with several good friends, a thought hit us…
Would it be possible to produce an event for 30,000 people that could feel as calm as a yoga studio or as soothing as a wellness resort? We wanted to create a space to come together. It would be calm and uplifting but it would have no message, nothing we wanted to preach to people or that we wanted them to believe in or donate top. The participant experience was the cause. We wanted to combine the beauty and catharsis for lantern release with the energy and art of a music, art and wellness festival. We decided to call it RiSE, because it would be an invitation to RiSE, whatever that meant to each person.
We found a spot 25 miles south of Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert. We pursued the approach of less is more. Instead of bringing in a ton of distracting attractions – we designed the venue so itself was a work of art.
We created minimalistic signage and purposefully set up in an area with little to no cell service, so people could be present in the moment. Local musicians were brought in to play soulful and emotionally honest songs to set the mood and people’s intentions prior to the unified lantern release.
It was very important to us that people could come to RiSE and not only go on a personal adventure but also feel like they weren’t contributing to polluting the environment. How you may ask?
We designed lanterns that were 100% biodegradable and could travel a maximum distance of 1.4 miles. That way we can abide by our “leave it better than we found it” policy. Every year, we hire a massive clean up crew to pick up every lantern that has been released. Additionally, we take much pride in saying that the majority of our event powered via solar energy.
Beginning mid-afternoon, participants listen to an awesome array of live music. Later, under the moonlight, they prepare their lanterns. Attendees then release their RiSE sky lanterns into the night air, each with handwritten messages, prayers, or resolutions inscribed inside. Together, they ascend by the thousands, bringing the night sky to life. The result is the sum total of each participant’s unique experience — a living, breathing work of art created by everyone who attends.
For me personally, it is always a time of reflection. There have been years where I have used RiSE to mourn a loss; there have been other years where I have celebrated with my family. However, every year, I always feel a sense of alignment and security that I am doing what I am supposed to.
Six years later, RiSE has grown to bring over 30,000 people annually to the Mojave Desert. We are expanding to host our first international event in Dubai in December. We are also in talks to host RiSE Festivals in Australia and various parts of Europe.