A Colorful Competition
On the morning of October 31, 2011, Travis L. Snyder’s (BA ’05) 5k run had attracted only 18 participants. With the event to be held in Arizona the upcoming January and the registration price scheduled to increase the following day, Snyder was beginning to feel discouraged. But that evening, as Snyder accompanied his two young sons trick-or-treating, his cell phone began to vibrate incessantly with email notifications. By the end of the night, Snyder had received more than 800 emails confirming registrations for ‘The Color Run,’ the first event of its kind.
Five years after its inaugural event in Arizona, The Color Run has expanded across the globe and currently produces approximately 200 races in 40 countries each year. Described as the ‘Happiest 5k on the Planet,’ participants begin the run in white t-shirts and become progressively more vibrant as colored powder is thrown at each kilometer along the route, plastering the runners with vivid hues from head to toe.
Snyder, the CEO and founder of The Color Run, says the inspiration for the colorful event came from a trip to Disneyland with his wife Heidi Ghent (BS ’03) several years prior, where he encountered Disney’s ‘World of Color’ display. But the enterprising spirit that allowed Snyder to translate that inspiration into a worldwide phenomenon has much earlier origins. “I’ve always been entrepreneurial,” Snyder explains, referencing the lawn mowing business he started as a child.
Despite his ambitious nature, however, Snyder recalls the difficulties he faced trying to find a career path as a student at BYU. After much deliberation, Snyder eventually decided to pursue an American studies major along with a business minor—but he remained uncertain about his future throughout his schooling.
“Sitting with the American studies students at graduation, everyone around me was pre-law,” Snyder recalls. “It wasn’t an easy day for me because I knew a law degree wasn’t my thing—but I left BYU and went out to make my own way.”
Although Snyder felt unsure about his path, his career in the event industry had actually already begun by the time he left BYU—kindled by his wife’s desire to participate in a triathlon several years prior. “She was a little too intimidated by the triathlons that were available,” Snyder explains. “So I made my wife her own triathlon.” The event began as a personal triathlon for Snyder’s wife; she ran, swam, and biked around the Salem, Utah area while Snyder followed behind. The next year, however, the two decided to invite the public to participate. That event proved successful and Snyder continued to organize an annual triathlon in Salem throughout his time at BYU.
After graduation, Snyder organized the Yuba Triathlon in 2005, Utah Half in 2007, and Herriman Black Ridge Triathlon in 2009. This series of events was called RaceTri. He continued to produce and expand these triathlons and eventually organized a third race, the Red Rock Relay in the St. George area.
According to Snyder, his BYU training proved invaluable when producing these athletic events—and remained relevant when creating The Color Run. “My studies gave me a good foundation to think about our society and our culture, movements and trends,” Snyder explains, “and obviously the practical business side of an event.”
It was perhaps this awareness of cultural trends that led Snyder to recognize the burgeoning market for an athletic event more relaxed than the competitive races he had founded. “I began to think about a trend I saw, that many people wanted experience and inclusion more than competition,” Snyder says. “I realized that people wanted to be fit and do something healthy, but not necessarily have the pressure of a timed race.”
With this in mind, Snyder began contemplating ways to combine a physical activity with a fun, inclusive experience. Recalling the ‘World of Color’ display he had experienced at Disneyland and recognizing Disney’s ability to bring people together, Snyder developed a plan for The Color Run and set to work turning his idea into a reality.
Following the registration spike on Halloween night in 2011, Snyder’s first Color Run in Arizona was ultimately a successful event—and The Color Run went on to attract more than 600,000 participants in subsequent races throughout its first year. Since the first event in 2012, The Color Run has also contributed more than $4 million to charity by partnering with local non-profit organizations in each city it visits.
Recalling a trip to Paris with his wife several years before he developed The Color Run, Snyder explains that his aspirations for the event have now come full circle. “I remember seeing a sign in the subway for a running event in Paris,” Snyder says. “I remember talking to my wife about how cool that would be, to have something you created be global and to come to Paris to produce an event.”
Years later, Snyder stood on a stage speaking to thousands of participants at a sold-out Color Run event in Paris, having achieved that goal. “That was it,” Snyder explains. “That was the pinnacle of everything I could ever dream for the event.”
While Snyder’s path to this achievement was at times obscured by uncertainty and challenges, he has never regretted following his entrepreneurial ambitions. “It’s really validating to know that I may not have gone down the conventional path, but it was the right path for me,” Snyder says. “Hard work, determination, vision, and creativity can really get you there.”
—Melissa Barber Garrison (’16)