If you’re a runner who loves shoes, you’re probably familiar with Mike Ko, known to his over 150,000 followers as Kofuzi. He describes himself as a non-elite runner who reviews shoes, but he does much more than that. The Kofuzi Run Club, which he launched at the start of the pandemic, is a five-days-a-week live stream on YouTube and a community that has transcended the virtual world.

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Mike’s bread and butter may be reviewing shoes, but his audience is as interested in his running journey as they are in the latest running shoe release. He’s become one of the biggest influencers in the running space, a word that he’s trying to use more despite its sometimes negative connotations.

“I’m not a writer in a traditional sense, although I write many things,” he explains. “I’m not a videographer in a traditional sense, although I basically make my living off of a variety of different video cameras. And I’m not a photographer, although I can take some pretty decent sports photography shots if you put me at the right track meet or marathon. So I don’t fit really in any of those boxes, to say, ‘Oh, I’m a pro whatever of those things,’ even though those are all ways that I make a living. And the thing that makes the most sense, other than most of the time, I just tell people I make YouTube videos, is to say that I’m an influencer; I’m a running influencer or an influencer in the running space. It’s how I generally introduce myself most of the time.” 

He’s come to hold the position of influence that he does because his audience and the shoe companies know that they can rely on him to be honest about his opinions. “If I say the shoe is great and it’s terrible, people are gonna know. It’s not gonna take people long to figure that out. And so, from the perspective of I’ve occupied this weird sub niche in the running YouTube space of reviewing shoes, me being able to call things straight, as I see them, is really important. If I say a shoe is great when it’s not, then my credibility decreases. And then I’m less valuable as a person, as an entity, in terms of an asset for a brand or an asset on YouTube or someone that someone that’s watching YouTube will like to watch. And so that’s a triple lose situation. It’s bad for me, bad for them, bad for the audience.

“And I further learned over the years that when the shoe isn’t great, when there’s compromises to it, it’s not like the brands don’t know. These are people that make shoes for a living. When the shoe didn’t quite live up to their expectations or if it’s making certain compromises, maybe because it’s trying to hit a price point and trying to match up and square up with another shoe that’s on the market, they’re well aware. They’ve had feedback from tens, if not hundreds, of testers.

“So they know what they have on their hands. It’s pretty rare that they’re like, ‘Here, try this. We’re not sure what to think of it; you tell us.’ There’s not a lot of that. It comes around once every so often, but for the most part they know what they have, and if  I’m calling out the things that I think don’t work, they’re like, ‘Okay, well, this guy knows what he’s talking about,’ and I feel like that is the kind of relationship that I wanna have. I don’t want a relationship where the brand’s like, ‘Say nice things or we’re not going to work with you.’ That doesn’t work for me. That’s a win for them. And it’s a lose for me. I don’t like that. I think the win-win is when the shoe is great, tell everyone the truth that it’s great. When the shoe is not so great, we would appreciate constructive criticism. So that’s kind of the relationships that I look for and the way I work.”

Not surprisingly, the question that Mike is asked most frequently is what shoe he recommends. Sometimes he explains that shoes should be thought of as tools. “It’s like saying, ‘What’s the best knife?’ Well, what are you cutting? Are you cutting strawberries? Are you butchering a chicken? Those are two very different knives. And the best one is very different, depending on the job.

“Or, I don’t really like golf, but if you prefer golf, it’s like, ‘What’s the best club to have?’  For me, a driver is useless because I can’t hit it anyway. So just give me a putter and a five iron and I’ll probably be pretty good. Those are the two tools I need because I’m not that experienced. So does a person need four shoes? Does a person need one because they’re only running twice a week anyway? So it’s hard to kind of answer that in a succinct way. 

“Usually the answer I give is my favorite daily trainer at the moment. I’ve gotten kind of used to answering in a short way and then in a much longer way, depending on how patient I think the other person is.”

Three years ago, when the pandemic started, Mike created a second YouTube channel, the Kofuzi Run Club. He recognized people’s need for connection, and initially he went online twice a day to see who wanted to chat. As the world reopened, he cut back to once a day, and now he live streams Monday through Friday at 1:00 p.m. Central time for a little less than an hour. He’s developed a relationship with the members of the Run Club to the point that it’s no longer purely virtual. Over 150 of them showed up in person when he hosted a group run at the Chicago Marathon.  “They were like, ‘I listened to your voice through the dark days and now I’m back at a big international race again. Of course, I’m gonna come to this group run event.’

“It started out as just like, ‘Is this thing on? Is anyone out there? Here’s where we can hang out; tell me all of your running problems and all your non-running problems and let’s just chat and this will be our little corner of the internet where runners can hang out. We don’t always have to talk about running and a lot of times we don’t, but this is us over here.’ And now I have designs and goals for where I’d like to take that. But that’s kind of the nugget of it. That’s kind of the core of it.” 

In a way, Mike has come full circle. He ran track in high school, and friends urged him to run cross country too. “I thought, well, a lot of my friends are doing this anyway. So this is a good way to stay fit for the track season and also spend some time with friends. And I feel like what we’ve all forgotten is that the cross country kids were the weird kids in school. We were the social outcasts. I don’t know if they still are. I mean, when I look at social media, like kids’ cross country teams now, I’m just like, ‘This is not what we looked like in high school.’ We were just super awkward and even if we weren’t running together, we would have been at that same lunch table and trying to be as invisible walking through the hallways as possible. But we were invisible together and we could kind of see each other, you know. 

“That created a lot of solid interpersonal connections that I really wasn’t getting from a lot of other places. So that was a really nice benefit. The downside was we had to run a lot. I didn’t love running at that age, so that was not great. I would try to do as little as possible, but the whole team part of it, the team dinners and us feeling like we’re the Island of Misfit Toys together, it felt kind of nice.”

Now, with the Kofuzi Run Club, “I think what I’m personally wanting to get out of it is similar, and so that guides what I cultivate. When we’re having in-person events, I wanna make sure that it has that same, ‘There’s no cuts here; if you’re here, you’re on the team’ kind of thing. With the Kofuzi Run Club, there’s no membership dues, there’s no meeting requirements, you don’t have to wear the kit, there isn’t even any kit. If you want to be here, you’re here and you’re welcome kind of thing. So that drives a lot of it, for sure.”


Kofuzi YouTube channel

Kofuzi Run Club YouTube channel

Kofuzi’s Instagram

Thank you to Precision Fuel & Hydration, Allbirds, and Becoming a Sustainable Runner for sponsoring this episode.

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