Interview with Andy Voggenthaler, the CEO of Race Guards
Race Guards was established in 2012 with the mission to provide “In-Race” race aid assistance to race participants from start to finish. Our team of medically trained professionals runs the entire race, in pairs, from start to finish providing support to runners who may be in distress, injured or needing medical attention. Race Guards are the only “in-race” race aid organization in the country, and it is our goal to be the standard of care at all running and endurance events around the world.
All Race Guards team members (with the exception of four paid staff members) are volunteers. All team members are endurance athletes, and the majority of them are medical professionals – looking for a way to give back to the running community. Race Guards have American Heart Association trained instructors on its team to provide the CPR, AED and First Aid training required to be a Race Guards team member. We work directly with the race director and race medical director to develop and execute a day of race medical plan.
Race Guards was launched at Finish Chelsea’s Run in San Diego, CA in March 2012. Since then Race Guards has expanded throughout the country, and in 2016 will support 40 races in California, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Illinois, Minnesota and Texas. In 2017, Race Guards will be expanding its footprint in all markets listed above with expansion into Georgia and Florida. Race Guards has aggressive expansion plans in 2017 and beyond with new partnerships coming into place with the American Heart Association, HeartSine AEDs and others. Race Guards is also expanding its services into Hands Only CPR Training for race staff, volunteers and participants.
In this interview with Andy Voggenthaler, the CEO at Race Guards, we discuss the Race Guards charter of making racing safer for everyone by providing certified in-race First Aid.
Patrick: This is Patrick Henry, the CEO of QuestFusion, with the Real Deal…What Matters. I’m here today with Andy Voggenthaler. Andy is the CEO or Race Guards. Andy brings experience and expertise in brand development and strategic partnerships, having developed long-term licensing and business ventures for many companies including General Motors, Nabisco, Hang Ten, Dupont Teflon, Pebble Beach and AIG American General.
As the key business development executive at Matrix Direct, Andy was responsible for developing a complex yet extremely successful joint venture with AIG American General, which ultimately led to AIG acquiring Matrix in 2007. Today, Matrix is the leading direct marketer in terms of life insurance in the country. Welcome, Andy.
Andy: Thank you.
Patrick: Fill in the gaps. Tell me a little bit about yourself. You’re a local San Diegan, but where did you come from?
Andy: I grew up in the Bay Area in Sunnydale. It’s a great place to grow up as a kid. I always had a passion for sports. I was into water polo, running and triathlon as a young kid. I had these visions of going to Stanford. That’s what I wanted to do.
Unfortunately, like a lot of kids, I didn’t get in. I didn’t have a Plan B. A bunch of my buddies were going down to San Diego. I was into water skiing. I decided I would come to San Diego. I was here for the first semester, teaching water skiing and doing fun things.
Patrick: Did you go to San Diego State?
Andy: Yes, San Diego State, which is a big journey from Stanford to San Diego State. It was a great thing. Things work out for a reason.
Patrick: You’ve been in San Diego ever since?
Andy: Yes, ever since.
Patrick: Let’s talk a little bit about Race Guards. As I understand it, Race Guards has a corporate side, an LLC side, as well as a charitable foundation. During races, whether it’s triathlons or foot races, if someone has a problem and needs medical attention, you get involved with that.
Your website says, “We’re athletes who have a desire to provide support at running, cycling, triathlon and endurance events of any size and any distance. Our incredible team of CPR certified first responder volunteers ensure that participants have a safe and rewarding experience from start to finish. Race for good. Come join our team.”
You have sponsors as well. My wife, Amanda, just finished her first half marathon. She said, “Should I have a race goal?” I said, “The race goal on your first half marathon is to finish and not need medical attention at the end of the event.” She accomplished both of those things. She had a secret goal of having a certain time. Tell me about how Race Guards started. How did you get involved?
Andy: As I mentioned earlier, I’m a long-time endurance athlete. I love getting out there. “Go out hard and hang on,” was always my mantra. I’m not sure it works out to your benefit. Even when I was in high school, I saw people on the course having issues, myself included.
Over the years or running marathons and doing triathlons, I would see people having issues on the course. I thought, “There is a medical tent over there.” But no one wants to stop at a medical tent. I thought, “There has to be a better way for the little stuff, like cramping and chafing.” It’s always been in the back of my mind. Is there a better way to do this?
I was training for Iron Man Hawaii in 2004 at a training race in the desert. It was a small race triathlon. I got out of the water and ran to my bike. I started to put my gear on. You’re focused on your own thing, but I could tell there was something going on next to me. The guy was all over the place.
I thought maybe he was a rookie. I was paying attention to what I was doing on the bike. He collapsed into my hands. I grabbed him and said, “What’s going on?” His eyes were saucers. I yelled for help. There was a paramedic there, fortunately. He jumped over the bike transition area.
I looked down at the guy and said, “You’re in good hands now.” Another EMT came over. His eyes never blinked. I think he nodded. Then they were on him. I took a step back. Everything slowed down. Within a few seconds, they were doing CPR on him. The unfortunate news is that he died. He was 37 years old, the same age that I was at the time.
It was a defining moment. I thought, “There is an opportunity.” Through my work with AIG, I had won the community service award. I presented the idea of Race Guards. It’s about bringing teams of endurance athletes and medical professionals together, running in pairs. It can be fast pace or slow pace across the course with medical packs, tied into the medical director.
If there is something bad that happens out there, then off you go. I talked to AIG. At that point in AIG’s world, they had just collapsed. We sold our company. Then a year later, they collapsed. They thought it was a great idea. They said they’d like to sponsor it. It was under the Sun America brand name. They said, “Give it a go and see what happens.” At Finish Chelsea’s Run five-and-a-half years ago, we decided to try this idea of getting people certified with CPR, first aid and AED operations.
Patrick: You take people through that process as well?
Patrick: When you volunteer for Race Guards, you don’t necessarily have to have done those things. If you don’t already have those things, you facilitate that?
Andy: Regardless of your background, you’re going to have training through Race Guards on how to do it. If you’re a doctor endurance athlete or a medical professional of some sort, that’s different. Today, over 75% of our teams have medical backgrounds, such as doctors, EMTs and fire fighters. We will train all of them on how we do it out on the course. They’re there for first aid. If someone has a heart attack, some of us have AEDs. We can do CPR. The funny thing is, the first time we did this race, we certified. We said, “I don’t know if this is going to be a good idea or a bad idea.”
Patrick: When was this?
Andy: This will be six years in March. We didn’t know if it was going to be a good idea. Today, we have an app, which is amazing. Our technology is super cool. We keep track of everything. The race director gets real-time reporting. Back then, we finished Chelsea’s Run, which is a 5K. We had about 30 race guards and our gear from AIG. We were looking sharp. We did it.
It’s very similar to how we do it today with fast, medium and slow pace. We were in a 5K. I decided to hang out in the back with my friend Brad who is a race guard college buddy of mine. He was certified as well. Everything progressed. I didn’t know if anything was going on in front of us or not. I didn’t know if we were helping anyone or doing any good.
I looked over at my Buddy brad and said, “I don’t know if this is a good idea.” He said, “This is awesome. Keep going.” Then something happened 20 seconds later. We were running in Balboa Park. A guy was in his 60s. He wanted to look over the bridge to see the race coming around. He tripped on a curb and fell in front of us. He was bleeding. We were on it. We bandaged him up. That took some time, but he wanted to finish.
Meanwhile, the race was progressing. I got back to our tent at the finish line. All the race guards were back. I was thinking, “That was crazy. That guy fell down.” Meanwhile, there were some other issues. There were 10 to 12 people who needed stuff. Someone needed an ambulance ride, which wasn’t critical.
I got back to the tent. Here were all of these friends of mine who had been killing it like I had over the years with endurance sports. We were racing against each other and against the time. I looked around and everyone had a huge smile. They said, “That was so cool.” They were doing something that was totally different. Other race directors were there. They said, “Andy, can you come to our race?” The next thing you know, we’re off and running. I ended up leaving a nice job at AIG.
Patrick: You have volunteers, which we talked about. You have sponsors. Talk to me about that. Who are some of the big ones? How do you attract them? What’s their motivation for getting involved?
Andy: It’s a process as far as tracking down good sponsors. We knew that we were going to have to show our services to people for free. With old school race directors, they’re going to say, “Who are you? What are you doing?” Our whole model is to get sponsors going with you so that we can be at races, races in markets where our sponsors would like us to be. We want to do the service and help the race director. With good results, we turn that model to a pay-for-service kind of a deal. Sponsors would always be great, but paying for service is where we need to go.
Patrick: The race directors compensate Race Guards in addition to the sponsorship dollars?
Andy: They do now that we’re into it five years. Our initial model was, “We’ll come and do everything for free.” They might give us expo space for our sponsors for free as a trade. Here in San Diego, there are so many races. There are so many good race directors. They love Race Guards. Now we’re flipping the model from having sponsors primarily fund our business to more of a pay-for-service kind of model.
Patrick: Explain the corporate structure. You have the LLC. You have the foundation. How does that work? How do they work together?
Andy: The foundation came to us. It was an interesting opportunity for us. We were always an LLC from the very beginning. If people wanted to donate through the foundation, the idea is to help grow the Race Guard program, whether it’s a new market or to fund a new technology. That’s why the foundation is there. It’s a vehicle for people to do that. Surprisingly, most corporate partners come through Race Guards, LLC.
Patrick: You can get involved either way.
Andy: People can donate if they like to through the foundation.
Patrick: How big is the organization now? What percentage are volunteers?
Andy: We did over 50 races last year. That’s the tip of the iceberg. When you think about just running races, there are 30,000 races a year in the US. That’s not taking into account triathlons, adventure races, spartan races or cycling. We’re so tiny. That’s the opportunity. There’s really no standard of care today.
Anyone can say, “I’m going to do a race,” and get a permit for Balboa Park. I could say, “I’m going to do a race.” It’s not like you’re going to swim out in the ocean. You would need lifeguards. There’s no standard of care in racing, and there should be. Race Guards should be at every race across the country regardless. We are proactive. We can be reactive, but we’re proactive.
We’re helping with these little things in order to get more people across the finish line and reach their goals. We want to be there in case something bad happens. If they’re fine, that’s good, too. It’s comforting knowing that we’re out there and that, if you need something for a little thing that’s going on during the race, we’re there. We help get more people across the finish line safely. We also help with retention rates because the people have a great race experience, versus the race director who has one cup of water every two miles. Then people who have spent a lot of dollars on registration are mad because there was no support.
Patrick: How many metro markets are you in now?
Andy: We’re over 900 Race Guards across the country now. We had 50 races last year. We have a huge team in Texas. We’re in the Chicago area, the Midwest and Minnesota. We have big teams in California. We have a team in Boston. We’re growing in our markets where our sponsors typically want us to. We get hit up for races in South Dakota. There aren’t a lot of people in South Dakota so it’s hard for us to get to those races.
Patrick: Is this a company that you eventually sell or take public? Is it more of a non-profit?
Andy: We would ultimately like to sell it and grow. We want to be involved. Jeff Penrose is the President of our company. Then we have myself, our medical director, our national team director and our marketing director. We are passionate athletes. We’re passionate about what we do. We always want to remain there, but we may need some help to get bigger.
We’ve had 50 races. Let’s go to 300 races. Let’s go to 3,000 races. Ultimately, there’s an opportunity. We may need some help to get us to that growth metric. Today we’re at zero debt. We’re profitable. We’re not taking much out for ourselves. We can’t at this point. Ultimately, I can see this thing turning into something that has tremendous size to it as far as an ability to generate revenue but also help lots of people.
Patrick: Is there competition for Race Guards?
Andy: There’s not today. We’re the only ones doing it. Maybe we’re the only ones crazy enough to do it. There are a lot of moving parts to it. Fortunately, we have some great technology that we’ve developed that helps the race director see what’s going on. It’s like herding cats, getting all these Race Guards on time, trained appropriately with the appropriate level of insurance. We are down the path. Someone coming into it would have to figure all of that out.
Patrick: You told me how you got into it. Had you done startups before?
Andy: I’ve been entrepreneurial from the very beginning. As a young kid, I traded a bike for a motorcycle to get my first car when I was 12-and-a-half. I fixed up the car. People told me, “You’re not going to fix that old car.” It was a 1959 Edsel. I have an old car collection. By the time I was 16, I drove that Edsel from Northern California to Portland, Oregon and won best of show. I still have that car. I’ve always been motivated to do something when people tell me I can’t do it that way. With Race Guards, people said, “You can’t do that. You’re not going to be able to make that work. Who’s going to want to do that? That’s crazy.” You just charge on. We have our challenges. Sponsors are in and out. We deal with management changes. You just keep fighting the fight.
Patrick: Do you have any words of wisdom for the entrepreneurial audience?
Andy: If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, there’s always a way. You’re going to have dark days. Even right now, there are days when I say, “What are we doing? This is crazy how hard we work for little reward.” The idea is good. I’ve had plenty of ideas and tried down a path that just weren’t good ideas.
You have to know when to say, “This isn’t going to work,” and move on to the next one, and learn from it. Listen honestly to people. If they say something sucks, ask why. Learn from it or fix it. Ask someone else. If they tell you it sucks, then maybe it does suck. You can try something else or try a different angle. If there’s something that you’re intuitively passionate about, just keep going. Ultimately, things will turn around.
Patrick: I’m a big believer in that. You have to find that intersection of customers, your passion and domain expertise. It sounds like you’ve found that. If someone is a potential sponsor or interested in getting involved in Race Guards, how do they get a hold of you?
Andy: They can go to RaceGuards.org. We’re on Facebook and Twitter. Our website is the easiest way. There is an application if you want to be a Race Guard. We have 900 race guards. We have to keep track of them and their certifications. When they sign up for races, you need to make sure that they’re up to date on all of their certifications.
We have a platform where we do all of that and make it easy for the race guards when they come in. If you’re interested, fill out the applications. You can upload your certifications if you already have them. Sponsors can see all of our information on the website.
We’re just launching a Race Guards Alliance website. Here in San Diego, we have some favorite races, such as the San Diego Half, Carlsbad, the La Jolla Half and AFC. They’re great people. They’re great races. They’re well organized. They’re great partners of Race Guards. With the alliance, we do things for the races that are committed to putting Race Guards out there. We do special gear for them. It’s the pay-for-service model.
Patrick: Thanks, Andy. I appreciate you coming in today. Thanks for sharing about yourself and Race Guards. It sounds like you’re on the right track. What you’re doing is very cool.
Andy: Thank you very much.
This is Patrick Henry, the CEO of QuestFusion, with the Real Deal…What Matters.
This article originally appeared in QuestFusion.