How Being Evergreen Helped Us Raise Millions To Fight Cancer

Joe Reynolds, Red Frog Events

October 10, 2016

From the time I was 12, I knew I was going to be an entrepreneur. I had been running businesses of various types since I was in the sixth grade, including a student newspaper, which was shut down when the principal realized I was making money from it.

When I traveled around the world after college, I realized building a business to make money wasn’t going to be enough. My future business needed to have a strong Purpose that would allow me to give back while growing my company.

In 2007, when I was watching The Amazing Race on TV, I had an idea. I thought about how much I’d like to take part in an event like that, and I guessed other people would, too. I decided to start a business creating unique, fun events. Running had always been a passion of mine, and a few months later I launched the Great Urban Race as part of Red Frog Events. More than 150 people took part in the first run, and within a year I took it on a nationwide tour.

Until that point I had been working by myself from home. After the Great Urban Race, I brought my brother-in-law on-board to help and together we launched Warrior Dash, the first obstacle race series in the country to feature fire jumping and mud crawls. It was an instant success, selling out 2,000 spots within hours. We had pioneered a new industry.

As our company grew, we moved into an office space in Chicago complete with adult tricycles, candy machines and foosball tables. We were focused on the growth of the company but equally focused on creating a lasting culture for our employees. I decided that we would never sell the company or have an IPO — that we would embrace the Evergreen path, and with it, a better lifestyle for all of us.

Our customers were having fun at our events, and our business was growing in size and profitably. With our success, I felt it was time to start giving back, but I wasn’t sure which way to go. We partnered with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital locally for one of our events in Denver, and it was then that I learned about their incredible, life-saving work. I fell in love with their mission. They were providing free cancer treatment to any child from around the world and producing groundbreaking medical discoveries. I knew we could make a major impact on the organization and was determined to figure out how we would incorporate them into each of our ventures. During the first few years of our partnership with St. Jude, we raised more than $5 million for the hospital through methods such as offering ticket buyers a chance to add on a donation to St. Jude.

A couple of short years later, I surprised the whole company by flying everyone to Memphis, St. Jude’s home, for our annual retreat. Touring the hospital and seeing kids who have to go through daily treatments affected all of us. That was the moment we, as a team, committed to something bigger. In 2013, we pledged to raise $25 million to help build and equip the St. Jude Red Frog Events Proton Therapy Center, the first center of its kind dedicated solely for child patients.

The St. Jude Red Frog Events Proton Therapy Center officially opened in December 2015. With proton therapy, doctors can precisely target cancerous cells while sparing nearby healthy cells and organs. Young children will no longer be subject to unfocused, high doses of radiation that can damage their developing brains.

Although we don’t require it, we encourage all our racers to fundraise for St. Jude. At each domestic Warrior Dash, participants who raise more than $300 receive access to a VIP area, complete with showers, a private tent and gear check. They receive extra benefits for giving back, and we donate all of that VIP package money to St. Jude. We also produce and host an annual Mardi Gras-themed fundraiser in Chicago, Beads for Hope, where all revenue goes directly to the hospital. We constantly work to raise awareness about St. Jude in all of our communications and events.

In 2012, the year before we made our big commitment, we launched Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware. We knew it was a risky industry to enter and expected the inevitable losses we had in the first year. Word about our festival spread, and in Year Two we more than doubled in size with 65,000 attendees. I remember being on stage during the Red Hot Chili Peppers headline set with some other Red Froggers and exchanging quiet high fives. Today, solely through Firefly, a type of event that typically does not produce mass fundraising opportunities, we’ve raised nearly $200,000 for St. Jude through on-site donations and donations during the ticket-buying process.

We’ve already raised $13.5 million in three years towards our $25 million target. Because we stand on our own, we can take risks and keep our dedication to St. Jude at the core of our business. We regularly host visitors from St. Jude at our events and learn about the patients St. Jude treats. They keep us inspired. Our entire team will be going back to the hospital later this year, and we are well on our way to meeting our donation goal by our target date of 2022.

Joe Reynolds is the Founder and CEO of Red Frog Events.

If you enjoyed this article or talk, please share with your friends, colleagues and family.