Alma mater: University of Florida
In his own words: “There were five of us co-founders, and we went out on a really fun bike ride. We hadn’t been on bikes for a really long time. At the end of it, we had so much fun going from restaurant to restaurant that it brought back the memory of being a kid again, forgetting about all of our worries. To just get out there and get on two wheels is sort of liberating. It’s a way to remember what it’s like to be a kid again. We said, hey, maybe we can do something with this. We can raise some money and do something good. At the time we really had no idea what the money was going to be raised for or what we were going to do with it. We just knew we wanted to do something good.
“We put this event together called the Tour de Tampa, and everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. It rained. A couple of rental bikes didn’t show up. The Gonzmarts were kind enough to lend us the Columbia parking lot in Ybor City, and an hour before we were set to leave, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day. About a hundred people showed up. We called all the restaurants we had set up — at that time, it was a restaurant crawl — and we said, we need more food. Be prepared! That was a good warmup for our next event.
“From there, we’ve done a bunch of events. One that stood out was the Winter Wonder Ride. Our first year we did it out in Ybor City, and the next year we did it on Davis Islands, then Hyde Park Village, and now Curtis Hixon Park. The first couple of years, we were like, you can’t stop us! We didn’t shut down the roads. The city got their hands on us, and it was actually a great thing. They’re a great partner of ours. The event just grew and grew and grew and doubled and tripled in size.
“The outpouring of support from the community has been gigantic. This year we’re slated to have 4,000 people ride. We’re bringing in national acts to do the post-ride celebration. We want it to be this giant dance party at the end of the ride this year.
“Bike build is a huge component to what we do. We had 1,200 people come out last Saturday, and we were busting at the seams. People just showed up because they wanted to be a part of the bike build.
“We were just able to bring all four local law enforcement agencies together last week to give them a thousand bike lights ater the Wall Street Journal article came out that said Tampa and St. Pete were the deadliest areas in the country for bicyclists. Now, when people get pulled over on their bike by a police officer, instead of getting a ticket, you’re going to get a set of bike lights and have a really positive experience.
“We do have a full-time executive director. She calls me the kite because she has to pull me back in. She keeps the train on the tracks. The greatest thing about the organization is we just feed off each other. We pick up where the others leave off. I sort of try and take the vision that the board has in mind and elevate our brand and presence and develop our partnerships to bring everyone from influencers and athletes to politicians and political leaders together. That’s really what it is.”
On philanthropy: “Giving bikes to kids isn’t cool or unique, but we found a way to do it that brings people together. The cool thing about is a bike is that for some people it’s a mode of transportation or a way to get to work. For some kids, it’s their first possession. For others, maybe there’s problems at home. It gives them a way to get out in the neighborhood and go find their friends and feel like a kid again.
“The partnerships that we’re developing and the community we’ve been able to bring together is really the glue. I wake up, and I’m like, man, how did I get so fortunate to be in this position? There are so many people who donate their time and effort, and it’s really humbling to be able to impact kids and people of all kinds.
“One of the reasons we’ve been successful is because it’s not, hey, come to this event, thank you and goodbye. We want to figure out how to make people feel special and make them feel like a part of it. That’s one of the greatest achievements. If you look at the bike build, corporate partners don’t just give us money. They have hundreds of volunteers from their companies come out and get their hands dirty and work with us. We want everyone to be part of the family.
“I love the ability to create a greater good for hundreds of people. We get to work with and help people from all different walks of life. I think it goes back to the bike being the perfect mechanism; it means so many different things to different people.
“Me personally, I want to help people do more good. I feel so fortunate to be in a position where, I get messages all the time saying, I saw you guys doing this, I want to go volunteer. I don’t think I do it for myself. I do it for everyone else. It’s not me. We have a massive board. From all the organizations to all the people at the Lightning, to PDQ — all the people who come together to make this thing work is really amazing.”
What attracts people to onbikes: “One, everyone remembers their first bike. Whether you’re a young professional or a new parent, everyone remembers what it’s like to get on two wheels and go, or to give your kid their first bike — the feeling you get when you see them ride away. I think there’s a certain sense of nostalgia. But also, I think one of the other parts of it is that we give the ability for people to get their hands dirty. They get to put their hands on a tangible item that they know is going to put a smile on the face of a kid. I think that’s why a lot of people buy into what we’re doing. We’ve taken something that everyone kind of takes for granted and made it cool and unique and fun. I think the event speaks to some people. When else do you get to shut down Bayshore and dress as Santa or an elf or a gingerbread man and go for a bike ride with thousands of other people?
“One of my favorite things to do when I’m out at a restaurant with friends, they always get excited when they talk about Onbikes. One of the things I’ve started having them do is when they introduce me, I turn it around and have them to talk about it. Seeing their faces light up, seeing their interpretation of what we do, that does it for me. It’s not hey, I go to this event, or I donated, or I bought a ticket. We do this, and we’re building these bikes. People have taken a sense of pride and ownership into our organization. That’s what makes it really really special to a lot of people. We want it to be special. We want people to buy in. We want people to bring their kids to teach them about volunteering or giving back. It’s weird how this small little act has turned and become so many different things.”
On balancing philanthropy with a full-time tech job: “We have such a great team behind us. We all make excuses that we’re so busy, but if you really want to do something, you’re going to do it. You’ll find a way. I think it’s invigorating to find something you’re passionate about.”
Mentor: “There are so many people who I call for advice on a daily basis who keep me straight. If I had to narrow it down, I’d pick three people, one being my mother. Her personality and her laughter is infectious. At the events, she holds court. There’s a line of people waiting to talk to her and hug her. We overcame a lot when I was in high school and growing up, and she’s taken really really challenging situations and made them OK. She’s so strong, wise and funny. She’s just a person you want to be around.
“I’ve got the coolest mom in the world. She’s at all the events, and she’s on stage. She’s 70 going on 14. She’s the coolest lady ever. But not one time has she ever looked at me and said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ She looks at me like, this is what you’re supposed to be doing.
“On the other side, I think Tim Marks, the CEO of Metropolitan Ministries, I look up to him. He is a wealth of knowledge. With that organization, the good that they’ve been able to create, and the people they’ve been able to bring together, is incredible. I value his friendship and I’ll go to him on a regular basis. I try to go to lunch with him as much as I can just to learn from him. He’s the real deal.
“Then Tim actually introduced me to Thaddeus Bullard (a.k.a Titus O’Neil). He said man, there’s a man you’ve got to meet. That guy is an inspiration. I always look to what he’s doing and realize that we could be doing more. He is an unbelievable person to have in your life. I’m just fortunate that we were introduced. He’s just one of those guys who, if you need something, no matter what he’ll find a way to make it happen. And if he needs something he’s not afraid to ask. It’s great having someone who has that platform and has a heart of gold to be able to bounce ideas off of and to be there for you.”
Best advice I’ve ever received: “My mom always says it’s not about what you say or what you do, it’s how you make people feel. She lives that. She’s incredible.”
Philosophy: “Be nice to people, and act like you’re supposed to be there. You never know who is watching or listening. No matter who you’re talking to, if you act like you’re supposed to be there and act the part, that’ll get you really far.”
What I love about Tampa: “The people. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the support of everyone. There are so many people who are now entering this arena that we’re playing in with a lot of ideas and want to do a lot of good. It’s so interesting and fun to be able to collaborate with creative minds like that. It makes it a lot of fun. Maybe because I talk people into things, but there aren’t a lot of “no’s.” It’s hey, let’s figure out a way to make this happen.”