Skip to content
Join Life Time
Ryan Frankel with his bike an a photo of his app
Listen to this article:

I’ve always believed in starting my mornings with something invigorating. On a warm day in July 2015, this meant hopping on my bike and riding through the streets of New York City. At the time, I was feeling energized. I had a big meeting scheduled later with a CEO who was interested in acquiring my technology startup, ­VerbalizeIt, which I’d cofounded in 2011.

I was expecting to remember this day as a big moment in my professional life; I never could have predicted that I’d remember it as the day I was nearly hit by a distracted driver — much less that this event would inspire my next business venture.

In the moment, that driver — who I could see was texting — had run a red light and was heading toward me. Luckily, I was able to swerve and avoid a direct collision, but I was thrown over my handlebars. Meanwhile, the driver sped off without stopping; I’m not sure they even knew what had happened.

I was pretty beat up, yet I didn’t realize how injured I was. I climbed on my bike again, but I quickly found that my arm didn’t move and my legs weren’t functioning properly.

I staggered back to my apartment and took the most painful shower of my life. Then I took a taxi up to Midtown to meet with the CEO.

As soon as he saw me, he turned me around and sent me directly to the hospital. There, I learned the extent of my injuries, which included a fractured hip and elbow.

I was bedridden for a few weeks; that autumn, I started the long process of physical therapy. In all, it took about nine months to get back to my regular activities — too long for my liking, yet long enough to come up with a new business idea.

The Road to Entrepreneurship

I never planned to be an entrepreneur. Ever since I was a kid in Baltimore, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. Many of my childhood memories involve baseball — including participating in spring, summer, and fall leagues and attending Orioles games with my family.

My passion brought me all the way to the college level, where I pitched and played shortstop for Haverford College. Because my body frame is inherently quite lean, I put in a ton of work to bulk up. I trained two to three hours a day, ate well, played other sports (like basketball), and supplemented with protein shakes.

I gave it my all and put in my time, but unfortunately, there’s something about being 5 foot 9 and a buck-50 pounds that doesn’t excite the scouts. When my goal of going pro didn’t pan out, I headed to New York City in 2006 to work as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs.

Soon after, I discovered a new calling: entrepreneurship. This was partly inspired by my experience at Goldman, where I had the privilege of traveling around the country meeting entrepreneurs and executives. While spending so much time on the road with these CEOs and company founders, I realized that I wanted to be in their shoes.

My background in baseball was also a driving force behind my growing passion. Nothing beats the experience of working with a team, and my time on the field bolstered my communication and team-building skills. Uniting a group around a product I’d created was a compelling prospect.

Beyond that, being an athlete — much like being an entrepreneur — ­requires dedication, and I had learned a lot from riding out the highs and lows of sports.

I left Goldman in 2010 to enroll in the Wharton MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania. That’s where I connected with a classmate and we created a concept for VerbalizeIt, which was eventually acquired by the CEO who insisted I go to the hospital after my accident.

The Ride to This App Saves Lives

Ryan Frankel with his family

My recovery after the 2015 accident was emotional and long, but it gave me time to think about how I could make a difference and make the roads safer for others. I was initially enraged about what had happened to me, but as I recovered, my anger transformed to motivation. I wanted to use my experience and knowledge to help instigate change.

It was during those long months that I was inspired to create a new company: This App Saves Lives. The aha moment came while I was researching the data.

I was appalled to learn that my experience was far from an isolated one: In 2010, the National Safety Council estimated that distracted driving caused more than 1.5 million accidents annually in the United States. And when I learned that an estimated nine people die every day in crashes involving a distracted driver, I felt lucky to have survived.

What resulted from my extensive research and brainstorming was the idea for a free mobile app that would reward drivers for every minute they drove attentively. They could passively use apps for navigating and streaming music, but engaging with anything that would take their eyes off the road would cause the driver to lose points. They could redeem points for vouchers to stores and restaurants.

We launched the app in 2020, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We recently looked at a cohort of ­individual users and confirmed that they substantially increased the percentage of time they drive attentively.

As of August 2022, our nationwide community of members has driven 50 million miles, earned 83 million points, and redeemed 70,000 rewards. I’ve always loved building businesses from the ground up, but it feels especially amazing to be building one that’s making a real difference.

The Journey Ahead

Based on feedback, This App Saves Lives launched a Parent Portal in May 2022. It enables parents of young drivers to monitor and reward their children’s safe-driving habits, which is extremely important when you consider that distracted driving disproportionately affects teen and college-age drivers.

This feature is also important to me because I will one day be the parent of teens. At age 39, I have two young kids: a 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. I want the roads to be safe for them, and for everyone else. Just a few months ago, when I was pushing my son in a stroller, a driver looking down at his phone nearly hit us.

My hope is that This App Saves Lives becomes synonymous with safe-driving behavior and continues to be a real force for change. We’re well on our way: The app is used in most countries, and we’re helping to make distracted driving a thing of the past.

In the meantime, you’ll find me in the office or cycling, dreaming up my next idea. My goals have changed since I was a boy wanting to play pro baseball, but my spirit remains the same. I feel lucky to be able to use the skills and knowledge I’ve gained over the years through baseball and business experiences to make a positive difference in the world.

 Ryan’s Top 3 Tips for Success

  1. Keep everything in perspective. “My accident could have been a lot worse,” Ryan says. “I’m one of the lucky ones.”
  2. Set the tone for a great day. Find the thing that helps you feel invigorated and ready to take on the day, and then find the time to make it happen, Ryan advises.
  3. Enjoy the ride. Many focus on the destination, but that’s such a small part of the journey, Ryan notes. Celebrating little wins along the way is essential.

 My Turnaround

For more real-life success stories of people who have embraced healthy behaviors and changed their lives, visit our My Turnaround department.

Tell Us Your Story! Have a transformational healthy-living tale of your own? Share it with us!

Ryan Frankel

Thoughts to share?

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More From Life Time

Listen to this article:
A dynamic personal trainer in a training session with a client.

Dynamic Personal Training

Go further, faster. Available only at Life Time, this revolutionary approach to training fully engages your mind, body and spirit to help you achieve more than you ever thought possible.

Book a Dynamic Personal Training Session


More Like This

Oliver Jack at a gold course

Oliver Jack’s Success Story

By Oliver Jack

After a near-fatal accident, a promising young golfer finds the support he needs to one day fully return to the game he loves — and pay it forward.

two cyclists on a dirt trail

The Health Benefits of Cycling

By Michael Dregni

Cycling enthusiasts and experts explains the many ways that hopping on a bike, whether indoors or out, can boost your overall health — and just maybe help build a better world.

Back To Top