RipRoar is an endurance event production team that plans and carries out many big events in the Des Moines metro. The company has been a longtime partner and supporter of the APEX program. We recently had the chance to sit down with Michael Zimmerman, owner of RipRoar, to ask him some questions. Here is what he had to say:
Give us the background/story of Rip Roar.
RipRoar started in 2015. Under the banner of all of the events that we do in our company, the one that bears our name is the RipRoar Kids Triathlon Series. That’s where we started. We began by producing a series of kids’ races that was a continuation of events I had produced on behalf of Hy-Vee. Prior to that, they were called the Hy-Vee IronKids Series. The reason for starting the company was not necessarily that I really wanted to start a company. It was because I really wanted to continue planning/operating these races, and running a business was kind of the means to an end for that. Since then, it has all changed. We got really good at producing races, specifically because of these kids’ triathlons. We had a big Thanksgiving Day event, and after we cut our teeth at that for a while, we started taking bigger bites of the local endurance event pie. We started a women’s half marathon in 2017, and now our flagship event is called EMC Dam to DSM, which we started in 2019. Collectively, our races and events make up a number of the large events that happen here in the local community. Then, COVID hit, which was not super fun for endurance events or events in general, so we repositioned ourselves as not just endurance events but also an event company that creates experiences for people in Des Moines. So everything from Snowglobe, which is a popup Christmas experience, to brand building for 3rd party companies. Just wild ideas. We’re trying to create experiences in Des Moines that are memorable and impactful in our community.
What is the partnership history between APEX & RipRoar?
I honestly don’t know how we got introduced to APEX or the initial conversation. It started in 2019, and we had three students from the Exercise & Sport Science class at APEX come and join our little crew. They were just going to work in the office and then help at three events. Two out of the three shared that it was an awesome experience and wanted to continue on. So, we started working with APEX more and even ended up hiring a few as interns. We obviously didn’t do much during COVID, but later on, we got an APEX student named Camden Habgood. She was a part of the Designing Communication Solutions course, and she really changed the game for us. She ended up participating in the School-to-Work program and completing a college-level internship with us as a high school student. She was full-on. I thought to myself, “Okay, why not just really invest in these APEX students and see if they have a passion for this.” We’re now on our fifth APEX class, which is awesome. We made a comment this last fall when we were working at a race because we looked around and saw three or four years of APEX student associates that were all working together. Salisa who was the OG was there, then we had Emma, who is our current APEX student associate, along with Meg Barry from 2022. It was awesome seeing all of these generations of APEX student associates still involved in the system and looking out for each other. That’s the fun part for us.
What are your goals for this year?
One of the things we outlined for our two APEX students associates is we have this 360-degree photo booth. We bought it for some of the events that we’re doing on a large scale. However, it probably doesn’t warrant much of my time, so we let two former student associates take ownership of the project. We tell them that they get to go work the events, hire their friends for the events, and make money off those events. If you want to do these things, then the world is your oyster. Do it as much as you want, and we’ll trust you to get a good revenue stream for yourselves as well as the company. We’ve been making it a point to find new ways to utilize some of our current assets and talents, such as the photo booth.
How would you describe the atmosphere of your team?
We describe it as caffeinated and collaborative. We sit around a farm table (we all sit like two feet away from each other) and just are constantly turning our computers around or going to get coffee.
What do you hope to accomplish working with the student associates in the APEX program?
I think we’ve shifted our mindset a little bit. We used to find ourselves trying to find students that were going to make an impact in the eight weeks they were a part of our program. And now, we say flat out when we’re pitching it that we hope APEX is your starting point that gives you all of this knowledge and excitement, and that you’re with us for a long time. We hope that this is what you come back and do during your summers in college. We’ve now started to realize that APEX doesn’t have to be the beginning of an end. That it can be the beginning. We see that with Salisa. She started in 2019. It’s been four years, and now she’s a junior in college, but she still comes back for most of the events. We said to Victoria Adams when she came into the office today, “welcome to the first day of the rest of your life.” You never know where this is going to go. We now have a track record that shows that we’ve got a number of students who are some of our favorite humans. That’s pretty fun just always starting a new chapter and wondering where we’ll go.
What has been your favorite part of working with student associates in the APEX program? Do you have any cool moments you’d like to share?
We had a dinner two years ago, and our original APEX student associates were there. That was the first time they felt comfortable enough to open up about their actual experiences. They told us about how nervous they were, how much they hated some of the things they were doing, but they just wanted to stick it out. I think that right now, what is really cool is that because we have had so much consistency with the APEX program and with Waukee, students who are choosing to work with us are not just doing so based on what they’ve heard from us. They’re asking to work with us based on word of mouth. We always talk about how we have this little feeder system out of Northwest and Waukee. These kids are really talking about RipRoar and the opportunities within it. It’s pretty wild to think about. We would hear about our APEX student associates wearing their RipRoar gear to school and being recognized by other people, which is kind of funny to us. Beyond that, you know, I think we’ve tried to identify what it is that we do maybe differently than maybe some of the other projects. We’re always surprised to hear from some of our students that they want to stay here. They started three days a week, and then they want to go five days a week. We’ve found that we’re very open with them about our business and their role within it. We give them meaningful tasks and the opportunity to impact what we’re doing. I remember being a high schooler and thinking, “I wish somebody would just trust me with a bigger responsibility. I’m more hungry than these people are.” We found that when we find the right students, that is very much the case.