Building Healthcare’s Transportation Infrastructure  

SafeRide Health CEO and Co-Founder Robbins Schrader talks about the company’s fast growth, its unchanging mission, and the will it takes to be an entrepreneur.

When Robbins Schrader founded SafeRide Health in 2016 with his brother, Whit Schrader, and Ben Salter, they recognized the importance of non-emergency medical transportation, a $10 billion industry. Chemotherapy isn’t effective if you can’t get to your treatment. Having a medical procedure is hard enough without worrying about transportation.  

That’s why Medicaid and many Medicare Advantage health plans offer a transportation benefit, to ensure members can get the care they need. SafeRide’s founders also saw that the existing system was broken: Legacy brokers offered little to no visibility into performance metrics and frequently missed trips, and the relationship between transportation providers and brokers was often acrimonious. So Schrader and his co-founders set out to make it better.  

Today, as CEO, Schrader recalls SafeRide’s early days, when co-founders personally secured rides at 4 a.m., worked out of transportation companies, and rode along on trips with drivers (including a memorable driver named “Pork Chop”). A focus on getting the experience right drove growth. In 2021, SafeRide provided 1 million rides; in 2023, it was 3 million rides. This year, SafeRide will provide more than 7 million rides across 44 states and restore access to life-sustaining care.  

Schrader recently won an Entrepreneur Of The Year 2024 Gulf South Award from Ernst & Young (EY) and is eligible for EY’s national award. Schrader is quick to point out that this win is for everyone at the SafeRide team, from his co-founders to the company’s software engineers to the customer service representatives who engage with members every day. We recently sat down to chat about SafeRide and the future ahead.

How does SafeRide’s growth compare to what you had projected for the company?

From the onset, we knew we had to build a big business. It had to be, based on the size of the problem, the opportunity in front of us, and the underlying fundamentals of the industry. Healthcare, especially Medicaid, carries material up-front cost. So SafeRide needed scale to be sustainable. And when we think about sustainability, we don’t think about dollars; we think about being there for the member every single day.

So we set out to build a half-billion-plus business. We built a plan, we built a team, and we raised a whole lot of money. But what’s pretty cool is we have the rare distinction of being one of the few startups that committed to a plan in the B round of funding, hit the plan; committed to a plan in the C round, hit the plan. Halfway through ’24, we’re on track to hit our plan again.  

I’ve heard investors joke about start-ups saying: ‘Take the forecast, cut it in half; take the cost, double it.’ We've done a good job of breaking that trend and delivering on our plan. So long story short: I'm delighted to be here, but I'm not surprised to be here. We have worked our tail off to get here, and I firmly believe this is just the start.

As SafeRide has grown, how have you been able to stay close to the end user—members and beneficiaries who rely on the company for transportation, often for crucial life-sustaining care?

First, every day we get better at listening to our clients, who know the problem very, very well. The better we listen to our partners, the better we are at being there and building solutions that work for the long haul. The second thing, as we further automate the business, is we remain focused on that simple mantra of having robots do what robots do so that people can do what people do. We have highly trained, talented people, many of whom have been here for years. As robots clear out the transactional, our people engage in bespoke, high-value interactions. In the process, we learn a lot about what's happening on the front lines every day.  

From a data science or algorithm perspective, the digital exhaust of 7 million-plus rides is an asset. Currently we deliver around 25,000 rides a day—25,000 opportunities to get smarter: Who is this unique member? What days do they go? What are their preferences? The challenge is, how do you harness insights versus getting lost in the fog of data. I think we’re doing a really good job of laying technology that can nibble at all of this and give us thoughtful insights into an industry that used to be totally opaque. We’re getting smarter faster than anyone else in the industry at this point, and that's really good for us.

SafeRide has a 99% client retention rate, with current-client revenue doubling from 2023-2024. To what do you credit that success?

We live our mission and make it personal. That means we deliver an amazing product. Now, we can't declare victory and walk off; there's plenty of work left to do here. But these are very encouraging metrics.

Where do you see SafeRide in five years?

We want to be the underlying infrastructure that healthcare runs on—anytime that anyone, anywhere in the United States wants to get to care, it runs on our rails. I think of us like [the wireless infrastructure company] CISCO. When you make a phone call, you just know it works; you don’t know it runs through a CISCO cell phone tower. In the future, we’ll power a health plan’s mobile experience, or hospitals will book rides in their existing systems and we'll be that sort of silent plumbing that powers all of it in the background. That's really valuable.  

The question is, once we crack the transportation problem, what comes next? There's a lot of complexity and need within the lives of the members we serve. And unlike most businesses that are trying tooth and nail to engage their consumers, members call us. We're engaging with them through mobile experiences, digital experiences, and there's more we could do in that interaction: Do you face food insecurity? Can we help you with that? Are you taking medications as prescribed? Are you missing appointments for other reasons? There's a lot we can do to help those members navigate their way to a healthier life.  

Can you talk about the range of member populations that SafeRide serves today?

We continue to focus on members with the most chronic and acute needs. Transportation is an inelastic benefit, meaning whether there’s COVID or not, whether gas is $6 or $3 a gallon, people need to get to care. Our utilization stays very consistent: What we do, people really need. That's reflected in the fact that in one analysis, 83% of the Medicaid population went to life-sustaining care eight or more times a month; for Medicare Advantage, 64% of those members went to high-acuity care four or more times a month. We serve the sick, and that will continue.

What’s interesting is this idea of micro segmentation or “bespoke delivery,” meaning that every state, every plan has a special population, and in many cases, they are populations that resonate with us, whether it’s special needs kids or moms in the NICU or folks beating addiction. These are special populations, and what will come next is even more ways to make sure they get to care every single time—not 99% of the time, but 100% of the time. That’s where healthcare is heading.  

You started this company with your co-founders in 2016. What do you think it takes to be an entrepreneur today?

I jokingly say hubris, but you do have to have a conviction that you’re going to make it.  All the data says you will fail. Something like 8% of all start-ups reach Series B funding. So you have to look at that and say: “We will not fail.” To put your head down and say, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”  

Once you get past that somewhat irrational expectation of success, then comes the fun part: rallying a team to a common vision and common mission. Here it helps to be in healthcare. We have a noble purpose. We are helping folks who desperately need help and deserve a better solution.

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