Olympic Dream Realized, McGuffie Embarks on New Journey as Tech Entrepreneur
One year ago, Sam McGuffie was “The Fastest Owl on Ice”, hurtling down an icy track in Korea as a member of the United States four-man bobsled team competing in the Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang, South Korea.
The one-time high school sensation who was one of YouTube’s first viral stars for his high school exploits before signing with Michigan out of Cy Fair High School then returning home to Houston and Rice was on one of sport’s biggest stages.
“Honestly, I didn’t realize how huge competing in an Olympic Games was. The best of the best at their respective sport competing for their country. It’s an unbelievable experience and a memory I will have to last the rest of my life. The one thing that sticks out to me is the opening ceremonies and just being able to come to the realization I made it there and representing something so much bigger than myself, Team USA.”
The former Rice two-sport standout had reached the pinnacle of a new sport only three years after setting aside his pursuit of a career in professional football. With their last run, McGuffie, Steve Langton, Evan Weinstock and driver Codie Bascue secured a top ten ranking with a ninth-place finish.
Less than a week after competing in the Olympics, McGuffie shifted gears and found himself in Las Vegas playing in the USA Sevens International Rugby Tournament. Since rugby will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2020, the obvious assumption was McGuffie had turned his focus to another Olympic run.
He doesn’t deny it was on his mind, but he came to realize that some concession to the toll the drive to Pyeonchang had taken needed to be repaid.
“I was going to try my hand at rugby, I had a lot of fun doing that. I think after the last three years I wanted to step away and really see what my options were. The sport of bobsled is a grind and takes a physical toll on your body.”
One year later, while his former bobsled teammates are concluding another World Cup campaign, McGuffie has found a new way to challenge himself. In the midst of completing his MBA, he is also venturing into the business world with ProNotary, a startup company looking to capitalize on the recent changes in the laws related to the process to have documents notarized.
“I really love bobsled but I just turned 29 in October and wanted to see how else I could challenge myself,” McGuffie said. “I wanted to do something that helps people or solves a problem. I have always been proficient in technology and fascinated in business but never really had an opportunity to apply the two.”
While a member of Team USA, McGuffie received a grant through the USOC’s ACE (Athletic Career Education) program that would allow him to continue his education and pursue an MBA. “It is a huge opportunity to continue my education and sharpen my skills that will prepare me for the future. I currently hold a 4.0 GPA, which is encouraging with nine classes to go. I’m very grateful that the United States Olympic Committee cares so much about the athletes that have given the organization so many years of dedication.”
With an eye on his post-athletic future, McGuffie re-connected with a childhood friend (Nasser Khazendar) who had been working in the data management field and saw an opportunity with the upcoming changes in notary legislation.
“I’ve known Nasser since the 3rd grade. He had founded a cloud hosting company called Kazila when he was 17. He approached me about this opportunity and we decided that we would work together in order to develop software solutions around remote online notarization. Nasser has an extensive tech background and founded his own data center management company in Dallas called L20 Technologies. I knew after our first meeting that we would make a great team and we could make significant progress very quickly.”
McGuffie has found the twin pursuits of completing his MBA and creating a business are a way to continue to channel both his competitive nature and his love of being part of a team.
“The process of building a business hasn’t been easy but we’ve made a significant effort by reaching out to many mentors who have been there for us to help us make the right decisions along the way. We’ve been very fortunate for the support we’ve received and we continue to push forward. Our next steps are just to focus on building our customer base and ensuring that we are providing reliable service to all our customers. Obviously as we grow we will need to focus on hiring more talent while also continuing the development of our software.”
Just as an athlete will always credit the coaches and support staff who guided him on his competitive journey, McGuffie is quick to praise those at Rice whose guidance has been instrumental in his pursuits.
“There are so many to thank. The LILIE (Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship) and The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship have been huge in this process. Hesam Panahi from LiLie was a huge help in putting together a lean business plan and Kerri Smith from the Rice Alliance has been helping us determine our going to market strategies
“I have to thank Coach Bailiff for giving me the chance to come back to Houston, and especially I have to thank Julie Griswold, who helped me so much at Rice and continues to help so many young student athletes today. She helped me plan, organize and figure out exactly what I wanted to do during my time at Rice. Even now, she is someone who I confide in. I’m proud to be a Rice Owl and thankful for my time still spent on campus 5 years after I’ve graduated.”
Lest anyone think Sam McGuffie the athlete has fully stepped away from sport, rest assured the competitive fire still burns inside.
In the midst of his studies and business pursuits, he was in regular contact thanks to group texts with his US Bobsled teammates as they competed this winter on the World Cup circuit.
It is not uncommon for veteran bobsledders to take a year or more off and then return to the sport in the run up to another Olympics and McGuffie has kept the door open for the return of The Fastest Owl on Ice.
“I plan on returning to bobsled if my mind and body hold up. I will have to get back on the sprint track and weight room but I would definitely return if I can compete at a high level. Codie Bascue, who I pushed with in both the two and four-man events, is only going to continue to get better and there is no doubt he will be a medal contender come 2022.”