- Kyle Vogt is chief technology officer and cofounder of the self-driving and ride-sharing company Cruise, valued at nearly $20 billion.
- But Vogt is also a practicing vegan and avid endurance runner who recently completed seven marathons on seven continents in just over 80 hours.
- He credits his plant-based diet with aiding his recovery.
- Vogt also designed software to optimize his route around the globe.
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Kyle Vogt’s day job is to teach cars to drive themselves.
In 2016, the startup he cofounded with Dan Kan, Cruise Automation, was acquired by General Motors’ for an all-in price of about $1 billion; since then, investments from SoftBank, Honda, and several institutional investors have raised the San Francisco-based company’s valuation to almost $20 billion.
Vogt stepped down as CEO in 2018 and former GM President Dan Ammann assumed the role, freeing up Vogt to figure out how to bridge the gulf between self-driving technology and vehicles that could autonomously negotiate the complex urban environment of the San Francisco Bay Area. No driver, no steering wheel, and a business model that’s optimized to attack an $8-trillion global market, if Cruise’s own predictions are to be believed.
Ammann says it’s the biggest challenge of our generation, and Vogt, 34, agrees. When asked to characterize Vogt’s commitment, Amman told Business Insider a few years back that the guy is uniquely capable of obsessively focusing on the most important problem.
So the day job is a perfect fit. But Vogt is also committed to a plant-based lifestyle, and he recently put the benefits of a life without meat to a severe test, attempting to run seven marathons of seven continents in 77 hours. Vogt ran cross-country in high school, but he’s not a professional distance competitor. Still, he almost pulled it off; he finished the marathons in just under 82 hours.
The marathons took him to Antarctica, Argentina, Panama, Spain, Egypt, Oman, and Australia. In the process, he set a record.
“Intense perseverance is important for people to solve really hard problems,” Vogt said in an interview with Business Insider.
And then, without missing a beat, “They’re marathons, not sprints.”
The plant-based lifestyle supports performance
A vegan lifestyle supports both Vogt’s professional life and personal passion for long-distance running. He’s been a vegan for about three years, a switch that itself took a year. Vogt noted that he and his wife, Tracy, operate a farm sanctuary in Sonoma, California, so it “didn’t make sense to keep eating the animals we were trying to save.” (The sanctuary, Charlie’s Acres, was founded in 2016.)
Vogt also served as an executive producer on a 2018 documentary, “The Game Changers,” which deals with eating plants rather than animal protein to achieve athletic performance.
The diet has aided Vogt’s recovery from the physical rigors of marathons — 26 miles has a way of depleting a body, causing inflammation that avoiding meat can mitigate, in Vogt’s experience. He also hadn’t exactly been racking up the roadwork. After high school, he participated in some marathons, but that was a decade ago.
“Other things were going on in my life,” he recalled. “I couldn’t make the time commitment to train.”
But then he ran a half marathon a year ago. “I had a great time and started searching for some extreme races.”
He also hired a coach in 2019 who specialized in endurance and devised some stress tests to determine if he could tackle seven marathons on seven continents, an undertaking that would mean running three races in just over 24 hours. To prepare, he ran two 50-mile ultra-marathons.
Vogt also developed open-source software to, as he himself described it, search “for optimal solutions for a variant of the Traveling Salesman problem.”
He added, “It was written to help me find the shortest path between all seven continents while obeying a number of mission constraints.” (Those constraints included everything from the range of aircraft he would be flying to “winds aloft,” and Vogt posted his work on GitHub.)
Reassessing performance, our relationship with animal agriculture, and transportation
There is a certain irony in the vegan diet-fueled cofounder of a leading self-driving company using good old-fashioned human power and his feet to propel himself over 183 miles. But through the ambitious undertaking, Vogt attempted to combine a variety of themes..
“I haven’t figured out the meaning of life yet,” he said. But he does believe in applying his skills to solving important problems.
He argued that animal agriculture is of equal magnitude, in terms of its environmental impact, to all forms of transportation. With Cruise,Vogt wants society to switch from gas-guzzling automobiles to shared, autonomous vehicles. But he would also like people to explore a plant-based diet, although he insisted that what one eats is a personal decision and he isn’t aiming to be pushy.
Even though he didn’t quite hit his goal of completing seven marathons of seven continents in 77 hours, he got close. And thanks at least in part to his vegan diet, he felt pretty good when it was all over.
“I didn’t feel as exhausted as you’d expect,” he said. “I had a great feeling of satisfaction.”