Ryan is a serial entrepreneur, investor and hands-on advisor who has started three companies, and is now the founder and CEO of Electric, a IT solutions company with more than 20,000 end users and 400 customers. He started his first venture-backed company, a digital ad network called Banquet and his second company, Swarm, a retail analytics company for SMBs, a few years later. Both began with a services-based model but over time transitioned to managed services and eventually pure software, and both had successful exits to publicly traded companies (USA TODAY/Gannett and Groupon). That journey has given Ryan broad experience in all aspects of revenue strategy and proven his ability to craft a vision, build the team, and get the job done.
What do you love about leading and growing people-based businesses?
People-centric approaches (versus software) give founders an edge when it comes to speed. A smart services team can form a hypothesis, create a solution, bring it to market, and iterate and improve it, and within weeks have a seven-figure commercial business unit up and running. That is significantly different than what happens with software-driven companies, and is a unique competitive advantage if managed correctly.
You founded and successfully grew businesses focused on managed services, including Electric AI and SWARM Mobile. What is the biggest mistake companies make when expanding into managed services?
The hardest thing about expanding into productized services is figuring out the division of labor in the value chain. It’s easy to chase big dollars and do it all, but sometimes (well, often) less is more. At SWARM, we ultimately decided to focus our efforts on integration and software and pushed a lot of the commodity field work to channel partners. At Electric, we’ve been really clear about what our humans should do versus someone else’s. This focus has been key to scaling.
What advice would you give founders as they move from the initial start up phase into scale mode?
The best advice I can give is to look at your business objectives 12-18 months from now, and then look at the team that you have today. How confident are you that each leader can own their part of that new number and get the job done in 12 months (not today)? The biggest danger with a scaling business is hitting a wall and it’s entirely avoidable if you look far enough into the future and assess your team on tomorrow rather than today.