Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Ryan: I come from multiple generations of dentists. My two younger brothers, Michael and Jake, and I were the first generation to break the mold and leave the dentist dynasty, with each of us pursuing a career in tech. Although we didn’t go the dental route, there are still many parallels between dentistry and starting a company. Many dentists own their practice. Therefore, they have to be equally strong in business as they are in the technical skills of dentistry. I was always more fascinated by the business aspect of dentistry than looking into people’s mouths, so I chose tech over teeth.
Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Ryan: I was a teenager when we started, and that comes with a lot of challenges and learning curves. When we first launched, it was hard to get clients because we were a tiny company, and we didn’t have the credibility that customers looked for when handling such a critical part of their infrastructure. When we faced tough challenges, it always felt like it was game over in the moment. But a year later, each of those challenges leads to something transformative and positive for the company as they were drivers for change. An early example of this is when in the beginning years, one of our largest clients threatened to leave because fraudsters had found a way around our current product that had initially blocked almost all their fraud. This situation led us to develop and innovate as a company to address market needs and ended up being the beginning of a new data product release for TeleSign. It forced us to recognize the need to always challenge assumptions and continuously innovate.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Ryan: I always look at how leaders handle a crisis. It is easy to be perceived as an effective leader when everything is going well, but it is a much bigger challenge during hard times. I travel a lot for work and whenever a plane hits turbulence, I always instantly look at the flight attendants or the tone of the pilot on the announcements. If they are calm and composed, as they usually are, then I am instantly relaxed. Companies are the same. There are going to be moments of turbulence and teams will look at how you react – are you as calm as the flight attendants or are you creating a culture of chaos when things aren’t perfect?
Effective leaders also build teams based on a foundation of trust. It is vital for teams to be able to be vulnerable with each other and ask for help. A culture where this type of environment is encouraged is critical to ultimately driving results.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Ryan: So much of success is tied to finding and keeping the best possible people. In a startup environment, talent isn’t always defined by experience or whether the person has done the job before. In our early days, we couldn’t afford to hire employees that had many years of experience in the role. So, we had to focus on finding people with the attributes we thought would make them successful at our company – intellectual aptitude, curiosity, passion, desire to learn. Many of our best new hires embodied these types of attributes and were many times more successful than the hires that came with many years of experience. Hire great people and empower them.
It is also essential to find balance, which I admittedly am working on improving myself. Startups can be emotionally draining – the highs can feel extraordinarily high, and the lows can feel incredibly low. These cycles are emotionally draining. We are all constantly connected, and it is important to have hobbies or routines that enable you to disconnect from work.
Finally, it is important to always be listening to customers. Many entrepreneurs launch companies and spend several cycles, perfecting their product before actively getting customer feedback. This can be wasted time if you aren’t evolving quickly to customer needs.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Many leadership styles can be successful but that it is important to be yourself and develop your own style. It is very easy to spot when a leader is not being authentic.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Ryan: There are many ways to pay it forward, but it is important to find something that is meaningful and personal to you; otherwise, you won’t have the same passion. Because we started while I was still in University, I am personally passionate about working with first-time entrepreneurs and helping with their ventures. I always encourage young entrepreneurs that the best time to start a company is now – it has never been easier to launch a company and time will bring more reasons and excuses not to take the step.
Adam: What are your hobbies, and how have they shaped you?
Ryan: I am fortunate that TeleSign is an international company with more than half of the company in Europe. While traveling for work, I will often take an extra weekend and explore a new city. Experiencing different cultures introduces me to different people and different styles of leadership and communication. I work better because of the trips I have taken and the people I have met. I have also picked up many hobbies while traveling, including scuba diving. I enjoy diving since it forces me to slow down and be in the moment. While it is tempting to always think about work, diving is a great way for me to clear my head and I have learned that I am an extreme novice in meditation.
I am also passionate about sports – both following professional teams and trying to be active myself. There are so many parallels between sports and business that it is beyond cliché, but certainly, my competitive edge comes from sports.
Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?
When going through the emotional rollercoaster of startups, it is critically important to maintain a sense of humor. There are so many crazy moments while building a company that sometimes the only possible reaction is to laugh. I was fortunate to have two co-founders that shared this sentiment, and to this day, we can spend hours laughing about the craziness of our startup journey.