I’m no stranger to setbacks, disappointments and heartbreak. As a child I was bullied for being small, freckle-faced, and ginger. I remember that drawing was always an escape for me (and it still is).
I was always that kid who never got picked for basketball at recess. My Mom felt so bad for me that she bought me a basketball of my own, but still no one wanted to play with me. My Dad’s solution was to enroll me in Karate. Almost immediately, I was able to channel my inner Ryan-San to gain confidence in who I was. This confidence gave bullies less ammunition to harass me, and helped me gain a new set of friends.
As a young adult, I dreamed of becoming a movie producer and ‘making it’ in Hollywood. Then, after graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara with degrees in Business Economics and Theater, I landed internships at ABC and David E. Kelly Productions, and had the chance to work on big budget sets. When I found out I would have to work decades to move up the movie ranks, I started second-guessing my dream job.
After a while, I got sick of being a grunt on sets, and I soon went broke working for free trying to catch my break. So I pivoted, and ended up in the mortgage industry as a loan officer.
I used my Stick Figure drawing skills to build relationships with processors, and that was a catalyst for moving my files through the system faster. I made good money, and bought lots of things I didn’t need. Thinking the money would last forever, I kept on spending it. Then I found myself out of a job when the market crashed in 2008. Broke once again, the stakes were higher, because this time I was stuck with a mortgage and two car payments I could no longer afford.
Around this time, I was approached by a friend from my days in the mortgage industry, who wanted to start a company to help people get out of debt. It sounded too good to be true, but in a desperate situation, with no job or income, I foolishly signed on to work with him. Long story short, it was too good to be true, and this friend ended up stealing money from the company under my nose to build a multi-million dollar mansion in Texas. After reporting him to the FTC, and nothing happening, I left the company. Once again, I walked away, with nothing, and had to start again.
I thought filing for bankruptcy was the answer, but by some miraculous act, my application paperwork was returned by mail because I didn’t put enough postage on it. I saw it as a second chance to work my way out of the hole I was in, and ripped my returned BK app right then and there. At that moment, I knew I was meant for more than being miserable and broke, so I decided to clean up my life, and called my parents to let them know I needed help.
At a low point in life not being able to make ends meet, I took a job in construction selling bathrooms remodels. It was horrible. With my house in foreclosure, and lenders trying to repossess my two exotic cars, I also started teaching Karate to try to stay afloat. I racked up thousands in credit card debt, and when the little money I made would still not pay the bills, I hit rock bottom. I drank a lot to cope with everything falling apart and I ended up with a DUI. I tried to hide it from everyone, because I was ashamed, broke, lonely, and embarrassed.
I spent the next chapter of my life giving back to the community and starting over. I turned my foreclosure into a short sale, let the banks have my Mercedes SL500 and rimini red Range Rover, and drove my Chevy truck from high school. Broke once again, I returned to my martial art roots, and helped kids who were being bullied by launching a program called Bully Buster USA®. Partnering with a Karate studio, I developed anti-bullying workshops for middle and high school students. I also helped create the anti-cyberbullying app called WordBully, and became Chief Operating Officer for a development firm that specialized in child safety apps. At the firm, I thought I found my calling once again.
I was quickly promoted, and had a crash course in learning about startups big and small, cutting my teeth as the Chief Operating Officer. But after being physically threatened by the owner, I walked away from all I had built, and once again, had to start over. I moved back in with my parents (again), and after months of searching for a job, I found one that would allow me to leverage all of my lessons learned by working with entrepreneurs and startups.
In 2014, I started a new job at the University of California, Irvine as the assistant director of the ANTrepreneur Center, a startup hub for student entrepreneurs. It was the perfect role for me, because I could coach early-stage entrepreneurs and teach them to avoid my business mistakes.
During this time, I had to face one of my most costly mistakes when I was served and dragged back into an FTC investigation regarding the company I had left in 2011. One day, I was called into my boss’ boss’ office at UCI. Here I was, about to be fired, and my whole life flashed in front of my eyes. I thought, I have to do something different. I can’t invest everything I’ve worked for into a future company or job, because if things change I will be back to square zero. At that moment, I decided to build my personal brand to help protect my future. This was truly a tipping point in my life.
I ended up not getting fired, but received a promotion to oversee 25+ units on campus, including the ANTrepreneur Center, to duplicate my success. I share my story as a cautionary tale for others, and want you to know that the real key to success is to be perfectly imperfect. This is the basis for my book, Ditch The Act.
Over the three year process of selling the book concept to McGraw-Hill and actually writing Ditch The Act, I had the opportunity to deep dive into the concepts of the book – to be more human and not be afraid to be vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is something I continue to work toward on a daily basis, but while I was writing the book I really learned to explore and listen to my feelings and emotions. I became more connected with myself which actualized my working relationship with my co-author and now ex-business partner, Leonard Kim.
Leonard taught me a lot about how to push past my comfort zones to connect with others. But like starting a business, writing a book is intense and in this case revealed major weaknesses in our working relationship. Through really living what we were writing I was able to identify that I was not happy with the direction our partnership had taken. The negatives overshadowed the positives and I could not move forward if I was not honoring the principles of the book – so I chose to leave our company.
I learned not to be afraid of making tough decisions, because at the end of the day I needed to honor my feelings. And yes, that made me more vulnerable. I was concerned about the optics. I was concerned about how we would sell a book when our partnership did not work out. I still get anxious about promoting the book because of choices that he has made since I left the company. But the reality is that I practice what I speak and write on, and that is honoring the good, the not-so-good and what makes me human – and I’ve learned and continue to be reminded that we are all just human.
Of all the things I’ve done, I’m most proud my loving relationship with my fiancée (wife as of September 19th, 2020). Cyn and I have been together for 11 years, and like most relationships, there have been ups and downs. But I am so proud of how we continue to support each other in our evolving relationship, no matter what.
So much of our lives are dedicated to work and working. Business partners have come and gone, but Cyn is always there for me. She is currently finishing her PhD at UCLA so in these crazy times of stay-at-home orders, we are lucky to have more time together. It has brought us closer knowing that we support each other even during such a difficult time when emotions and uncertainty are so high.
We have similar passions for nature, the ocean, wellness, and helping others, but we also keep each other accountable. I feel like as I have gotten older and more mature, things like hitting the snooze button to snuggle, or making coffee in the morning, or an afternoon walk – these things that bring me the most joy in my day include Cyn. These are the moments when I am disconnected from my phone, and connected with her. Spending time with her makes me happy.
Thanks for taking the time to learn more about my story, and if you want to read my full bio, visit ryan.online/about.