Ryan Kulp is a musician and marketer turned developer and co-founder of Fomo (usefomo.com). He formerly ran growth at dozens of venture-backed companies.
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [00:48] – Ryan has played over 300 shows as a musician and has made no money
- [01:56] – Musicians make about 10% of the money you pay and split it between band members
- [02:13] – The difference between a local artist and an artist that does shows
- [03:23] – Ryan’s expertise is in understanding customers, building widgets, utilities and platforms
- [04:30] – One BIG and Unique Value Bomb: Make your own zen garden—allow your customers to do something remarkable in your place of business
- [06:22] – Define your market and respond accordingly
- [08:24] – “FOMO” means Fear Of Missing Out
- [08:50] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: It was the fall of 2014, and everything was going well. Ryan decided to build a house out of shipping containers in the mountains. Ryan flew to Atlanta, bought the land, drew blueprints, and found a guy to make the house. Over the next few months, Ryan got ripped off—the guy did nothing.
- [11:05] – Trust BUT verify
- [11:38] – Vendors are not your team
- [12:51] – Contractors are not part of your team
- [13:15] – Build a strong team for the long run
- [13:39] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: Ryan was moving from NYC. He stepped away, quit the tech company he was working at, and put himself back in fire. With nothing but his Macbook, he logged into his Feedly and Google accounts and then he started emailing founders of businesses and it worked!
- [15:58] – Ryan wrote about freelancing
- [16:14] – He was able to generate 5x his income
- [16:43] – “Nobody knows what they’re doing; confidence is key!”
- [18:17] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “Relaunching my career as a musician”
- [18:52] – The Lightning Round
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “All you have to do is whatever it takes”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “I just don’t sleep a lot”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Motivation
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Platform Revolution
- [21:47] – Don’t become an entrepreneur for money – do it for the freedom
- [21:56] – Connect with Ryan via email
- [22:03] – Try Fomo for free here
Interviewee: Hell ya.
Interviewer: Yeah, buddy.
Ryan is a musician and marketer turned developer and cofounder of Fomo. He formally headed growth at dozens of venture backed companies. And Ryan, take a minute, fill in some gaps on that intro and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Interviewee: As a musician I played over 300 shows and I made zero money. So basically I needed money for food, and sitting at a desk instead of standing on a stage provided for that. But there was a really awesome, fortunate transfer of knowledge because when you're trying to get people to memorize your lyrics, or you know, become your evangelist, you learn a couple things about holding consumer attention, about charisma.
So going into marketing as a musician was actually a really organic move. And then going from musician to developer was sort of just born out of frustration and I guess maybe even me wanting to make more money.
Interviewer: Now you made the comment you did 300 shows and made no money. I mean, so many people have this dream growing up, they want to be in a rock band, they want to be a singer, they want to be a performer. Like, what’s the deal behind that? I mean, I know people that tour around and they're always playing gigs. What are the numbers, the dollars and cents behind that kind of lifestyle?
Interviewee: Well you're signed to a label and you're slinging albums on iTunes or Walmart shelves, you're maybe making 10 percent, and that’s as a band, right. So there’s five of you and you make $1 off of every $10 album to split between the five of you. So all of your money comes from shows, comes from merchandising and tickets. But those shows, there’s kind of a cap – a gap between being a local artist and being able to do a show that’s $5 a head, and 30 people show up, and being a headliner where thousands of people show up and pay hundreds of dollars.
So you're really – you're really kind of stuck somewhere in the ether until you “make it.” And I think a lot of people give up, at least I temporarily did, and we'll talk about that a little bit more later.
Interviewer: Well I'm excited because I kind of really like dispelling the myths. You know, there’s a lot of myths about entrepreneurship, and you know, what you do is you start an app, and next thing you know you're getting offers from VC, and then, you know, you're an IPO, and all this stuff. And that’s not reality, you know. People have this fantasy about a rock band. They have this fantasy about professional sports.
Fire Nation, it’s just important to collect the information, you know, digest it, and say, “Hey, like let me just make the best decisions for me going forward about the life I want to lead.” You know, not dashing your dreams, but just living in a world of reality.
So Ryan, what I kinda want to do right now is have you break down what you consider your area of expertise. What’s your specialty? What are you known for?
Interviewee: I try to be known for understanding customers and what they really want by asking them in maybe unique ways, so building widgets, building platforms and utilities that serve as honey pots, or leach in for the main thing.
So were working with a cold email company by building them something that writes cold emails for you and then one click, you turn into a customer of that company. Right?
Or working with a home renovations marketplace by building a search engine for home contractors to find out if they're legit or not. And that leads you into becoming a lead on the marketplace.
So kind of taking a step back from “What is your product and what do you do?” to “What do you do for me and what sort of utilities can I help provide for your prospects if I'm the marketer here to get them a little bit closer to you, to your circle so you can then reel them in to the final thing?”
Interviewer: So you specialize in understanding customers. What’s something that we, myself, Fire Nation, doesn’t know about this area that we probably should?
Interviewee: Sure. So I talked about this recently actually, which is making your own Zen garden. So you go to a restaurant and you’ve got the placemats, or the coloring mats, and that’s okay, and little kids like that. But how do you give that to adults? What’s the adult version of that? And what’s something adults love to do at restaurants? They love to take photos. They love to kind of make memories, really love to make memories. They personify those memories in photos. Photos need to have something remarkable in them because everybody cares about how many likes they get on Instagram.
So putting all that together, it’s like, what if at your restaurant you put a mini Zen rock garden in the middle of the table with little rakes and little stones, and your restaurant guests can kind of rearrange the rocks and the sand while they're waiting for their food, right?
That’s really interesting and remarkable. They're going to take photos because they're going to want to create a memory, and you're the only place in town doing it. So now you've just promoted the hell out of your restaurant without asking for it because you've just given customers something that they already aspire to do and have. They want Instagram likes. They want to say that they're at a cool place. They want to do something remarkable. They want to express themselves artistically. Right?
So if you know those things about the customer, you kind of just dovetail into it, something that lets them achieve the things that they already want.
Interviewer: So let me see if I get this – if I'm getting this right. Basically allow your customers to do something remarkable at your place of business. I mean, you gave them the example of, you know, using a Zen garden at a restaurant. How can you kind of break this down tangibly for the listeners so they can understand how they can apply this to their business?
Interviewee: In theory, right, there’s maybe millions or billions of personas, right, when you're thinking of marketing because there’s billions of people and we're all very different. But for the sake of understanding your market and coming up with a plan, yeah, you have to define a couple and you have to generalize.
And one way that you can generalize a market is that there are people who do just enough to not get fired and who just want to keep their job. And then there’s people who want to shake it up and kind of be bold and push the limits. And you can market to either of those, but you have to do it in a little bit of different ways.
So let’s say you're building a marketing tool. I have a marketing tool Fomo, right? And what’s really critical for us is that we show people the money. We show them the beef. We show them how is this thing helping you. And obviously you could kind of intuit that showing someone that your product works and has ROI is a good thing. But when you go a step deeper and think, “Who are they? Are they the person who’s afraid about losing their job? Or are they looking for something that’s a big boost?” You can present that information of the ROI of your product a little bit differently.
So I'm Fomo, and I'm talking to or working with let’s say a customer that isn’t the decision maker at the organization, they found our tool, they think it looks cool, they want to implement it, but there is a cost associated. They way that they want that information of “Good job, you're getting collects, you're getting sales, you're getting conversions” is going to be different than the person who’s the founder and who wants to get this going right away and they're just so sure that it will work.
So, you know, for one type of customer we're giving them badges. You know, so “Good job, you did this” and that’s kind of this reminder of like, “Don't have buyer’s remorse, you did the right thing. You're not going to lose your job. This is something you can take to your boss and show him ‘I did this and that’s why I'm in your organization.’”
And to the other customer, it’s different, right? They want to know benchmarks. How did I do against my competitors and the other customers on your platform? So same information, same sharing of ROI, same showing of value, but based on these tow buckets of personas, presented differently.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, I hope this is kind of sparking some ideas into how you can integrate these things into your business because this is how you can stand out above the crowd. It’s – Ryan, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm assuming Fomo is an acronym for “fear of missing out” is that right?
Interviewee: That’s exactly right.
Interviewer: Bone. So Fire Nation, so fear of missing out, Fomo.
Now Ryan, I'm sure you didn't miss out on your share of disasters throughout you're entrepreneurial journey, so take us to one of those, and not just any one but the worst entrepreneurial moment you've experienced to date. Take us to that day and tell us that story.
Interviewee: This is easy. It was a couple years ago, fall of 2014. I'm working, I'm side-projecting. I'm making money. I'm saving money. Everything’s great. I'm not paying any rent because I'm going to San Francisco a lot. I was living in New York, and so I was Air BnBing my apartment. Everything was like super great.
So I decide to do what everybody at this stage does. I decide I'm going to build a house out of shipping containers in the mountain a thousand miles away.
So I fly to Atlanta. That’s where I'm from. I find a dude on Craigslist. This is all on a whim by the way. I go up in the ream like a couple hours north in the mountain. I buy the land, and the way you buy land, you know, like in the ream in the mountains, middle of nowhere on a whim on Craigslist is you basically meet a dude at a courthouse. They walk in and gift the money – or they gift you the land, and then you're expected to basically walk out with a briefcase of cash. So I don't know exactly how that works legally – hash tag taxes. And so we do that.
And then for looking for contractor, I draw up my blueprint. I've never drawn blueprints. I come up with schematics, I've never done that. And I find this guy. I've got no connection to him, no reference checks, but he’s got this voice like, you know, [gibberish] [00:09:34]. I can't even do it. Like King of the Hill. You know, so I just think like, “I got one, you know. This guy’s a good guy. He knows how to work with metal.”
So what I learned though, over the next few months is this guy ripped me off, right, stole thousands and thousands of dollars, did basically nothing, sent me photos of the property kind of moving along, but they were not photos of my property.
Interviewee: So the whole thing – the whole thing, it was the absolute disaster. Worst experience I've ever had as far as an entrepreneurial endeavor. I've considered all kind of ramifications, legal, whatever. All of that’s like a mess.
But, yeah, you know, I learned a few things from that though. A – you know, trust but verify. So I should have gone down there. I should have watched the work being done. I was living in Harlem and I just thought, “Yeah, the guy will send me iPhone photos, and I'll have a house in a couple months.”
Why was I giving the guy money to just go give it to someone else? Right? So kind of understanding better accounting principles and I could have just given the money for the container to the container place. So I did all that wrong, like making him the single point of failure.
And then I think the biggest lesson that I learned here was that vendors, I would call this guy a vendor or contractor, are not your team. And I think a lot of times we bring on contractors to fill gaps or to not have to pay them, I don't know, benefits and health care. But really I think the idea behind contractors in principle, and vendors in principle is that they can do their own thing, they can have their own culture, they can have their own values, but you're bringing them on for a very specific niche reason. But if you start to treat them like your team and people try to think of their team as like a family or something, then you become maybe too forgiving, too merciful maybe, perhaps, and things can slip. And you might get in trouble like I did.
Interviewer: I think this is really applicable to entrepreneurs where they're, you know, this is a brick and mortar business, whether this is virtual because, let’s be honest, this day and age we love hiring virtual assistants on the independent contract basis, you know, if they're in the Philippines, if they're in India, wherever they might be because it just seems like it’s easier. And you're just hiring them, and you're paying them a set number of dollars for a job, or an hourly wage, whatever it might be. And you're not getting tied up in that whole portico of salary and benefits, etcetera. But where’s the cons on that?
And as Ryan just describes, they're not really part of your team. They're just independent contractors who are really just looking out for themselves. I mean, they're looking for other jobs, and if they get a better job offer than yours they're probably going to spend more time on it, or just leave you for it.
So you really have to kind of weigh that benefit. And, you know, as we've kind of grown our business her at EOFire, we've actually started bringing more people into our actual company with salaries and benefits, etcetera, because we just know that we're building a stronger team for the long run.
So it’s definitely fine to start off with independent contractors if you're bootstrapping it, but this is a great lesson.
Now, Ryan, kind of shifting a little bit, I want to talk about another story because you've had a lot of ups and downs. So let’s talk about one of your greatest ideas that turned into a success. What was that idea and how did you make that happen?
Interviewee: Well, I was moving to New York City a few years ago for my first job in tech, and it was great, I learned a ton, everybody I worked with totally amazing. But I stepped away. I quit the company. I wanted to do something else. Kind of, I just wanted to make more money, kind of I wanted to explore what was out there, kind of I wanted to examine what am I worth, what am I capable of, and kind of put myself back in the fire really.
So what I did was I quit. I had no prospects, was kind of intentional like, let me create this perfect storm of panic. And meanwhile I'm living in New York, so it’s expensive, etcetera.
And so with nothing but my Macbook and really not even any money, not even a budget of well I have $500 – I had zero. I just started emailing founders and saying – founders I didn't know and saying, “I love what you do. How can I help?” And it worked.
So I started going to coffees. I started getting –
Interviewer: First off, let me kind of break in. How did you find those founders that you wanted to reach out to? What was that strategy?
Interviewee: It was the silliest thing ever. So I got a count on Feedly.com, which is like an RSS reader. Google reader was in the midst of shutting down like end of 2012, early 2013. Everybody was freaking out. And so I get on Feedly and I subscribe to all of these blogs. And the one I used exclusively actually to kick this off was, and I hate saying this as an entrepreneur, but it was Tech Crunch.
And it was exclusively the Tech Crunch fundings and exits category. And so what that meant was every two and a half minutes you’ve got a press release from Tech Crunch that’s like, “So and so just raised a million dollars to fix blah, blah, blah.” So like, fix babies from crying.
And so –
Interviewer: They are the Uber of fixing babies from crying. That was the headline.
Interviewee: Exactly. So I get this and literally within the first three sentences there’s going to be a sentence, “Founder Steven So and so…” So I'm like, “Okay. Company.com, remove the vowel .li, okay got it. Founder Steven, got it. Email, ‘Hey Steven, I love what you do, etcetera.’”
And that got just this ridiculous response rate. And so then I wrote about that a little bit, you know, how to freelance. And like, I'm barely learning how to freelance and I write this post, “How to freelance” and then people start reading that. And then that starts getting shared. And then founders are coming to me, “Oh, I loved your post on how to freelance. You know, you must be good at it.”
So that kind of really helped me get set up. And I wrote about how I was able to five-x my income then from like $40k to $200k.
Interviewer: I was going to say, you went from $0 to $5, that’s pretty impressive.
Interviewee: Yeah, exactly.
So that was cool. And so the “Aha” moment there though, or the takeaway was that – I guess two parts. A – you can become incredibly successful by just making it up as you go on, kind of being confident. And then that B – most successful people got there by doing that.
So, nobody knows what they're doing, confidence is key.
Interviewer: Nobody knows what they're doing. Fire Nation it’s true. And I hate to say it applies to pretty much every profession. So next time you're on that table, about to have surgery and that doctor’s putting on his white gloves, he might not exactly know what he’s doing. He probably has a good idea, but listen, it’s just a reality. Nobody knows what they're doing really. So just get in there, mix it up, don't be afraid that you don't have the expert knowledge, and just have conversations, try to be a person of value.
Now Ryan, random question. Do you know that you live directly in a flight path?
Interviewee: Yeah. This is a temporary housing situation I'm in right now. And I've heard everything from planes to pressure washers in the last day.
Interviewer: Pressure washers.
Well, let’s just cross our fingers about that. It’s funny because I actually did kind of even ask that with a semi sense of seriousness because I have a bunch of friends that when I was in San Diego, I lived in Point Loma, which was right in the flight path, and they did what was called the Point Loma pause. Like, you'd be talking to them, and you'd be in their house, and then a plane would go overhead, and they would just stop talking for a second, almost like you pushed pause on their entire body, and then as soon as the plane was gone, they'd start talking again. And you'd be like, “Um, do you realize a plane just went by?”
And they were like, “No, didn't realize that.” They had just completely adapted to the planes and the noise and everything.
So Fire Nation, just realize you will acclimate to everything in life.
And Ryan, what are you most fired up about right now?
Interviewee: Well, it’s kind of not entrepreneurship to be honest. It’s relaunching my career as a musician. Next spring I'm recording a new album, I'm redoing my site. I'm even going to take those fan photos where you wear skinny jeans. I don't know. And, yeah, I'm going to combine everything I've learned about tech and marketing to, you know, to build a little following to try to build some fans and get back out there.
Interviewer: Well Fire Nation, we're going to combine awesomeness in the lightning round after we thank our sponsors.
Ryan, are you prepared for the lightning round?
Interviewee: I am.
Interviewer: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Interviewee: I'm kind of lucky because I was held back from not becoming an entrepreneur. I was anti-authoritarian. I didn't go to a good school. I didn't have any extra-curriculars working out for me except for like playing in screamo bands. So, you know, combine that with having a lot of ideas, couldn't sit still, disinterested in everything my friends were up to. It was actually a lot easier, and it continues to be easier to be an entrepreneur than not.
Interviewer: What is the best advice you've ever received?
Interviewee: Easy. This is from Zach Braff actually, or a Zach Braff movie. It’s called “The Last Kiss.” Zach Braff cheats of his fiancée with this younger girl in a red dress kind of thing. He feels really bad about it. So his fiancée basically ends it and he goes to her parents’ house for advice.
And he says to the dad, “How do I get her back?”
And his potential father-in-law says, “All you have to do is whatever it takes.”
And that’s my life motto.
Interviewer: What is a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Interviewee: This is maybe personal just to me. I don't know if I can recommend it. Everybody gives me excuses, but it’s that I just don't sleep a lot. I have two work days from like 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., dinner; maybe watch a show, and then 8 p.m. to like 2 or 4 a.m.
Interviewer: I don't recommend that to anybody Fire Nation, but whatever.
If you could recommend one book, what would it be and why?
Interviewee: “Platform Evolution” I just finished it this week. Everyone said that marketplaces would disappear and the middlemen would go away like travel agents. But instead we see that they're being reintermediated. So Air BnB is still a marketplace. There’s still a middleman. Uber is still a middleman. They broker on your behalf just like a middleman, but they do it a lot differently.
And so that was really eye-opening to me and got me inspired to think more about platforms and marketplaces.
Interviewer: Can you share an internet resource with Fire Nation?
Interviewee: Sure. There’s a chrome extension called “Motivation.” I've been using it right for a year. You open a tab. The one I have, it tells me how old I am to the thousandth of a second.
So every time I open it, it says, “26.2354 ed.” It reminds me just do something important. And I think it works because whenever someone else looks at my computer, they'll say, “Is that your age? That would scare me.”
And it’s like, “Yeah, exactly.”
Interviewer: Scary stuff. I love that.
So Ryan let’s end today on Fire with a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we'll say goodbye.
Interviewee: If you're thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, I would say definitely from my experience is don't do it for the money because sometimes you'll lose it all. Do it for the freedom and feeling of fulfilling your purpose.
To connect with me, I'm email@example.com. And if you guys would like to try my platform Fomo totally free, just go to usefomo.com/go/fire.
Interviewer: And kind of give us a little detail about exactly what they're going to see when they get there. What happens when you check out usefomo?
Interviewee: Fomo’s a marketing widget that you throw on your website; click a couple things to connect it with your services like Milkchimp or Stripe or whatever. What it will do is it will stream recent customer behaviors to your website visitors. So if someone just upgraded their plan, if someone just signed up, you can say “John in San Diego just subscribed to our awesome plan.” And what that does is it, you know, it encourages social proof and increased on page conversions.
Interviewer: Yeah, I think I just saw something like that on a page that was selling a book. It was like, “So and so just left a five star review.” And I was like “Oh really? Wow. That’s pretty cool.”
Interviewee: Might have been us.
Interviewer: I'm feeling Fomo right now because I have read a five star reviewed book.
And one more time, what was the url they can go to if they want to check out more?
Interviewee: It’s usefomo.com/go/fire
Interviewer: Boom. Fire Nation, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You've been hanging out with RK and JLD today, so keep up the heat and head over to eofire.com, just type Ryan in the search bar. His show notes page will pop up with everything that we've been talking about today. These are the best show notes in the biz, timestamps, links galore.
Ryan gave us his email address. If you want to just shoot the crap with him, go ahead and send him an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask him a question, thank him for being in the show, I mean, he’s definitely had some interesting things going on in his life. And of course if you student want to go directly to usefomo.com/go/fire you'll get to check out this pretty cool tool that I'm actually just forwarding to my team right now. So you might be seeing it on thefreedomjournal.com sooner than later.
And Ryan, I want to thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that we salute you and we'll catch you on the flip side.
Interviewee: Thanks John.
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