ET11- Starting a Business Helping Others Get Started
Ryan James and The Genesis Of MyStartupUniversity
I had fun talking with Ryan James of MyStartupUniversity.com and StartupSavant.com because he’s one of those people with a genuine good nature and positive attitude.
Plus, he’s done some really cool stuff!
He started out with some other ideas for starting a business and along the way discovered what seemed to be a lack of resources for the new business owner just getting started.
So, like a good entrepreneur would, he started a side project to address that problem, which turned into a business of its own. I had a nice long chat with Ryan about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and how to spot opportunities.
We are both of the same mindset that basically anyone can do it, but they will benefit by educating themselves first about how to do things right and then just working on it without quitting until they get there. It’s not really a secret formula, although lots of people like to pretend there is one.
As a side note, one really cool thing I found out about James is that he is very involved in doing charity work along side his business activities. One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is that not only are you likely to have more disposable income to share with others but you will also be more likely to have the time and resources to devote to causes you want to support as well.
Kudos to Ryan for giving not just to the entrepreneur community with his business but to the world at large as well!
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Matt: Welcome to today’s episode! I have the pleasure of chatting with Ryan James. He is the guy behind startupsavant.com as well as mystartupuniversity.com. Two awesome websites with tons of resources for small businesses. Let’s just kinda jump in. what’s your background? How did you got started and how did you get to where you are now?
Ryan: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Matt. I appreciate you talking the time to talk to me. I think from the beginning, I think I’ve always known that I had this insane interest on entrepreneurship from I don’t know if you remember taking tests in school like elementary school and the teachers would give you a reward like a toy or something if you do good or if you got enough points on the tests, you can get a toy. What I would do is I read books, take the tests, get points and then sell the toys to the kids in my class. That was kinda my first entrepreneurial venture and then the traditional lemonade stand. Things progressed and luckily I grew up at the time where – 2015 all these cool opportunities with the internet and people pave the way to allow me to do build something cool on the internet. That s kinda how it started., one thing led to another.
Matt: Yeah. I hear that same sort of story a lot whether it’s the lemonade stand or the selling stuff to kids at school or what have you. A lot of entrepreneurs really get the bug really early. I don’t even know if it’s a bug. I think it’s something in the DNA. It’s just part of who you are and you can’t help but do it.
Ryan: Yeah. I agree.
Matt: So, what was your first kind of venture as an adult to your entrepreneurship? How did you get started at beyond the lemonade stand?
Ryan: Well, I was so good at the lemonade stand. I think the first thing for me as an adult was personal training. My love for exercise and fitness kinda started develop pretty early on 2. I think personal training the starting point from that and I would get clients. I think that was a very interesting model and a good learning point for like how to approach people and how to get them to become clients or anything like that. That love for exercise and fitness and stuff like that stand actually into an internet company which is called My Diet Specialist and it was kind of a subscription model where you can talk to a nutritionist and ask questions. Although, that didn’t quite work out at the end of the day. It did kind of pave the path for what I’m doing today and my love for everything that I’m doing.
Matt: Well, hardly anybody is a success right out of the gate but as long as you learn things from your initial ventures then I think when you put that and use that knowledge that you gain into the next thing you do, you can’t consider it a failure. You just consider it a part of your education.
Ryan: Yeah. Absolutely. I think I made some couple thousand dollar mistakes here and there. I put my money into the wrong thing for a startup or something like that. My justification is always well. I made a $2,000 today and hopefully that lesson would be worth a hundred thousand dollars to me in 10 years so I won’t do it again.
Matt: Definitely. Was that – some of that lessons learned – the genesis behind starting startupsavant and mystartupunivesrsity as resources for other entrepreneurs to kind of hopefully shortcut making some of these mistakes?
Ryan: Yeah. Definitely. Actually, right before, startupsavant actually started out as a side project. At the very same time, I was developing a protein based coffee creamer. We got coffee mate that’s full of flammable sugar and stuff like that. So, I was developing a protein based coffee creamer. And my goodness, I don’t know anything about developing a product, about marketing a specific kind of product, like that and I found – I would look around and I couldn’t quite find anything that could help me. I know the internet is very fast. I mean, I just didn’t know where to start and everything was – entrepreneur, for instance, well a portion of ups and down but they had brilliant stuff on there but that’s more for advanced people. For starting out people, like myself at the time for that industry, I just had no idea where to start. The most that they offer was like a 300-word article on how to start a business. I think something like that to pull up down because you got the validation process to make sure it actually work, the planning process. I mean, there’s so many different aspects but you have to consider one starting a business. I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for when I was starting a business. So startupsavant actually stand from the need that I found. It was really just a hobby for the first 6 months.
Matt: Yeah. I think there’s 2 ways to look at it. There’s almost an unlimited amount of surface level sort of advice and material and content out there about entrepreneurship. But then when you get into it and you’re looking for real specific detailed step by step stuff, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to find the kind of information that you want at the level that you want. So, on the one hand, it’s overwhelming the amount of information. On the other hand, there’s some big gaps on what’s available.
Ryan: Yeah. I think the cool thing – the thing that I love most about what I’m doing now is that I get to collaborate with authors such as yourself who contribute their expertise in a very effective way to that magazine. I think your last guide was 1500 words that’s extremely thorough and extremely complete. I think it’s awesome.
Matt: You want to try and put something out there that hopefully people at the end of the reading of it have something that they can actually put into action or put into practice rather than just doing a high level of treatment. But I still don’t know where to stick.
Ryan: Exactly. The click paid stuff, oh man, I can’t stand that kind of stuff. That’s actually why we don’t have that. There’s no advertisements on our website.
Matt: what is the revenue mile or is it still just a passion project vs. something you’re looking to monetize? Or does it feed to My Startup University? What’s your plan with what you’ve got right now?
Ryan: So, for what I do right now, I actually partnered with excellent service providers like business plan software like Life Plan. It’s really solid. There’s LegalZoom for our money corporation services. In case you’re not very sure about the incorporation process or accounting software and stuff like that. Basically, what my model is to provide value to the entrepreneurs of tomorrow and to also include like the tools that are extremely helpful and extremely useful to help people start their business, to manage it and stuff like that. I think the aspect of taking away the advertisements also help focus on a value that you, Matt, as an author provide to the magazine. I think it’s really cool value cycle. Everybody being benefitted and I love it man!
Matt: is this your full time focus now or do you have other projects? Are you still working on the protein based creamer or is that something that’s on the back burner now?
Ryan: the protein based coffee creamer, I actually had to take it back seat because start up sevant started to roll. I found out very quickly that I love media much more than an actually product. A physical product is very difficult to bring to market and it requires you to stay on one location so I wouldn’t have been in Massachusetts, LA or Florida for that specific business. Now, I could be all over the place. Hopefully, I’m supposed to be at France in March and I wouldn’t be able to do that if I were doing something else. So, just kind of a cool flexibility aspect. Yes, I do work on the internet stuff full time.
Matt: Awesome! What are you doing in terms of – obviously one of the main challenges of an online business is standing out from the crown and differentiating yourself and attracting traffic. What are your strategies for attracting traffic to your sites so people can see the differentiation you have with your content and the tools and the resources that you are providing? How are you working on that angle of business?
Ryan: For me, I think what’s cool about business and entrepreneurship in general is that you can be very focused in what you do. From my magazine, this magazine works best when I focus my time on search engine optimization. If you google something, you google something specifically like how to start a business in Kansas, the easiest way for me to get in front of the people that I want to communicate to, my viewers, my readers, the people that I want to actually help, that’s the most effective way for me to get in front of people. Because at that very moment, they’re looking for how to start a business in Kansas and what do you know if there’s a guide in startup sevant that pops up on number 1, number 2 on google. For me, that’s the most effective of going it is through search engine optimization. We also use Inno Marketing Tool. We hopefully collect the lead or the reader’s email address when they come to the website and read that guide and that kinda progresses the relationship. Over time, we’ll hopefully will offer them enrollment to Startup University. It’s kinda really cool value cycle. It’s not pushy. It’s all very targeted. I think, thankfully, I think people respect that approach more than kinda quick click an impressive stuff.
Matt: I think people are smart enough to tell the difference between real value and somebody that’s just looking to get their 2 cents per click kind of a quick in and out not a lot of value sort of transaction. When people enroll in mystartupuniversity.com, what do they get when they enroll? What are the tools or resources that you provide that taken and put into action?
Ryan: Startup University actually has a blueprint. The core of Startup University is a blueprint and a road map to a different processes and stuff in starting a business in a lot of detail. There is – the call it the Business Success Formula. I understand that’s kinda long but it does get the point across. That’s kinda step by step blueprint. Aside from that, we also got different courses and action plans and guide for different parts of starting a business. So, social media, setting up a Facebook page or learning how to market your business on Facebook, isn’t necessarily something you have to do from the kit. But it is something that you might need to consider depending on your industry. And that goes along with search engine optimization or email marketing. We got that core focus, the blueprint. Now, we also got those miscellaneous stuff that every entrepreneur might need and they can learn in their own pace if they are ready for it. It’s kinda 2 aspects and I think they come from each other pretty well.
Matt: Is somebody who doesn’t know what they want to start could jump in and use the blueprint to help themselves to get out or somebody that knows exactly what they want to start can use the blueprint to kind of figure out anything they need to do to get to where they want to be? Is that –
Ryan: You could. I think Startup University is mostly geared towards people who had an idea or the beginning of an idea. The first step before we do anything, before you need to invest thousands of dollars or hundreds of dollars into your idea is to make sure it work. So, we’ve got a really neat validation process from market research to kind of really digging deep and kinda playing the advocate with your idea. Even though if you are kinda on the fence about an idea, that is where we would start with Startup University.
Matt: Minimum viable product approach? You have other ways for them to figure it out?
Ryan: Yes, Sir. The minimum viable approach.
Matt: Excellent. I think that’s gained a lot of popularity because it makes a lot of sense. You don’t want to start building something until you’re pretty sure that there’s gonna be somebody out there that values what you’ve built and is gonna be willing to pay you for it. But at the same time, it’s hard to just go out with a brochure or screenshot and say “What do you think of this?” it’s sort of the interim between building the full solution that you may envisioned down the road and just try to do it with surveys or popping into forms and say “Hey! What do you think of this idea?”
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, everybody should always test their idea first. I think the biggest mistake that I see is people get a great idea or what they perceived to be a great idea and then they just kinda run with it without playing enough advocate or testing just to see if people actually want it. I think that was one of the biggest mistakes that I’ve made in the past. I got too caught up in my own enthusiasm that I ended up tripping over my own feet because it wasn’t right for the customers.
Matt: Well, it’s always easy to imagine when you’re excited about something that there must be lot of other people who would be just as excited. Sometimes that’s the case. Sometimes it’s not. But you like to know that before you jump into it.
Ryan: That’s right.
Matt: Just out of personal curiosity, are you a strong advocate of people setting up their bookkeeping from the beginning?
Ryan: Yes. That is another mistake that I made. I mean, if you can’t keep a close around your finances – I think that’s one of the core strengths or successful entrepreneur is just be able to understand your books and understand your finance because oh man, I’m sure you of all people could really tell some horror stories. Do you have any horror stories that you like to mention?
Matt: Yeah. I won’t call anybody out by name but by all means, I’ve certainly seen lots of cases where things just never got done or they were done wrong and all kind of causy mistakes that didn’t need to happen. We’ll just a little bit of planning and a little bit of forethought. It’s another one of those things where from most people from most situations, it’s really something that you are better off delegating to a professional rather than trying to do it yourself. By all means, you should understand what your profit loss is telling you, what your balance sheet means, how to look at the numbers and that’s something we help our clients all the time. Here’s the report and here’s what this information is actually telling you. But trying to do yourself or having your cousin do it or somebody who’s in a night school and took an accounting class once more often that ends up being a much bigger mess to clean up than if you just said “You know what? I’m just gonna have it done right. It’s not gonna cost much and this way I’m getting good information I can actually use instead of junk information that’s isn’t helping me at all.
Ryan: Yeah. Exactly. Because it’s too easy to make a mistake and I’ve made plenty.
Ryan: So, you live and learn. You do live and learn.
Matt: and accounting is an information system, your business is all about making smart decisions based on good information. If that’s one of those things you don’t have to use for your business, your kinda handicapping yourself. It would be like going back to your personal training and your exercise kind of experience. If you were just running around doing exercises but not keeping track of the way or the time you spent or the distance you were doing when you ran, all that stuff, it’s really hard to say that I do better yesterday than I did today.” You know, its apples to oranges. There’s no information at all. So, it’s hard to make progress. It’s hard to set and achieve goals if you have any idea or any matrix for your business. It’s just another one of this things. I think a lot of startups – it’s fun to focus on making a logo and picking the colors and picking the packaging and coming up with cool names but to the detriment of the business, if you buy past some of other things that are also important to do like making sure you got right legal structure and making sure your books are in order and making sure that you have employees, you’re following HR rules. All that kind of stuff. That’s all part of it too. Even though it is not much fun but it’s part of the process.
Ryan: Yeah, and I don’t care what industry you’re in. like my industry, starting a food product, starting a restaurant, anything along those lines. If you’re spending all your time getting something id fell of the ground, you don’t have time to understand the different processes or the different thinking. You have to legally appear to that a professional would know. Just definitely my justification. In spending that X amount of dollars to have a professional on your side is actually really worth it.
Matt: Yeah. I think it’s a smart move. A lot of people don’t – they don’t do it not because they can’t afford or trying so save money. They just don’t even realize. They don’t know what they don’t know until a lot farther down the road when somebody says “Hey! Its tax time. How much do you owe?” and were all “Oh, I’ve got no idea.”
Ryan: Yeah. Another mistake that I made, matt. My journey has been a road full of mistakes, Matt, which I definitely learned over time.
Matt: That’s the great thing about your doing though. You’re documenting all these steps that people should be taking to do it right. Now, if somebody enroll to start up university, now they got no excuse right to do it right because you laid it out for them.
Ryan: I mean, it’s an ever revolving thing. It would never be completely finished and hopefully we would be able to get information on there that can help anybody no matter where they are.
Matt: What is your kind of plan for the future? Is it just to continue to refine the product? Add more content, add more articles and do better or do you have any projects that kind of coming down the pyre here?
Ryan: Yeah. For the profit side of the business, I spend a tremendous amount of time with search engine optimization and I think that’s where a lot of my time goes to on a day to day business. But for other projects, I don’t know if you had the chance to check it out but we actually give back to a portion of our revenue to support an inline charity called DonorShoes.org. so, the social aspect, I think it’s our responsibility as entrepreneurs to some form of fashion and to always try to do your best. Recently, I had an opportunity to go to Mexico. They are an organization called Heart to Heart. They do a lot of projects that focus on improving the lives of people in Mexico. That could be kidney failure. You can’t necessarily afford kidney transplant. Building the school from scratch. I mean, all these really cool projects. Like seriously bring me to tears every time. I even think about them. I had to opportunity to go see what they do and I realized they were a lot of projects that [inaudible] because there wasn’t enough resources which is understandable. Every organization has the [inaudible] on my resources. One of them was focusing on since I got back from Mexico is building an internal fund raising platform for that organization so that we can feature all the projects and to hopefully help few more people to do that because the 10 year old organization hasn’t quite made that leap on the technology phase. So hopefully, we can maybe get a few more kidney transplants and maybe built another school. That’s honestly – I love business and I love entrepreneur but that’s definitely what my heart was.
Matt: That’s really cool because – that’s one of the cool things to me about entrepreneurship is you can choose how you s[end your time more so if you got your typical 9-5pm job. You can work harder to make more than you can then decide to allocate how you want it. If you have a social causes or causes that you want to donate to, you can fund those and you have the decision making ability to say “I want to put this percentage of our sales or profits or what have you towards a certain project or projects that you feel are important and you can really know that you are spending your time whether you’re working on your business or you’re working on the social causes that you’re supporting. In doing something your passionate about , and giving back and having a more than just a bottom line profit motive from what you’re doing. Again, if you got the typical 9-5 job, yeah, you could write a check out of your paycheck after you’ve been paid to a cause. That’s certainly admirable and good but as an entrepreneur, you had so much more ability to channel your energy into things that you really care about. Not only energy but also resources, dollars, expertise, time and things that just a typical employee isn’t able to do. That to me, is just one of those side benefits of entrepreneurship that’s so cool and so motivating and its awesome to hear that you’ve put yourself into that kind of project and you are taking the time to do that because so many other people can’t and don’t the resources to do it.
Ryan: Yeah. I’m [inaudible] to be able to start something that did allow me to donate my time or resources to something that means a lot more to me than just kind of a bottom line. I know I’ve told you about a mistake that I made on my journey to entrepreneurship but I will say that my biggest, the best decision I ever made was to incorporate giving into my business rather than just focusing on the bottom line. Even today, even this past week even, I’ve been behind at my work. I really don’t want to get up recently to work on my job but when I think about it, when I take a step back and think about I get to work on a business generates revenue that in turn is able to make a positive impact in other people’s lives. That is the most rewarding thing. Once you’ve think of it from a perspective of like I’m able to make a positive impact through entrepreneurship that changes the game and changes the mentality. It just kinda makes you very thankful to be able to wake up and do it.
Matt: Yeah. Definitely. Everybody has days where they don’t feel like getting out of bed and they definitely don’t feel like going into work but if you’ve got extra motivation that’s part of the process for you, that just makes thing a lot of easier, a lot more tenable to get up and stay motivated and to do it and again that’s not something that a typical 9-5 employee has. They can certainly have their own hobbies and their own side interest but their day to day job may not align at all with their personal interest or beliefs. And so, by embracing entrepreneurship, you can really incorporate all your passion, all you interest into what you do and how you spend your time. As far as I know, we only go around once. We only have limited amount of time. So, to be able to put it towards things that you really believe in is just a gift in my mind.
Ryan: I agree. Just wake up with gratitude, Man.
Matt: Exactly. Well, I super appreciate you’re taking the time to chat with me today. For people who are interested in learning more and maybe following some of your blueprint to success and some of the mistakes that we’ve covered and we’ve both made, what’s the best way for people to find you online and to get in touch?
Ryan: Yeah, of course. Just go to StarupSevant.com or you can go to the Pro Version of that and go to MyStartupUniversity.com. Those 2 are the core things that we’ve built, spent thousands of hours on to help people that want to bring their great idea to life.
Matt: Awesome! That’s definitely good resources. As I frequently say on this podcast with all the different people that I talk to, education yourself and having knowledge about what you are trying to do is such a powerful thing and it’s so much more likely to increase your chances of not only being successful but your speed to success and avoiding some of those mistakes that cost time and money. Having these resources out there for people I think is just a fantastic thing that you’ve done. I definitely encourage people to visit and check it out. You’ll learn from it and accelerate your path to success. Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with me. Enjoy the rest of your day!
Ryan: Thanks, Matt! Much appreciated.