Share Your Ideas With People: An Interview With Ryan Paugh, the YEC
- By Rahul Varshneya
- February 14th, 2013
Ryan Paugh is the Co-Founder and Chief of Staff at the Young Entrepreneur Council, an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons. Before launching YEC, Ryan co-founded Brazen Careerist, a community where ambitious young professionals come to learn and grow.
What Ryan Paugh has built, had the world sit up and take notice. When I started helping entrepreneurs by coaching them to launch their ventures, I came across the YEC, a rockstar organization created for and by successful young entrepreneurs. I noticed the YEC’s initiative StartupLab that provides mentorship programs to entrepreneurs at a much larger scale than I could have imagined.
And that is what drew me to Ryan. I had to look for the people behind it and who have made this a successful initiative that many aspiring entrepreneurs are drawn to, not just in hundreds or thousands, but millions. It takes a lot to build an organization of value and even more to get people buying into it.
An entrepreneur (under 30) creating a network of some of the best and the most successful entrepreneurs that helps foster entrepreneurship is no small feat. Having accomplished so much at a young age, Ryan shares his insights on overcoming your fears, validating your ideas and building a brand for your startup.
Rahul Varshneya: Tell me about your entrepreneurial journey and the biggest hurdles you have faced.
Ryan Paugh: I am somewhat of an accidental entrepreneur. While many of my entrepreneurial friends knew early on that they wanted to build their own companies I started my first company, Brazen Careerist, unexpectedly while I was at my first entry-level job and very unsatisfied with the direction that I saw my career going in.
I used the Internet as a vehicle to share how I was feeling entering a workplace where I felt like I did not belong. I started my first blog about Gen Y at work with one of my best friends from college, Ryan Healy, and ended up getting a lot of attention. Before we knew it calls were coming in from reporters at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and others who wanted to quote us in their articles. It was through all of this attention that we met Penelope Trunk who helped inspire us to leave our corporate jobs and start a company with her.
Brazen Careerist is still around today as a successful, venture-backed social recruiting platform based out of Washington, DC. My biggest hurdle in the last few years was gathering the courage to step down from my position at the company when I felt in my heart that I wanted to pursue other entrepreneurial endeavors.
I was able to finally make the leap after meeting Scott Gerber, my current business partner at YEC. It was his initial vision for curating a small, elite group of young entrepreneurs that got me excited about building a new organization from the ground up.
Rahul Varshneya: Is building a community the most effective way for an entrepreneur to market their product or service? What advice will you give to an entrepreneur who wants to take on this path?
Ryan Paugh: Absolutely. Community building is essential for every business owner. However, it looks and feels different depending on who your customers are and what you’re selling.
My best advice for an entrepreneur who is just getting started is to avoid thinking about community in terms of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Community is an experience that leaders create for like-minded people. Based on who these people are and how they behave, you will chose platforms to build relationships through. This might happen in an online platform like Facebook or in an offline platform like a bar. In my opinion, the best communities successfully do a combination of both.
Rahul Varshneya: You co-founded The Young Entrepreneur Council. How did this idea come about? How does it help entrepreneurs?
Ryan Paugh: My business partner, Scott Gerber, first approached me with YEC asking if I would become a member. Back then, it was a small group of 50 elite, young entrepreneurs who I admired. Naturally, I accepted the invitation.
Within a few months of my membership, I started to see a lot of potential to transform YEC into the next great entrepreneur organization so I approached Scott about partnering. After months of generating ideas and working together in the evenings, we both made a transition into building the YEC full time.
YEC is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. We provide members with access to a vetted network of their peers in every industry as well as special opportunities that are tailored to business owners who have reached a specific echelon of success.
YEC members give back to aspiring entrepreneurs in a very powerful way through our #StartupLab program. Powered by our elite members, we provide virtual mentorship that is accessible all over the world through live video chats, eBooks, weekly email lessons, and a library of How-To articles and videos.
Rahul Varshneya: How can aspiring entrepreneurs overcome their fears and startup? There’s a lot of advice, but sometimes it’s a bit disconnected from practicalities. If one has a family with kids and responsibilities, what does one do?
Ryan Paugh: First and foremost, always put your family first. You should never put your family in jeopardy to launch a business. With that said, the coolest thing about being an entrepreneur today is that many businesses can be started with very little capital. Some of the business owners I admire the most started with less than $100 and now make tens of millions every year.
Overcoming fear starts with letting it out. Surround yourself with great mentors who you can trust and tell them about the things that scare you the most.
Rahul Varshneya: Aspiring entrepreneurs have ideas, sometimes many. How can they validate their ideas and choose one path?
Ryan Paugh: The best thing you can do is just share your ideas with people. A lot of entrepreneurs avoid this because they are worried that others with steal their ideas. This is the wrong way to look at things because most people could never execute correctly on a good idea that you had.
Always be bouncing your ideas off of people. Ask: Would you buy this? If you get good feedback and truly believe in your heart that your idea has legs start now. Read The Lean Startup to really learn about the science behind validating your ideas.
Rahul Varshneya: One of the keys to success for any Internet startup is hyper growth. What should an Internet entrepreneur do to ensure a viral growth for their startup?
Ryan Paugh: You know what? I think “going viral” is not as important as building a great product and creating great relationships with customers that you genuinely believe you can help.
When you believe enough in your product and have a solid customer base, you can hire talented people who can make you go viral. Until that day, focus on business fundamentals and building really great systems.
The number one reason why most startups fail is because they scale to quickly.
Rahul Varshneya: What are the most important steps that startups must undertake to build their brands online (tips and tricks)?
Ryan Paugh: The thing that most beginners do wrong is they try to do too much at once and everything they do ends up being mediocre. There are so many ways to build your brand online these days. Start by researching all of your options then test a couple things that you think you can execute on well with your existing resources and will yield a positive ROI.
The most successful companies are the ones that know what they stand for before they go out on a branding crusade. Spend lots of time distilling your mission and vision as a company before you dive in.
After that, you should get to know your audience. What problems do they have that you can help fix? Where do they talk about these problems online? How can my company join the conversation.
Focus on giving back before asking for anything in return. The best way to build a tribe is to show good karma. Show them that you’re about more then just making money and you’ll win their loyalty.
Rahul Varshneya: What level of transparencies should entrepreneurs maintain at the time of recruitment for a startup?
Ryan Paugh: Transparency is important for new hires, especially ones who have never had experience with a startup. Comfort zones get torn to pieces in startups because they have to move fast and pivot quickly when something isn’t working. I try to be as open and transparent as possible when I interview candidates for a job. I have even gone as far as to include a “no wimps allowed” clause in our job descriptions.
Rahul Varshneya: You are very young and have achieved quite a bit early in your life. Where do you go from here? What are your aspirations?
Ryan Paugh: Honestly, all I can see ahead of me now is YEC. We are building an organization that will live longer than we do and that requires a special kind of commitment that many entrepreneurs aren’t willing to make.
The good news is YEC is set up to be a multifaceted business. With all of the plans we have down on paper I really can’t see myself getting bored anytime soon
You can follow Ryan Paugh on Twitter @ryanpaugh.