Ryan is a global keynote speaker, author, and brand consultant who teaches people how to build their brand, get featured in publications, and grow their social media following. Ryan’s clients include New York Times bestselling authors, venture capitalists, and Fortune 500 executives. His book, Ditch the Act, helps executives and entrepreneurs navigate the waters of what to do, in the right order, to help them harness the power of vulnerability and authenticity to build a better, more relatable, more profitable brand.
Recognized by Inc. Magazine as a Top Marketer and named a Top Personal Branding Expert by Entrepreneur Magazine, and a 4 time TEDx speaker whose talks have been named in Top TED lists by Forbes, Mashable, and Inc. Ryan works with thought leaders to create and syndicate content that reveals their whole self to drive differentiation, growth, and loyalty. By positioning the expertise of people within companies as the core talent behind the corporate brand, he helps to drive reputation, trust and more clients to their businesses.
Ahoy, I'm Ryan
Want to know a secret?
Use your failure, mistakes, and vulnerabilities to fund your success. How do I know this? I speak about it across the globe, and I wrote the book on it.
My book is called Ditch the Act: Reveal the Surprising Power of the Real You for Greater Success. It takes a strategic approach to this little-known secret to help you build an authentic, long-lasting personal brand. We explain why exposure is important and how it helps cultivate more durable connections than any polished persona can, and how to use stories of failure and weakness in ways that build trust and loyalty from large audiences.
It is a proven guide to building a powerful personal brand through the fearless admission of just being human.
The problem: People are getting weary of—and, frankly, seeing right through—the oversized egos dominating the business world today.
The solution: By building a personal brand that is honest and authentic and that reveals personal struggles, you can build stronger, longer-lasting relationships—and achieve greater success.
My market: Business professionals who are finding it harder and harder to break through the noise, who want to gain more respect and more followers by being their natural, flawed self instead of pretending to be perfect.
Read on for more about who I am and where it all began!
FYI, Gingers DO Have Souls, and They Have Backstories
I grew up in Huntington Beach, California. I was the freckle-faced kid at school who got made fun of, not only because of my freckles and sun-bleached hair but I think my favorite my red suspenders flagged me as a “nerd." To make matters worse, both of my parents were principals. Thankfully not at my school, otherwise live would have even more miserable. But, I still felt like an outcast and struggled with fitting in. I was an eager student, which was great for teachers, but not so great for making friends. My neighbor hated me so much that he kicked me and bit me on many occasions. It was terribly painful!
I was always the outlier, the easy-target, the kid who never got picked for sports teams. My mom felt so bad for me that she bought me a basketball of my own, but it didn’t change the fact that I had no one to play with.
One day, after being hounded all the way home by a group of bullies, I locked myself in my room and cried nonstop, while Don’t Worry, Be Happy played on my CD player, over and over again. When my Dad came home and found me, he’d had enough. He looked at me with pity and declared, “Ryan, we’re going to enroll you in Karate.”
I will remember that moment forever when the tears stopped.
Channeling my inner Ryan-San
Martial Arts gave me confidence and I loved it. I went on to earn my black belt and have continued training on and off ever since.
I enjoyed teaching martial arts because it gave me the opportunity to teach and empower children with the same valuable lessons I had learned myself: to have the confidence to stand up and speak out against bullies.
In high school, I wrestled and was the meanest 119-pound ginger in town. I made the Varsity team as a freshman and became famous for body-slamming people three times my weight class. I channeled all of my anger from being bullied and turned it into match-winning motivation.
I also discovered a passion for pole vaulting, initially trying it out as a joke, but somehow made the team. I flew high, like a butterfly, as I curbed my body over the high bar. The mental and physical challenges that came with running as fast as you could with a 14-foot pole, followed by flinging yourself into the air to surpass the height of your previous jump thrilled me. All I wanted to do was fly higher.
What Would Kelly Hrudley Do?
I was a devoted Los Angeles Kings fan and played ice hockey my entire youth, and of all positions, I chose to be the goaltender. I idolized the King’s goaltended Kelly Hrudey, and one time I snuck into their locker room, met him, and for a moment, the world stopped. I might have been small for a goalie (as most covered the entire goal with their bodies), but I was the fastest goalie in town and had moves that put Mick Jagger to shame. Losing only fueled my fire to be an even better goalie. I ate pucks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was a great time.
Funny full circle fact: I was eventually elected Senior Class President by the same kids who had bullied me in elementary school!
I attended college and got two degrees, with honors, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and eventually got my MBA.
After dreaming of becoming a movie producer, I tried to break into Hollywood. I ended up on sets like The Practice, where I met William Shatner, but took him to the wrong studio, and that was when I realized that famous people get angry fast. I was a grunt, a page, a go-for this and go-for that. My excitement faded when I realized that it would take almost 30 years to move up the movie ranks. I transitioned to the mortgage industry, made lots of money, and somehow spent it all. Then I found myself, like many other loan officers, out of a job when the market crashed in 2008.
At a low point in life, and not being able to make ends meet, I took on a variety of jobs from construction to teaching karate. With a mortgage, thousands in credit card debt, and not enough money to pay the bills, I hit rock bottom. I was drinking a lot to cope with everything falling apart, and I ended up with a DUI. I tried to hide it from everyone, and it took me over 10 years to share that it happened with my parents.
I was ashamed, broke, lonely, embarrassed, and stopped going out. The bills stacked up, and my house went into foreclosure. I took out student loans, and didn’t spend it on school. I got a roommate to help float some bills, but then he moved out one day and took my car. I never saw it again because he got a DUI and the car was impounded. I didn’t have any money to get it back.
Everything that I had worked so hard for fell apart in front of my face. With a heavy heart, I asked my parents to borrow money to hire a bankruptcy attorney. Up until this point I was very secretive about everything that had gone wrong. It was my rock bottom. I remember trying to talk to my mom and dad and I couldn’t talk. All I could do was cry. It was miserable. They helped me with the cash to hire the attorney and I mailed in an application filing for bankruptcy.
That was a tough pill to swallow.
Two weeks later, I found the application in my mailbox, returned to sender because the postage was .32 cents short. I knew that the world was speaking to me. Bankruptcy was NOT the right decision.
I will never forget that moment.
I stood there, bankruptcy paperwork in my hand… then tore it up, right there, in front of the mailbox (then I cleaned it up because I felt bad for littering).
I made a commitment at that moment to work my way out of the hole I was in.
During this time as I was trying to make ends meet, I made a decision that ultimately ended up being one of the worst decisions of my life, but more on that later.
I enjoy giving back to the community. In 2011, I turned my focus to my passion for helping kids who were being bullied. I started a program called Bully Buster USA®, and traveled around Orange County, putting on Anti-Bullying workshops that I developed for middle school and high school students. The work was extremely rewarding and marked the beginning of my pursuit to improve my public speaking skills.
Recognizing the rise of cyberbullying, especially as the use of cellphones rapidly increased across all ages, I took to technology and helped create one of the first anti-cyberbullying apps called WordBully. The app prevented identified words from reaching targeted phones and notified parents if their children were either being bullied or were being bullies.
My involvement in bullying education and the development of this app idea helped to connect me to an app development firm that focused on child safety apps, and I ended up working with them as Chief Operating Officer.
I gained extensive startup experience, as each app we developed in-house was treated like a small company. We also helped develop mobile applications for many other businesses, from mom and pop organizations, like Dana Point Whale Watching, to Fortune 500 companies, like Del Monte.
When my contract was completed with the app firm, I decided that I wanted to work more closely with entrepreneurs and startups to help them on their journey; leveraging my life experience to help them learn both what to do, and more importantly, what not to do.
In 2014, I was hired as the Assistant Director of a new entrepreneurship center called the Blackstone LaunchPad, at the University of California, Irvine. It was just the position I was looking for, as it gave me the opportunity to help students learn from the would-have, could-have, should-haves of my failures and mistakes.
One of my most costly mistakes also surfaced during this time, when I was served and dragged back into an FTC Investigation regarding the company I had left in 2011. This process was one of the most difficult things I have ever dealt with, both mentally and financially. I accepted a settlement with the FTC in 2015, and have since been focused on moving forward with my life.
I continue to try and turn this negative situation into one that has a positive outcome by focusing on teaching others to learn from what I have gone through. The saving grace from it all, was realizing the importance of being real, being human, and being flawed.
My position at UCI, helping early-stage entrepreneurs was the perfect place for me to focus on giving back in a way that was fulfilling and had a real impact.
I pushed the envelope on campus and created quite the ruckus. I would make seven-foot paper aeroplanes and throw them off the top of the Student Center, then would get a call saying that such behaviour was not allowed. It did make for a great video that we posted on social media though. I also got the center sponsored by hoverboards and began letting students use them around campus as a way to promote the center. Within a month, they were banned on campus, and so we got even more creative. I went to ACE Hardware, the 99Cents Store, and Home Depot then built a 6-foot SnapChat Ghost. Students would wear it around campus, and we made a social media scavenger hunt game out of it. When I got a call with faculty complaints that a ghost showed up to their classroom, we laughed and changed our outreach efforts.
One unassuming day, I got called into the boss’ boss’ office. I got that funny feeling. The one where you think you might be fired. All of the guerrilla marketing efforts, the tactics that got students to know about us, was going to come back and cost me my job, I knew it. I could feel it. And so, I went to the meeting knowing what was going to happen.
In my brain, all I could think of was the disappointment, anger, and the reality of having to start all over again. For the last 18 months, I had dedicated my entire being to promote the ANTrepreneur Center, and my 100% focus was in helping students start companies. But here I was, about to be fired, and my whole life flashed in front of my eyes. Well, at least the next 10 years. I thought to myself, as the meeting began, I have to do something different. I can’t just invest all that I have into a company that I start or a job that I have. Because if things change, I am back to square one. Actually, square zero. So that is the moment when I decided to start to build my personal brand. And this time, with a focus to make sure that whatever I did in the future, would put my brand at the center of what I was doing. That way, as things change, I would still be able to build on my personal reputation, regardless of the company I ran or worked for.
This was truly a tipping point for my life.
I ended up not getting fired, but actually got promoted to oversee 25+ units on campus, including the ANTrepreneur Center, but they wanted me to help the university duplicate some of my success I had gained with our creative outreach. This whole ordeal, I explain in my 2nd TEDx talk, called Borderline Millennial Disorder.
In my new position at UCI, I was able to get out of the weeds and was able to get more strategic.
One day, my friend who worked at Microsoft, called me and asked if I wanted to go to a networking event that he had an extra ticket to. Without much thought, I said yes. Little did I know that “yes” would change the trajectory of my life.
The party was at Keith Ferrazzi’s house, a New York Times bestselling author who was famous for his house parties. I showed up not sure what to expect, and found a crazy house on the top of the Hollywood Hills, with super successful young entrepreneurs from all around the world.
An hour or so into the event, Keith called everyone into his living room., asked everyone to put away their phones, and he got vulnerable. Then he asked us to do the same. We all got assigned random tables and we were told to go around and introduce ourselves by saying what was not going right, both professionally and personally. Whhhaaaa?
But that is what we did. I stood up and told how I was writing and no one was reading. How I wanted to speak, but no one cared. I cut to the chase and explained my frustration.
I admitted that I was confused about social media, and didn't know how to build my personal brand.
Sure, a long time ago, I started Facebook and Twitter pages, but I never checked them and didn't really understand how to navigate online profiles. Social media felt risky to me because historically I’ve kept to myself to avoid exposing my vulnerabilities and failures.
I was used to my ‘brand’ always being tied to my business ventures. This is a cycle that many entrepreneurs get stuck in, using their company to essentially “hide” behind. But over the past few years, as I’ve grown and become more confident, I’ve realized there is no reason to hide.
I’ve used various strategies to connect with people online, like writing blogs or making videos but doing those things alone don’t build relationships or trust. It wasn't until I shared both good and not so good life events that I was able to really connect with people.
Because at the end of the day, if you are not open with others then they are not able to relate to you. And if they can not relate then they have no reason to invest their time in your content.
I challenge you to look at your feeds, look at your bio, look at the information people can find about you online. If the information you are putting out is a carefully curated list of “good,” then I challenge you to take the risk of sharing vulnerabilities and let people get to know the real you, shortcomings and all.
This is the basis for my book, Ditch The Act. When you share both good and not so good things, then people will see that you have something in common: you are both human!
I soon started to get traction, as I began to focus in on my messaging and content creation. I got verified on all my social media platforms and started to see inbound speaking requests. First within the US, then from places like Portugal, then China, then Haiti, and Africa.
My story is one of highs and lows that I hope could serve as a cautionary tale of hard lessons learned. I am the person you see here today because of all my life experiences, both good and bad. And in writing Ditch the Act, I have learned that the real key to success is to be perfectly imperfect. And that has reduced the stress that comes along with success. When you can just be yourself, things become exciting.
The biggest lesson I've learned from creating my own businesses
If I look back on the successes, and more importantly the failures, I think the biggest takeaway I’ve learned in being patient in finding the right business partner.
I’m guilty of getting very excited by new opportunities, especially ones that have the potential of turning into a successful, profitable, and sustainable business. But just like a romantic relationship, when you are starting with a new business partner, people are usually on their best behavior during the courtship and honeymoon phases. What I have learned, and I can’t stress enough to fellow entrepreneurs, is the importance of really getting to know a potential partner before you start a new venture.
It's easy to be a partner when business is going well but when things go wrong or difficult decisions need to be made people react in unexpected ways. I've had business partners abusing drugs, who have had anger management issues, most have lied to me, one physically threatened me, and many have stolen from me or our company. These were all situations that could have been avoided if I paid attention to the little red flags along the way.
You can tell a lot about someone by how they live, eat, relate to others - and how they relate to themselves. You should be aware of how your partner handles stress in their personal and business lives. Someone can have all the experience and connections in the world, but if they are incapable of managing stress in a healthy way, then there will be an inevitable breakdown in communication and productivity.
My suggestion is to vet your partner's personal and professional lives before any formal partnership. Look at what they post online. If they post about material things like money and cars then maybe they are likely to skim off the top of your business. If they frequently eat fast food, smoke and drink alcohol then perhaps they will be more prone to illness or low energy? And if you find yourself noticing red flags along the way seek some advice on how to navigate the situation so the small red flags don’t turn into huge red roadblocks.
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 prior working relationship with my co-author and 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 in December 2019.
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 the 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.
My biggest accomplishment
My biggest accomplishment is my loving relationship with my fiance (wife as of September 19th, 2020). We 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 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 is 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.
Mostly, I’m proud that our relationship is ever-evolving. Cyn helps me be the best I can be, and in return, I do my best to support her in being the best she can be. It’s something I am very proud of, and it makes me happy to think about.
I wake up every day and love what I do. And I wish this for everyone.
I am a passionate and creative person who loves helping people solve problems.
I love helping today’s top leaders improve clarity and increase connection by learning to be themselves.
If I'm not speaking, I'd rather be sailing
My favorite place to travel is located 26 miles off the coast of Southern California, an island called Catalina. My family spent a lot of time there as I was growing up and I have a deep connection to the raw and untouched feeling of the Island. I like to call Catalina the closest furthest place we can get. It truly is an untouched part of California that we are so lucky to have access to.
Cyn and I have a ‘77 Cal 34 sailboat named BINGO and we sail over to the Island as much as we can. When I'm sailing I can disconnect from technology and connect with nature. Being around nature and appreciating the ocean and its wildlife truly centers me to my core. It makes me better at my job, in my life and in how I relate to the world around me.
My time in Catalina has sparked a love for sailing. There is something amazing about harnessing natural energy into motion.
Sailing is a good analogy for life and business as you truly don't have control over the winds, but you always have control over how you trim your sails.
For me, when I am not speaking, I'd rather be sailing. And when I reach my destination, it looks like this…
Thanks for taking the time to learn a little bit about me.
If you want to learn more about my story, I suggest grabbing a copy of my new book Ditch the Act!
It's a look at how to build a personal brand by simply being more human!