Interview with Author and Entrepreneur Ryan Foland
by Team Sammy
ABOUT RYAN FOLAND
I met Ryan Foland about five years ago while we were both volunteering as judges for a Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) business pitch presentation competition. Since then, I have had fun learning from and following Ryan online as he has developed his 3-1-3® communication method, founded a social media marketing company, InfluenceTree, and now co-authored his first book, Ditch the Act.
Today, I am pleased to introduce you to Ryan, his book, and thinking!
RYAN IN HIS OWN WORDS
Sam X Renick: Ryan, please help Sammy Rabbit fans get to know you. Briefly take us through the stages of your life. Who was Ryan as a child, teen, young adult, and now a thirty plus year old author?
Early Ryan – The Red Headed Entrepreneur
Ryan Foland: As a child, some of my fondest memories were spent with my parents in Catalina Island, California. It lies just southwest of Los Angeles. It was a place where I could run wild on a rocky beach filled with sticks and stones. I would fish and snorkel with my dad. I would hike with my mom. And, I would use the sticks and stones to entertain myself.
It was wonderful. But there was a downside.
Spending summers every year in Catalina meant I would disappear from my friends. The vanishing act made me an easy target to pick on when I returned and throughout the school year. Having nerdy freckles and a bleach blonde bowl haircut wasn’t helpful either. I experienced a different kind of sticks and stones. They didn't break my bones, but the bullying did hurt my feelings.
My father recognized I was having a hard time standing up for myself. So, he encouraged me to join karate and find my inner “Ryansan.” I followed his advice and martial arts became a huge part of my life. It taught me the communication skills I needed to let people know I was not the redhead you wanted to mess with. My confidence grew. Around the same time, I started a Christmas light hanging business. It was my first entrepreneurial adventure. I ran that business all the way through college. With just a couple of months of work each year, I was able to make enough money to sustain a budget that included fast food, hockey sticks, and skateboards.
Young Ryan – A College Love Affair, Not a Career
As a young adult, I discovered a new passion while attending the University of California, Santa Barbara. I entered UCSB as an undeclared freshman. I exited with two Bachelors of Arts. One was in Business Economics and the other in Dramatic Arts.
Before college, I had never experienced theater. I found the power of communicating through storytelling mesmerizing. I fell in love with dramatic plays, not musicals. I progressed from acting to producing to directing. Eventually, I formed a theater group called the Sherwood players. They still exist today. We consistently brought hard-hitting theater to campus. It got students thinking and talking. And, it inspired big dreams within me. I dreamt of a career in Hollywood. But those dreams died quickly when not one single graduate school accepted me into a master's program. However, I did get some unpaid internships at ABC Productions. I worked on the set of The Practice. It was a popular show at the time. But I got discouraged. I could not see a direct path to the career I wanted. And, to make matters worse, the entire time I was spending down my savings.
Ryan on the Rebound
I started calling friends to see what was working for them. I discovered one of my amigos was a big success in the mortgage industry. So, I abandoned my Hollywood dreams and learned the art of phone sales. I began helping people refinance equity from their homes. I fell in love all over again. This time it was with a different kind of storytelling – sales. At the end of the day, I found sales connected me with people to help solve their problems. It was a beautiful fit.
The mortgage industry was great, that is, until the bottom fell out of the market. I lost my job, house, and car. I fell into a rough spot. I turned to alcohol. I consumed way more than I should. I needed it to cope. Going from a job I loved to unemployment was a drastic change for the worse.
There, in the middle of muck, I somehow discovered a silver lining. My early entrepreneurial spirit was reignited. I tapped into it. I started several companies. All of them had a measure of success. But in the end, they all failed. The ups and downs of these ventures taught me a lot of lessons. In that respect, they were a success. They made me who I am today. They gave me real world experience in entrepreneurship, the good, bad and ugly.
Serendipitously, I was offered a position at the University of California, Irvine. I was asked to run their first-ever undergraduate entrepreneurship program called the ANTrepreneur Center. What luck! What a blast! I got an opportunity that suited me to a tee. I got to help college students start their first companies. The program was a huge success. I advanced. I moved to a more centralized office on campus. My responsibilities expanded. Not only did I oversee the ANTrepreneur Center, but I also became responsible for 20 other undergraduate resources on campus.
As I approach 40, I find many of my favorite moments still happen in nature, on the ocean, at Catalina Island, anywhere I can sail and appreciate mother earth.
I still work at UCI. I thoroughly enjoy helping students and academic leaders pursue their dreams, take advantage of new forms of communication and build their personal brands.
I have a company called InfluenceTree. It helps executives and companies learn how to be more human and transform that characteristic into a competitive advantage.
And, I just co-authored my first book with Leonard Kim titled Ditch the Act. The book teaches people how to leverage their perfectly imperfect authentic self.
Renick: Ditch the Act has a strong message on authenticity, please tell us a little about it and how it came to be?
Foland: Yes. It does. Ditch the Act helps readers reveal their “real” selves and discover the surprising power it can have in achieving greater success.
What I've learned from all my life experiences is I feel the most connected with people when I am being real.
We live in a world that makes us question what is real and what is fake. With many young people turning to social media to see what others are “up to,” they find countless images and videos that show others living their “best life.” But they often fail to ask, is it a person’s real life? How accurate is that image or video? Is there a filter on that picture? Is the person really that happy? How is that some people seem like they are on vacation all the time? Society encourages us to put on an act. Look like this. Be like this. Follow me.
In Ditch the Act, Leonard and I share how to stay sane in a world where it appears like everyone else is more successful than we are.
What many of us do not fully realize, is there is a decisive advantage in being our true selves.
In the book, we help readers recognize they have had a personal brand their whole lives and that they may not have been participating in the narrative. They should. We want them to actively participate in the telling of their story. It starts with them incrementally revealing their true selves.
We dive into the art of exposing your true self in a way that gets other people to know you, like you, and trust you. At the end of the day, to be successful, people must trust you. And, that is much easier to do when you are authentic and reveal your whole self to people, even things you find frightening.
Once you Ditch the Act, your whole world changes. There's nothing more exciting than living an authentic lifestyle, true to you and your values.
Renick: Networking appears to be one of the keys to your success and to developing a great personal brand. What makes a great networker? Will you provide us a few insights?
Foland: Networking is the “skeleton” key. Surround yourself and build real relationships with the right people. This will sustain and grow you and your personal brand.
Here are three insights to become the best networker you can be:
- Focus on the problem you solve
- Get better at listening
- Stress quality not quantity.
Focus on the Problem You Solve
As part of my 3-1-3® Communication Method, I teach people the importance of understanding how to articulate the problem they solve. I argue people really don't care what you do. Instead, they care more about the problem you solve. Therefore, it is crucial to be able to explain the problem you solve without indicating what you do. This differentiates and creates interest in you.
There's a good chance when you attend a networking event someone will ask, “What do you do?” Try this experiment. Rather than tell people what you do, tell them, what you do is not important. What is more important, is the problem I solve.
Pause. Let the possible awkward silence pass and there is a good chance the person will ask, “So what problem do you solve?” Bingo! You have captured their interest. Game on!
It is a calculated risk and one well worth taking. Why? Because, if they do respond in the manner we hope, they are now asking a deeper question. And, if you train yourself to answer the problem you solve in one sentence, without explaining what you do, there is a good chance you will sustain their interest.
I think of human brains as puzzle machines that love to piece information together to get solutions.
This strategy will make a big difference whether people remember you and what you do.
Get Better at Listening
Let's face it, people like to talk, especially at networking events. But, if you do all the talking, you give up one of the most significant advantages of great networkers. Listening!
When you listen more, three powerful things happen. One, you become better positioned to form more targeted and value-added responses to conversations. Two, you acquire more information about the person you're communicating with. Three, you gain more control of the conversation.
A good part of being a good listener is being armed with good questions.
When neither person says more in a conversation, an awkward moment often occurs that will determine the fate of the communication. Someone may glance across the room and say, “Great to meet you. I think I'm going to get another drink.” Or, you can seize that moment and pose a thoughtful question, one that gets the person to stick around and keep talking.
If you look at conversations as more than just pleasantries back and forth, but rather as an opportunity to really get to know somebody by asking them questions and listening to what they have to say, you will maximize your networking connections. Some of my favorite questions to ask in order to continue conversation are, “Tell me more about that,” or “ So how did that make you feel?,” or “There has to be a good backstory behind that.” Try these and other open-ended questions to set yourself up for success by giving yourself a chance to listen more.
Focus on Quality Not Quantity
Do not judge me by the number of my LinkedIn connections. Judge me by the number of people who are willing to help me out.
Networking is not about the number of people that you're connected with. It is about the number of people that you have built relationships with.
I've spent a lot of time building valuable relationships with a small number of core individuals that I respect, get along with, and see as having a positive impact on my life.
In a world where people judge each other by the number of followers that they have, this plain old simple advice of the value of quality over quantity maybe slowly slipping into the forgotten chambers of our minds. But do not underestimate the value of one individual person who may be able to make that one important connection or that one crucial introduction.
There is value in having a loose network of people that you are on good terms with and can call upon for support but do not invest a lot of time in building a relationship. These people are those that you can call upon when things not only go right but more importantly, when things go wrong.
On the flip side of the coin, there may be people in your network that do not bring positivity or productivity to your relationship. They might be legacy friends or connections from past jobs or from a time when things were different.
Make sure that you’re honest with yourself about the people who are close to you and your network and who you are investing time and building relationships with. These people in your inner circle, the quality people who you decide to surround yourself with, are the core of your network. And when those core bonds are strong, they will be a big part of your success.
NO FEAR OF STRANGERS
Renick: You don't seem to be afraid to meet strangers. Why is that?
Foland: No. In fact, I enjoy meeting strangers. I've always found it exciting to meet new people, whether it's in person or online. I am a people person. I love interviewing people. I love learning about them and hearing their stories. This is one of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoy traveling and speaking around the world. It helps me to grow, get different points of view and become more worldly.
Over the last few years I have built many relationships with total strangers. I've met man of them online. Twitter is one platform where I meet new people every day. Many of these people I never hear from again. But there are others I build relationships and am willing to support them if when they want and need my help.
Look, I'm a stranger to you. And you're a stranger to me. So why not make the first move and introduce yourself? It's funny because I have a lot of people who reach out to me online, and the different approaches really crack me up.
There are those people who just start with asking me or donate to their charity. Other people will reach out talking about how a TEDx talk that I gave impacted their life. Someone else will reach out with a question about how to deal with nerves when speaking in public.
Do I completely ignore these people?
The ones who ask for money or to retweet something out of nowhere, I will likely ignore. But when a real person reaches out with something real, I usually reply to them and it's fun to see where the conversation goes.
If you are afraid to meet strangers, I challenge you to spark the conversation and see how it goes. Once you realize that meeting strangers can open you up to new contacts that create new opportunities, you might be less scared. If you want a place to start, feel free to DM me and I will be sure to reply.
Renick: Who is your intended audience for the book and what is the most significant take away for readers?
Foland: The intended audience for the book are those people who want to embrace who they are and live their best life. You see, many people are one way around their friends, another way around their family, and an entirely different way when they're with people they work with. It's as though we put on different masks or have different acts for the different people in our lives. This can be exhausting, stressful and can create anxiety along with confusion about what type of content to create and how to present yourself on social media.
Some readers don’t know that they have a personal brand, some want to build a personal brand but are not sure how to do it, while other readers have a personal brand and want to grow it.
For all these types of readers, the most significant take away for them all, will be that sharing more than just the good, is the secret to a relatable personal brand.
It’s when we start to have the strength to share our stories of defeat, failure, and even of the little things that go wrong during the day, that is when people will relate to us as humans.
They will begin to know us, which will allow them to like us, which will ultimately allow them to trust us.
And when people trust you and your personal brand, the world is your oyster.
Renick: What distinguishes this book from others in the space?
Foland: Ditch the Act is a business book that shows readers how to put the “human” in business, discover their true self and reveal it to others to grow their lives, brands and businesses. Leonard and I outline an exact step by step process for people to follow. It helps them tease out some of the best stories they probably have never shared with the world. The book includes actionable worksheets and exercises.
One of the powerful strategies Ditch the Act offers is how to let your fears guide you. We show how sharing parts from your past you are afraid to expose will make you more relatable. We do it by providing real life examples and research. This helps us outline a convincing case to get more vulnerable, in order to achieve more of the success, we all deserve.
Renick: Overcoming and learning from failure is a big part of your co-author Leonard Kim and your story. Is it something that anyone can learn? Will you give us a few tips on how to successfully go about it?
Foland: I think overcoming and learning from failure is a big part of all our stories. I also think lots of people don’t share their whole stories. We default to sharing the best highlights of our lives. We share the stories that have worked out.
I learned a lot from Leonard’s approach to blogging. He gained his initial traction writing about what was going wrong. It taught me there is great value in exposing yourself and letting people into your life and learning more about who you are, including your blemishes and failures.
The art of sharing what has not gone right, is just that, it is an art.
In Ditch the Act, we outline a 5 Levels of Exposure to help readers understand how to share the not-so-good moments of their life, in a way that creates more connectivity with audiences.
The key? Start by exposing small failures and imperfections. Get comfortable. Gain confidence. Be relatable. Build trust. Then, move to more significant items. Also, know what not to share. Level five of our process addresses that topic.
CHALLENGES TO OUTSTANDING NETWORKING
Renick: What are a few of the typical obstacles people need to overcome to develop outstanding personal brands and being effective at networking?
Foland: By far, one of the biggest mistakes I see people make is not fully developing their backstory and bio and making them easy to access online.
Often, I'll ask people where I can find their bio? Some people don't have one. Others tell me they have their accolades listed on LinkedIn.
If you don't have an authentic bio that gives your backstory, you're missing a great opportunity.
When people find content online that they like, there is a good chance they will want to discover more about the person who created it. It does not matter whether it’s a blog, video or image. If you have a bio that shares your whole story, including the good, bad and ugly, it will allow people to get to know you. This will create a connection and a bond that will allow them to better relate to you. Your bio is by far the most important piece of your online presence.
Another major mistake I see people make is trying to be all things to all platforms. There are so many social media platforms it makes my head spin. I encourage individuals to find platforms they enjoy using, then pick one and focus on it. Evaluate the platforms from a functionality standpoint. Consider elements like the audience and demographics. Make sure you are invested and engaged in it. This will give you your best opportunity to get traction and build an audience. It’s Twitter for me. That is my main social media platform. I post on Facebook and Instagram but rarely interact on them. By focusing on Twitter, I have been able to attract over three hundred thousand followers.
Renick: Is there anything in the book that readers might be surprised to discover?
Foland: I think readers will be surprised to discover there are 70 stick figure drawings throughout Ditch the Act. I have been creating stick figures with short messages every day for close to four years now. I find something magical about stick figures and their ability to relate to just about everyone. I feel they bring additional life to the written words.
CHECK OUT RYAN
Renick: Is there anything else you would like to share with readers about the book?
Foland: Readers can find information on how to pre-order and order Ditch the Act at DitchTheAct.com. I welcome them to follow Leonard and me on Twitter at @ditchtheact. Lastly. I’d like to remind readers to keep in mind we are all human and the best way to grow your life and build your personal brand is to be your true authentic self.