In our series 10 minutes with, we introduce some of our senior executives and get their take on how the media and technology landscape is changing.
Ryan Owen is an experienced stock trader, founder of successful startups, professional empathizer, leader by example, team coach on and off the field, and a diehard fan of Penn State football. He runs the day to day business at ISM Connect and, by way of example, aims to build a culture where egos are left at the door and no one is afraid to get their hands dirty. His LinkedIn profile features an impassioned quote from Theodore Roosevelt that embodies his leadership mentality. Read on to learn more about how the President of ISM Connect got to where he is today, how ISM Connect will shape the future of live events, and what it takes to run a happy, healthy startup.
ISM: So, what do you do?
Owen: I manage the day to day operations of the business while overseeing the interactions and dynamic of the team. My major focus next quarter is to define our company culture by establishing a shared vision and brand mission. I am tasked with a really exciting role within this company, and that is trying to redefine something that sits at the intersection of media and sports. Our staff is always thinking about consumers and how we’d like to experience a game, shop at a store or live in a city. Our products are meant to enhance all of those things, and our people work hard to get us there.
ISM: Talk about your professional background. What path did you take to get to the place you are now in your career? What were some of the pivotal moments along the way?
Owen: I was a trader on the floor of stock exchange in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. I got my MBA at Northwestern when floor trading became more of an upstairs, digitized thing… No more crowded pit or sweaty people yelling at each other. From there, I went to work for a financial firm in Bala Cynwyd, PA conveniently close to where my wife grew up. We found our place in Doylestown, and we’ve been here now for many years.
Along the way, a group of friends and I created Meetball, a mobile app that helped friends find friends at tailgates. This was a bit of a side hustle that saw success and was eventually acquired. Of course, the idea was born at a Penn State tailgate. This is not a surprise to those who know me. But all of this came with learning and education – working in a startup culture demands focus, creativity and accountability.
ISM: How did you bring Meetball to market? What did it ultimately become and how did it lead you to this point today?
Owen: In 2012, we [Meetball] evolved. A friend and I partnered to create CrowdJoy, a company focused on enhancing the fan experience at live events through the use of location-based mobile technology and contextual advertising. The product we created allowed fans to access detailed event information, share their location with friends and family and receive relevant messaging from event hosts and sponsors. ISM Connect acquired us [CrowdJoy] in 2017. This gave us the tools to not only create amazing live event experiences, but also to have the power of a seasoned technology company behind us. Now we are able to serve targeted advertising to fans at major sports and entertainment venues, while simultaneously gathering demographic data and analytics for brands and venue operators. We have taken the technology that was used to find friends at tailgates and applied it to fan experiences and security solutions at venues.
ISM: What about running a startup do you like the most? The least?
Owen: That’s easy. Interacting with people, and… interacting with people. The differentiator is the more we identify, recruit and secure high quality people that have self confidence, who are clear in what their motivations are, the better our company does. My job and what I believe is one of my personal strengths is making sure people are heard and that they feel understood. If a person has a skill to contribute to the team, my job is to put him or her in the right place. What I care about is that people reflect on who they are and what their goals are and let leadership team know so we can adapt to their needs.
ISM: What are some of the startup obstacles that you have overcome on your journey at ISM thus far?
Owen: Within our acquisitions, things aren’t always perfect. In some of the deals we make, there are tough decisions around who is and is not a fit within the company. When it doesn’t work out, there might be a gap in knowledge and expertise around a key component of our business plan. We then have to figure out for ourselves how to cover that area of the business. As we move forward in this journey, we are continually tapping into our collective networks to identify people with the correct expertise who are willing to help in a humble and honest fashion.
ISM: What does success look like for ISM Connect in 2018, from your vantage point?
Owen: If we can end this year with a clearly defined mission and vision that is broadly understood and embraced by the company, and subsequently, a culture that excites everyone to come to work, that will be a success. We have been and continue to be a technology-lead company, so now we are making key hires around sales and marketing. We want our products not just to be great in theory, but widely understood by our prospective customers. They need to see the value that our products bring to them – both tangible and intangible – as we move forward. This is a really important time in our company’s history – we have to get this right.
ISM: Where do you see ISM Connect in five years from a personnel standpoint? A network reach standpoint? A data capabilities standpoint?
Owen: I believe that we are going to be a leading company in the media and technology industry as the world shifts away from traditional media to integration with technology. We are well positioned to be a leader in that space because we are a technology company learning media, not the opposite. In five years, if we continue on our current path, our security solution, Fanguard, will become the industry standard for major multipurpose sports and entertainment venues across the US. Our customers can expect to hear more on this in the coming months.
Amie Sheridan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Philadelphia-based writer and content strategist serving sports technology startups.