“The worst advice I ever received was to do everything, take revenue wherever you can…[for] you should stay super focused!” – Ryan Frankel
As the founder and CEO of This App Saves Lives, Ryan Frankel is an expert at building and scaling businesses. He started his career as a private equity investor at Goldman Sachs, before his passion for entrepreneurship led him to enroll in Wharton MBA, where his journey of founding multiple startups began. The Penn Innovators in Business Network sat down with him to learn about his startup insights and advice for undergraduate students …
Tell us a little bit about your journey in arriving at where you are today.
“I studied at a liberal arts college called Haverford College. At the time I took a full-time job opportunity at Goldman Sachs in New York City where my focus was making investments in small and medium-sized companies around the country. We were investing in the firm’s capital, it was an on balance sheet investment, and so I spent the first three or four years of my professional career not only doing a lot of due diligence in the financial analysis unit behind making investments in these companies, but really spending most of my time actually on the road around the country meeting one-on-one with the CEOs and executives at these companies trying to find a way to add value beyond the firm’s capital. For some companies that meant reshuffling the management team and helping them hire new talents, for other companies it meant rolling up my sleeves and getting deeply involved in the operations, figuring out ways to enhance the successes of those businesses. And I loved that; I absolutely loved being in front of these entrepreneurs and working with them to help them bring their business not only to life, but to help them scale the successes that they already had. After three or four years of doing that, I realized that I really wanted to be in their shoes, to be an entrepreneur, not an investor. So I decided to leave Goldman and enroll in Wharton’s MBA program.
At the time I was deeply involved in the startup community, and I connected with a classmate a year ahead of me who had a concept for a language translation company. The two of them played around with the idea up to the point where we actually made it a viable business. We took it through an accelerator, we were featured on the ABC TV series Shark Tank, And we raised capital after that summer, after my my graduation, took the companies to New York City where we ran it for 4 years, before we eventually sold it to another translation company. That was it the first of the several startups that I began up to where I am today, as the cofounder and CEO of a new venture.”
As an entrepreneur how do you come up with innovative ideas and do you make sure that these ideas are turned into reality?
“For me, I always keep a diary over the years, except it’s digital. I like to write down the things that I have noticed or pain points that I have personally experienced. I can look at these [ideas] from time to time…and then I look at my own skills and experiences and I say to myself: is there an alignment between what I’m good at, what I’m passionate about, and the idea itself. And if there is, then I go a little bit deeper to evaluate that business.”
What would you consider to be your skills in a business context?
“I am very good at knowing what I am good at and what I am not good at. For me, my strengths are really in business development, in cultivating relationships with potential customers, stakeholders, investors [and] the media. My strongest skill is probably building a team. If you don’t have the right team in place it’s very hard to pull off an idea, even if it’s a good idea. Because I know that I’m not talented enough to run the whole company by myself, it’s important to bring individuals who bring us different skill sets.”
What exactly do you look for in your team? How do you go about structuring a team and bring it together?
“I would start with the partner. All of the companies that I have run, with the exception of one, have had a co-founder. Co-founder relationship is sort of like a marriage; it is extremely important that you get along really well. You are going to be working around the clock, you are going to be, you know, in tough situations and great situations. If you really don’t have a personal connection with the co-founder, it’s going to be very tough to get that business off the ground, and to enjoy your work. From there you can identify…the key critical things that we need to do as a company, what skills do I have, what skills do my partner or partners have, and what are the gaps. Once you have identified the gaps, you can then start looking for functional experts, such as salesperson, technologist, marketing guru, a product person — you name it. And you start recruiting from there. At the early stage, it’s really about talent, but it’s also about personal relationship: is this someone that I want to work with every single day? Is it someone that’s excited about [growin] a business? So it’s really also about personal fit.”
How do you convince a talented person to be a part of your business?
“From my perspective, if I need to spend too much time convincing someone, they are probably not the right fit. So for me it’s about finding people that are passionate about the idea. At the same time, you have to show proof of credibility and proof of concept, and that can come from a variety of ways, [such as] validation from a third party in the form of other companies that are doing. And when you feel a pain point, you could show someone else that pain point. There are so many ways to have a conversation with someone that you want to bring on your team.”
What roles have Wharton played in terms of encouraging you to enter the field of entrepreneurship?
“For me, Wharton was phenomenal. It has a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Being a part of the entrepreneurship club, the Wharton’s Venture Initiation program, and a part of the Penn community, with multiple schools and individuals from all walks of life, means that you can assemble a phenomenal team without leaving the campus. One of the things that I love about Philadelphia is that there’s such a concentration of academic institutions, which means that there’s a tremendous concentration of great talent.”