Ryan O’Neil

Start small and build. Avoid trying to build the end goal. Find a very small niche and make a huge difference.


Ryan O’Neil bootstrapped his company into a multi-million dollar startup from scratch by hacking a WordPress theme into a web-app. He saw his wife slaving away at very complex wedding bids and manually creating 17 different files for every event that her wedding floral company did. Using $600 he won from a hackathon, he built the first version of Curate, the industry-leading application for event florists and caterers. After having miserably failed at a previous startup, he learned lessons of building lean and iterating based on users feedback. He’s now focused on building the best team in St. Louis and creating a scalable organization guided by core principles.

Where did the idea for Curate come from?

My wife and I started a floral company – one that specifically focused on weddings and events. As we built the company, we realized it was an incredible headache as we had to deal with 17 different documents to run one event – and none of them talked with each other! A bridal bouquet is made up of dozens of different types of flowers that have to be estimated for a price and then the flowers have to be procured from wholesalers. Huge headache.

One day, my wife was working at the kitchen table covered in papers when I felt like Sherlock Holmes. All the papers started to connect together in my mind and it hit me…all of this could be automated!

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I typically wake up about 6:30am and start the day with prayer and Bible reading. I’ll pull up my evernote and start planning out my day. We’ve built out an administrative sprint structure for me similar to what our development team does. I’ll list out all the meetings and tasks I have for the day. Outside of Mondays (I have no meeting Mondays), I’ll look at what meetings I need to be at for the day and schedule all tasks needed to be done between.

How do you bring ideas to life?

It depends on what team will be working on the idea. Spur of the moment ideas I’ll either send directly to the team lead or I’ll add it to our weekly meeting to discuss the viability of the idea. For larger, company-wide ideas we’ve built a framework where we look at the idea and put numbers associated with the idea. In the second meeting, the idea person will come back with a plan created for all phases of the idea and then a timeline will be added to that plan.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Lean development. I love the idea of starting with nothing and building something huge. This has been around a while so it’s less of a time-sensitive trend and more of a pattern.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I write down what I’m going to do for the day.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Quit Twitter sooner.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Congratulating someone over raising funds is rat poison. Want to destroy a company? Get them hyped up about finding someone who is not their customer who will give them money. Like that’s the end goal. It’s totally fine to raise funds so long as it’s viewed with as much excitement getting stitches.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Read. I read business books beyond my understanding. I read “How to win friends and influence” people at least once a year. The ONLY way you’re going to upgrade yourself is by self-educating.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Being comfortable in situations that would embarrass others. Just put yourself into situations and figure out what is required to make it happen. My first words after we signed our first 6 figure contract were, “Great! It all goes downhill from here.” I mean to say it gets easier. Yet, it wasn’t a biggie. He understood it. Some clients wouldn’t. We were blessed to have him as a client. But even if he had an issue, I would have known for the next time.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Typically it’s kicking the can down the road on situations that I lack all information on. I avoid addressing something because I know that there is more coming down the line. In business, it seems that *everything* touches everything. Finance and revenue recognition touch your membership system which touches your permissions in your software. I KNOW that I need granular reports about a particular situation so I’ll delay putting the reports together for months because I’m trying to get everything. To overcome, I’ve had to start thinking more like the Wright Brothers than Lewis and Clarke. Look at the 30k foot view of a situation and just make sure the high level reports are there first.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’ve got a million. Some day I’m going to build a themed experience where you live like they did in the 1850’s. That’s right. You pay good money to use a real outhouse. People are shifting to experiences from just purchases and this is going to be huge. 🙂

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I went on a book buying spree.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Google Sheets Queries. Life changing. It has dramatically helped all of our reports.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Innovator’s Solution. This is specifically a book that should guide higher level business strategy. I just randomly ended up being in a new market disruption with our software. But it’s made a world of difference. Also, please avoid using the word disruption until you read this book. It’s where it came from and there is a real definition.

What is your favorite quote?

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week. George Patton I believe.

Key Learnings:

  • Start small and build. Avoid trying to build the end goal. Find a very small niche and make a huge difference.
  • Read some books. Become a voracious reader.
  • Be willing to do stuff that you have no idea how to do.