Ryan Paugh – Founder of CommunityCo

As an entrepreneur, failure is an inevitability. It’s also a beautiful opportunity. My biggest defeat as an entrepreneur is the irreplaceable years that I spent letting failures have their way with me instead of using them as a springboard to move onto future successes.

Ryan Paugh has been at the forefront of building highly curated, technology-enabled communities for ambitious professionals. He first co-founded Brazen Careerist, a career-management site for high-achieving young professionals and ambitious college students, where he led the company’s community development efforts. Brazen Careerist was recognized as one of the top social networks for Gen Y entrepreneurs by Mashable.

Ryan then went on to co-found Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) in 2010 with Scott Gerber, an invite-only organization for top entrepreneurs 40 and under that Entrepreneur noted “has quickly become one of the most elite organizations of its kind.” He saw YEC as a unique opportunity to apply the expertise he developed at Brazen Careerist to help fellow entrepreneurs access the resources, technology and most important, people they need to succeed. YEC’s members now generate billions of dollars in revenue and have created tens of thousands of jobs.

Today, Ryan and his team are building on their vision of the future of professional organizations with CommunityCo, a company poised to launch dozens of vetted communities engineered to help ambitious professionals grow their network and expand business opportunities. It’s a mission Ryan identifies with; after graduating from Penn State University and launching his own entrepreneurial career, he knows firsthand the value of a trusted community.

Called “a cult legend in the online-community building world” by Mashable, Ryan is now focused on creating a strong membership experience and positive business outcomes for thousands of successful executives, thought leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs across the country.

Where did the idea for CommunityCo come from?

Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place and that’s what originally inspired me to partner with Scott and launch Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC). Through building this first community, we had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of ambitious, young professionals who didn’t necessarily own their own business, but had an entrepreneurial spirit that set them apart from others around them. We quickly realized that it wasn’t just entrepreneurs who were facing this problem of loneliness, but anyone who invests themselves heavily in career happiness. Thus, CommunityCo was born.

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

I’m a COO and a Co-Founder. Both positions mean that I could be doing virtually anything in the company. I enjoy the high-level strategic work, but also look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty in day-to-day matters. It’s a perfect balance that keeps me very excited about my work.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I believe that ideas come to life best when they are shared with others. Ideas that I have are never perfect right out of the gate, but they get reshaped into something brilliant once I bring in my team, my peers, and my mentors into the discussion. Entrepreneurs who do not share their ideas with others or who think their ideas are undeniably flawless set themselves up for disappointment.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The trend of making organizations more transparent excites me a lot. One of the most frustrating things about any job is feeling like you don’t have access to your company leadership or that all of the information is not being shared with you. I see in my company and in the companies run by my peers that this siloed mentality is going away. Technology is making it all possible. A big winner for us in 2015 has been integrating Slack into our internal communication plan. It’s fundamentally changed the way we work together.

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

Delegation. This is something that most entrepreneurs struggle with when they’re first starting out. I challenge myself to delegate something new to another member of my team every week which allows me to spend more time working on the future of my company versus getting stuck in present-day problems.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I’ve never had a job where I didn’t learn something important about myself. That leads me to believe that I’ve never actually had a bad job. I’ve just had jobs that weren’t my calling in life, but somehow got me closer.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

In my first company, Brazen Careerist, we had a thriving community of passionate, young professionals. That community element unfortunately died and was re-born as a successful SaaS company. Knowing what I know now about monetization of community I would love to time travel back and test some of our business strategies on that group. It would be intriguing to see what would happen…

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

“Don’t make the same mistake twice” is certainly not original advice, but I often see entrepreneurs make the same mistakes repeatedly. A great practice is to always do a post-mortem after any big release and discuss what worked, but more importantly what didn’t and needs to be altered or scrapped entirely. I find that these discussions are critical to making sure that your business is always making incremental improvements as you grow. Often, it’s these little changes along the way that make the biggest impact.

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

Being likable. People will always be your most important asset as an entrepreneur. They will not invest in you (money, time, etc) if they don’t like you.

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

As an entrepreneur, failure is an inevitability. It’s also a beautiful opportunity. My biggest defeat as an entrepreneur is the irreplaceable years that I spent letting failures have their way with me instead of using them as a springboard to move onto future successes.

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

Invent Wi-Fi that works on trains. Seriously… I’m writing this on a train right now and it’s killing me.

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

A nice dinner in the city with my wife. Nothing is better (especially as a busy entrepreneur) than staying grounded and spending quality time with the people you love.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Our community managers swear by Help Scout. Not only do they have a great product, but their free resources: prove that they truly understand community building.

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

Lessons in Excellence from Charlie Trotter. It’s a book about creating an unforgettable experience for your customers by one of the most respected chefs to ever live. The advice transcends the hospitality industry on so many levels.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

The people who have influenced me the most in my life have most often been people who deeply frustrated me at one point. I still credit my first business partner, Penelope Trunk, with how far I have come as an entrepreneur. She is as controversial as they come, but challenged me to be great. You can read more about her here:


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