[quote style=”boxed”]Little bets. Test your ideas as quickly as possible before you’ve invested too much. This allows you to test more ideas to find the winners, and reduces the risk of spending all of your resources on a bad idea.[/quote]
Ryan is the founder and chief geek of MetaGeek, LLC. After becoming frustrated with the cost and awkwardness of traditional spectrum analyzers, he quit his corporate job to develop Wi-Spy, a low-cost PC-based spectrum analyzer focused on Wi-Fi troubleshooting. Ryan has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science with an emphasis on wireless networking protocols.
What are you working on right now?
Using Goal-Directed Design principles to redesign our inSSIDer, our free application that helps select the best channel for your Wi-Fi. We’re also helping all of the teams have regular retrospections, so that we can continue to improve the MetaGeek way.
Where did the idea for Wi-Spy come from?
At my previous job I worked on the communication protocols for wireless mice and keyboards, which required frequent use of a traditional spectrum analyzer. We had one giant Agilent spectrum analyzer in our office that was shared by multiple engineers. It lived on a cart that you’d wheel into your cubicle whenever you needed it, which barely left room for you to get in and out of your chair.
While trying to get the wireless mouse to be aware of other signals interfering with it, like Wi-Fi, I started tinkering with the idea of turning the mouse dongle into a poor man’s spectrum analyzer, so that I wouldn’t have to have the giant spectrum-analyzer-on-a-cart in my office anymore.
What does your typical day look like?
I spend most of the morning working on our product roadmap and product design. My afternoons usually fill up with coordinating all the functional areas of the company so that everyone is moving in the same direction. MetaGeek operates on a two-week sprint cycle with software and marketing leap-frogging each other. So one week I spend most of my time working with the product design team to plan the next software sprint, and the next week I spend most of my time with the marketing team to plan the next marketing sprint.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas start their life at home, in the shower, or on the running trail. Rarely do ideas start in the office. Balsamiq Mockups and Google Docs are quick-and-dirty tools of choice for transforming ideas into something tangible. Usually I chat with my wife about the idea over breakfast and then pitch the idea to my co-founder.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Mark Suster just wrote a post titled, “Why Technology is Driving More Urban Renewal.” After MetaGeek moved out of my living room, our first office was 15 miles from downtown Boise. Since then we’d been moving steadily closer to downtown, and finally, last fall, we moved into an amazing 100-year-old building in the heart of Boise and within a couple blocks of a half dozen other local startups (White Cloud Analytics, Clearwater Analytics, Balihoo, Tsuvo, and CradlePoint). I love being downtown so much that in my spare time, I now serve as a member of the Board of Commissioner’s of Boise’s urban renewal agency. Seeing one of my favorite bloggers talk about technology driving urban renewal is exciting and rewarding to me.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I haven’t had any terrible jobs, but the hardest job I had was working 12 hours, six days a week, on a farm when I was in high school. This taught me the value of hard work and that I really needed a college education so that I didn’t have to do physical labor like that for the rest of my life.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I started MetaGeek in 2005 before the lean startup movement and before Agile was commonplace. I trusted my gut too much instead of placing little bets and validating my assumptions.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Little bets. Test your ideas as quickly as possible before you’ve invested too much. This allows you to test more ideas to find the winners, and reduces the risk of spending all of your resources on a bad idea.
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
A lack of experience. I have a master’s degree in computer science, and in six years of college I never took a business class. All of my business experience has been on-the-job training, so I read a lot of books (Jim Collins, Geoffrey Moore, Clayton Christenson, Bo Burlingham, etc.) and a have lots of lunch and coffee chats with local entrepreneurs to hear their war stories and advice.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
“Sharebie.” Shortly after starting MetaGeek I had this idea to create a system for sharing DVDs, books, etc. with your co-workers and neighbors; this was back when the Netflix red envelopes were in everyone’s mailbox. The Sharebie system would allow you to browse the collective library of all the people you are in daily contact with, request an item, mark items as shared, and rate how timely people return items. Larger items like power tools could be “rented” with a small fee charged to the renter to facilitate the transaction.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
There are too many people today struggling for basic survival, and too many children that have no chance for education and an opportunity to improve their lives. I’d like to help improve the basic living conditions around the world so that food and clean water are available to everyone.
Tell us a secret.
I grew up in a small, farm town and spent my summers working 60-70 hours per week on a neighbor’s farm. During high school I vowed to never have a “desk job.”
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
- Evernote is usable on all of my devices. It’s quick and easy to get data in (sharing isn’t so great).
- Dropbox keeps my data up-to-date at home and at the office, and makes it available on my iPhone and iPad
- Pandora. I don’t need to think about music or curate my mp3 collection.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Small Giants by Bo Burlingham. It tells the stories of a half dozen businesses that focused on becoming great companies rather than focusing on growth. I think too many startups are blinded by the dream of a billion dollar exit when they should be focusing on building great companies with legacies.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
- @msuster (Mark Suster) provides insightful comments and blog posts on building a business.
- @bfeld (Brad Feld) “gets it” when it comes to tech startups, and he tells it like he sees it.
- @tacanderson (Tac Anderson) is a Boise native and former owner of a skateboard shop. He lives in England and runs New Comm Biz, and is an expert on social media trends, especially those relating to business.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
We have a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Mary, and she makes me laugh out loud almost every day with her new words and non-stop energy.
Who is your hero?
Mark Solon? He chose to build a great venture capital firm in Boise, Idaho, and is always accessible and willing to help with no thought to personal gain. He built a great firm and is now choosing to sunset it in order to spend time with his teenage kids. I admire him for his hard work and ability to maintain a solid work/life balance.
Why haven’t you pursued investors?
MetaGeek began as a “nights and weekends” project that I was able to fund through personal savings. We believe strongly in organic growth. About once a year we ask ourselves, “If we had $500K or $1M from investors, what would we do with it?” And then we ask ourselves, “How much of that can we do without additional investment?”
We try to be conscious of any significant windows of opportunities that would require us to grow much faster than we can grow organically, and so far we haven’t found a significant reason to seek outside investors. MetaGeek has grown about 45% per year since 2006. This is modest growth by VC standards, but it has given us time to grow individually and as a team, so that today our team works amazingly well together. We’re producing higher quality work at a faster pace than ever before.
Why Boise, Idaho?
I’ve lived in Boise for about a decade and have grown to love it. There’s a great balance of outdoor recreation—snow skiing, whitewater rafting, wakeboarding, and mountain biking, all within 45 minutes of downtown—along with fabulous restaurants and exceptional arts and culture (philharmonic, ballet, opera, and Shakespeare festival). I work in the heart of downtown, yet only have a five-minute commute on my bicycle. It’s hard to beat that!
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