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Discipling in Business Champions

BBI GRADUATE SPOTLIGHT: RYAN HILL '06

 

Fall 2006 BBI NxLeveL™ Graduate Ryan Hill sat down for a BBI interview conducted by Meka Davis. As part of BBI's 15th Anniversary Celebration in 2018, BBI continues to spotlight some of its notable alumni. Mr. Hill completed a comprehensive business plan for a wholesome alternative adult entertainment concept called PlayDate during his time in the BBI NxLeveL program. That company has transformed into a record-breaking & award-winning full-service experiential marketing and digital storytelling agency.

BBI; Where were you in life when this “domino effect” of events happened, which led to the start of your successful business?
Hill:
I can honestly say I was at the point of desperation and fear! In the span of one week, I lost my job, my family and all of my money.

I was working in Commercial Real Estate when the brick walls fell in. At the time, I had been hosting events called PlayDate for three or four years, alongside my full-time job, and it had done well. The event gained countless reviews, and it began to be featured on many different news outlets, including CNN and even made the front page of the AJC. The story was so immense in size it crossed the fold of the newspaper, which is rarely seen. Well, my employer saw that news article with my name in it. I returned to work as usual, where I was called into the office, confronted to confirm it was me in the paper and then fired the same day. This just happened to be the same week that my wife and I amicably decided to divorce. I packed up my desk and left what many considered my bread and butter, but I would swiftly learn that the butter had run out more quickly than I anticipated. I left the office and headed to the gas station to fill up and head back to an empty home. When I attempted to use my card, it wouldn’t go through, and I called to find out that my account was empty as well. I discovered that after closing a chain of fitness centers, a judgement had been filed against me, and all of my accounts had been frozen. I used my last life line and phoned a friend, who happened to be my business partner. He told me, “You have two choices: You can begin your search for a new job, or you can receive this revelation that you need to work for yourself, but the choice is yours.” So that weekend all the dominos had fallen, and it was time to restack them to start a new story. And that storyline was to focus all of my time and effort in building the business, which ended up growing in three years from three markets to 31.

BBI; What prompted you to attend Bronner Business Institute’s NxLeveL training course?
Hill:
I took the class because my partner and I needed structure. Since I can’t think small, I knew it had to be a national product. I was sitting in church a week later, watching the announcements before service, and the BBI course came across the screen. After church, for some reason I decided to take a different route from my usual exit and ran into Dr. Watkins. I asked a few questions, and he had good answers, so I signed up. I knew this course was going to help me build the business plan that I needed. I took the notes and lessons very seriously because I had a business that needed it right now. By the end of the class, I had a fully devised business plan. And from that same business plan, we were able to thrive for eight years just by doing what had been laid out.

BBI; What were your major takeaways from the course?
Hill:
More than anything, I think the BBI course taught me about market research. You need to know where you are positioned in the marketplace, and who your competitors are. You also need to know price point and the placement of your product. You really need to know as much as you can! It’s the only way you can truly compete because you have to understand what’s unique about what you’re doing. If you didn’t create the industry/marketplace that you’re in, then something needs to be unique about you. I struggled with that because there was nothing else like Playdate. So, when I went back to class and said “Hey, there is nothing else out there like us”, one of my instructors, Rhonda, forced me to see that there was a marketplace, but we were just a different segment. I learned that nightlife was our marketplace, but our uniqueness lay with giving people something else to do during besides go to clubs.

BBI; For someone that is looking to start their own business, tell them something they won’t know when they first start that you wish you had known.
Hill:
There are really only two ways to learn what you need to know to start and sustain your business. Either you’re going to pay for it, or you’re going to pay for it. Meaning either you’re going to pay to get educated, by going to school, taking a course or hiring a consultant, or you are going to learn at your own expense, which means you’re still going to pay for it.

BBI; What wisdom would you provide for those reading this interview, how to prepare your business for harvest as well as drought?
Hill:
Bishop Bronner gives so many nuggets, not just for life, but for business as well. But he said, “There are only three types of people in the world: (1) A person approaching a storm, (2) A person in a storm or (3) A person just coming out of a storm.” When you’re reaping the harvest of all that you’re investing into your company, into your life and spiritual walk, you need to be like a squirrel. A squirrel will run around, eat a few nuts here and there and store enough to get through winter until spring produces another harvest. You have to think about your business that way. You will not always be on an upward trajectory. You will take a dip, everything sees peaks and valleys. You have reoccurring bills, you have responsibilities and you have clients with unpredictable pay cycles, but you still have employees that want to be paid predictably. So, you need to have a War Chest that you can fall back on, whether it be savings or a line of credit. But if you take from the line of credit, you must be disciplined to put it back. In essence, “you need to be wise as a squirrel.” #Ryanism

BBI; As the CEO how would you define your servant leadership?
Hill:
That’s a really good question! I teach my team members servant leadership. The reality is, people don’t respect a position, but people respect people. You must be willing to always demonstrate good leadership, and that’s not “do as I say, not as I do.” Servant leadership is much more sustainable because you’re teaching tenants of good behavior. Leadership is a privilege because you can’t force people to follow you. That choice is theirs, so you must be worth following.

BBI; What has success taught you?
Hill:
Though I’m a serial-entrepreneur, I have never built anything this large and sustainable. I now have a clear vision of how to exit and a much clearer understanding of how to get to retirement and fund it. I have also learned that success is very lonely. I miss simply being in the crowd and enjoying the moment. Because, my job requires me to be responsible for everyone else in the crowd enjoying their moment. I really learned that it’s not just a cliché of “it’s lonely at the top.” I built my company with a talented and loyal team of not just co-workers but friends. And, that is difficult. My job requires me to be the moral compass of the business and at times put aside the fun times to ensure the work is completed to our extremely high standards. To be totally honest, I’m looking forward to taking more time to enjoy the moments of when I’m simply a person in the crowd having a good time. “People often forget the boss is a person too.” #Ryanism

 

Interview conducted by Meka Davis

 

Transforming Lives by Discipling in Business Champions