The small crew consisted of rough and ready rednecks who drank a lot at night. They were always probing to see how tough Ryan was. He managed to stay out of trouble until one fateful night when the skipper got drunk and high.
The captain challenged him to a fight. Much taller than the Irishman, the skipper lunged but was flipped over when Ryan crouched down. “I knew I was in big trouble,” he said of the incident. The captain picked Ryan up and slammed him on the floor.
Ryan cracked two ribs and was now far out at sea on a trawler with no painkillers. The next chance to get off the boat was two days away when they were scheduled to offload their cargo to a factory ship.
As Ryan’s bad luck would have it, the skipper found a major “bed of prawns” and was unwilling to lose a crew member when the larger ship arrived. He gave Ryan three choices: go over in pieces, swim through the shark-infested water or stay.
Ryan stayed and spent another 10 painful days catching shrimp. The moral: “Even in the worst situation possible, you still have choices,” he said. The first choice he had, of course, was to heed the good advice of not applying for the job, he said.
Ryan was speaking at October’s Entrepreneurs Anonymous monthly meet up in Dublin. An entrepreneur for the past four years, he was sharing lessons he had learned while running his own athletics-event business, Ryano Event Management. He has also set up his stall as a life coach.
An avid distance runner, Ryan spotted an opportunity in the athletics-event market. After his third layoff, he decided to go out on his own. His first big event was to host Ireland’s first Iron Man Competition in his native Wexford. However, bad weather forced the cancellation of the swim and outdoor activities for spectators. And poor marshaling plus traffic management problems caused him unrepairable problems. .
Worse yet was the bad publicity the snafus attracted in Ryan’s hometown. “It was kind of a hard pill to swallow,” he said. He continued to try and grow his half-marathon side of the business. However his model was being copied around the country resulting in increased competition. .
As a result, business dipped in his second year as more and more running clubs started holding their own half-marathons, Ryan said.
Realizing he was vulnerable because his offering could not be protected, Ryan said, “I got strategic … each event needs to have its own personality, it’s own USP” or unique selling proposition.
He surveyed runners to find out what they were looking for in events. One common goal was to finish faster than before. So Ryan found a fast course in the beautiful grounds of Johnstown Castle in Wexford. Now his marketing points out that 80% of last year’s participants clocked their personal best on the half-marathon there.
A Good Name
“The power of having a name that says what it does on the tin cannot be overestimated,” Ryan said. One of his events doubled in size when he changed it to the Clontarf Half Marathon, he said. “You’ve only got a few seconds to catch people’s attention.”
All or Nothing
During his first few years, Ryan was also doing some contract work. This became a distraction, he said. Entrepreneurs should jump in whole heartedly.
Image of Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford, Ireland, by nz_willowherb on Flickr.