In this episode: Ryan Austin, Founder, and CEO at Synapse joins us and shares his journey through entrepreneurship, which forced him to learn sales along the way. How do you take advantage of an opportunity when it’s in front of you? How can you start an amazing career from the bedroom of your college dorm? And, what can you uncover about yourself when you embrace uncertainty? All that and more next!
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In this episode: Ryan Austin, Founder, and CEO at Synapse shares his journey through entrepreneurship, which forced him to learn sales along the way. All that and more next!
Joseph Fung: Today we’re speaking with Ryan Austin. He’s the Founder and CEO of Synapse, and we’ve heard, so many sales reps speak about how they always keep their eyes open, they’ve got a side hustle. And when we think about someone who exemplifies and personifies that idea of seizing opportunities, I can’t think of anybody who does that more than Ryan. Looking forward to sharing his story. Thank you for joining us today.
Welcome to seller’s journey, the podcast where we speak to great sales reps and leaders and share their real stories from start to sale success.
Joseph Fung: Hi everyone, I’m Joseph Fung, and today I’m here with Ryan Austin. Ryan, I love the way you introduce yourself on LinkedIn, making the magic happen at Synapse. How are you doing?
Ryan Austin: I’m doing well. Thanks, Joseph.
Joseph Fung: Awesome. And where are you calling in from today?
Ryan Austin: I’m calling in from what’s my new office, my kitchen table, given everything going on with Covid in Toronto, Ontario.
Joseph Fung: Nice, nice. Now we speak a lot about journeys. So starting at the beginning, you’re calling from Toronto, is that where you grew up? Where did you grow up? Where’d you go to school?
Ryan Austin: So I grew up in Richmond Hill. I went to high school at St Andrews College in Aurora. So I was kind of a, I was in a boarding school for a few years, you know as an entrepreneur. Your early days, you usually get in trouble, so that’s where I found my footing.
Joseph Fung: I grew up just north of there. And I remember driving by cycle all the time. So that’s a small world.
Ryan Austin: Yeah.
Joseph Fung: Nice, thinking a little bit about your journey, one of the things that strikes me from all of our conversations was just how often you’ve done a great job of kind of seizing and pursuing opportunities. And the one that sticks out to me the most is what you’re doing during your time at university. Can you tell us a little bit about Austin Global Wholesaling?
Ryan Austin: Yeah, it’s a blast from the past. So you know it’s funny because I’m now the CEO of a company called Synapse, which is in corporate training and in education. But going back to my university days, I wasn’t the best student. I’ve always had kind of a problem learning and just sitting in class and absorbing information that way. Where I would be sitting there, and you know the professors would be talking, but really nothing was being absorbed. It was kind of like just my mind wondering thinking about ideas etc., so in western, I ended up turning my dorm room into kind of a little campus shop that competed with the university’s campus shop until they asked me to stop. So I ended up taking it online and building this affiliate program where people could start their own websites, and we’d populate it with the product, and there was a viral component to it where back in the day when there was this email blaster widget where you can invite people to your website or whatnot. Kind of network affiliate marketing. So, yeah, it was a great little adventure at the beginning, and it taught me a lot about entrepreneurship.
Joseph Fung: This sounds exciting. It sounds like a kind of rapid rise to success, but I can only imagine how challenging it could be getting to customers. You know, from being stuck in a dorm room in a city you didn’t grow up in. how’d you do that?
Ryan Austin: That was more work word-of-mouth, you know, just using online blogs around the campus and whatnot. Letting people we had to know that we had certain school supplies or merchandise to help them. We were importing it from different places, like back in the day when nobody really knew about what Alibaba was. So it was really interesting, and then when we took it online, we built these relationships with the manufacturers to drop ship before kind of drop shipping was a thing. And so that’s how we got around, you know when we’re asked, hey stop selling stuff out of your dorm room. And we built a website that’s kind of what we ended up doing.
Joseph Fung: So you went from the dorm room, selling online, your network in marketing, and you moved on to an interesting role at the World Trade Group. Can you share a little bit about how that came to be? And how you landed that role? And what that was like?
Ryan Austin: Yeah, it was a, that was an interesting time in life. So, I was doing Austin Global Wholesaling. and you know I’m in tech, but at the time, I didn’t really know too much about tech. So I saved up a lot of money from that online business and to getting it going, and whatnot, and I ended up partnering with this firm you know they said they have an office in Chicago, they had an office in Toronto that I visited, they had an engineering office in India with 300 engineers. And it ended up not being as described, I guess you could say. And so I was kind of in my early 20s. I gave this firm and these people a lot of those savings to try and scale up something without knowing too much about business at the time. And they ended up kind of taking me for a run. So I tried to get my money back, I ended up having a lawsuit, and at that time, I was just trying to survive. So I said, okay, until this blows over, I need to figure out a way to pay for all this stuff. So I’m going to go into the sale. So I took a level, entry-level sales position at World Trade Group. And I think back then like the base salary was like 25 grand a year. Something low like that. So I just had to really hustle and sell my way out of it. And which I was able to do.
Joseph Fung: Wow! Starting from kind of that entry-level in the midst of recovering from that kind of stress must have been really tough?
Ryan Austin: Oh yeah! There was definitely a walk on lunch where I would, I would cry for sure.
Joseph Fung: Other than walking at lunch, what are some of the things that you developed as is kind of coping and management techniques? You know, for people who are going through similar stressful situations. What are some of the things they could learn from your kind of management practices?
Ryan Austin: There’s no real secret, I would say. I mean there’s been lots of times, where I, you know, life kind of throws punches, and it’s really hard. And it’s always important to know that like it could always be worse, right? And I think one of the main things, which is one of our values actually at Synapse, is being able to embrace uncertainty. Because realistically there’s so many times where I was like, you know my life’s over I’m in this lawsuit, I’m my early 20s, I have this 25k job, how am I going to survive, didn’t even have two bucks to go on the streetcar at the time. You know how am I going to pay for this lawsuit to try and get this money back. You just don’t know what’s around the corner and like what life will throw at you, and that’s when the good luck happens to beat like what feels to beat the times when you feel your lowest. So and there’s been a thousand times. So actually, based of your message on my LinkedIn, making the magic happen. That’s what I call the magic. It comes from embracing uncertainty. So whenever you feel low, you know if you can build the courage and the willpower to trust the process and just really focus on the power of now or what’s in your control without trying to manufacture all this stress and problems on the unknown because there’s so many times where you just you know you kind of brainwash yourself, that it’s over or there’s a problem or whatnot, but realistically you don’t have the answer, and you don’t know what could happen tomorrow, you could win the lottery, an investor could approach you, there’s so many factors about the unknown so really embracing uncertainty and which is one of the hardest things to do as a human being in my perspective. But at the same time, being able to trust the process and know that at the end of the day, everything will probably be okay, then you can start seeing the magic happen. Because it becomes okay.
Joseph Fung: I love how you talk about that idea of the kind of embracing uncertainty, trusting the process. But that’s an inherently optimistic message in the way you’re sharing it. I’ve encountered people who embrace uncertainty, and that leads them to be, you know, very risk adverse. Because you never know what could go wrong. But I love how you focused on. You never know what could go right. And I think that’s a great way to look at it.
Ryan Austin: Yeah! That’s a good point. I haven’t looked at it like that, but that’s a good point.
Joseph Fung: So, thinking about that, I opened up the conversation. Talking about side hustles seizing opportunities, and you shared this time where you’re in that entry you know level sales role, you’re building it up, but then you moved on, and it looks like you recovered from that to founding another company, you know in acuity. Can you share a little bit about the idea behind that company?
Ryan Austin: Yeah! Well, so going through the World Trade Group. Basically, the first three months was a Sale! Sale! Sale! I had a friend who kind of mentored me around sales. Somebody named Dan, and you know he kind of beat me up every day, no you gotta do it, you gotta do it, keep going, keep going, but eventually, kind of the message drilled in, and I became the top salesperson, you know entry-level salesperson. So I was asked to manage a team, and then three months after that, I was asked to manage three sales teams. And then I noticed that this company’s competitors had a corporate training department or division. Where they were building corporate training opportunities, but they didn’t. So I pitched the board to basically create that startup within their company. So I got promoted to becoming the Senior Vice President. That department became the most profitable division in the company, and then they were acquired by a private equity group. It was at that time where I was like, okay, I’m kind of back on my feet.
What do I want to do, I want to get into tech, but I don’t really know what yet. So, but I do know how to make some money with corporate training. So let me go and create a corporate training company. So that’s what rolled into what you just mentioned. And it was kind of a cash flow business, wasn’t too scalable, it was kind of one-time revenue. But it was a great side hustle until I figured what I wanted to do, and during that time, that’s actually when we started recognizing the problems that Synapse solves today. And I was also taking money at the time and because it was a cash flow business and thinking about other investments and whatnot and invested in a company called GoFish Cam that my brother ended up operating and managing when he graduated university.
Joseph Fung: So I glad you brought it up because I want to touch base on that. Because clearly, you know as you’re recovering from a business challenge, setting yourself up in sales, launching company, you know the best thing to do is to go and help launch a second company in a completely unrelated field, no less, underwater fishing cameras. What the heck! Okay, how did this happen?
Ryan Austin: Yeah! It was it was funny. Because basically, I was running an acuity, and I was at a wedding in Trinidad and…
Joseph Fung: Has all good stories to start with.
Ryan Austin: Yeah! You know beer and friends, no but we were we’re on this Catamaran, my friend I had a friend Reza and he was like you know I really want to start this, start a business, but I don’t know what I want to start and. I’m like, ah; I’ll come up with an idea for you by the end of this trip. But then and you can run it, and I’ll help fund it, right? Because I was looking to kind of diversify and do some investments. Then and so he was like, okay. So anyways, I came up with the idea of this underwater fishing camera. And, because we’re on this boat, you know the locals were fishing off the back, somebody got a big bite, the fish got away, and they were like oh I wonder what it was like, should we go back?
Should we go back? And like at the time, I was like I wonder like if you could see something like what would happen. So I started Googling it, and I couldn’t find anything online except that people were literally trying to weld their go-pro cameras on their fishing lures. So I was like okay, maybe there’s something here. so Reza and I, we were meaning to, we went we agreed to build this prototype, we started building this prototype for this fishing camera and then came time to kind of like foot the bill, and he’s like you know what like I can’t do this, I’m out. So I was like, okay. Well, now I have this build to pay for this fishing camera. And I can’t really operate this company because I’m running An Acuity at the time and but my brother was graduating university and I you know I said what do you want to do, and he said, I want to go into entrepreneurship, I said what do you want? Like what are you going to do? He’s like, I don’t know yet, I’m like, why don’t you just run go fish cam? I’ll give it to you, and you know we’ll become partners. So that’s how that happened.
Joseph Fung: Nice, so there’s this theme here of seizing opportunities. And I know that with the whole pandemic and people moving online, you’re going to be helping a ton of organizations see similar opportunities. So that’s super exciting. If you think about that journey, you know leveraging the idea of optimism and trusting uncertainty, we’re living in uncertain times. What do you think the future holds? You know what do you think is going to happen for your business? And what do you aspire to accomplish?
Ryan Austin: Yeah! Synapse is really interesting because back in the day within Acuity, we were having this problem that the process of designing curriculum and creating new content, not the actual authoring of the content, but the whole planning and collaboration and working with people to assemble the curriculum. That it was just too complex and time consuming. And it was a very manual process. So we were trying to find tools because, as a service company back then, it was just killing our margins. I was taking so much time.
So we went kind of on this far and wide search, couldn’t find any technology, we were partnered with this accreditation institute at the time. We asked them if they knew of any technology. They said, no, there’s none that they know of that exists. Let them know because they have a bunch of clients that would want that if to help their clients streamline processes. So that’s where the idea of Synapse was formed, and I ended up going through an accelerator and moving to the United States after that program. Just to get experience in the states at the time, Toronto wasn’t where it is today. Where people were very growth-minded and whatnot. And so I went to the states to get some experience, and a fortune ten company read about us in the Houston Chronicle Newspaper.
We got an article on the idea of what we wanted to build through this accelerator, and this Fortune 10 company approached us. They said, hey, we would love to see your technology. And I’m like, well, it doesn’t exist yet here’s kind of the PowerPoint of what we’re planning to do. And they said, this is a problem for us, you know we’ll help to fund the, you know, the startup of like to do some RD, so that we could get our hands on this and support you and, so they ended up becoming our first uh pilot client, and I was able to secure that on a PowerPoint presentation, no technology.
Joseph Fung: Nice, nice, so thinking about the journey and kind of that future direction, you know, what are you most proud of in that time? Like we touched based on a number of elements but, what stands out as the highlight for you?
Ryan Austin: Yeah, I mean I think it’s the whole process and sticking to it, there there’s been times in my entrepreneur career where you know you go through these phases especially when you’re younger you’re like, I’m, I can make money quickly etcetera, so going back even to the Austin Global Wholesaling, kind of experience, there was a really good business actually there. And because of my inexperience, I probably let it go too early versus just working out the problems putting out the fires, and continuing. I would have, and if I actually stuck that path, I probably would have been even more successful than where I am today. So it’s all about patience, and there is a process, and it takes time. And nothing is easy.
Right? So the more experience you get, the less mistakes you make. But you always have that hindsight. So, I think now just taking those lessons that I’ve learned in the past and applying them as I move forward is something that I’m proud of and being able to mentor other members of my team to embrace uncertainty to see things in a different lens and to be a little patient from time to time. It’s actually really fun to see when people do embrace that, and they come out the other end to see like their eyes open up because they learn so much by going through that experience because it’s tough, it’s not easy.
Joseph Fung: For considering, we started from the perspective of keeping our eyes open for opportunities inside hustles, and we’ve come full circle to the idea of, you know, being patient and really maximizing opportunity. I can’t think of a better way to end that story. Do you have time for a couple of quick rapid-fire questions before we wrap up?
Ryan Austin: Yeah, sure!
Joseph Fung: Awesome, so you’ve been in a lot of roles, a number of companies. Out of all of them, what’s been your favorite sales tool? Of the tools you’ve used, what’s been your favorite?
Ryan Austin: So there is a tool called Ecquire, and it basically is a plug-in into LinkedIn profiles or other profiles so that you could just push a button and bring in a profile of a prospect into outreach or into salesforce or something like that. So it saves a lot of time.
Joseph Fung: There’s an actionable one. Outside of work, we’re whole people. So outside of work, what’s your favorite movie?
Ryan Austin: Oh! That’s a tough one. I can’t think of it on the spot, to be honest.
Joseph Fung: Well then, what’s the most recent one you’ve seen?
Ryan Austin: That’s a good question. I haven’t watched one in a long time.
Joseph Fung: There you go, a life of the entrepreneur at sales rep.
Ryan Austin: Yeah! Yeah!
Joseph Fung: One last one, then. When you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
Ryan Austin: A veterinarian.
Joseph Fung: Nice! Ryan, this has been such a great conversation. Thank you so much for the time and for sharing so much about your journey.
Ryan Austin: Thank you for having me, Joseph.
Joseph Fung: I know you and Synapse are gonna do amazing things, and I can’t wait to see the progress, and I know a ton of the people listening into this are going to be checking out the jobs postings that you have is especially as all of these online programs get up and running. So if people are looking for those, what’s your website address? What should they keep their eyes open for?
Ryan Austin: It’s triple w, get synapse dot com. g-e-t s-y-n-a-p-s-e dot com.
Joseph Fung: Awesome! Thank you so much for joining us, Ryan. I’m looking forward to our next conversation.
Ryan Austin: Same here. Thank you.
Joseph Fung: Alright! Talk soon!