Ryan Niddel | From Mowing Lawns To Scaling Businesses

Ryan Niddel is a CEO, board member, and entrepreneur who specializes in improving company revenue by increasing EBITDA through operational efficiency, lean manufacturing principles, and more. He has contributed to the acquisition or exit of over 11 companies, helping their collective revenue surpass $200 million. Additionally, he’s tripled the revenue of more than five companies in just a couple of years. 

Ryan is currently a principal in a private equity group, the CEO of two eight-figure companies, and sits on the board of directors for several other companies. He began his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 10 with a local lawn mowing operation, which was the catalyst for his entrepreneurial success. Since then, Ryan has built a reputation as Ohio’s top business growth specialist, developing skills to boost a company’s profitability, achieve a higher valuation, and sell for significantly more revenue. 

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran talks with CEO, board member, and entrepreneur Ryan Niddel. Ryan shares his journey from being a lawn-mowing kid to becoming a successful entrepreneur and CEO. He discusses stories that shaped his career, how he rebounded after a failed business, and why he now embraces his past failures. Ryan also talks about his approach to growing a business and why small steps are the answer to success.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Ryan Niddel talks about why he went into entrepreneurship at the age of 10
  • The lessons Ryan learned from his gig at a web hosting company — and what he wishes he would’ve done differently
  • Why confidence is key, but ego could be your downfall
  • How Ryan rebounded after hitting rock bottom
  • Ryan explains why embracing past failures helped him become a consultant
  • How Ryan began acquiring companies — and his ideal structure for acquisition
  • Ryan’s approach to boosting business growth
  • Why small, incremental successes are the key to growing a business

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now now, your host for the revolution. John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome, everyone. John Corcoran here I am the host of this show. And every week I get to talk to smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of companies and organisations ranging from you see in the archives, Netflix Kinkos, YPO EO Activision Blizzard lending tree OpenTable lots of great guests and interviews that you can check out in the archives. This episode, of course, brought to you by Rise25, where we help b2b businesses get clients referrals and strategic partnerships. We’ve done few podcasts and content marketing, you can learn all about it Rise25.com. All right. My guest here today is Ryan Niddel. He’s a CEO, board member and entrepreneur is also an authority on improving revenue companies by improving their EBITDA. We’ll talk about what that means. And you know what that means through increased operational efficiency, lean Mac manufacturing principles and more. And he’s helped with the acquisition or exit of more than 11 companies, helping their collective revenue surpassed over $200 million. And he’s tripled the revenue of more than five companies in about two and a half year period, adding an extra almost billion dollars valuation these companies so we’re going to talk about some of the secret sauce behind all of that. He’s currently a general partner in a private equity fund, sitting on the board of directors of several other companies and are interviewing him from beautiful Salt Lake City where he is visiting one of his portfolio company. So we’ll we’ll get into that. Ryan, such a pleasure to have you here today. And I always love asking people about how entrepreneurial they were as a kid. And I’d say maybe about half of my guests surprisingly, considering an interview almost exclusively entrepreneurs, but half say I didn’t really do anything. And lots of a half stories of some kind of lawn mowing or shoveling snow depending where they grew up. You are a lawn mowing kid, inspired by some Air Jordans you wanted to buy.

Ryan Niddel 2:17

That’s true. Thanks for the warm, warm introduction and great greeting John really appreciate being on the show. And you hit the nail on the head, right? I would say I was a forced entrepreneur. I can’t even say accidental as as a 10 year old child were right. I’m 39 years old. And I grew up when Nike Air Jordans were all the craze and Tommy Hilfiger cologne was the thing that you had to have. And I came from middle class upbringing. And my parents while they wanted to support me, they looked at what the investment or the expense of those who to material possessions and you were just absolutely insane. We’re never going to buy those for you. However, you want to want to earn money, you’re more than welcome to right you can use any of the resources available to you. And one of those was this old steel, blue lawnmower we had it wasn’t self propelled. It wasn’t one of those nice Toros or zero turns, right, it was a big heavy, it felt like 1000 pounds back as a 10 year old. And so I hopped on our computer at that point, I think I use Microsoft Word that was around back then it’s been obviously quite some time, I typed up some very basic flyers, lived in a nice middle class neighborhood and just went door to door handing out flyers offering the opportunity to have me mow your yard at a flat rate, right. It wasn’t some sort of crazy entrepreneurial venture was $10 flat per per lawn. And if memory serves me correctly, had somewhere between seven and 10 lawns or one of their lawn mowed every week. And so nice recurring revenue there. Yeah. Right. I mean, you know, you start started in spring and run it all the way through in the little little town of Mansfield, Ohio, run it all the way through October, right. So good income for, you know, seven months of the year or so where, you know, doesn’t take much to back into the math of 10 yards per week, 4.3 weeks, a month, over eight months, I had the money for the Jordans, I had the money for the Tommy Hilfiger and a couple other things. But from that, oddly enough, my father was insistent upon the fact John that, that I saved back 30% That money invested in the market. I mean, I didn’t make any sense at that point. But my, my father started just really pounding it into me. And I remember being so frustrated, John of like, No, I want to go by this other thing and said, he told me later, you gotta pull off 30% You got to invest in something’s gonna make you some passive income. So simultaneously, I started investing in mutual funds that, you know, 10 or 11 years old, by by no choice of my own. Admittedly, I’d love to say it was some sort of stroke of genius, and I was at brilliant, but I was forced to, but it worked out. Well.

John Corcoran 4:38

Yeah. It’s funny because when I ask people about that, sometimes, there are certain guests that then start hiring their friends to fulfill on that business. They’re building. Did you ever do that? Did you ever get any friends to do the lawn mowing, not a lot of margin in 10 bucks, I guess. So.

Ryan Niddel 4:55

There’s not I wish I had that level of entrepreneurial insight or that level of mentorship. wasn’t that to me, John, that didn’t even dawn on me at that time, it was like, gosh, I can, it takes me 45 minutes to mow, mow a lawn. I’m gonna work about eight hours a week. There’s a lot more time than eight hours, especially as a kid in the summer. So, gosh, I can get that done. And I can get them done on the weekends if I need to. So I never thought about the scalability of pulling myself out. What else?

John Corcoran 5:20

I mean, most 10 year olds don’t write you know, it’s like very rare. But it’s always interesting to me, when there are people who that say that they, you know, it’s all something innate, like, it’s not like someone told them to do it. They just like, kind of figure it out. Kind of, oh, I can just have my friend do this. Yeah,

Ryan Niddel 5:34

leverage is an amazing gift when you figure it out. Right?

John Corcoran 5:37

So one of your first businesses was a web company that you had, you had a couple of partners with it, you grew it, and you ended up selling it around age 29. Talk about some of the growth trajectory of that over those during your 20s. Yeah, that

Ryan Niddel 5:51

was such a wild time for me, John, where I didn’t know web hosting was I came from a mechanical engineering background, I got into of all things running luxury car dealerships, and got burnout, I started looking around and saying, Okay, I’m making the dealer principle, independently wealthy, but I’m working 80 hours a week to make good money. But I really have two full time jobs. And just what was burnout at 26. As funny as that may sound, and so stepped back and got the opportunity to come onto a startup web hosting company out of Akron, Ohio, as just a salesperson, right, not anything special, and jumped out of a step down, then it sounds like it most certainly was, it was a step. It was step down, I went from salary, but from understanding from from impacting the industry. And so stepped into this container, as I call it with no knowledgeable web hosting was no understanding of tech in any capacity. I just had this belief in myself that I could sell anything to anyone, and came on board, we had 10,000 clients or so and fairly rapidly figured out a true affiliate sales model where where does web hosting fit in the general ecosystem, and back then it was, people were looking to make money online or looking to create blogs. So I had the web team develop a little bit of a web builder that went out and scrape for data and created blogs that were industry specific, based off what someone cared about, and taught them to go out and look for affiliate links and back backlink them and how to drive some traffic to it. And very rapidly, John, we went from 10,000 clients to that’s two and a half years later, almost 600,000 clients and I during that time period, I progressed from, you know, salesperson, affiliate manager into into CEO, and then managing partner of that, bought out a couple of our partners, went through a couple of capital raises, and then sold it off to a subsidiary of GoDaddy. Now saying that the lessons from that time John, we’re all accounting based, right here we are selling five year web hosting packages for I’ll say, $300 in the middle, I don’t remember the exact dollar amount. But we’re, you know, we’re cash basis in that moment. So we’re looking at it like we’re making $50 million a year in revenue, we’re worth hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, everything is going to be incredible. And we want to market and I got my teeth kicked in, I think I still have some dental work that needs done from how aggressively I was taught some of these lessons were, you know, just just the sheer fact of there’s a liability that you really have for the next five years, the services client, the cash in your bank, but you’ve really missed, your revenue recognition is off. And so seeing all of a sudden, we’re thinking it’s a you know, 100 plus million dollar exit. And it turned into less than 20 million. By the time we really backed into the math and recalculate our books and did a more appropriate job of revenue recognition and all types of things that I mean, it could be a whole nother show for hours on the power of understanding accounting and finance, as it pertains to the small market business where we just didn’t know we didn’t know, I had what I thought was a good CFO, but I’d never had a really high calibre CFO to know what they didn’t didn’t know, we didn’t have our books audited by a third party, financial company to help us see some of the inefficiencies in what we’re doing. We’re handful of entrepreneurs that are taking private flights, places able to buy anything we want to and really living high off the hog having a great time, but not doing anything to grow the enterprise value of the company and sold it to John because the revenue started becoming inverted. And we as partners didn’t see eye to eye anymore. And it was a thing of on one side, it’s really sexy to me to say at 29, I sold my first business. But the real truth of the matter is we almost didn’t have a choice by we weren’t getting along as partners, we didn’t see the vision the same way as it go forward. Our revenue recognition was off, our burn rate on cash was pretty high based off of our revenue of acquisition. And so it’s like cash, let’s just let’s just give this mass now to somebody else to clean up. And why not go to the strongest in the industry. Because we really that what created the value for us is we were intelligent enough to get a grant from the state of Ohio to build a data center above the casino and Cleveland have just been built. And some really, really intelligent people on the team figured out some unique server provisions that create our own internal cloud infrastructure. That’s really what provided the value for us as GoDaddy wanted access to that knowledge to create this the cloud provisioning way before the AWS days right way before.

John Corcoran 9:49

It’s interesting though that sometimes you steal a business and it’s not what you think is the value of the business that the the acquiring business the buyer buys you for something thing else?

Ryan Niddel 10:01

It is, it absolutely isn’t. But that really started to create this framework of, to me the most impactful lessons I’ve learned had been from the things that I thought I knew that I didn’t really know, right? It’s those life experiences of skinning your knees and what to look for, and what’s a step by step away from that have created some of these foundational elements that have listened to Oh, call the success over the past handful of years, and then was successes is to be self interpreted. Looking back

John Corcoran 10:26

on that period of time in your life? It sounds like there’s a few things you would have done differently, maybe had a third party auditor had a different CFO, what are a few things that you can identify that now looking back on it, you wish you’d done differently?

Ryan Niddel 10:41

I wish I would have sought outside counsel from someone, right, a coach, a mentor, someone who had been there before, I wish that I had spent more time focused on the business and last on the ego of what the business was providing me. Right I was I was just called living high off the hog and looking at, okay, if we make if we generate this much revenue, and this much net income it equates to this much in my pocket versus if there’s that much net income, how can I turn that into an in high enhance multiple for the business because we playing a longer term game? I didn’t have someone and admittedly wasn’t open to seeking it. Right? It was this thing of Gosh, I’m 28 29. And everything is working flawlessly. Why would I need insight from anybody else? Which is a completely different way that I look at the world now versus back then. And then the power of having people on the team that have that you don’t have a skill set that’s past your own? Right. I mean, to me, I truly believe that hiring key personnel with experience, in in their specific role is paramount for the growth of a business where at different seasons required to meet different hires, where it’s great to train people up as you’re growing, then it comes a certain point where that just becomes inefficient, and you’re better to backfill with someone that’s already been through the next season. That’s coming on to help pull you along through that and educate the team around them. And we never got to that point. Well, but let me rephrase that. We should have been there. We were there mathematically, were there revenue wise, and not there from an ego standpoint.

John Corcoran 11:58

Right? That’s that’s a hard one. They see people make that mistake a lot. So after the you sell the business, it doesn’t go any better. Tell us talk us through that you ended up basically spending everything you’ve made, and then some and end up in debt within a couple of years.

Ryan Niddel 12:17

I did I did. So again, that ego which to me, I look at it we have a biggie and a little e the biggie, that big ego that the outward world sees that look at how great I am and look at how magnificent everything I do has. And that literally is that internal level of confidence. Well, my Biggie was huge right out to the outside world, I know everything. But inside the little ear for me was was not even remotely formed yet I had no level of confidence or certainty in myself. And so I got in sort of high risk merchant processing, company processing credit card payments for online transactions in the gambling world. And some of the things that are very risky, right, high chargeback propensity, lots of refunds. But I saw during the the web hosting days, the banks, the merchant processors were the ones that were always guaranteed to make money. So well, gosh, I should just go start that I can leverage my wins, I can get my own ISO, I can sting stake my own money against it. So I I take more risk, but I get more reward. And at that point, John was just convinced I knew everything. So as I’m building out the infrastructure, the team to support me, I didn’t burn out a quality CFO, I barely brought on, at best a generalist and accounting at absolute best. I focus really heavily on sales and marketing, and almost none on operations and finance slash accounting. And so you go through the next, gosh, probably 1618 months. And it was December 21. I walked into the office and at that point might have had eight eight to 10 employees and had to unfortunately everybody know that this was it. This the End of the road, the business was defunct?