Startup Success Story: Interview with Ryan Leavitt
After several entrepreneurial startups, Ryan Leavitt has found success in his newest startup, a cleaning business called Yeti Maids. He just launched the business a few weeks ago but has already gained ten new clients and fifteen bookings. In this interview about his various startups, he talks about the importance of finding your focus.
What ignited the spark in you to take on a new business startup, and how did it come to life?
Since I learned about online business in 2008 from a friend of mine in the Marine Corps, I got really excited about the whole idea of startups and just dug in and learned as much about it as I could. I would stay awake at night just reading and reading anything I could get my hands on. I am one to act on my thoughts pretty quickly, so I decided to have a test site built where I could map out all of the bike trails on “Marine Corps Base Quantico.” Knowing nothing about how to get a site up online, I paid a freelancer I found on freelancer.com from India who only charged me $75. As I was adding stuff to the site and showing some of my friends, they asked me what I would charge to build them one. I told them I didn’t build it and suggested to get it done on freelancer. After a few people approached me, I decided to sell the site for $300 and then pay my contact to build it.
I did this the entire time I was in the Marines, and I also built out some small niche sites where I learned how to do SEO.
When I left the Marines in 2008, I had about a year left of college to complete my marketing degree, so although I hated school, I decided to finish.
Since my first client, I’ve been building out sites and providing SEO marketing services to customers. It wasn’t until this year that I’d dealt with some fraud from some of my customers. They’d waited until after they’d received the marketing to report it to their banks as fraud. I was fed up working with clients and decided to build a business and do the marketing for myself rather than for others.
That’s how Yeti Maids came to life.
Is this your first startup? If not, how long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
No, my first business startup was in 2006-2008, when a friend of mine and I went into business together building small utility trailers commonly used to carry four wheelers in our area. Things were going well with that business until all of the companies buying our trailers went belly-up after the 2008 economic crash.
In 2013 I started a cleaning business in Utah, where I was doing all the cleaning myself. I cleaned residential and commercial properties and was able to grow the business pretty quickly. My biggest success was contracting the college housing, doing all the move in/out cleanings. When dealing with a big institution like this, a lot more work is required to get the job than would be invested in your average customer. After a year of this, I got burned out and decided to sell the business.
In 2014 I started a pest control business, because I liked the idea of easier work and better margins. I built this up to about sixty clients over the summer of 2014, but things died down in the winter months due to the lack of bug activity. During these months, I went through a divorce and moved from a small town in Utah to Las Vegas, Nevada in hopes of better opportunities.
So I guess you could say when my interest dies or the business model has proven unmanageable, I move on.
What are some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
When my first business closed in 2008, I was 20 years old, and it was one of the lowest points of my life. I went from a business owner to a shelf stocker at Walmart, and I didn’t understand that many things come into play when it comes to business and the economy, so I felt that I must have done something wrong. A few years later, I learned that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but the only way you have a chance is if you keep trying.
How do you generate new ideas, and what would you do if you had to pivot your entire project/idea/business?
My brain is constantly thinking of different ideas for business, which can be a bad thing. I find it hard to sleep at night, because I can’t turn it off. There is always a better way to do things. Take my cleaning business, for example; if I’d known about Rohan Style, I would have been able to shift the business, so I could focus on what I love doing, which is the marketing, rather than the cleaning
Can you share some personal ideals you think have helped you get where you are?
Honestly, I think my work ethic is my key to success. I’m addicted to work, and I can’t sit still for very long. At the time of my first startup, I worked three jobs, seven days a week for a year to save up enough money to get it going.
Do you believe there is some sort of pattern/formula/requirement to becoming a successful entrepreneur from the experience you’ve gathered in your journey? Are you a part of your own definition of success?
Yes and no. I think choosing the right focus is the primary requirement. When I had my first cleaning business, I hated doing the cleaning. It was such exhausting, unfulfilling work that sometimes when the phone would ring, I wouldn’t answer it, because I didn’t want to take on any more customers. While I had this business, a friend of mine started a tour company. Three years later, it’s still going. He’s doing amazing and has really grown his fleet, and it’s because he found something that he loves doing.
Now that I’ve changed the focus of my business to ensure that I’m not killing myself doing things I hate doing, work brings a ton of joy to my life.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
No job has ever brought me as much happiness or pride as taking a startup business from scratch and growing it with a cult following.
What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage it?
I used to say the fear of failure, but I’ve been there and done that already. Now I’d say that I fear I’ll work too much and not focus enough on my wife and kids – Ashley, Jude, and Ayden. I have to work on this every day and make it a point to shut everything else out when it’s family time.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Andrew Warner from Mixergy. He has a way of communicating with people that I just love.
What book has inspired you the most? What books do you think are “must-reads” for entrepreneurs?
I know this is like the entrepreneur rule to read books, but I’ve learned way more from blog posts online and listening to podcasts than any book I’ve ever read. A few blogs and podcasts:
Mixergy (Andrew Warner)
Starting from Nothing (Foundation Podcast)
Smart Passive Income (Pat Flynn)
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Drip Apps, they are an SEO teaching company. They offer software products for SEO, as well as material to help you keep up with the ever-changing SEO game. I know everyone lists companies like Amazon and Zappos, but honestly I have not worked with them much. But with Drip Apps they are definitely all about the customer. It’s never good to have a problem, but after I did, I respected them a lot more because of how they handled it.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time, and how do you manage to balance that time?
Camping is one of my favorite pastimes, but my family and I have not been out in a good while. We have a lot of fun trips planned for this summer, and I’m really excited about it.
What three pieces of advice would you give anyone who wants to become an entrepreneur?
Start, fail, adjust.
If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?
One thing I wish more interviewers would ask is how much entrepreneurs invested in their startup to get it off the ground. In my case, it was only a few hundred dollars, and I am just rolling all profits back into advertising right now.