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Bootstrapping to $10M+ from North Carolina: Carl Ryden, CEO of PrecisionLender (Part 2)

Posted on Friday, Jun 2nd 2017

Carl Ryden: We did the Thinkpad 350, 425, 701 and all of that. It was great fun. It was one of the best teams I had ever worked on. While I was there, IBM shutdown the PC company and moved it to Raleigh. They moved all the notebook development to Yamato Labs in Japan, and we were shifted to desktop PCs. About half of our team ended up leaving IBM.

My second-line manager had left and convinced me to join him at a six-person startup company. I was employee number six. We were building a medical device for the passive acoustic detection of coronary artery disease. I wrote a lot of the algorithms for that – the acoustic beam forming and machine learning stuff. I did that for about two and a half years. I always knew I wanted to go back to school. My wife said, “It’s now or never.”

I applied to MIT. There’s a program there that’s now called the Leaders for Global Operations. It used to be called Leaders for Manufacturing. If you got into the business school, the engineering school, and that program at the same time, it was free. At that time, I was an engineer. I still am. I thought I’m not going to like this whole MBA thing. It might be a bunch of crap. That was seriously my complete thought process. But it worked out great. I liked both of them and ended up going to work for Bain Consulting at Atlanta and then in London.

In London, I was their Technology Commercialization Strategy person. I got to work with all sorts of startups through Amadeus Partners and a bunch of guys there developing commercialization strategies. I went into the venture business. I did that for two years. I learned a lot about capital formation and how that stuff works. I hated the venture business ultimately and left. I love building things and not investing in things. That’s when I got pulled into another company.

I was in Atlanta and my neighbor convinced me to join his little banking consulting company that had built some Excel spreadsheets. The owner of that company realized that he had about a million dollars of recurring licensing revenue and thought that if he could build a piece of software, he might have something.

However, they were consultants and bank regulators and they really had no idea how to build software. They asked me to help them. I thought, “Building software would be so peaceful and wonderful. I miss that.” I fell in love with it – the company, business, and people. We grew that to about 380 banks. In 2006, the owner decided to sell it. I ran the process to sell it.

Sramana Mitra: What year was this?

Carl Ryden: We started in 2004. We sold it in 2006.

Sramana Mitra: What kind of ownership structure did this have? You were doing the programming. It sounds like you were running the operations. What kind of ownership did you have in the project?

Carl Ryden: This is an interesting story. I knew I wanted to start my own company. Being in a big company, small company, then management consulting, and then venture helped me build the confidence. I was going to start a company of my own. The owner told me, “Can you help me while you’re still in your house?” I said yes. It wasn’t much if I charged them anything. He said, “I need you to come join me and build this.”

I said, “Here’s my thing. I think like an owner. I worry like an owner. I can’t sleep at night like an owner.” I figured that I need to be compensated like an owner. He said, “I get it. I get that you want to start your own company. I’ve been running this one. I thought I knew what I was getting into but I didn’t. Here’s the deal I’ll cut with you. I’ll give you appreciation rights on the stocks if we grow and make it more valuable. You come here and run it on my dime and learn.”

I became the COO of that company. What was really cool about that was that Mitchell’s wife thanked me because I was able to build a lot of trust with Mitchell. He was able to take his first true vacation in many years with her. That was a really cool thing.

Sramana Mitra: Great. How much money did you make out of that? Did it give you some capital with which to start your own?

Carl Ryden: It did. Mitchell sold the company for about $33 million. I was with the company that bought us for about 18 months. They’re nice folks. It’s just a big organization and not the right fit for me. I left in March of 2008. I did make a good chunk of money but not enough where you’re set for life. In 2008, I left the company and took some time off. I was a bit burned out. Later that fall, my goal was to build a micro-IFV because I was so burned out of managing people. I wanted to try to build something with no employees. I worked on that.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Bootstrapping to $10M+ from North Carolina: Carl Ryden, CEO of PrecisionLender
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