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Facetime: Ryan Hansen
Ryan Hansen, UM alumnus and entrepreneur, operates LumenAd, one of the country’s top software companies. He says the journey from UM to recognition in Inc. magazine takes some Montana scrappiness and Grizzly grit.
By Courtney Brockman
Entrepreneurship is all Ryan Hansen ’09, M.B.A. ’16, has known. The son of entrepreneurs, he always knew he
would follow suit – he just wasn’t sure how it would look.
“The entrepreneurs are the only people who bail on a 40-hour workweek to work 60 hours a week, and there’s no 9-to-5,” he says. “There is no weekend. Your whole life is deeply embedded in your work life, and all the ups and downs with it.”
With experience learning to grow small businesses at Missoula’s nonprofit MoFi and using technology at a GIS-building software company – as well as two UM degrees – Hansen launched his own advertising software company, LumenAd, in 2014.
Now Missoula-based LumenAd has made No. 29 on Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing start-ups list, ranking fourth among North America’s software companies. Hansen talks about combining expertise and technology in the marketing world and how a UM education can take you far.
What experiences at UM helped you in your entrepreneurial path?
My defining experience at UM circles around the Advocates. I was an Advocate starting my freshman year through my five years. There was about 120 Advocates, and working closely with them helped me realize that people, their learning styles and their communication styles are diverse.
I’m from South Dakota. I went into business school. I had a very singular-focused mind. If you can figure out how to work with people of differing perspectives and values, then you can accomplish a lot.
What do you think makes LumenAd successful and unique?
We’ve always been genuinely focused on solving a problem and creating value. Don’t get hung up on creating a 50-page business plan or perfecting a product right now. Just talk to customers, understand what their problems are, propose a solution and deliver that solution when you say you’re going to do it.
In getting LumenAd off the ground, we were creative, scrappy, critical thinkers, which is a UM and Montana thing. We recognized that there’s a disconnect between the technology and expertise sides of advertising. We have the expertise, and we layered that on top of software we built to help people manage their advertising data and also take action with it – a perspective I haven’t seen elsewhere.
UM was one your first clients. How did you help the University?
UM supported us from day one, and we remember that every day. We helped UM reach prospective students across digital media channels. We layered in new technologies, new forms of media buying and new forms of customization to their advertising. It was a fun project.
Besides 60-hour weeks, what is the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur?
The hardest thing about managing a company that’s growing really fast is whatever you’re doing today is going to be outdated in three months. You’re trying to regularly re-create new things because that customer-contracts template you created two months ago now doesn’t work. How we hired employees six months ago is no longer relevant. It’s exhausting after a while.
How does collaboration play into the culture at LumenAd?
We didn’t have a bunch of seasoned experts who had done this before. All we did was find a bunch of really kick-ass people who were super dedicated and wanted to do cool things, and we figured it out together.
The culture is defined by collaboration. Nobody pretends to have all the right answers, it’s just the best answer wins. I am really proud of that. It allows us to move really fast and value all ideas.
How has COVID-19 affected the way you are operating right now?
We seemingly went overnight from growth mode, execution mode, to hunker-down mode. The advertising business is seeing some pretty significant reductions in demand. We’re weathering the storm and trying to get as lean, efficient and creative as possible to just try to come out the other side of this ready to jump back into growth mode.
Everything’s cyclical. Sometimes you’re going to have great years, and sometimes you’re going to have down years, and 2020 is going to probably be less of an exciting year for us. There are no existential threats to the company; it’s just we’re going to slow down for a little bit.
How has it felt to create and run a successful company?
It’s totally surreal. LumenAd has far exceeded my wildest expectations for what I ever thought possible. To be able to do really cool innovative things in the world of technology and advertising from Missoula, Montana, and work with a bunch of really enjoyable people I consider friends, I just feel unbelievably fortunate.
Read more about Hansen at https://tinyurl.com/rv67wbc