As the founder of Smart Hustle media, Ramon Ray inspires and educates small business owners on how to grow their small businesses through events, interviews, podcasts, and online content. The author of four books, including “Celebrity CEO,” about building a community and personal brand, Ramon, is the real deal. Over his extensive career, Ramon has created four businesses and sold two, written thousands of articles, spoken to thousands of business owners, and impacted hundreds of thousands of small business owners and entrepreneurs to help their businesses grow. His clients, many of the world’s leading global brands such as Verizon, NetSuite, Dell, Microsoft, and others, hire Ramon for his ability to humanize their brand within the small business space. Attendees of Ramon’s in-person and virtual presentations consistently rate Ramon as one of the most inspiring and motivational speakers they’ve heard. Ramon has shared the stage with Seth Godin, Daymond John, Guy Kawasaki, Simon Sinek, Gary Vaynerchuk, and others. He has interviewed President Obama and joined Ivanka Trump at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India. During COVID, Ramon focused on providing small business owners and large brands content through virtual events. From his five-hour Survive and Thrive Conference to his most recent Ramon’s Big Holiday Party, a three-hour event with sponsors such as Microsoft and Zoho, audiences are engaged and wanting more. In addition to his work with Smart Hustle, Ramon is also the Entrepreneur in Residence for Netsuite.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Ramon to discuss his journey in the industry and here’s what went down:
When did your entrepreneurial flair first reveal itself?
I am originally from Ohio. Growing up, I was the kid who needed to understand how and why things worked and know everything about the people who created them. As a child, I lit a wall of our house on fire, made a shortwave radio from a Radio Shack electronics kit, and took
apart my “talking Teddy Bear” to figure out how it worked. From a young age, I had a technical inquisitiveness and a fierce love of reading. Today, my inquisitive nature has developed into wanting to learn more about the people changing the world and the products and services they are creating. I love people and the community, so I have always gravitated towards building a community of passionate people.
How did your life look like before being an entrepreneur?
I think entrepreneurship and life, in general, are about your expertise, your comfort zone. Maybe you like to cook or read or do hockey. So, as a small child, I know that I’ve always gravitated towards technology. As an adult, I’m into marketing and starting companies, but the tech side of my brain, if that makes sense, all that started as a small child as I love tech and am a vicarious reader.
Jumping far ahead, I had many years of working at the United Nations. I was a civil servant working at the United Nations. I was fired because the UN has a rule that you can’t have your own business, and I went through many complications with that.
So low and behold, from launching several side hustles while having a nine-to-five job to provide for my family, I was now on my own, and that’s when I no longer could do things for free. No longer could I say, “Oh, I have a steady check. I can just do it.” No, I had to make it happen. From there, while at the United Nations, I had built, I think, two companies. I had sold one, had an event business, and when I left, I just grew on that. That’s when I had SmallBizTechnology.com at that point. At that time, I launched Smart Hustle Magazine. The event business grew, and this aspect of influence from marketing, which is one-third of what I do, really blossomed and took off.
As an entrepreneur, what is it that motivates and drives you?
For almost two decades, I’ve been bringing people together via events so they can learn how to grow their business from business leaders who have been in their shoes. Whether I am producing my events for small business owners or speaking at other’s events, I am naturally inspiring small business owners who want to grow their business by giving them the energy and confidence to step outside their comfort zone. I wanted to create communities, and my events would reside within them.
I am grateful for what I learned and created from the beginning at smallbiztechnology.com and all that has transpired after. I love to learn, inspire and teach. Smart Hustle allows me to do that every day.
Optimism. I genuinely see failure as a learning opportunity. I love the word no. To me, the word no means: “Great, I can get rid of you and get to my yes, faster.” That’s the key thing about optimism and hope for me. This is not some fancy Seth Godin, Tony Robbins’ book. I see failure genuinely as a learning opportunity. That’s how I see the world. That’s the colors with which I paint the world in my business. It’s a learning opportunity.
What were your top three motivations for starting your business?
I think it’s essential to enjoy the journey at every stage. Persist with optimism. Know when it’s time to pivot. Surround yourself with intelligent people who can steer you in the right direction and, of course, have fun!
What do you put your success down to?
I love to learn and think I have been successful because every net gain or loss is part of my learning. For sure I’m also grateful to God for his strength and daily wisdom in my life.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?
You don’t need anyone else’s permission to pursue your business idea. Persist through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship with the help of close friends and your faith. Growing your business will likely take longer than you think. And it will likely require a pivot or two along the way.
Whatever your current family situation, prioritize the important things to you, and have conversations about the big “Why” with your spouse and kids.
Learn about things beyond the focus of your business. It’s inspiring, spurs creativity, and gives you perspective on the bigger picture.
Have fun and smile.
What are the three biggest challenges you have faced growing the business and how did you overcome them?
Rushing and going too fast, taking too much risk, and not being thoughtful enough would be three challenges I have faced over the years. By looking at and evaluating my goals, I have learned how to pace projects and see tangible and intangible risks. Being present is very important to me and showing my appreciation and gratitude is very important. I strongly believe in empathy and always try to think about others.
Does the loneliness of the entrepreneur really exist?
A few years ago at SXSW, I spoke about “entrepreneurial depression.” Oftentimes, business owners can’t speak to their families about their challenges. They can’t confide in their friends. So yes, loneliness does exist. HOWEVER, the way to conquer this feeling is to be purposeful about surrounding yourself with a community of support. NOT just people who will say “yes” to you. But with coaches, mentors, and confidants who will be with you on your journey, as you’re on their journey.
As you grew the business, what have been some of the most important leadership lessons you have learned?
I MUST schedule team meetings. I MUST focus on educating the team on WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO, and I MUST communicate as my team are not mind readers.
What do you hope to see happen in the near future for small businesses all over the world?
That’s a tricky “woo woo” question. I hope that we keep supporting our communities, being profitable, and living the lives we want! I wish all of you the best of luck.