LOVE MONDAY: Featuring Ryan Lunka
At Painted Turtle Partners, we believe that every individual should be able to fully utilize their interests, skills and experience in a work setting that they will enjoy. In our weekly post, “Love Monday”, we will be highlighting individuals that have made a major career change and now love what they do. This week, you will gain insight from Ryan Lunka who went from Consultant to VP of Product at nChannel. Learn what career changes he made and how he got there.
What was your past career(s) and what are you doing now?
I started off my career as a consultant, implementing Adobe’s enterprise solutions with Cardinal Solutions Group. This happened mostly by chance. I was actually hired to work on Microsoft SharePoint projects, but was asked to train up on the Adobe technology to fill a need at a client site. After starting down that path, I never went back.
When I started, Adobe’s enterprise technology strategy was centered around the PDF and a BPM solution called Adobe LiveCycle. They blended that solution with their Rich Internet Application development platform, called Adobe Flex. This allowed you to build web apps that ran in the Flash player. When the iPhone blocked Flash player, it really hindered the success of that solution.
However, at the same time, Adobe had begun acquiring digital marketing technology companies. One of those companies was Day Software, publishers of a really innovative Web Content Management system called CQ5. As the writing started to appear on the wall for the LiveCycle/Flex solution, I dove head first into Adobe’s new WCM and digital marketing solutions.
I moved to CITYTECH, another small consulting firm out of Chicago, to implement this Adobe marketing technology platform for clients. I worked on projects for companies like Fossil Group, Four Seasons, and Intel. I eventually moved from a technical implementation/programming role to more of a digital marketing strategy role, helping to shape business strategy around the enterprise marketing tech stack.
While I really liked working on the Adobe platform, what really excited me was the general discipline around marketing technology and the problems that needed solved around building out a company’s digital portfolio. So, when nChannel reached out, looking for a Director of Digital Marketing to do just that, I was interested. Learning that it was the opportunity to join a high-growth software startup company sealed the deal.
I spent a year and change implementing a full stack digital platform for nChannel, including reframing the use of their WCM, implementing Google Analytics and other measurement tools, defining the company’s digital content strategy, and starting the practice of website optimization using A/B testing tools. Our team increased our monthly inbound lead count by about 5x and created a huge site traffic increase that continues to grow today.
Last February, our CEO decided that it was time to redefine how nChannel builds software around being a “product” company, not just an “engineering” company. I was promoted to VP Product to lead that team, blending the user experience and analytics practices we implemented in digital marketing with the engineering disciplines I applied as an implementation consultant.
In that role, I lead the nChannel teams responsible for product management and design, software development, and customer implementations. My goal is to ensure all of those areas of our business work together in a way that creates an exceptional (and profitable for nChannel) customer experience.
Was there a point when you just knew that you wanted and needed to go for this new opportunity? Can you describe that moment? What pushed you to move forward?
The biggest jump for me was the decision to leave consulting and join nChannel as Director of Digital Marketing. I had switched roles a number of times at both Cardinal Solutions and CITYTECH, but my entire career to that point had been defined as “consultant”. I had a lot of pride in that role, and really enjoyed being relied on as the expert, brought in to help a company be successful.
I also really enjoyed working with Adobe’s digital marketing technology. The LiveCycle/Flex solution was kind of cool, albeit not all that successful (in my opinion), but the combination of CQ5 with the other digital marketing solutions Adobe acquired was something special. It was fun to ride that wave from a pretty early point in the growth of that platform, and it gave me the opportunity to build a reputation in what at the time was a pretty niche area of expertise.
But, I always knew that I didn’t want to do consulting forever. I chose that as my first career phase to acquire a breadth of experiences and to work my way into a management position at a company. When nChannel’s recruiter reached out to me and after I met the people I’d be working with at nChannel, it started to look like the right thing to do.
I do remember the exact moment I decided to make the jump from consulting to nChannel. I was on a camping trip with my family. We were just hanging out around the campfire after a day of hiking. It was quiet, so I was thinking about the decision. I was nervous about taking on that much responsibility for a company, potentially failing many people. But, I kept hearing my dad’s voice telling me, “If there’s one person you should always bet on, it should be yourself.”
I came back from that camping trip and accepted the nChannel offer.
What helped to prepare you for this career change?
There were a few things that helped me prepare for such a change…
While at CITYTECH I also attended graduate school in the Masters of Information Strategy, Systems, and Technology program at Muskingum University. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the content of that program had a huge positive impact on my career, really helping me prepare to make the switch from being a consultant to someone who helps shape the direction of a company. I highly recommend that program to anyone interested in technology and business. It’s like an MBA that’ll actually stand out on your resume.
I’m also a podcast junkie. At some point I heard an interview on the Harvard Business Review podcast about a hugely successful business person (who, exactly, slips my mind) who wrote out their future resume early in their career to use it as a map. It felt a little silly at the time, but I still have that future resume I wrote. My career trajectory looks an awful lot like it–maybe just a little faster than I expected.
Lastly, I think my experience as a consultant really prepared me. As a consultant, regardless of whether you are equipped to do so, you have to be the expert. You have to win the respect of the room and have the sometimes difficult conversations that get your client closer to success. It develops really positive personality traits for the people who can hang in that kind of environment.
What have been the biggest struggles and/or hurdles that you have encountered with this change? What are you doing to overcome them?
One of the biggest struggles–let’s say learning experiences–has been getting used to life working for a startup company. You don’t always have the budget, the time, or the people to accomplish what you want. You have to get creative. You have to be scrappy. And, you’ve got to have a lot of patience. It looks super cool on TV, but in reality there are a lot of days where you want to pull your hair out. Don’t get me wrong, we have a lot of fun at work and we all believe we are building something special. But, learning to deal with the chaos has been a chore.
One of the ways I’ve worked on handling this is to focus on mindfulness. I’ve experimented a bit with mindfulness meditation, but I’ve found just making sure to have a mindful state of mind as much as possible has worked better than formal meditation. I have a whiteboard in front of my desk on which I’ve written the words “brick by brick”. Every time I look up from my computer screen I’m reminded that every day might feel like a slog and like you’re making no progress. But, in days, weeks, months from now you’ll look back at all the bricks you’ve stacked, and think, “Wow, we really got a lot done.”
Then, there’s Johnnie Walker for the days that are especially challenging.
If you were to offer one piece of advice to individuals that are contemplating making a major career change, what would it be?
I’m not sure I’m old or wise enough to give this advice, but here goes…
If it’s something that gives you that excited, but nervous feeling inside, then do it. Don’t avoid an opportunity because you’re afraid you can’t do it. You’ll either get it done and grow from it, or you won’t and you’ll still grow from it. Doing nothing will get you to exactly where you are now. Consequences be damned.
In the words of my dad… Bet on yourself.
Learn more about what nChannel is doing in the retail technology space on their website or on their blog. You can learn more about Ryan from his LinkedIn page, Twitter at @rlunka or Instagram at @funkalunka or on his personal blog.