Photography by Cole Miller

Innovating Stale Industries, How Olympic Media’s CEO and Founder Gets it Done

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Olympic Media launched just a few years ago as Ryan Coyne’s one man operation, a new age digital advertising agency that advertises, list-builds and fundraises for advocacy groups and candidates. It’s an incredibly patriotic brand that stands shoulder to shoulder with conservatives and conservatism in the United States and has since grown to over 30 employees. Instead of fundraising the old fashioned way, Ryan shifted the landscape by offering to clients an opportunity to eliminate all the risk as he would receive his paycheck on the backend based solely on success, guaranteeing a positive return for the client. It was a wild risk that has paid off for both Olympic and its clients every day since he made the leap.

We sat down with Ryan to discuss everything from dealing with public criticism, the importance of figuring out what you don’t want to do in life, and his number one C-Suite hero—his dad.

Jenna Bostock: Have you always been pretty entrepreneurial? What was your first company?

Ryan Coyne: I was entrepreneurial from when I was very young. I was probably five years old when my dad left his job to start his first company, which was CB Technologies, and grew it to hundreds of employees over about 7 years. I remember the day he started it; he was getting ready in his bathroom and he was shaving. I climbed up on to the toilet and asked, “What are you doing?” He told me, “I am starting a new company today.” So I asked, “Well, why are you doing that?” He said, “Well, somebody has got to make money to buy food for you.”

That’s the moment the seed was planted.

Ryan Coyne, CEO and Founder of Olympic Media
Ryan Coyne, CEO and Founder of Olympic Media

A few years later, I started my first company. We lived in this nice neighborhood, and my neighbors would all go on vacation for two weeks at the Jersey shore or wherever. So I designed these flyers in Microsoft Word and ran around and gave them to people. My offer was that they would pay me 20 dollars for a week. Then, I would go over and water their flowers. Sometimes I would feed their cats or collect their mail and hold it until they came back. That was a big seller for us. That became RC watering company – my first big success.

Jenna Bostock: How did that entrepreneurial mindset lead to the eventual inception of Olympic now? You had helped launched a company called IMGE before Olympic?

Ryan Coyne: My real pivotal experience came just after I graduated from Cornell in 2010 and went to New York to work for JP Morgan in their investment bank. That was a very educational experience, but also a difficult one. My biggest takeaway was that I didn’t want to do hardcore finance as a career. It’s so important to learn what you definitely do not want to do.

Learning that early on was, frankly, one of the best things that happened to send me on my current path.

But yes, back in 2013 I had an opportunity to help get a digital firm and publisher off the ground at the same time down here in DC. That operation grew pretty large by the time I left. That is where I really learned the business of digital consulting, publishing, merchandise and all the other things that kind of go into it. But it wasn’t my company.  It was right around 2018 that I decided, “Okay, I am going to move on. Let’s see if I can make this work all by myself.”

I would joke with people when they would ask back then, “What do you do?” and I’d say, “Well, I do digital consulting and advertising but if you need me to do laundry, I will do that. If you need me to do the landscaping, I will do that. Anything that you will pay me for, I will do.” That was my mentality in getting Olympic started. Then it was our innovative advertising and unique fundraising model that allowed us to grow so quickly.

Jenna Bostock: How would you summarize what you do and some of those innovative techniques that sets you apart from competitors?

Ryan Coyne: The big innovation for us when I started Olympic was to turn the typical advertising model upside down.  Typically, in the advertising business, you find potential clients and propose something like, “Give me a $1M or $10M budget and I am going to place your ads on a variety of ad platforms and take 10 or 15% of the budget as a fee, and you promise that you are better than your competitors.”

The problem was that I was a one man band and all of the big budgets in DC were pretty much locked up with legacy vendors. So, to have any shot at new business I had had to invent a business proposition that was just undeniably better for the client.

My thought process was this; in any relationship where there is an ad agency and a client, all the risk is on the client. The client says, “Here’s a million dollars, make me an ad and have it placed appropriately.” Now if the Agency doesn’t do a good job, the client is left holding the bag. That money is spent and it is never coming back.

What I proposed was, “Let me build and place your ads. I will invest Olympic Media dollars in doing it. All the risk is on me and I will get paid only on success.” In that way, for the client, it was a guaranteed positive return. They never got an invoice from me and they never gave me any budget. They got to ramp up right away for no financial risk at all. People looked at me like I was crazy. They asked, “Why would you ever do that?” They said “You are gonna get killed.” But we were able to make it work.

Jenna Bostock: How did you justify taking that big of a risk?

Ryan Coyne: Necessity. I had to do something bold and different. Had I attempted this with the wrong client the first time or two, I may have been convinced that it was not a model that could work. At times, we have been in situations where the model just does not work and we have to step back and figure out a different solution.

I was lucky enough to get an initial client and we were so successful that we ended up getting fired.  I had been working with a mid-level digital person at the client who really loved the model and was very digitally savvy. We got set up, and I was just doing it by myself. I was developing and running ads and managing the spend. They were approving everything, and they started getting all these donations from new donors. This organization was a little bit more accustomed to getting really big dollar, $100,000 type donations. Then all of a sudden, they were getting thousands of ~$35 donations.

It came to the attention of the higher-ups and they started questioning, “How is this happening? What is going on? Who is in charge of this? Who is Olympic Media?” I got called into the principal’s office and some of the old guard just decided digital advertising and fundraising wasn’t of interest.

Essentially, we got put on hold because we were too successful too quickly. So I thought, “Well now I am like a jockey without a horse. Right now, I need a client.” I went into sales mode as hard as I could. I picked up another client and proved the model again and was really successful with it. That client was head over heels and started referring us all over town, and then we picked up a few more marquee names. Now, we are fortunate to be working with some of the biggest.

Jenna Bostock: Exciting! What are some things you’ve done to diversify Olympic Media?

Ryan Coyne: I really did not want to be a digital firm that fires everybody the day after the election and this is common, frankly, in our industry. Obviously 2020 was going to be a big year across the board, but I set out trying to diversify the business. That is why we started our publishing, consumer brands and data brokerage businesses.

We made the acquisition of a medium sized publisher in August. That has grown phenomenally; we just opened up our new studio and are producing in-house content for the first time this month. Then we also started the consumer brands division, where we rep the merchandise lines for a number of prominent conservatives.. What I am really excited about is the We The People wine product line, which has been a crazy project. I thought it was going to be kind of a glorified side hustle, but 5,000 cases of wine later, it is all of a sudden something that has me flying all over the country.

Jenna Bostock: Is there a philosophy of Olympic that connects the portfolio of brands?

Ryan Coyne: The main thread that connects them is that we are a company that stands shoulder to shoulder with conservatives and conservatism in the United States. We are a patriotic group that loves America.

Everybody comes to work ready to work really hard for our clients. We believe we are making the country a better, stronger place. That is what we do with the wine, for instance. The profits from the wine company, a portion of them go back into causes that we think make the country a better place. On the publishing side, we focus on stories and news that we think shine a brighter light on the United States and also shine a light on things that we think are detrimental to the country.

On the digital strategy and advertising side, we are working with clients that we think should be heard more loudly, and should have a bigger seat at the table, whether it be the House or the Senate, or maybe one day, the White House.

Jenna Bostock: How do you choose which clients to work with?

Ryan Coyne: There is no meeting that we would not take. There have definitely been cases where there is a lesser known brand or organization where we thought, “this mission is not getting enough attention. This is an important mission for the country, and we have talked about it and this is something that should be a larger part of the conversation”. If it is going to take us a little bit more investment to build the brand so that eventually we can generate fundraising activity then we will take that on.

Generally speaking, we tend to work with organizations or campaigns that have more of a national appeal. We have been really fortunate to have gotten referrals pretty quickly and have some fantastic clients.

Jenna Bostock: What are some of the major issues you are seeing in growing a modern media company today?

Ryan Coyne: The biggest thing that I face is recruitment and the size of the talent pool. One of the ways we are trying to fix that is through the launch of the Working Warrior Foundation.

It’s a foundation that is going to be working with unemployed and underemployed veterans to go through an eight-week digital media training course. Whether it be the Adobe Creative Suite, Salesforce for email and texting, Facebook and Google advertising, all the basic skills like copywriting, and things of that nature; all of the core skills that people that would need to be a digital media professional.

We are building a network of companies that will provide paid internships to anybody that completes the program. In that way, not only are we helping train more folks in digital media so that we can bring more talent into the industry, but also, we are giving back to veterans having a tougher time transitioning back into civilian life, which is something that everybody obviously cares a lot about.

Jenna Bostock: Wow, that sounds like an excellent cause. Who are some of your sort of entrepreneurial heroes that helped you end up where you are now?

Ryan Coyne: My Dad has got to be number one on that list, for sure. There was so much talk when he would come home from work when I was younger. We would talk about things that were happening as the company grew and grew and all the different types of things that were going through his head. I had a front row seat to all of that.

I have three brothers, all of us are very entrepreneurial in our own right. There was a little bit of Business School at the dinner table where we soaked all of that in and that is where a lot of our professional abilities and entrepreneurial interests come from.

Jenna Bostock: Is your Dad involved at all with Olympic?

Ryan Coyne: My dad is a constant sounding board for life and that definitely includes Olympic on a pretty daily basis. But he has not received an official title yet. You could call him the Chief Dad Officer.

Jenna Bostock: I like that. What are some of the best and worst pieces of advice that you have received over the years?

Ryan Coyne: I think some of the worst was when I was in college. It was a pretty popular path to take, to go into investment banking and finance. The job was highly sought after and paid more than any other job that anybody really knew of. There was certainly a prestige to it, to getting recruited to one of the big banks and all that stuff. It was a bright light that drew a lot of folks in that direction.

I bought heavily into that, without really thinking about what I wanted to do from a career standpoint. While I learned a ton in those initial years after college, they were definitely difficult and thankfully, I pulled the ripcord and did not keep going down that path.

The best advice was, “Do not continue to fail at the same thing.” There is this cliché now that goes something like “fail early and often”. Do not spend your life trying to make something worth it that you are not totally passionate about. I certainly did not feel that way in those early years. Luckily for me, I had support and was able to adjust my career path early on, and it has been a wonderful thing.

Jenna Bostock: Do you think you found what you are truly passionate about here with Olympic?

Ryan Coyne: I think so. It is tough to say that I am extremely passionate about digital advertising. What I am really passionate about is creating businesses. You can see that in the past year with opening up the publishing business, opening up the data brokerage business, opening up the consumer brands business and finally opening up a foundation. My passion is creating those types of organizations and building them as much as I can as long as they are doing things that are not just kind of run of the mill. Doing things a little differently in each one of those industries has led to their success.

Jenna Bostock: There are a lot of stale industries out there. It’s an exciting time to innovate and change how things are ‘normally’ done.

Ryan Coyne: In digital advertising, that could not be more true. Instead of doing a commercial, we are leveraging all different types of data. We are leveraging all different types of partnerships with existing clients to build out distribution, and that has been really effective and so new ways of going about marketing a product as old as wine is a lot of fun, for sure.

Jenna Bostock: What advice would you like to give to our readers who may be aspirational entrepreneurs and haven’t quite made it yet?

Ryan Coyne: When I first really wanted to start being entrepreneurial on my own, all I could do was read TechCrunch. Every other headline was about these 24-year-old kids that had some app that got bought for some wild amount of money. I remember constantly refreshing TechCrunch, and thinking, “Oh, my God, I have got to get out of here and start doing that. If only I had an idea for app then everything will be great.” That was silliness.

My best advice is to figure something out that you can do differently, better, than it is being done now and get somebody to pay you for it. So many folks have delusions of grandeur about changing the world with this one grandiose idea. If only they could get 10 million users, then they could get funding and blah, blah, blah. That is the path that has become celebrated. I would advise people to not take that path. The people that you read about are a one in a million where that works out.

Do something that somebody will pay you for and figure out a product that the market is telling you they want, and then figure out how to scale that product out. Once there is cash flow, and you have a business, then you can start to focus on doing things that might take a little bit longer that change the world. But do something first that puts food on your table.

Jenna Bostock: Anytime there is a new solution, obviously there are competitors that are going to be critical. You have been criticized publicly, how do you handle that?

Ryan Coyne: Listen, whether its competitors or folks who are politically motivated, people are going to try and misrepresent what we do and that just comes with the territory. We will stay focused on our customers and our employees. We are going to do our best to keep being successful and the only way that happens is when our clients are successful.

If folks want to shout about us from the cheap seats that’s okay – we’ve got a pretty thick hide.