A Slice on Ryan O’Neil, Founder of Curate
Those in the event industry are in charge of organizing a lot of different things for one event: catering, flowers, etc. Ryan O’Neil and his wife, a florist, started a wedding and floral company but quickly realized it was extremely difficult to keep track of all the different documents. O’Neil calls the documents “Dr. Frankenstein’s creations” because they were losing clients due to the time it took to get back to them with proposals. He thought there had to be something better. During this time, Instagram and Pinterest were booming, so they realized clients wanted a place to pull all of their inspiration and ideas into one place. Enter, Curate. Curate empowers event planners to streamline organization for events all on one platform.
O’Neil started his career as a public school teacher, then spent some time as an assistant pastor, but he always had the urge to build something new. O’Neil started his first company, a streamlined communication platform, eliminating the use of multiple platforms such as calendar invites. Though O’Neil loved the idea, he recognizes now that he was in no place to execute it. “I had never built a software company before so I was contracting people in India to build it, they’d send me code and I wasn’t communicating exactly what I needed to, even though I thought I was.” During this process, O’Neil eventually taught himself how to code in what he calls “the caveman way”. Eventually, the platform launched but O’Neil had to hire people to fix the problems he made with the code. “The big learning from that is, if you’re going to be bootstrapped and don’t have the money to go hire somebody, you have to learn how to do it yourself and build those pieces.”
When it comes to any scenario, O’Neil describes himself as “a rabbit hole type of person” because he loves getting down to the bottom of problems and solving them. When he noticed this issue in the event industry, he couldn’t help but try to solve the problem event planners were facing. “We’ve been thinking about this problem for years… How do you have different business types and one tool to help all of them?” Due to the nature of his first company, O’Neil was determined to create a “no-code” solution. “A big heartbeat of ours is, ‘How do we build a tool that’s dynamic enough, can be configured one way for one industry, and another way for another industry?’” Curate was built on the foundation for helping planners maneuver different industries to help solve problems and curate all of the pieces.
For O’Neil, navigating this new role of founder has been an obstacle and a big learning experience for him. “I’m having to self-educate a lot of things and learn new skillsets on how to run a company.” One of the things he’s had to teach himself was how to pitch to investors while fundraising. He had never done this before, so he wasn’t entirely sure how to envision a long-term exit plan.
O’Neil learned the most important thing about fundraising is to be able to get your idea across in as little time as possible. When COVID-19 struck the world, events were at an all-time low, however, Curate’s revenue still increased. “I got it [the pitch] down to having one chart that showed the revenue of our customers in 2019-2020… It was a very modest growth but it still was one of the most exciting slides.”
Combined with O’Neil’s learnings from his first (failed) startup and Curate, he’s definitely learned a lot along the way. “Not to plagiarize Nike, but just do it… I have this quote I’ve been saying to myself for years, ‘I’m going to make the best decision with the information I have now.’ This does a couple of things: it lets me be confident in the decision I’m making, and if I’m wrong, it lets me be okay with that.” O’Neil feels having the confidence along with being honest and upfront can eliminate some of the risks associated with making a decision.
O’Neil is motivated by seeing the big picture after all the pieces come together. “I just read a book where they talk about visionaries who see the big picture and integrators who connect the pieces together. I read this and realized I resonate with both, and evidently, only 5% of people are both.” O’Neil gets excited about seeing a florist sign up for Curate because they were recommended the platform by someone in another industry such as catering. “It’s really powerful to me because it says we’re solving the deeper problem and seeing how all these pieces work together.”
Ryan O’Neil graduated from Arkansas State University with a bachelor’s in Business Administration then received his Master’s in Educational Theory and Practice. O’Neil previously worked as an 8th Grade Math Teacher before working as an Assistant Pastor. He then spent six years at his first company, Twisted Willow, LLC with his wife. O’Neil is now Founder of Curate and resides in St. Louis, Missouri. Connect with O’Neil on LinkedIn.