Reduce and delegate: Decide what absolutely needs to be done and eliminate things that aren’t absolutely necessary for you to do in order to be effective at your job. Also, determine what tasks can be handled by someone else and trust your team to get those tasks done right.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents,” I had the pleasure to interview Ryan Malone, Founder and CEO of SmartBug Media™. Ryan is the CEO of SmartBug Media, which he founded to give clients amazing results and employees a lifetime of memories. SmartBug is a leading Intelligent Inbound marketing agency with a unique 100 percent remote business model that employs 75 employees from 28 states. The company’s remote model has proven to be wildly successful, enabling it to recruit people who are passionate about their job and committed to the zest of their lives, resulting in a high-retention business, free from politics and the negativity often seen in office-based environments. In the ten years since its founding, SmartBug has been named twice to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies, won hundreds of awards for workplace culture and client work, and is the highest-rated HubSpot partner in the world. Ryan holds an MBA from UCI Paul Merage School of Business where he is also an industry fellow at the school’s Center for Digital Transformation. He also holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland. He enjoys the gym, live music, people watching, and playing terrible guitar, and lives in Orange County with his wife and two amazing daughters.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
My father died when I was 17, so I always had this kind of gap in my life — sort of an empty hole that has followed me into adulthood. From that point on, I always knew that I wanted to do some things differently when I was older. I wanted to make sure that my children didn’t have the same hole that I did, and ensure that I spent as much time with them as possible, because you never know — life is short.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
After completing my MBA, I worked in a number of marketing positions at various companies: first as a consultant at one of the large consulting companies, then as a high-tech marketer at a division of a public company, and next at Seagate. Finally, I ran marketing for a couple of early-stage high-tech companies, and it was during that time that I hired a number of marketing agencies to outsource our work. Through that process and my experience working with marketing agencies, I concluded that the marketing agency model was broken.
I believed that I could create a better model that, at the same time, would allow me to spend time with my kids. I figured that there were a lot of people out there who feel just like I do, and perhaps that was holding them back from going after the challenging and fulfilling careers they wanted and deserved. I hoped I could capitalize on that and tap into an underutilized talent pool that would allow me to hire better people faster by removing geographical constraints and appealing to people looking for better work-life balance.
So the idea of a 100 percent remote marketing agency with no headquarters that allows every employee to work out of their home office was born. My goal was to create a company where people would be able to have challenging careers with people for whom they have deep intellectual respect, but also be able to spend more quality time with their families and make the kind of lifelong memories that were missing from part of my life.
I founded SmartBug Media, and in 10 years, it has grown to employ 75 full-time professionals spread across 28 states. The model has worked, evidenced by nearly 60 percent revenue growth in 2018, more than 100 industry awards, and being named HubSpot’s Global Partner of the Year. SmartBug’s unique remote structure fosters a highly engaged workforce that allows us to remain flexible and quickly scale to meet market demands.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
I usually go to the gym early in the morning, and I come home because it’s very important to me to be home when my kids wake up. We say “good morning” and they give me a kiss. I ask them how they slept and what they are excited about for the upcoming day, and it just kind of starts the day off in a really wonderful way for me. I want them to know when they start every day that I love, admire, and have a deep admiration for them.
Then, I structure my workday so that when my girls get home from school, I’m there to ask them about their day and dedicate some time to learning about how they grew as a person that day. As a family, we shut down at dinnertime, turn off all the devices, and have dinner together. It’s a wonderful opportunity for my wife and I to really connect with our kids and have some quality conversations with them. Usually either before or after dinner we will play with the dogs to get them nice and tired before bedtime. That’s the stuff that really matters because those memories, those laughs, and those little, tiny conversations are the things that you remember as you grow up. Those are the things that you pass on to your children.
As far as work is concerned, my days are hectic, but I try to get things out of the way earlier in the day so I can have the evenings free with my kids. Working at home in my basketball shorts is a big perk too.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
Parenting is about teaching. It’s about the time that you spend with somebody to teach them the little things about life — whether it’s how to be kind, how to fix something, how something works, or why the sky is blue. Those are the kinds of tender, vulnerable moments that are important to have with your child. It’s a chance for you to connect with them and build trust with them, and it’s a chance for them to learn from you and understand the way the world works. By not being there for those moments, you miss out on so many opportunities.
It’s not just about coaching, discipline, or lectures about the way things are — that’s not really an opportunity at all. The opportunities you don’t want to miss are those unplanned moments where you have a chance to be a teacher, to show compassion, and to teach them the way things work and the way you might want them to behave so that they can grow up and be good, upstanding people and also be great parents to their kids. You’re ultimately training a generation of people because they’re going to pass those lessons and memories on when they teach their kids. It’s an incredible responsibility that can fundamentally change the trajectory of an entire family line. If you do things right, or if you do things wrong, either way you can change that trajectory.
I think if you’re not there, you miss out on a chance to allow them to grow in a very familiar environment with some guardrails around them so that they feel safe while growing as much as possible. On the flip side, if you look at things from their perspective, kids are like sponges. The more time you spend with them, the more they have a chance to learn. They know that they can take risks because you’re there to catch them if they fall. Therefore, they’re less likely to be afraid to try new things, and they’re more likely to be encouraged to try new things. Even if they fail, they know that it’s going to be okay.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
When you’re present for your kids, they learn how to trust — whether it’s trust in you, or trust in somebody else. They can trust in the fact that if they put effort into something, good things will happen. They can trust in the belief that when they go to sleep, they’ll wake up and their families will be there in the morning. They learn unconditional love, because they know that no matter what they do, you’re going to be there for them. They, in turn, will be able to provide love to somebody that’s going to be their child someday.
Being there for your kids also enables them to learn how to laugh and how to cry. You create a safe space for them to experience all of the various emotions one can have, and they will learn that experiencing those emotions is normal, that it’s okay to have them, and that it’s just part of life. Again, they will be able to teach their own kids those things. That can have a very powerful impact on the universe.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
First of all, we have a “no devices at dinner” rule. It’s important to us that we sit down together as a family with no distractions, so that we have some time each day to spend talking and really connecting with each other. That time is sacred.
Second, I make sure I’m there when my kids wake up every morning and go to sleep every night. I love the fact that they come and kiss me in the mornings, and I get to tell them how much I love, admire, and respect them. That gives them confidence as they go off to school, and I think it sets a positive tone for them for the rest of their day. I also like to tell them the same things before they go to sleep and wish them happy dreams. I love seeing the smiles on their faces as they fall asleep knowing that somebody loves them. That’s incredibly important.
Third, I make time to be involved in my kids’ hobbies. One of my daughters is into acting, so I’ll help her prepare for auditions. Or I’ll drive her up to Los Angeles for the audition, which gives us a chance to spend some quality time in the car — to just connect and talk, but also be supportive of her dreams and goals. My other daughter is into basketball, gymnastics, and dance. It’s fun to spend time with her just being silly and and doing the things that she likes to do. By being there, I feel like I’m also kind of learning how to do those hobbies, and by doing that, it’s easier to become part of their lives, and it gives me a chance to spend some quality time with them on their terms.
Finally, I try to treat my kids like friends. By sharing some of the things that I go through with them — obviously tweaking and tuning the subject matter to the right audience — and discussing certain things with them to get their opinion, it makes them feel important. I like to make them feel like they’re part of every conversation that we have as a family and that they’re incredibly important contributors to my life. The fact that an adult values their opinion increases their sense of self-worth.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
These are five strategies that I use to reduce demand for my attention and create more time to spend with my family:
- Reduce and delegate: Decide what absolutely needs to be done and eliminate things that aren’t absolutely necessary for you to do in order to be effective at your job. Also, determine what tasks can be handled by someone else and trust your team to get those tasks done right.
- Time-box: Set aside important blocks of time for your family when you will not schedule meetings or work, and stick to it.
- Early to bed, early to rise: Structure your time so that you can get things that are important to you — such as alone time or working out — done before the kids wake up and the demands of family and work begin.
- Enforce device-free time: Use Screen Time to lock down your phone at a certain point in the evenings so that you aren’t tempted to open apps or start answering work emails.
- Take care of yourself: Maintain your health so that you have the energy and vitality to get everything done and can still keep up with your kids and spend time with them building great memories.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
I believe being a good parent means teaching your child how to be happy, healthy, safe, and resilient. It doesn’t mean handing it to them, but it means teaching them how to achieve those four qualities of living:
● Happy: Help your children learn to have a happy demeanor and be content with the choices that they make in their lives, as well as the effort that they put into things and the outcomes that come from it, because happiness is all too often about how you define winning. It’s important to teach young people how to define winning for themselves.
● Healthy: Teach your children to enjoy a balanced life where they can have fun but also be disciplined, where they can treat themselves but also eat well, where they can stay up late every once in a while but also make up for that missed sleep when needed, and so on. These habits of balance and healthiness will ultimately define their whole lives.
● Safe: Be sure your children understand that it is safe to take risks while understanding what those risks are, but they’re also free to be a kid and experiment with things, knowing that it’s okay to fail and they have a support system to help them when they do.
● Resilient: Teach your children that life is filled with failure and disappointment. Help them learn how to bounce back when they face adversity by putting in their best effort and understanding that if that’s not good enough, it’s not catastrophic or the end of the world. Get up and try again. Focus on what they can control or look at things from a new perspective.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to teach children to be good people, because in the end, kindness wins.
How do you inspire your children to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I inspire my children to dream big by telling them to pursue what they want and what makes them happy. It should be something that they have a deep hunger and deep thirst for, and then they should figure out what they need to do to earn it. I deliberately say “earn it,” not “get it,” because I believe people should work hard to earn what they want in life. I think the outcome ends up being much better.
When I built my company, I had this crazy vision and this big dream that I could put together a network of remote workers who would have incredible respect for each other and would do great work and would still have enough time to spend, create, and share memories with the people they care about. I also get to work from home in my basketball shorts, and my daughters get to see this idea firsthand that you can dream big and turn that dream into reality, because that’s what I’ve done with SmartBug.
A good example of how my experience has rubbed off on my daughters is when my oldest walked into the community theater when she was four or five years old and pointed at the promotional poster for a play and said, “Mommy, I want to do this.” She walked in there and did her audition, and since then, she’s had no fear. All she wants to do is be an actress, and so she takes advantage of every chance she has to learn that skill and get better at it. The result is that she’s a really talented young actress, she’s getting lots of opportunities for different parts, and she’s enjoying the chase and the process. She has the resiliency to know that if she doesn’t get a part, it’s okay, because half of the dream is just having the opportunity to be able to go out and try for it.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
Before you define success, you need to define what winning means. Winning means a lot of different things to different people. I happen to define winning as balancing a rewarding career with a rich family life. Success to me is having a challenging career with people I have deep intellectual respect for, while having the freedom to create memories with loved ones at the same time.
The truth is, people will not remember the minutiae of their work when they grow old, but they will remember the things they do with their loved ones. That’s why I’ve built a company that offers challenging careers with people who have deep fundamental intellectual respect for each other and have each other’s backs. At the same time, I get to go create the memories that I want with the people that I care about, and many of the people that I work with have become those people that I care deeply about.
So, for me, success has become defined as earning the respect of the people you care about and passing that process of earning it on to future generations.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
I’m a voracious reader and listener, so I could put together a huge laundry list, but I picked my favorite one of each.
I listened to Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life on tape. That book is certainly not about parenting, but looking at some of the decisions that Washington made in his life against the challenges that he faced, it’s been an interesting resource for me. It taught me to look at the decisions that I want to make about the way I want to live my life from a different perspective.
My favorite podcast is The Art of Manliness. It’s an epic podcast about a wide variety of topics, from history and lost arts to modern advice and things that you always were curious about. Each episode is a deep study of that particular subject matter, and it’s just an awesome way to learn more about life.
Finally, one of the greatest resources for me is my wife. Every year, I create these crazy goals for myself, in both business and parenting, and then every year, I ask my wife, “Well, what are your goals going to be?” She says, “To be a great mom.” She’s happy with the fact that she does that every year, and so it reminds me that fundamentally, your job as a parent is to be the best parent you possibly can, and that can and should be your main focus — and it’s also okay for that to be your focus.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You can’t get a hit if you don’t go to bat.
What I mean by that is, you have to be willing to try things, even if it means you might fail. The worst thing that can possibly happen to you is that you tried it and it didn’t work out or you didn’t like it, whether that’s going across the country to go to college or trying a new job or career. You can always come back home, you can always switch gears, and you can always reevaluate your position in life and make a change. But you’re never going to know what you’re capable of until you’ve tried something, so if you don’t go to bat, you’re not going to get a chance to get a hit. I think that’s a really important lesson.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The thing that I would do to inspire a movement is to ask people to write down one thing each night that they did that day to make the world a better place. If you look back at what you wrote down after you’ve done that for 30 days or 60 days, you will realize the incredible difference that you’ve made in the world, that you did indeed make it better, and that you can continue to make an impact. If every person does one good thing to make the world a better place every day, the world will indeed be a better place.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
About the author
Dr. Ely Weinschneider is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in New Jersey. Dr. Ely specializes in adolescent and adult psychotherapy, parenting, couples therapy, geriatric therapy, and mood and anxiety disorders. He also has a strong clinical interest in Positive Psychology and Personal Growth and Achievement, and often makes that an integral focus of treatment. An authority on how to have successful relationships, Dr. Ely has written, lectured and presented nationally to audiences of parents, couples, educators, mental health professionals, clergy, businesses, physicians and healthcare policymakers on subjects such as: effective parenting, raising emotionally intelligent children, motivation, bullying prevention and education, managing loss and grief, spirituality, relationship building, stress management, and developing healthy living habits. Dr. Ely also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column about the importance of “being present with your children”. When not busy with all of the above, Dr. Ely works hard at practicing what he preaches, raising his adorable brood (which includes a set of twins and a set of triplets!) together with his wife in Toms River, New Jersey.