Ryan Larson Of FirstLine Financial: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder
For God sakes we need change right now. There are a lot of people struggling and if I can fight for those who can’t fight for themself then so be it!
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Larson.
Ryan Larson is a seasoned wealth advisor and the founder and CEO of FirstLine Financial, LLC, based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Ryan embodies the qualities of a trustworthy leader and believes everyone deserves a chance to lead a life they can be proud of as they enter retirement. He credits his empathetic leadership approach to his experience as a firefighter, a career that gave him a sense of purpose and a lifelong passion for helping others mitigate risk.
In his new business memoir, Ladder to Leader: My Journey from Failure to Fire to Financial Freedom (Calling Card Books, May 2022), Ryan shares the true story of his evolution from a troubled youth to a successful founder and CEO — and the many life and business lessons he learned along the way. He recounts the struggles he experienced in school, how he felt like an outsider at home, and the unexpected turns his life took, including some of the lowest points that eventually led him to where he is today. It was Ryan’s mom who first encouraged him to join the Fire Department Explorer Program, where the entrance exam transformed his mindset and gave him the confidence that would carry him through challenges he had yet to face.
Later, he discovered his passion for investing and financial education, becoming an expert in helping people protect their life savings from unnecessary risks and market fluctuations by creating tax efficiencies. In his practice at FirstLine Financial, he focuses on supporting retirees and transitioning boomers with all of their wealth management needs. Whether helping them grow assets for the future, or preserving and reallocating them in retirement, he utilizes a unique combination of time-tested strategies for both securities and insurance offerings.
Ryan and his wife, Kate, co-founder of FirstLine Financial, live in Scottsdale, Arizona. Together, they enjoy the hustle of being business partners and raising their two children, Mia and Bryson. For more information, please visit https://firstlinefin.com/.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Which one! Haha! One of the stories that really stands out is with my first career as a firefighter. I was working at Home Depot as a cashier; obviously it wasn’t my first choice when it came to a full-time job. However, it was all that presented itself at that time in my life. I was working on a busy Saturday afternoon when many started yelling very close to my cash register. I looked up to see a large column of thick black smoke coming from the paint aisle. The manager came across the loudspeaker and told everyone to evacuate the store. The fire alarms started blazing and it was chaos from that point forward. One of my responsibilities as a cashier was to evacuate a few isles if something were to happen. Well, my aisle was the paint aisle. Go figure! I ran over and everyone was already evacuated from my area. I stood there for a brief second as I watched in amazement this massive fire ball growing by the second. I ran out of the store and into the parking lot where we were all supposed to gather. After I arrived and verified that I was out of the store to my manager, I turned around and watched in awe! Thick black smoke was billowing out of the large sliding glass doors! Suddenly fire trucks started to arrive. I saw these firefighters jump out of these massive trucks with their bulky gear, grab their axes and started pulling these very large lines to go into battle! It was one of the most impactful days of my life! I watched these heroes vanish into the black smoke as they risked their lives that very day. After that, I watched that building burn to the ground that day. I was overwhelmed on what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Oh wow, there has been so many hard times in my life. I was a very poor student in school! I was placed in resource class for slow learners when I was younger. I just couldn’t keep up with the other kids when it came to academics. I was made fun of a lot for this reason during this period. Here is a little secret for the readers; I had one of my best friends from high school take a college math class for me. Needless to say, I got an “A” in the class. :) The fact is I never really applied myself when it came to school. When I started focusing on becoming a wealth advisor years later, I had to pass a very tough test called the Series 7. I never studied so hard in my life! For a year straight I tried to pass the test. On the final try and with my hopes slipping away, I managed to pass the 7-hour long test with a passing score. It just goes to show you that when you really apply yourself you can accomplish anything.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I am very determined and driven young man. I think when the chips are stacked against me, and all hope is lost that is when I’m at my best. My high school wrestling coach used to call me the comeback kid during very difficult matches. I would have my coaches, teammates, heck even my family, practically throwing in the towel before the match was truly ever over. They all thought hope was lost and I would lose the match. But that is when I thrived! I would get this impulse what is now known as the fire in my belly and would come back from a considerable deficit and in the last minute, win the match. I’ve always felt like the underdog growing up and I think that is really where it comes from. I was just like RUDY, which is one of my favorite movies by the way; 5 foot nothing 100 pounds and nothing without a spec of talent growing up. Well, strike that, I was fast! Like Forrest Gump fast! When I was in pop warner my dad who was the coach used to line the whole team on one side of the field and myself on another. He would blow the whistle and my objective was to get to the other end zone without anyone tackling me. Well, I would always manage to get to my destination. A lot of people overlooked me growing up because of my size. I might have been a small size, but I have a heart the size of Texas.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Fantastic, right now I’m in a really good space. To be honest, that is a big deal for me because as we all know life is tough. You can’t always be at your best or be at the highest level all of the time. In fact, I struggled with this when I was younger where I was not in a good head space and I found myself alone and sometimes depressed. But sometimes at your lowest points in life that is where you find yourself. This is why if you look up grit or resilience in the dictionary it would have my picture next to it! Haha! But seriously you do have to really do some soul searching when you find yourself at your lowest points in life. That is why I love inspirational movies where someone who has a tough upbringing or who is down on their luck finds the grit to come back later and accomplish things that many people wrote them off on or didn’t believe in them. I think that is probably the biggest factor that has led to my success in this life… tuning out all the negative noise. There are a lot of people out there who will make you feel bad to make themselves feel better or tell you you’re ugly when they’re truly the unhappy ones or try to suppress your vision so they can try to be the visionary. In the end a true leader will always come out on top, and he will bring a team with him that aligns with his visions and values. Where sometimes those people might even lay down their own life; the ultimate sacrifice because they believe in you and what you stand for.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I will need to revert back to when I first starting testing for the fire department. I had the opportunity to become a fire explorer which allows you to interact with full time firefighters. You are part of a young organization that allows you to do ride-a-longs on the fire trucks, go on calls with firefighters, cook, shop, and do everything else that a firefighter does in a 24-hr. period. This organization allowed me to really tailor in my craft! One of the Captains who oversaw the explorer program told me that I needed to start testing anywhere that had an open application process. He said don’t just do it for the fire department but any organization or job that allows you to get better at test taking and interview questions. I knew that anything that this man told me I was going to do to the best of my ability. One of the tests that opened up pretty quick was a police entrance exam. I decided to apply to get better at going through an interview process when my opportunity arrived. I did fairly well on the written portion of the test. The next part of the process was the physical aptitude. This part was the funniest part and I broke some records in the process. The final step before they offered you a job was the interview process. I arrived on the day of my interview at the police headquarters. I was very nervous as this was my very first interview conducted in this very professional manner. I believe I was only like 19 years old at the time. They brought me into a room with very high up members already seated at a table along with an HR employee. The first question that one of the officers asked me was why do I want to be a police officer. Well after my rambling mess which felt like lasted an eternity, I noticed that they all were kind of smirking and have already placed there pens down one minute into my answer. One officer asked son do you realize what you said? No sir! You told us “The reason why I want to be a firefighter is” Well needless to say that interview was over the very minute it started. They told me to go pursue my goal of becoming a firefighter and that is exactly what I did.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Well, I don’t think there are many firefighters who managed to start their own financial firm. I always try to break the molds or break the stigma. FirstLine Financial is truly built on putting clients first. Our mission is to be the last advisor a client ever has to work with. FirstLine Financial is essentially the first line of defense when it come to your money. We work hard to protect, insulate and grow client’s assets that they have worked a lifetime building. Many firms out there state that they do the same; however having the opportunity to work with a few reputable firms that is sometimes not the case. Remember I’m a blue-collar worker first and foremost! I have spent 20 years advocating for patient’s rights and performing tasks at the highest level during the most stressful times to protect and save lives. Now I’m essentially doing the same thing but just with client’s assets. One case that I talk about in my book Ladder to Leader is a client who came into my office and was just about to retire after 30 years from a chemical company. He didn’t have a lot saved for retirement and was looking after his wife’s father and was also still taking care of their son. After looking at his portfolio and establishing a baseline of what he wanted for his money to do in retirement, we determined he was taking on a massive amount of market risk with his assets. We quickly repositioned the portfolio to be more conservative and placed some guarantees within the plan. We set up an income plan that protected his assets from loss and provided a steady paycheck throughout retirement. He was very grateful for our services and as a sign of his appreciation he crochets a custom blanket for my newly born daughter that we still have to this day.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Well on the firefighting front I think the job is probably a lot more difficult today than it was 20 years ago. We are getting more calls and we are being exposed to more on the calls we run on. We have a very good work schedule. We work one day on for 24 hours and get then we get 48 hours off. This allows us to spend time with family, participate in extracurricular activities or just get away from the day-to-day craziness of the job. My biggest suggestion for those either coming on the job or for those who are further along into their career, is find something that your passionate about and jump in headfirst. Mine was finances! As I was working towards my financial advisor accreditation, I was involved in a lot of other side hustles and doing things to position myself to succeed in life. I am an entrepreneur at heart and was always starting businesses in the hopes that something would take off. I actually have a few patents out there for some of the products I built which not a lot of people know. “Burnout” comes from living and breathing the job as a firefighter and not having balance in your life. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes where guys take the calls home with them, and it affects their marriage. I love the job, but you need to know when to take a break and then don’t get too caught up in all the noise of being a firefighter! In regard to the financial space, I always urge new advisors to drop their egos at the door and always stay hungry and humble. I’ve seen to many wealth advisors go to work for someone who was willing to help them get their start, spend hours upon hours training them and then they get an ego, take everything that they learned and try to recreate it and fall miserably on their face. I believe in a team and lifting the people you work with to their highest potential. The ones who choose to get greedy and take from you have the wrong mindset and will have a long hard career. Remember Iron sharpens Iron!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In Chapter 6 of my book, I talk about my “The Trading Life”! I talk about how I got my start in the financial world. I really like this chapter in the book as I start to uncover some of my undiscovered passions in life. It all started when I attended a trading school to learn how to trade foreign currency or commonly referred to as the Forex markets. If you’re hearing this for this first time; then I was just like you when I heard about it myself in my 20’s. Forex? What the heck is that? Well after attending a 5-week course that was taught by some very experienced foreign currency traders and spending hours on things like candlesticks and supply/demand zones and back testing different strategies, I can honestly say that I found my new niche in life! Trading foreign currency was an addiction of mine for the next 4–5 years. I would come home from a long hard day as a firefighter, sleep for a couple hours after running calls all night, wake up throw some coffee down the hatch and jump on the computer for the next several hours and just study and back testing different charts. I just learned not to long ago that there is a certification that I never even knew about which is a Chartered Market Technician or CMT for short. These professionals who hold this CMT designation work for the major trading firms of the world and base all their research on technical charting like I did. My father-in-law had a good friend that was into trading FOREX. He had his own helicopter and was a very successful trading currency. He put me in contact with him and the rest was history! We would go on to manage, trade and implement very successful strategies for family, friends and our own accounts out of his own home. If it was not for him, I would of not of gotten to the level that I attained in my late 20’s as a trader. I’m forever grateful to this man!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
To be very honest I haven’t even scratched the service on this question the way that I want to. You see I grew up somewhat of a troubled kid. My parents main focus was to raise four kids, put food on the table and get us through school. My dad had to serve two tours while he was in the military; one of which was to fight for his country in the Desert Storm war. My mom worked as a cashier and did some part time work at a flower shop for some extra money to support the family. So, to say things were difficult for them is probably an understatement. So, growing up we didn’t have a-lot of money. I always wanted to have money to do the things that I really enjoyed. You know for things like buying a car, money to take girls out and obviously some money in the bank to buy some booze. Come on we all have done it, don’t judge too harshly! But then when I started really making serious money in my later years my mindset changed. You see I’m 44 now, been a firefighter for 21 years, started my own Registered Investment Advisory firm and now I’m venturing into public speaking in hopes to inspire and share my story on the biggest stages and alongside the biggest names in the industry. But this is all for a greater cause now! It’s not for cars, girls and booze anymore! My overall mission in this life; which I really had to do some soul searching for is to inspire and invest in others to make them successful. I’ve always have been an advocate for the people I serve! Whether that’s in the role as a firefighter or as fiduciary in the advisor role. If I can put others needs first, provide assistance when needed or invest in the next generation, I truly believe that I will have left my mark in this world. I hope to continue to make a difference in this world somehow. For God sakes we need change right now. There are a lot of people struggling and if I can fight for those who can’t fight for themself then so be it!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Patience, patience, patience, patience; and more patience! I think if you follow any successful entrepreneur, athlete or business owner, they will all say that “patience” is a lost art. Today’s society wants instant gratification and success. They are not willing to put in the leg work necessary and they don’t truly understand that nothing comes easy in this life. Once you finally accept that hard work is the greatest equalizer, then you have found the receipt for success. Hard work is what has gotten me where I’m at today. Becoming a firefighter is a very difficult process! There are times that one will compete with thousands of applicants for a handful of positions. I remember when I took my first fire department entrance exam. I believe I was 20 years of age and was working at Discount Tire. After studying for almost 3 months the day arrived to take the test. Knowing that test taking was my weakest point, I knew I would need to study harder than I ever have. The day finally arrived to take the test and when I arrived there was a line that stretched all the way around the colosseum where the test was being held. My stomach hit the floor and I thought this was an impossible feat. Three hours later and being one of the last applicants to finish, I walked out of the testing facility feeling completely defeated knowing I failed. I receive my test scores about a month later in the mail and was not surprised of what it read “FAIL”! I was a poor student and never applied myself when it came to academics. But here is what I will share with the readers. I continued to work hard at my craft! I would take practice test after practice test to prepare for the next opportunity. I spent hours working with a mentor on interview questions, interacted with as many firefighters as possible and was patient and beloved in the process. At the age of 22; I was offered a job as a firefighter from two of the largest fire department organizations in the State of Arizona. I was also ranked Number #1 on both list which is no easy feat. It was through patience, believing in myself, and a never fail attitude that I eventually accomplished my first goal of being a professional firefighter.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Being in the financial arena I have definitely seen my share of highs and lows when it comes to the financial markets. I’m 44 and have been in the retirement space for nearly 12 years now. I started FirstLine Financial approximately 7 years ago and have established my own RIA that truly allows me to look at all investment vehicles in the market today. I have seen some crazy things over the last decade in this space and with the pandemic and now the Ukrainian crisis I would say I’m somewhat of a seasoned advisor. I truly feel that having the most successful and smoothest ride when it comes to your money and the markets is having a diversified plan in place. Now some of the readers are probably rolling their eyes at this point on what I just said. Ryan so you’re telling me you’re just like everyone else who’s says build a diversified portfolio and stay the course! So, some years I will be up 30% and other years like 2008 I’m down 50%! Then at the end of the road I hope to have enough saved for retirement. We’ll not quite! I said diversified plan not portfolio. What do I mean? Well, we actually have a Trademark on our proprietary process that we take all of our clients through. It’s called the WRAP process “Written Retirement Action Plan. Once our clients go through this process, they will have a diversified plan in place that allows them to take advantage of the good times and the bad times in the market. Having a plan that allows investors to take advantage of the highs and lows in different markets cycles is so crucial. There are many tactics I now implement into my own personal plan as well as my clients plan to win the game! You can win this game it just takes the right leader and strategies to WRAP it all together for you!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. :-)
Wow this is a great question! What comes to mind right off the bat is I feel like some kids today haven’t experienced enough of the great outdoors. There is so much to learn about nature and about yourself in nature. So, if I could start a movement, I would open up more avenues where kids are able to go on more funded excursions through the school systems. I feel today there is a lot of troubled youths who don’t know how to find themselves in today’s society. Our society is growing rapidly and its starting to become one big melting pot. Kids today are growing up in closer proximity to each other. In my eyes this could have pros and cons all at the same time. They have more interaction through social media, gaming and through the public school system. I feel we are not getting them in touch as we once did to all that the world has to offer. I remember growing up we would take a-lot of school trips to zoos, museums, and even amusement parks. We were able to truly explore our surroundings and see what excites us in life. Now I feel parents are scared to let their kids out of their sight for too long. I don’t blame them! I have two kids myself and one who is getting ready to start preschool very soon. I’m scared because of what I’m seeing on the news about all the violence and shootings at the schools. But it all starts somewhere right! At the very beginning it starts with the parents teaching them right and wrong, good and bad and instilling good principles and values. But then it needs to be the other leaders in our kid’s lives, the teachers! I honestly believe we are losing the battle on this front. Teachers are the heartbeat of this country! They will interact with these kids as much as the parents will almost during their younger years of life. So, let’s empower them through more federal funding, allow them to take class trips, go experience the natural beauty of our lands. Allow the kids to breathe the fresh air and not worry about the judgment of what they wear or how they look all the time. Focus more on getting them grounded and not take life so seriously. Let them enjoy Mother Nature at its best through viewing things in the natural element. Let them feel small knowing there is a much bigger world than just the walls they see in their classrooms on a daily basis. This is a movement I would participate in!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can find us at www.firstlinefin.com to take advantage of some of the different services we offer. Also, you can find my book at any online bookstores such as Amazon, Target, Barnes and Noble etc. I will be doing public speaking engagements around the country. So, if you’re interested in learning more on that then you can go to www.laddertoleaderbook.com or follow @laddertoleader on instagram.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for having me!