Ryan Thogmartin is the founder of Disrupt Media & Connecting Directors. Ryan is married to his lovely wife, Khali Thogmartin. They are raising two beautiful daughters, Kihryn (age 14) and Kwynce (age 12). They currently reside in Zanesville, Ohio and like to visit their condo in Park City, Utah in their spare time.
Though born in Lexington, Kentucky, his family moved to Millersport, Ohio when he was a child. At an early age, Ryan felt he had an entrepreneur spirit within him. Shortly after completing high school, he started a company that built sports websites and sold advertising into the local community for those websites. During his first year of college in 2002, Ryan continued operating his business from his dorm room. But after his freshman year, he decided that college was not right for him. He felt that he was being groomed to go into a corporate job, but his entrepreneur side told him this was not the direction he wanted to take. “It just wasn’t part of my DNA,” Ryan proclaimed. “I just knew I didn’t want to be dependent on someone else for my income, so it just wasn’t my thing.”
After dropping out of college, he continued to work his business. During this time, in 2004, he met Khali. Shortly after meeting Khali, he sold his company, and soon after they decided they wanted to get married. With the responsibility of starting a family, Ryan was concerned that he would need a steady job. So, Khali convinced Ryan to consider going to work for her father, who owned a vault company. “I knew absolutely nothing about that business,” Ryan recalls. “I had no idea what a vault was or what I would be doing. I just knew I needed a job.”
In October 2004, Ryan began his new job and started in the manufacturing side of the business. “I started out pouring concrete, stripping molds, painting vaults, and anything they needed me to do,” he said. “I quickly learned that manual labor was not my thing whatsoever.”
Ryan and Khali got married in 2005 and he wanted more responsibility within the business. So, at his wife’s urging, he discussed with his father-in-law the opportunity to move into sales. After 2 years in manufacturing, Ryan was given that opportunity – which would change the course of his life forever.
After making many sales calls to funeral homes, he quickly learned that they were lacking in one important area – marketing. Specifically, the funeral homes were missing a robust technology perspective and were not correctly marketing their businesses or engaging online.
In October 2007, he had an idea. He went to his father-in-law and told him that he wanted to start blogging about some of the conversations he was having with funeral homes and how technology and online marketing could improve their businesses, offering to come in early and stay late to make this happen. In the beginning he would come into the office and spend a few hours writing and blogging, then he would move on to making his regular sales calls.
Though at first, this was just a labor of love for Ryan, and something he worked on in his spare time, the experience of writing content for the blog unexpectedly gave way to his first business, Connecting Directors. Today, Connecting Directors is an online news publication that provides content, daily funeral industry news, information, and trends. It currently reaches 45,000 funeral directors per month and has 25,000 subscribers to its daily email. He did not realize, at first, that this side initiative would one day become a thriving business.
Unfortunately, in August 2010 Ryan was in a serious car accident and suffered several serious injuries. Over the next 3 months he was not able to walk and spent his time recovering. During that time, he had an idea and decided to discuss it with his wife. “I told her I was going to start a social media company,” he recalls. “I don’t remember her reaction, but I think she probably was not very excited or thrilled at the time.”
Because of that conversation, and the unfortunate events that moved him to consider it, a new business was born. Disrupt Media is a social media agency that helps funeral home, cemeteries, and suppliers with their social media strategy.
In May 2012, Ryan left the vault company to focus full-time on Connecting Directors and Disrupt Media. Initially, Disrupt Media worked with many small businesses, with most of its clients residing outside of the deathcare industry. But in August 2014 he made the decision that Disrupt Media would focus solely on the deathcare industry. It was a difficult decision, but they informed their current clients that they were changing their focus and over 12 months they let their contracts expire. Now, they could pursue their mission of becoming the go to company in the deathcare industry, focusing on helping any business looking to have and execute a comprehensive social media strategy. Today, Disrupt Media has become a Facebook agency partner, employees a team of 27 and works with over 200 brands in the deathcare space across North America.
Ryan enjoys many things about what he does, but he enjoys most the opportunity to have challenging conversations with a prospect or customer. “I enjoy when I have a conversation with a funeral director who is against social media marketing, but it is gratifying when they realize why it is valuable,” says Ryan. “In addition, I really enjoy seeing the impact of the content we create for our customers and how it impacts the consumer they work with. It is very gratifying when we hear our customers tell us that their customers tell them that they had interacted with their content prior to doing business with them.”
Ryan also indicated there are many challenging aspects of his job. He explained that it is a great challenge to overcome a customers preconceived notion, but it is just as challenging to work with funeral professionals that are reluctant to embrace technology or social media. “It is always difficult to get them to understand the value of content and brand building,” he indicated. “It takes a great deal of time and hand-holding, but it is always worth the time in the end as they realize how valuable it is.”
There are many things that Ryan is proud of about his life and his business. But he takes exceptional pride in the non-traditional approach he takes to his business. “I believe authenticity is better than conformity,” Ryan proudly states. “I wish that when I first started my business, I would not have taken other opinions so personal or close to heart. I was not a suit and tie guy. I would wear my hat backwards and my ripped jeans in my videos. Initially that may have turned some people off. But I have learned to be true to myself and now most people appreciate it. I am authentic, and so is my company. We may do things a little different, but we still do it the right way.” He concluded by saying, “I think that now people have an appreciation for what I do that didn’t exist when I first started my business many years ago. I think part of building our strong brand is rooted in the fact that we did not conform and went against the grain. We have not wavered from who we were then or who we are today.”
Though successful in his pursuits, Ryan has not rested on his laurels. “I do not feel I have made it by any means,” he is quick to point out. “I am proud of the brand that we have built but also feel we still have a long way to go. I am very authentic with my brand, and authentic to who I am as an individual. I think many people have an appreciation for doing things a different way.”
In looking back now, Ryan hopes people understand the type of man he is trying to be. “I use the same philosophy all the time,” he says. “Not only for my business, but also for the type of father and husband I try to be. Because this is a family-oriented profession, my company is also very family oriented. My wife is COO of the company and she and my kids travel with me to all the industry events.”
Ryan is most proud that he has been able to get people to change their perceptions of how they market their business. He is proud of his business, his team, and the change they have been able to make together the in the industry.
Ryan has some sound advice for his peers. “Remember that sometimes we think we know what the consumer wants, and we think they expect us to act a certain way,” he proclaims.” Often, we take ourselves more seriously than the consumer does. At the end of the day, the consumer wants us to be human. They do not expect funeral professional to be unemotional, or have a wall up, they want you to be approachable. They want you to be authentic to who you are. By doing so, this will break down a lot of the stereotypes that the consumers have about the deathcare industry. Challenge yourself to think about why you got in the funeral profession to begin with. Go back to that moment when you knew this was what you were going to do for the rest of your life. Be true to yourself, because we tend to get molded into what we think people want, but what they really want is for you to be authentic and real.”
In closing, Ryan says to remember something particularly important.” Things are not going to stay the same forever,” he says. “COVID-19 has made us realize that we must be fluid. We must be able to change if we want to remain relevant. Be nimble and be flexible.” FBA