Editor’s note: This member Q&A was written just prior to the COVID19 outbreak hitting our community. Much has changed in the few short weeks since then, but we still wanted to share this piece in its original form. For a follow up with Ryan talking about how COVID19 is affecting his business, and how he things the experience will impact Kitsap in positive ways, see COVID19 Is Changing Kitsap in 3 GOOD Ways.
Ahhh. Sitting in the popular high-backed charcoal sofas that form the heart of Vibe’s café is the perfect place to get to know someone whose openness and friendliness have already made an impression.
When you get up close and personal with Ryan Denny, owner of Trash Transporter, you have an immediate sense of old-fashioned courtliness peppered with boy-next-door familiarity and “aw-shucks” chuckles (the best combination of city slicker meets cowboy). Is the young and not-so-restless Clint Eastwood in the house?
Ryan radiates decency in all he undertakes as an indefatigable 21st century entrepreneur. It’s no surprise that his company, Trash Transporter, is enjoying a 25% growth year after year; no surprise that his man-on-the-street marketing style is a stealth weapon that performs. More about that in a moment.
First on the agenda: Ryan was recently named one of Kitsap’s 20 Under 40—a hugely meaningful award that recognizes leading individuals under the age of 40 who are making important contributions to the Kitsap community through their talent, leadership, and innovation.
“For me, that recognition will always serve as a reminder that if you surround yourself with qualities you admire or interests you share, amazing things will happen,” admits Ryan.
“I include in that a willingness to share blunders, insecurities, and lessons learned. That’s the secret to an authentic connection.”
While some of Trash Transporter’s success can be attributed to Google Ads, its most powerful tool relies on relationships built with property managers, realtors, construction companies, and homeowners. “When you put a face to business, it goes a long way. And looking somebody in the eye, talking to them like a real person who has a need or problem, is organic. It goes a lot further (and is more sustainable) than guerrilla marketing online, in my opinion,” he says emphatically.
How was Trash Transporter born?
Ryan: In 2009, I was focused on getting a brainchild service off the ground called Valet Trash. Its goal was to bring resident refuse from the doorsteps of apartment complexes to the compactor or dump area, sometimes 300+ yards away. After a couple years of going door-to-door and not gaining traction, property managers started asking me to clean out dumpster areas where someone had tossed a mattress or old couch or the like. I’d always tell them “No, that’s not what I do.”
After two years of grinding it out, I pivoted, going to every apartment complex I could find in the county and offering to clean up their dumpster/compactor area. That’s what people really needed. Soon, this “junk removal” service spread like wildfire.
Have you discovered any hidden treasures?
Ryan: Along the way, Trash Transporter has picked up everything from 572 bottles of perfume (dropped off at Goodwill) and a rock collection that filled an entire garage to the ceiling. My most treasured find? My girlfriend Sydney—her parents were former clients. “We’ve been together two years, and she’s my teammate.” (Read more on her below.)
You’re one of the Vibe members who likes to work standing up.
Ryan: Yes! The ability to do ‘desk’ work from a standing position has been a game changer for me, like Vibe. Many of our health-related issues stem from a more sedentary lifestyle. We’re forcing ourselves to conform by sitting down at a desk rather than working how we’re designed to. It’s taken five years to rehab my back from sports, junk removal, sitting, and texting (text neck). One of the most healing elements has been standing in my favorite Vibe corner all day. It’s really effective for me.
You’re also a people person.
Ryan: Whether it’s personally or professionally, nothing matters without people: no achievement, misstep, lesson-learned, no endeavor, failure, triumph. None of these things has meaning without other people to share them with. People are what connect you to the world.
In my work, I’d been going it alone for a long time. I was stunting my growth exponentially, in ways I didn’t even realize. We need others as a sounding board for ideas, to tell us when we’re messing up, when we’re heading in the right direction, to learn from, to challenge us, to show up for, and on and on. I think of the Forbes quote by Michael Simmons (African Proverb): “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
How would you describe responsible disposal?
Ryan: Trash Transporter works with Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, Habitat for Humanity, and recycling facilities for the donations and material we collect. Another example: Fiber Yards recycles metal and concrete. It’s the right thing to do and it saves on dump costs. At Trash Transporter, we’ve diverted over 600,000 pounds from entering the land-fill last year alone.
What’s your favorite thing about Vibe?
Ryan: Connection. Productivity. But I think it goes back the isolation of entrepreneurship. Vibe helps you minimize all of that by surrounding you with exceptionally talented and like-minded members.
If you’re headed out for a romantic dinner in Kitsap, where would you go?
Ryan: Paella Bar in downtown Poulsbo for drinks or tapas. It’s got that unique sabor, Spanish for flavor (culture and food-wise). After all, Spanish is a romance language! I love the warm, vibrant culture and flair of that place. For New Year’s, my girlfriend and I went to the Agate Pass Café on Bainbridge Island. Incredibly delicious. And the attention to detail, quality product, and stellar service make it a sublime evening.
Do you have a hobby?
Ryan: Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. It’s so engaging to have a complete space to in which to open up, a respite from all the fray of business ownership and everyday life. Jiu-jitsu is also very difficult; it humbles you by demonstrating that other stuff doesn’t matter. Get your priorities straight.
I heard a quote about combat sports that has always stuck out me:
“Fighting is high-level problem-solving, with dire physical consequences.”
Jiu-jitsu just hits on a bunch of notes for me. Physicality, problem-solving, creativity, competitiveness, endless growth (potential), camaraderie, total engagement, and presence.
You know that look on your dog’s face after you play catch with him for hours on end, his eyes are totally relaxed with his tongue out, breathing heavy, not a care in the world? That’s the same feeling I get every time I finish practicing Jiu-Jitsu.
Ryan: Don’t mistake movement for progress.
You could be in a rocking chair, furiously rocking, but you’re not going anywhere. That’s helped me a lot; I think about it all the time.
What does being named a Leadership Kitsap 20 Under 40 mean to you?
Ryan: It was really a breakthrough moment for me—into a whole different mindset. Winning the Leadership Kitsap 20 Under 40 award was completely unexpected and humbling. The program cemented in my mind the importance of people, having peers to relate to and relationships that foster growth. There was also a breakout aspect of being celebrated that helped to free me from a cage I’d built around myself.
How about some top advice for entrepreneurs and startups?
Ryan: Ask yourself, do you want to own a job, or a business?
If the answer is the latter, you need to think about your business as a franchise prototype you’re creating, even if you never plan on franchising. You need to have the systems in place that will allow you to make money without exchanging hours of your life for it. The business needs to work without you.
People are the biggest variable in business. Systems are what create control out of the chaos. Obviously, there are other very important factors when it comes to human beings, including company culture and leadership, but the systems need to be in place first, creating the framework upon which to build.
If you want to be an owner, your number one job is to grow the business, not get caught in the minutiae and details of running it (although this is inevitable, and, I promise, there are details to be caught up in at every level).
It is at those moments, when I’m down in the weeds or want perspective, that I ask myself this question. It instantly helps me decide if I need to systematize what I’m doing, or it confirms I’m making the most of my time, moving the business forward.
Tell us a bit about the impact that Vibe Coworks has had on you.
Ryan: Up until about a year and a half ago or so, I’d been working from home. I’d been working from home for nearly a decade, and it was extremely isolating—more isolating than I even realized at the time. Instead of creating the freedom everyone imagines having with owning a small business, I trapped myself inside my own creation.
I was completely stagnant and caught up in the momentum of the day to day. I knew something had to change. I began a journey of putting myself out there and saying “Yes” to things.
As soon as I came into Vibe, I felt surrounded by peers for the first time. All of this made for exponential growth for Trash Transporters in the past year. In a matter of months, I went from working at home, staring at a computer screen, to staring into a crowd of hundreds of movers and shakers from our community (when I was on stage at the 20 Under 40 Awards).
I’m beyond grateful for a place like Vibe. Being here instantly connected me to a group of people who are doing and it has played a massive part in my mental shift.
There’s a funny story behind the best disposal experience you’ve ever had. Can you share that with us?
Ryan: Eight years ago, I did junk removal for a family living on Lemolo Shore in Poulsbo. Six years later, at the 2018 Annual Viking Fest, I’m standing at the bar ordering a drink and I started making small talk with a woman next to me who looked familiar.
After chatting for a moment, she introduced me to her husband, who was celebrating his birthday, and the rest of the group they were with. We were all hanging out and having a great time. Soon we realized how we knew each other. The wife said, “I have you in my phone! Under ‘Junk Removal Guy’!” It was at her home that I’d done that job for six years earlier.
We were laughing about the “small town” connection when she said she wanted to introduce me to somebody. It was her daughter, Sydney, who finally arrived at the party. We immediately hit it off. Syd and I spent the entire night talking and getting to know one another, eventually closing the place down. It makes me laugh to think this was the first time in my life I’d actually met a significant other’s family before meeting them. Since that first fortunate meeting, I haven’t spent a single day without Syd.
Meet the author: Vibist Susan O’Meara is a Poulsbo-based freelance writer, editor and journalist with global experience. Back in the day, Susan did event marketing for the electrified Don King, boxing’s bad-boy biz whiz. Then she got roped into writing and producing TV spots for Love Boat: The Next Wave, the ‘90s reboot, and nonfiction programming for Showtime (e.g., Roswell: The Real Story). She’s not sure which was more surreal—going with the flow of those Hollywood highs, so to speak, or navigating Nairobi’s magazine scene. Susan has worked in the US and abroad for the likes of Bloomberg Media, Deloitte, Discovery Communications, and the United Nations. She’s obsessed with wrangling language and messaging that helps brands, businesses, and individuals to grow and shine. Except when it comes to Don King’s hair.