Ryan Paugh and his company Young Entrepreneur Council, an organization that provides established entrepreneurs with the resources and social capital they need to succeed, are among the founding members of WeWork South Station.
Now well over 1,000 members, YEC has skyrocketed from its small beginnings of a team of two 20-somethings to an established resource in the entrepreneurial community. However, like most great companies, it was not a seamless journey to the top.
Paugh graduated from Penn State, applied for a “normal” job, and traveled down the path of adulthood. He quickly felt the pains of career dissatisfaction. In an effort to stay motivated, he filled the gaps with bigger and better things. He started a blog with his freshman roommate, Ryan Healy, about Generation Y in the workforce.
“I sort of encapsulated that person that every media outlet was writing about five years ago – this narcissistic Gen Y person that can’t settle down and get a job and is just terrible to work with,” Paugh said. “I was trying to be the voice that’s part of our generation and fight those stereotypes.”
What started as a hobby ended up sparking his career as a community voice and connector. Paugh and Healy received calls from major media outlets to speak on the Gen Y mentality, including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, 20/20 and 60 Minutes.
With their newfound fame, the duo attracted the attention of Penelope Trunk, author, blogger, and career advice expert. Leaving behind their homes in New Jersey and Washington D.C., they moved across the country to Madison, Wis., where they started their first venture with Trunk, Brazen Careerist.
Paugh took on the role of community builder and created an online engagement platform that connected employers, universities, and partners through virtual recruiting, career, and networking events.
While at Brazen Careerist, he met Scott Gerber, a serial entrepreneur who was working on the initial idea of YEC. Gerber asked Paugh to participate in press and media opportunities and flush out the idea of an exclusive organization that would support and grow entrepreneurship.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool it would be to partner with Scott and turn this into something bigger,” Paugh said. “We just started moonlighting while we were doing our original businesses on the side and thinking through ideas. I would go down to New York, and we’d walk around the city all day and brainstorm, and then we’d go back to working on our existing businesses.”
Gerber and Paugh soon decided that there was a viable business model and enough value to make people want to get involved. They took a leap and stepped out of their businesses and into the vision of YEC.
Fast-forward four years, Paugh is now the COO of YEC and a first-time father to 10-month-old Josie. He has a whole new set of challenges to overcome, but he says that being a father has made him a better leader, a better entrepreneur, and has given him more perspective on the importance of family and a strong work-life balance.
“I feel more motivated now to be great at what I do than I had ever been in the past,” he said. “I have someone to live up to that I want to be successful for and that I want to be that hero for. [Fatherhood] changes everything.”
Paugh continues to be a hands-on leader. He stays involved in his employees’ lives both in and outside of work and jokingly admits that he is sometimes too involved. He started a policy of work remote Fridays to give his team a sense of flexibility and said it has proven to increase overall productivity.
“One thing I’ve always valued and tell every new member of my team is that you have to have a good work-life balance and you have to have a great set of relationships outside of the office,” Paugh said. “Your happiness outside of work is going to impact your happiness in work and vice versa.”
When asked what he sees for his future and the future of YEC, Paugh said that he doesn’t have an exit strategy. He sees himself staying with YEC, building his team, and growing the organization to help their members be more successful.