As Your Company Grows, You Have to Unlearn Leadership Strategies with Ryan Hogan at Hunt A Killer

As your company grows, you have to unlearn leadership strategies that don’t work anymore. In the start-up phases of companies, the leadership is quite different than a more mature company. As you add people, you have to unlearn leadership that gets to the next level of growth. Today’s guest is Ryan Hogan, CEO at Hunt a Killer. Inc Magazine ranked its company #6 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. Hunt a Killer grew a fantastic 20,485% in revenue over the last three years. This company is a subscription service for your game nights if you are into murder mysteries. Ryan gives us a look at what it took for his company to grow at this pace. We discuss why you must unlearn leadership as you grow a company.

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Ryan Hogan: The Transcript

About: Ryan Hogan is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt a Killer, an immersive murder mystery game that challenges players to catch a killer through interactive monthly membership boxes and premium one-time experiences. Upon graduation from high school, Ryan enlisted in the Navy as an Aviation Warfare Systems Operator.


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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Ryan Hogan: [00:00:00] In the Navy or the military, if you’re a bad leader, like that person has to come in every single day. Like they have no opportunity to leave. In the civilian world, if they don’t move boss, they go find a new job and that’s statistically, why most people leave their job. They don’t like the culture. They don’t like they’re false. Very rarely. Is it going to make more money? And you know, so I, I think I’m learning that and not, not necessarily treating people with decency and respect because that, that should be in the military as well. But understanding that this is now a two-sided equation cause it’s not, two-sided in the military. You know, there there’s a bunch of other, other things you certainly have to unlearn in scaling and growing a business. But it’s just, it’s interesting that you keyed in on that because you know, leadership And, and fostering a culture that inspires and brings people around the common vision is one of the most important things you can do.

[00:00:51] Intro: [00:00:51] Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moment. Of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

[00:01:08] Gene Hammett: [00:01:08] Leadership is about constant evolution. When you evolve as a leader, you can create opportunities too, meet new challenges, hire the right people, build the right team and continue your journey of leadership. But here’s the reality. It’s hard. There’s a lot of things that pull you in different directions. A lot of meetings, a lot of emails that you get that keep you from evolving the way you want to. I know, I felt that way when I ran a business up to about five or 6 million, and I felt like I was doing the right things, but something kept getting in the way I was afraid to ask for help. Well, when you think tuning into this podcast, I want you to look at this as a chance to look at what others have done and what they’ve had to unlearn. If you will. In fact, today, we’re going to talk about unlearning leadership. That is with Ryan Hogan the founder of Hunt a Killer. They are one of the Inc 5,000 companies that have grown really fast. They’re gonna, they’re still on a trajectory to grow this year beyond belief. But when I share with you some of the insights behind, what did he need to unlearn as a leader of, you know, something that he took from the military to bring into civilian life, you will be able to see exactly what you could do next. If you want to continue your evolution as a leader, One of the other things we talked about was, you know, the importance of hiring the right people. What are the key elements of that? And so when you tune into this episode, you will learn a lot of different things to take your leadership to the next level.

[00:02:31] When I say evolving as a leader, hopefully, you think of a plan that you’re creating. Hopefully, you know, the skills that you’re adding on, you knew exactly what you could do. If you don’t know exactly what skills you’re adding, what’s your plan for that is that I’d like to offer you something really interesting. You have a chance to sit down with me, have a conversation about your business, your leadership, and your growth. And it’s absolutely free. I want to meet my audience and if you are. Got a team of 10 people, or more than you can go to my website, gene and go to start your journey.

[00:03:02] That will be a chance for you to learn how to put together the plan, identify the skills, and really get clear about how you’re evolving as a leader. Just go to and click on start your journey. Now here’s the interview with Ryan.

[00:03:16] Ryan? How are you?

[00:03:18] Ryan Hogan: [00:03:18] Good. How are you, Gene?

[00:03:19] Gene Hammett: [00:03:19] Fantastic. We’re having a great episode here for a growth think tank about leadership and the culture of fast-growth companies. So tell us about Hunt a Killer.

[00:03:28] Ryan Hogan: [00:03:28] Yeah. So a Hunt a Killer today is an immersive subscription experience where we deliver physically. Items to your door each month. So each month you’ve received clues and items and correspondence and, and it immerses you in this universe that we have created.

[00:03:44] Gene Hammett: [00:03:44] Well, you’re a business model subscription. So you have lots of, users and you’ve grown really fast. What, what’s been the key there.

[00:03:51]Ryan Hogan: [00:03:51] So there’s, there’s, there have been quite a few keys for sure. You know, one is, is performance marketing has certainly been in our favor over the past few years. You know, we have really found ways to unlock you know, digital advertising. So things like Facebook and YouTube and other platforms where we can go out and spend a few bucks and get a few more bucks back. And so that that’s really been kind of the driver of, of the top-line growth, but the driver of the business growth has really come back to the members and our feedback loop process. So really starting to focus on listening and curating these communities around our brand which gives us the elite to not only pivot and iterate the experiences as we continue to develop. But also provide that, that community for members to be able to come back to and find a whole bunch of people that. You know, are, are like-minded and have a similar conversation.

[00:04:42] Gene Hammett: [00:04:42] When you come from a real military background, tell us a little bit about that. You spent almost 20 years in the Navy.

[00:04:49] Ryan Hogan: [00:04:49] Almost 20 years. He had 20 years in a couple of years. So, I enlisted back in November of 2002. I was an enlisted aircrewman, so I flew on helicopters and did a whole bunch of cool stuff. As far as mine countermeasures and then transitioned from that and to test and development on helicopters. Ultimately got commissioning in the Navy and put on the rank events and moved out to San Diego and drove ship out for years. But that’s when I was also in the middle of hunter-killer and the killer killers in the middle of taking off. So. That’s a killer, provided an opportunity for me, to follow my passions and my dreams and get alpha or get out of active duty and join the reserves.

[00:05:27] Gene Hammett: [00:05:27] One of the things I’ve seen from a lot of leaders across the fast-growth companies, and even outside of that is coming back into leading a team of civilians is a little bit of an adjustment. You have to unlearn some things. What are some of the things that you had to unlearn to be the leader that you are today?

[00:05:44] Ryan Hogan: [00:05:44] Yeah. It’s, it’s really funny that you say that. Cause I’ve got a mastermind that I lead and we’ve got a couple of bets in there and hearing about like, just getting the job done and you know, how do I make these people do what I need them to do? And that’s kind of the difference, right? The difference between the military and civilian is. People have the ability to walk away in the Navy or the military, if you’re a bad leader like that person has to come in every single day. Like they have no, no opportunity to leave. In the civilian world, if they don’t wear boss, they go find a new job and that’s statistically why most people leave their jobs. They don’t like the culture. They don’t like their boss. Very rarely is it going to make more money? And you know, so I think I I’m learning that I’m not. Not necessarily treating people with decency and respect because that, that should be in the military as well. But understanding that this is not like two sides of the equation cause it’s not, two-sided in the military. You know, there there’s a bunch of other, other things you, you certainly have to unlearn in, in scaling and growing a business. But It’s just, it’s interesting that you keyed in on that because you know, leadership and fostering a culture that inspires and brings people around the common vision is one of the most important things.

[00:06:54] Commentary: [00:06:54] Ryan just talked about two-sided leadership. What he means here is that it takes two people to lead to two sides. It takes, you know, again and again, because you can’t lead without others. When you think about your leadership, are you treating your employees in a way that they are seeing this as two-sided, you’re asking them to take ownership of this and they’re accepting that ownership when you actually understand that it’s not just one way, meaning you tell them, do that. It’s a two-way relationship. The dialogue between you two can change. Now, I mentioned this to you because obviously, you know that you’ve got two people involved, but are you truly treating it as a two-way relationship, or are you treating it one way? Back to Ryan.

[00:07:37] Gene Hammett: [00:07:37] Well, it’s very much common across so many of the episodes we’ve done here with other founders and CEOs. When you think about your journey as leadership and where you are right now, what is one thing specifically that you had to maybe learn the hard way?

[00:07:50]Ryan Hogan: [00:07:50] Become a human, you know, I think for the first 10 years of my enlisted career there is a, and still to this day, there is a very. A clear distinction between officer and enlisted and different branches have had different widths of those lines. But in the Navy, like the officers eat in the wardroom and the enlisted eat in the chow hall. Or on the mess deck and there’s this separation and my discovery as a young enlisted sailor was always like, oh my gosh, they do no wrong. And they’re always professional. And like, they’ve got all their, their crap squared away. Which is interesting. Cause then when I became an officer, I realized it’s just as much of a debacle on the other end that it is on, on either side. But that was one of the things that I took with me through my first company or the first company that actually got off the ground. And ultimately. Failed. And like, I always saw that had to have this persona, not, not a persona of like, Hey, look at me, I’m important. But a persona of like, I am not human. I am what you believe me to be. You know, there is a clear distinction between you and me and it didn’t work. It didn’t foster a culture, of inspiration. Apologies for that. It’s the dog that didn’t foster a culture of it didn’t inspire anybody. And so one of the things with this second go-round was really starting to focus on just being real, like, you know, talking to people. I don’t have to wear the clothes that, that people I’m not supposed to wear a suit and fancy shoes. Like it’s really just about being human and being who you are.

[00:09:21] Gene Hammett: [00:09:21] I pick up on some words, sometimes it’s part of the coach in me. You’ve said the word inspire a few times here. Why is that word so important to you?

[00:09:27]Ryan Hogan: [00:09:27] Cause that’s how work gets done. Like we, we have passionate and inspired about what we’re doing. Like if you’re working for a paycheck as most people do in the military, a lot of people do in the military, you know, are you giving your best effort? Are you going above and beyond? Like when people are inspired and passionate and committed to whatever the vision is of the company. They will solve problems on their own and it takes less direction. And that’s, that’s been the key to our success at this point is it’s really about hiring the right folks and getting out of their way. Well, if you don’t hire the right folks, or if those folks aren’t inspired, you get out of it, get out of their way. They don’t know what to do. But if you hire folks that already understand what needs to be done, typically, they’re the ones telling you what to do. Or what the company should be doing differently. And that’s really where you start to see organizational change, but that stuff doesn’t happen if people are not, not passionate, or don’t believe in the vision of the organization.

[00:10:21] Gene Hammett: [00:10:21] Speaking some of the languages that I talk about all the time with my clients that want to Excel and create a culture of ownership. Is that something you think about creating, creating a sense of ownership, or feeling of ownership across the county?

[00:10:34] Ryan Hogan: [00:10:34] Yes, absolutely. And ownership is, is important. I saw a great quote a couple of months ago and it was how can we expect people to act like owners if they aren’t owners? And so I think ownership as a foundation actually starts with. Equity incentive programs. And so, you know, if, if we’re just paying a check, like is real ownership, if there’s no vested interest in the success of the organization. So I think it starts with that and that’s just kind of table stakes the foundation. And from there it grows and that’s not to say that, whatever strategy you have is going to be perfect because our organization has hit these inflection points, time and time again, where things change. And you know, all day long, you can say, Hey, if you see something, fix it. Or if you see something do something and that’s really been our motto lately. But the minute you have a new team or a new department and they are taking over responsibilities that used to have, it’s not malicious, it’s just human nature. That. When you see a problem, you’re like, oh, there’s a team for that. They got it. And it starts to kind of break down that, that, that ownership and that accountability and put these stovepipes in place. And so we focus a lot of our energy today on breaking those types of things down so that we’re just finding problems and we’re, we’re coming up with great stuff.

[00:11:46] Commentary: [00:11:46] I’m not sure if you’ve caught that, but Ryan just talked about ownership and the need for equity programs. A very powerful way to create ownership is by giving them actual equity. And that is one way to create that feeling of ownership, but I’ve been studying fast-growth companies and you don’t have to actually give up equity. This is one place where Ryan and I might disagree on this, but you can actually create leadership that inspires people to feel like owners. Without equity, you can give them a place where they feel like they’re growing with time. There is aligned not only for their growth but the company growth. They can feel truly connected. They feel transparent and open. They feel a part of the mission, the vision of the company, and all that can happen. If you have the right things in place and you don’t need equity, that’s just my 2 cents. But hopefully, you will find your path to creating a culture of ownership because that’s what I think is important. If you want your company to grow. Back to Ryan.

[00:12:40] Gene Hammett: [00:12:40] I want to take you back to something. You said Ryan, about hiring the right people. You know, it’s, it’s always been a tough job market. It’s really tough to find the most talented people to grow the business. When you say hire the right people, what are the kinds of things you’re looking for? Or what’s that process look like for you? That, that makes that possible.

[00:12:56] Ryan Hogan: [00:12:56] Yeah. So the first thing, and I think we’ve got a pretty good process that, that I’m competent. And then it takes a long time and we have some, we took some pages from the book of who and so like the first thing we do is a phone screening. Second is the, who interviewed third is the focused interview and all of these have, have different objectives. And once someone gets through our process, they have not only been tested for like, What has their experience brought to life that, that they can bring from a value standpoint to the organization, but also that culture adds we’re looking for. So will they fit, do they understand that the values of hunter-killer, like what we hold near and dear who we are? And will they be good value adds for those values? So like those are some things, but one thing that, that has become crystal clear and through some of my most recent senior leadership team hiring is a clear crystal clear understanding of not only who are you looking for, but what are you looking for? And all too often, you know, especially when you have a growth scaling organization. And it’s just like, you know, HR or somebody, the hiring manager comes and, or the recruiting person comes and says like, Hey, I need a job description and you just go online, you Google the job description and you just copy and paste it into your own and you kick it back like that.

[00:14:11] Does nobody really any good? There is something very specific that you need for your organization and it doesn’t come from a template. And so we have spent a lot of time recently putting extra effort into job descriptions to clearly articulate. Not only what is this person going to do, but what does success look like in this role? And once we believe that we’ve got a crystal clear picture of that, then we go to the market to start interviewing candidates because we’ve got a scorecard that we’re looking at, that we can use to grade the potential of the candidates that we’re interviewing.

[00:14:42] Gene Hammett: [00:14:42] I ask you a question. I don’t know the answer. You may not have an answer to this, but do you have a favorite interview question to find the right people.

[00:14:47] Ryan Hogan: [00:14:47] I don’t and like, listen, 10 years ago, we used to have the, Hey, if you could be any food, what would you be? Or if you could be, if you could have one superhero power, what would that be? And what I have learned is that, is that when you do a deep dive on someone’s resume and the deep dive on the resume is. Okay. What did you do there? Great. What was your, what was your biggest win there? And you start really digging into when, when the value that they brought to that organization and the strategy and the fault process like that uncovers a lot more than just learning that someone wants to be invisible so they can, I don’t know, walk to, through a bank terminal. I don’t, whatever they do with those superhero powers. So like we really tend to not go into the crazy questions, but really into the fundamental questions. Start to uncover what we believe they can bring to our organization.

[00:15:33] Gene Hammett: [00:15:33] I appreciate that. I’ve never been a big fan of the crazy questions either that we used to throw around. Right. I want to go back to this whole concept of leadership. You’ve obviously had, some ups and downs in business. What’s a mistake that you can look back and say, you know, that was hard for me to learn and evolve from, but. I’m glad I went through it.

[00:15:50] Ryan Hogan: [00:15:50] Yeah. And we’ve touched on the hiring. And so I’ll leave that one out for now. Cause I think that there’s nothing more important than hiring the right people into the right roles. And getting the job done. Outside of that, it’s really starting to understand the fundamentals of the business. And so, you know, the collapse of run for your lives. What that really taught me is that you need to know your numbers and you need to understand what those key metrics are that drive your business. This year we implemented a system called the entrepreneurial operating system EOS and we have been super disciplined in not only articulating what our five-year target is, breaking that down into a three-year goal, breaking that down into the one-year goal, and then really starting to look at what are our 90-day rocks to be able to achieve those goals that build up to that grand vision. You know, but, but also using that as a system and a process to understand what are the key metrics or key drivers of the business. So every single we come together as a senior leadership team, and we’ve got about 10 data points that we look at that are either red or green. It’s either good or it’s bad. And if it’s good. Great. And if it’s bad, great, like we’ve acknowledged it and now let’s drop it down for a discussion and figure out how we can come together as a team to resolve whatever that issue may be. So that’s been the biggest lesson.

[00:17:02] Gene Hammett: [00:17:02] When you think about how you’re continuing to evolve as a leader, what’s the hardest part of your next version of yourself as a leader?

[00:17:09]Ryan Hogan: [00:17:09] For me, it’s, it’s really about and this goes back to how quickly we’re growing. It’s what does the organization need from me? And not just as a, as a leader because, you know, I think, you know, understanding fundamentals to me are, are understanding what obstructions and roadblocks exist and being able to remove them for teammates you know actually caring about teammates in the future and trajectories and things like that. And a lot of these things are table stakes from a leadership standpoint, I think from, a CEO slash leadership standpoint, but the. The hardest thing for me is to constantly reevaluate. What does the organization need from me? If you looked at my role four years ago, I was buying ads on Facebook while you know, hiring an HR manager while you know, answering customer support question.

[00:17:53]Today 30 to 40% of my time is spent in recruiting. So, you know, for me, the biggest challenge as we continue to grow is understanding where does my focus needs to be? And where do I provide the most value to the organization?

[00:18:07] Gene Hammett: [00:18:07] Well, I can appreciate that. You’re always evolving. I am too. My clients are people listening in here, always evolving. So I appreciate you sharing your journey with us here on the podcast.

[00:18:17] Ryan Hogan: [00:18:17] Yeah. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

[00:18:18] Gene Hammett: [00:18:18] So this wraps up and yeah, another episode of a growth think tank, where we talked to leaders like Ryan who are really pushing the boundaries of their own leadership. They’re unlearning some of the things that maybe they can’t carry forward in this next version of themselves. And we create content for you because you want to be a visionary leader. You want to create the kind of impact in the business. You want to hire the right people, build the right team. We want to talk about ways that we do that through coaching. Make sure you check out as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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