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The Fun Empire’s Ryan Ho (McIntire ’14) on Entrepreneurship, Importance of Team Building

August 6, 2018
The Fun Empire team

Ryan Ho says he always had an entrepreneurial itch. Spurred on by the excitement of creating and growing his own business, he founded a fashion e-commerce website and an online tutoring platform after graduating high school. Though both attempts yielded unremarkable profits, the experiences were enough to stoke his interest to learn more and hone his skills—ultimately leading him to apply to McIntire.

Upon graduation from the Comm School, Ho joined McKinsey & Company as a Management Consultant and worked on several digital-related projects that used technology to enhance existing business models and enable entirely new ones. “It was fascinating to observe how even traditional industries were actively leveraging the latest technologies such as automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence to transform how they compete and operate,” Ho says.

His interest piqued, he took a leave of absence for a three-month programming boot camp in San Francisco. Armed with his new knowledge—and given some helpful advice from supportive mentors at McKinsey—Ho decided to get back to his entrepreneurial roots.

Returning to his native Singapore, where, he notes, the government provides a wealth of resources for startup businesses, Ho developed a feasible go-to-market strategy and launched a company that hosts creative team-building events ranging from playing soccer in bubble suits to group painting sessions. The venture is no joke: Ho’s company, The Fun Empire, has organized more than 5,000 events for over 300,000 participants since its inception three years ago.

We sat down with Ho to discuss The Fun Empire and his strong connection to McIntire, and to discover how companies like his develop a crucial component for success—building and maintaining successful teams.

You recently met with a McIntire group visiting Asia. What was the meeting about and what did the students learn? Did you learn anything from them?
It was such a pleasure to host Professor Trey Maxham, Assistant Director of Student Life Jill Whisnant, and M.S. Commerce students in Singapore in May for a session of our SaberFit workout, a completely original activity we created and trademarked in Singapore and the United States.

After the hour-long workout, we had a Q&A session with the students, during which I shared my story of transitioning from being a Consultant at McKinsey to becoming an entrepreneur in Southeast Asia. It was great to hear so many insightful questions from the students, ranging from how much the entrepreneurship landscape has grown in Asia to the role of technology in business today.

Their questions about technology affecting traditional business models and globalization reminded me how important it is to stay nimble, to keep innovating, and to move fast in the current dynamic business environment.

How did your own time at McIntire prepare you for the challenges you currently face?
I was always interested in how business and technology intersect. I particularly enjoyed Professor Ahmed Abbasi’s business analytics course that allowed me to learn and apply descriptive and predictive analytics techniques in a business setting. These skills have come in very handy in my previous work at McKinsey and especially now as an entrepreneur.

I also loved the ICE curriculum, as I learned so much about business strategy, finance, marketing, and technology, and also soft skills like communications, leadership, and teamwork, in such a short span of time.

What from McIntire sticks with you? What lessons continue to inform your work?
Apart from technical skills such as financial modeling, analytics, and business strategy, these three takeaways stand out from my time at McIntire and continue to stay with me: possessing a global mindset, problem solving, and the drive to create an impact in the world.

At McIntire, I was always pushed to think about business from a global perspective. With the world becoming more globalized and interconnected, I feel that it’s important to adopt such a global mindset, and I apply this same thinking every day as I think about how to continue growing and scaling The Fun Empire.

Another thing that continues to stick with me is the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that I learned at McIntire. My professors continually challenged me to assess issues and situations at a much deeper level. I’ve put these valuable skills to good use, as many challenges come up every single day, and it’s important to be clear about how to prioritize.

Lastly—and perhaps the most importantly—McIntire has inspired me to strive to create an impact in the world. Our professors always encouraged us to work hard and make a positive change, no matter what career we pursue. It’s very inspiring to read about the work of amazing UVA and McIntire alums driving positive change in the world, and it definitely motivates me.

What is it about team building that inspires you to create new experiences for people?
I gain great satisfaction when I see our clients bonding with their colleagues and friends at a deeper level during our team-building events. Ultimately, people are enjoying themselves.

I’m lucky to have had personal experiences that taught me the importance of teamwork and how effective teams are built. From my eight years playing soccer for Singapore's national youth team, to McIntire, where group work was a fundamental component in our academic curriculum, and finally, to working with different teams to solve business challenges for clients at McKinsey, I’ve learned that trust and communication are key factors in effective team building. It’s essential to any workplace.


Ho’s Team-Building Tips for the Workplace


1. Make sure everyone is part of a bigger something.
Including every team member will make them feel that they belong, and this sense of belonging allows for openness and sharing within the team. For example, start each day by planning tasks together: It brings the group closer to its goal. Keeping track of the team’s progress and brainstorming together also allow everyone to give their input.

2. A thought a day keeps the conflict at bay.
One of the best ways to encourage people to bond is to give them the chance to talk about themselves. Foster team building by letting team members share information about themselves every day. Sharing allows colleagues to get to know more about each other, and often lets team members relate over things they have in common, thereby building stronger relationships. Often, with stronger relationships come deeper trust and better coordination because of a mutual understanding and respect within the team. You’ll be sure to achieve maximum efficiency in no time!

3. Create strategic breaks to foster creativity.
Plan for deliberate time off in between projects or assignments to allow your team members to create! Make anything: Doodle, draw, paint, or whatever activity frees you and your team to express yourselves. Having strategically planned breaks, especially during a lengthy task, boosts creativity and motivation, while reinvigorating your team throughout the project’s duration.

4. Encourage regular feedback.
Inspiring consistent and constructive feedback helps the team to identify performance gaps and improve overall teamwork. It also builds trust over time. If you have colleagues too shy to express their thoughts aloud, introduce a feedback box. Encourage team members to share their thoughts on a daily basis through their writing. This creates a safe environment for sharing opinions.

5. Follow the leader.
Leadership is important in building successful teams. It’s a form of initiative when an individual leads—they know the direction and what needs to be done. While there is often a team leader, it’s important for multiple people in the group to possess leadership qualities as well. Consider rotating team members to handle specific roles each day. This allows each part of your team to learn how to take charge of a variety situations and to embrace the leader inside themselves.