What’s Behind The Bling? An Inside Perspective on The Controversial Owner of ConnectingDirectors.com and DISRUPT Media
Article by: Mark Thogmartin, VP of Business Development, DISRUPT Media
“Lose the hat and hoodie; dress like a businessman and you will see greater results.”
“…you wear a bunch of chains and a flat bill in your video. Who are you trying to appeal to? The old men/women aren’t listening.”
“I can tell you that his “look” will not be well received among funeral home owners.”
First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, I am the father of Ryan Thogmartin who is the founder of ConnectingDirectors.com and the Owner and CEO of DISRUPT Media. You should also know that no one in our immediate family, including me, has been employed as a funeral director, embalmer, cemetery owner, or even a part-time funeral home attendant. As an associate pastor and ordained minister, I’ve performed graveside eulogies and I’ve played my guitar at funeral services, but that’s about it.
The quotes above are lifted from Facebook comments and email communications regarding Ryan’s appearance which is, unabashedly, “non-traditional” according to the unwritten but deeply embedded standards in the profession. As a sought after public speaker, in his online presence, and on the exhibit hall floor Ryan certainly stands out from the crowd. What’s behind all the bling? Perhaps some background will be helpful…
Ryan married into the funeral profession and was employed by his father-in-law in his vault franchise for almost 10 years. Ryan started out working in the manufacturing plant, mixing and pouring concrete, painting, stacking, storing, and loading vaults onto trucks. He also worked as a graveside vault attendant, and eventually was promoted to a front office position where he helped to oversee plant operations, assisted with scheduling, and met with company representatives. With all that experience under his belt, Ryan began calling on funeral homes to help them understand brand options while suggesting how to better display and sell vaults to their client families. Ryan was successful in this position and won the trust of the directors, even though he sometimes forgot to remove an earring or piece of “swag” before walking in the front doors of their funeral homes.
During this time he noticed how many aspects of the profession seemed to be entrenched in tradition to the point that advances in technology brought on by the rapid expansion of the Internet, software, and hardware seemed to be underutilized or ignored. Ryan had a passion to remedy this situation, so he started a blog, initially aimed at funeral directors, which evolved into ConnectingDirectors.com. I can tell you that his entire family worried about the excessive time and energy he poured into this new endeavor, often only getting a few hours of sleep each night as he researched the best sources for information, tried out new technologies with which to manage his business, and sought out advertisers who would help to keep this venture afloat. During this time Ryan was still employed by his father-in-law at the vault plant who graciously allotted Ryan a couple hours each day to attend to his rapidly growing company.
Eventually Ryan left the vault franchise and went full-time on his own. I began assisting Ryan at the national conventions, manning his booth while Ryan worked the floor. I was so pleased when folks would stop by the booth looking for Ryan and, after explaining that I was his father, they complimented Ryan for his ingenuity, honesty, integrity, and family-centered values. We’d always chuckle about Ryan’s increasingly unconventional mode of dress…accentuated by the fact that my department store outfits were and are about as boringly traditional as they come. In that respect, I’m “Yin” to Ryan’s “Yang.”
Several years after establishing ConnectingDirectors.com Ryan saw another opportunity to fulfill a need within the profession. With the explosive growth of social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn it was only a matter of time before their impact would press hard on funeral-based businesses. With this in mind, Ryan started his social media company DISRUPT Media, appropriately named because these means of interacting with customers would certainly be disruptive to an industry based in so much tradition. I think it was during the development of this new business that Ryan decided his trendy mode of dress would become his unique “brand,” symbolizing the need to modify or even break from outmoded ways of interacting with the public. As one Executive Director of a large funeral directors’ association recently commented to Ryan “I have worked in a variety of industries and have to say that funeral directors are the most stubborn, stuck in the mud bunch I have ever met.” This person made this comment AFTER challenging Ryan on his non-traditional attire.
“Stuck in the mud.” Remember, this observation was made by someone who has been in the profession for decades. Ryan’s unique appearance may seem shocking to one whose impression of funeral professionals has been shaped by long standing traditions. But if you consider that his role in both ConnectingDirectors.com and DISRUPT Media has been to break molds, herald new trends and opportunities, and expose outmoded attitudes and methodologies, the apparel is especially fitting. I will never try to dress like Ryan, even if he proclaims that flat billed hats and studded t-shirts are now the expected garb of his team members. But I will proudly stand by him as my son (and my boss) and tell others they would do well to listen to what he has to say. Ryan has done amazing things with no college degree, primarily on the job training, loads of self-study, and persistent determination. If you look behind the bling, you will find a man who exemplifies the benefits of good, old fashioned ingenuity, integrity, and hard work.