A BSC Interview | Ryan O’Donnell, CEO and co-founder, EmployUs
Ryan O'Donnell received his bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship from Poole College in 1915. He now is CEO & Co-Founder, EmployUs.
Poole College's Business Sustainability Collaborative published this Q/A
1. Tell us about your current job duties, and how you’re working to integrate sustainability into your role.
In late 2014, I co-founded EmployUs, a Raleigh tech startup, to help people work where they belong. I serve as our company's CEO and oversee all strategy and operations of our company, connecting employers and job seekers through trusted referrals by rewarding anyone for the network they have built. As an entrepreneur, I’m driven to build teams and organizations that significantly and sustainably improve the quality of people’s lives. In practical terms, 1 in 6 job seekers get hired on EmployUs and people who get hired through referrals tend to stay employed twice as long. Those are tangible ways we are improving the quality of people's lives.
2. What experiences first made you interested in using your career to drive business sustainability? (This could be both work experiences and/or courses, professors, or classes at Poole College)
When I was 18 years old, attending the NC School of Science and Math, I had the privilege to lead the World's Largest Food Drive, which raised nearly 600,000 pounds of food in 24 hours. Unfortunately, even the world's largest food drive could only supply food for a few hours; the need did, and still does, far exceed our ability to address it. Realizing how much further we needed to go, I became driven to build teams and organizations designed to make a significant and sustainable social impact. While an undergraduate at NC State, opportunities to build, create and innovate were everywhere. A year after the food drive, I got a real world experience in building a social venture when I co-founded Pennies 4 Progress and built it into a national fundraising platform connecting consumers with their favorite causes. From founding my first company, I realized the potential to address big social challenges as an entrepreneur.
3. Give us some examples of how your company uses sustainability to drive innovation, produce results, or improve the way you do business.
Since we're an early-stage, venture-backed company, we are setting ourselves up to grow and scale up quickly. One important factor I believe in which enables that type of growth is having a world class team committed to a common mission. We're working with HQ Raleigh and NC State’s Entrepreneurship Clinic to improve on our first assessment from B-Lab, the independent non-profit that helps companies achieve official B-Corp status. Along the lines of sustainability, we are focused on building the best company for our employees, customers, users and investors, and the broader community.
4. What do you love the most about your job? What are the challenges you’ve encountered & overcome in your career?
My job is to build a platform to connect employers and job seekers through trusted referrals, so that the result is that people wake up on a Monday morning and love going to work. That’s pretty awesome. We're focused on building the best platform we can to help people work where they belong, and in order to accomplish that goal, we are innovating at every level of the recruiting industry.
5. What’s your advice for students who are interested in sustainability? How can students combine their sustainability interests with their day-to-day duties (even in a job that doesn’t have “sustainability” in the title)?
Sustainability extends beyond what many students think of - the word brings thoughts of recycling programs, cost-saving measures and eco-friendly products. All students should be looking to how their work and careers contribute to a more just, abundant and sustainable world for all people. You can accomplish this by joining or starting an organization that aligns with your personal interests and passions, where you have the opportunity to work on something that matters. There are opportunities everywhere on campus and beyond, so if you’re interested in pursuing a career in sustainability, I recommend you just get started doing anything that will allow you to learn and do as much as you can.
6. Feel free to add any observations about your career and/or sustainability that we haven’t covered in these questions.
Often, entrepreneurs like myself are treated like we build everything on our own, and I believe it’s important to recognize, at least for me, I’m the product of many mentors who have coached and supported me. The Raleigh entrepreneurship community is incredible supportive and thriving. Students who are interested in making an impact as an entrepreneur should look into programs like ThinkHouse, the Entrepreneurship Clinic, or by taking an internship with any of the various start-ups, impact investing groups or local venture funds.