October 1, 2018 — By Lawton Ives
This interview first appeared in the October 2018 edition of the UNICORN Angel Network email newsletter. Sign up to receive original content and news about NCSSM-related entrepreneurs here.
In this issue, we sat down with Carl Ryden ’89, who is the CEO and Co-founder of PrecisionLender, which is a commercial pricing & profitability platform. Utilized by banks of all sizes, PrecisionLender provides valuable information and data that influences how bankers communicate the structure of a deal with their clients. This allows banks to build stronger relationships with their clients that in turn advance profitability, growth, and customer experience.
Ryden’s path from a single-parent household to NCSSM was so incredibly life changing that it inspired him to give back to the school. He has served on the Board of the NCSSM Foundation for nearly 10 years and previously taught entrepreneurship courses. This year, he will be back Trimester 2 to co-teach Applications in Entrepreneurship allowing students to create their own startups.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Lawton Ives: How do you describe PrecisionLender and what is your role there?
Carl Ryden: At PrecisionLender, we are dedicated to helping lenders talk more productively with borrowers, allowing them to craft a solution that works better for both the borrower and the bank. Along with Ken Garcia and a few others, I started the company in 2009 from literally a blinking cursor on a blank screen. I had met Ken when I was working in the venture capital business and he struck me as someone who was incredibly honest. We saw the need for banks to better use their data as great potential for a software as a service business.
I was the one who had experience writing software, so at the start I was the one who did most of the programming. It was great to write software again and I still get a lot of enjoyment out of all that we are doing to develop our product.
Our first customer turned on PrecisionLender in 2010 and since then, we’ve pretty much doubled in size every year. To date, our customers have used the platform to price $22 billion in loans and we now employ more than 100 people.
LI: How did your experience at NCSSM shape you as an entrepreneur?
CR: It is kind of crazy to make the decision to leave everything you have at home behind and come to Durham to live and learn with people you’ve never met before. Only certain kinds of people are able to take a risk like that. Risk taking ability and the growth that comes from working in the environment at NCSSM is what allows the school to churn out an impressive number of entrepreneurs.
Going to NCSSM fundamentally altered the course of my life. It rescued me. I come from a single parent household in Wayne County. My dad left my life when I was little, and my mom worked as a waitress and later sold radio ads. I was chronically bored in school and not challenged. Science & Math gave me a love of learning, a chance to grow, and a vision of what my life could be. I gained maturity along with the friends and academics.
LI: Do you have any advice for students interested in the interplay between finance and computer science?
CR: I do not have any particular advice for people who are interested in getting into something like what we do at PrecisionLender. Instead, I think it is important for people to do what they love. Computers and Math have always been my passions. For me, Finance is a great way to apply these passions. I would do what I do for free and I hope that other people can find a similar way to do what they love.
LI: You are a great supporter of NCSSM. What has inspired you to give back?
CR: Like I mentioned before, the coming to Science & Math fundamentally altered the trajectory of my life. Some people might say that I owe a debt to the school, but I like to think about NCSSM as an equity investor in my future. Whenever I have a big event in my life, I have a responsibility to give a bit of that back to the school. I also enjoy giving my time back to students by teaching one of the entrepreneurship classes.
I got more involved with school after one of my best friends, Peter Haughton, passed away in 2005. His death took a toll on me. It taught me that life is short. We were looking for a way to honor and remember him and the school seemed like a fitting place to do something. Peter was always making something. The Peter T. Haughton Fabrication and Innovation Lab, or FabLab, on campus honors Peter’s creativity, curiosity, and enthusiasm. It is an inner-disciplinary space that fosters the cross-pollination of art, craftsmanship, and science.
LI: What was the most memorable thing that you did during your time at NCSSM?
CR: I think it happens all the time now, but when I was Science & Math, we cancelled school for the first time. Before then we had never had a day of school cancelled for snow. As I mentioned earlier, my mother worked at a radio station, so I did too before I left for Science & Math. One of the things I learned at the radio station was how the procedure for cancelling school worked. An administrator would call in, let us know that they were cancelling school and tell us an agreed upon password.
There was some snow falling and I could see that other schools were cancelling. So I called up the WTVD newsroom and put on my best Chuck Elber (former NCSSM Chancellor) voice and said, “Hello I am from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. We are cancelling school for tomorrow. Since the school is new, you do not have a password for us. From now on it is ‘Unicorn’ – our mascot.” I hung up the phone and a little while later you could see “North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics – Cancelled” ticking across the bottom of the screen. Never the less, the teachers came in and we still had to do to class. Since we had plausible deniability with the message on the TV, a bunch of us slept in, but they came knocking on our doors and we had to go to class. I don’t think the real Chuck Elber ever found out who cancelled school.