Class of 2006
In 2006, Ryan Weber was chief marketing officer at Freeze.com, the Internet marketing company he and his twin brother Rob had created during college. Freeze.com became W3i and then morphed into NativeX.
What are you doing now?
Chief product officer, NativeX, Sartell.
How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?
I felt very honored. It also meant a lot since it was local, and my company doesn't sell to local customers, so being a part of it helped strengthen my relationships in the community.
Other big changes since you received the award?
We completely shifted our business from 100 percent PC online advertising to 100 percent in-app mobile advertising. This resulted in our company being rebranded from W3i to NativeX. My wife and I have had two children (9-year-old Kylie and 7-year-old Camille).
What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?
The continued commitment to organizations like this one and the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp.
Originally ran: January 1, 2007
Before Ryan Weber was old enough to go to the bar, he had launched an Internet marketing company in his college apartment with his twin brother.
Freeze.com has grown to a $30 million company with 85 million subscribers and about 200 advertisers supporting its free ringtones, screen savers, clip art and computer wallpaper. The company emphasizes quality, producing screen savers that resemble a Pixar movie preview. A recent release shows Santa Claus in his toy shop.
Boston equity firm Alta Communications recognized the company's potential last year, providing a large investment that could push Freeze beyond the $100 million mark and up to 300 employees within the next six years.
Preparing for that growth, Freeze moved into a 23,000-square-foot building in July in Sartell's Medical Arts Campus and has plans to expand with a second building.
Freeze will change its name to W3i in January to encompass its recent releases of yourscreen.com and ringtones.com.
Job: Chief marketing officer at Freeze.com, a Sartell Internet marketing company.
Education: Bachelor's in computer science from St. Cloud State University.
Family: Wife, Melissa; daughter, Kylie, 5 months.
Sport in high school: Football, starting receiver as a sophomore before going to college full time as a junior.
Hobbies: Hunting, fishing, sports.
Favorite movie: "Braveheart."
Prized possession: A 1987 36-foot RV. He uses to drive it to Minneapolis to tailgate before Vikings games.
One place he'd like to go: South Africa.
Stress relievers: Hanging out with friends, playing Texas Hold'em.
How did you see your work when you first started in your college apartment?
I think we didn't know what we stumbled upon. It seemed more of a hobby. It was always a question. Could this be career? When we were living in the apartment, we had a good cash flow. But it didn't feel like a business. We didn't feel like we had the responsibilities.
When did you know you made it big?
We have been profitable since inception. It's been kind of a steady growth, but what stands out as a milestone is having others who are willing to put in their stakes — people who have great careers that are applying for jobs. Great people we're able to attract — from the advisers to board members down to employees.
Do you feel you have a greater responsibility now that you have a staff?
The pressure is with every hire to the point that we have owners in all final interviews. You can change someone's life. You really have to think about how you're impacting others when your company grows to that.
What's the motto you live by?
Focus on building a relationship. I don't believe there is such a thing as a business relationship. I think a relationship is a personal relationship. I don't consider myself an extreme extrovert, but I have tried to get to know people and build those relationships because that is the key to being a leader and being successful.
What has been the hardest lesson you've learned?
Having to let people go that you know are a great talent. Sometimes, businesses have to make tough decisions even when things are bad or good. It's very difficult to let go of anybody. It's definitely something that will never be easy. And knowing that businesses are going to have ups and downs, and you can survive a number of ups and downs. There was a point where we drained all our capital.
What type of hours does your work demand now?
There's an endless amount of work. There always is. As an entrepreneur, you realize there is a burnout and fatigue factor. But now, especially with a family, you realize you want to be there for your family. So for me, if I put in 50 hours, that's a typical week.
How has having a daughter changed you?
Waking up every night to feed the baby definitely changes you. I think it allows you to put the business at a level where it's not a focal point.
Why are you someone to watch in the future?
Because of the relationships. I've very self-motivated to create opportunities. I like Minnesota and I like this community. And as we get older, we've been able to give back more to the community if it be as mentors, public speakers or being more active in the community. I think we have a high aspiration. You have to reach for that sky and set your goals high.