Ryan Merket (’07) did not follow the traditional path to OKWU.
Merket was interested in understanding how things worked from an early age, and his attention and interest was drawn to technology and software.
“I was like the kid who took apart the toaster to learn how it worked, but virtually,” he said.
In his early teens, he taught himself how to program and build websites. He learned how to operate with more than a dozen programming languages, and he built his first website at the age of 13. When he wasn’t in school, he was reverse engineering software to learn how it worked. In fact, he became so focused on those interests, he dropped out of high school.
He bounced around different jobs for the next several years. At 19, he was recruited to build software for Munoz & Company, an architectural firm in San Antonio. He also spent time as an IHOP waiter, YMCA after-school counselor, and graphic designer at a printing press.
At the same time, he was in a season of wandering from his spiritual upbringing. He moved out of his parents’ house at 18 to live “the good life.”
“Except I quickly realized that’s not the good life,” he said. “I came home and said, ‘Dad, I’m really messed up.’”
All Roads Lead to Bartlesville
His parents had been praying for their son and urging him to consider going to college. They knew he was gifted, but they also wanted him to have a degree to back up his natural intelligence. When he returned home, his pastor, Desi Henk, suggested that he go with the church’s youth group as a counselor for their summer camp – which just so happened to be hosted by OKWU.
While at the camp, he met an OKWU employee who told him that they could make OKWU a reality for him, even though he only had a GED.
“God spoke to me and told me that this is where I was supposed to be.”
When Merket returned home and told his parents that he wanted to go to OKWU, he discovered that his dad had already been gathering OKWU materials to give him.
He came to OKWU at the age of 21 on probationary status; he’d have to maintain good academic standing to remain. While a student, Merket continued to work, though he had his eye on a position that he didn’t actually get – designer at PDG+Creative, a local design agency. It wasn’t until later, when the company’s owner was teaching a class at OKWU, that he was offered a position.
Merket began full-time work and continued on as a student at OKWU. As he began to feel more comfortable in his job, he considered dropping out because he wasn’t sure if finishing his degree still made sense, considering that he already had a job in the field he wanted.
But one of his professors heard that he was considering dropping out and pulled him into his office one day.
“And he asked me, ‘what do you want to learn?’”
So Merket told him some of the high-level programming courses he was interested in that OKWU didn’t offer at the time, and his professor helped him set up a directed-study curriculum that allowed Merket to finish his degree and pursue the subject material that he wanted.
Merket graduated in 2007 with a degree in Communication Arts, but he had extensive coursework in the business school as well.
An Overnight Success – Literally
Merket remembers the weekend where his life took a dramatic turn. Facebook, which was still a relatively new thing at the time, had announced that it was adding a platform that would allow developers, like Merket, to add their own app to Facebook. So one Friday, he created an app that served as a TechCrunch reader. Hours later, he was on the phone with the founder of TechCrunch. When he arrived to his job at PDG+ on Monday, the company voicemail was full of app requests – from companies like The New York Times, MSNBC, and AOL. Basically overnight, Merket and the PDG+Creative team had become one of the top Facebook app developers in the country.
In 2007, he married his wife, Jennifer, who he met at OKWU. Later that year, Merket was recruited and interviewed by several tech companies in the Bay Area, and he accepted an offer that took he and his wife to California in early 2008.
In 2009, Merket was recruited to the Facebook Platform team, where he launched the first ever Facebook livestream video for The White House, and worked with companies like ESPN, Spotify, and the Vancouver Olympics to integrate Facebook into their websites.
Merket left Facebook in 2010 to follow his dream of starting his own company. Just three months after leaving Facebook, Merket was on stage in New York at the industry leading launch conference, TechCrunch Disrupt , launching his first company as Co-founder & CEO, Appbistro. Appbistro went on to garner investment from top Silicon Valley investors, and was acquired in 2012 by India’s first start up unicorn, InMobi. For two years, Merket travelled back and forth before leaving the position to reduce travel and spend more time with his wife and children.
Since then, Merket has worked for tech giants like Reddit and Amazon AWS. At Reddit he was the second Product Manager at Reddit. While at Amazon AWS, he was a mentor for startup accelerator programs such as YCombinator and TechStars.
Finding His Passion
Merket and his wife are also passionate about angel investing; they have invested in over 100 startups since 2012, including Teachable.com, Colossal Biosciences, and many more.
Today, he serves as the Co-Founder and Head of Product at Get Structure. His vision is to serve early-stage CEOs by providing them with the operations they need to be successful.
“Investors need to see you have your ducks in a row,” he explained. So his company helps with things like human resources, payroll, accounting, and more – along with providing the new CEO mentorship from experienced professionals.
“Everyone on our team has sold a company, so they have firsthand experience to give advice to these CEOs with.”
Merket thinks of this as his life’s calling. Along with his role as an angel investor, he finds fulfillment in helping other people build the companies they dream of.
“I believe I can show Christ in this way by being a blessing to others.”
In the years since leaving OKWU, Merket has remained a believer in the school and appreciates the experiences he had here.
“There are these little things that pop back that I cherish. The community, the Monday night Bible studies with your RAs, the fellowship. Being around other followers like that was a really special part of my life.”
He also believes his experiences prove that current OKWU students are positioned to achieve anything they can dream of.
“I’d tell the students to never give up. I know it’s a cliché, but I just think if you can go from GED to CEO like I have, anybody can do anything.”
Merket’s career serves as an example of the impact of the OKWU experience – from Bartlesville to the Bay Area and beyond, he carries with him the knowledge gained and the skills that he nurtured as a student.