My all-too-brief time with a beautiful man.
In 2006, I was the CEO of Resite Information Technology. We were a software startup with a team of about 12. We were doing pretty well, in many ways. We had lots of customers. We had a decent office. We had a national profile. We were even profitable. But we weren’t loving it. We were hocking a dated product in a stuffy industry. We had really lost our sense of excitement about what we were doing, which was bleeding over into my personal life. We were doing our best to be the cool kids in multi-family real estate software, but we were, nonetheless, in the multi-family real estate software business. It seemed like the industry had rubbed off on us more than we had rubbed off on it. I was really just going through the motions in just about everything. I was wearing khakis and tucked-in button-down shirts. I was buying lot of product to power my denial of my receding hairline. I didn’t have much pep in my step.
We were building a lot of marketing websites, and our designs were starting to get stale. We needed some additional design bandwidth, and we also needed some fresh inspiration. We decided to hire a new designer. We advertised the job in all the usual local outlets, and we got all the usual local applications - mostly aspiring designers looking for an opportunity to build their portfolio. There was one, however, that stood out - a guy named Ryan Faubion. He had some obvious design skills, including tasteful graphic touches on the resume that made it easier to digest. We could tell by the resume (he was working for a government contractor) that he was desperate for a real creative outlet, and we could tell that he wasn’t getting it in his current job. We immediately invited him for an interview.
Interviewing entry-level designers can be painful. Looking at bad designs is hard enough, but spending hours locked in a windowless conference room with people of poor taste is torture. It had been a soul-sucking process, but as soon as Ryan entered the room, the mood changed. He was cool as can be. In every way. His attire was cool (for the time, anyway). He wore khakis and a blue button down. Both were neatly pressed, but the shirt was untucked. He was pretty tall, so the untucked shirt didn’t look sloppy (years later, he explained to me that the secret to his style was being “all torso”). He wore low profile, dark-rimmed, plastic, rectangular glasses. Mike and I were still wearing round, light, metal frames with nose pads (ugh). He didn’t even have a hint of nerves. He just wanted to hear what we were all about. He was just, well, cool.
We wanted to hire him immediately, because we knew this was the guy who could bring back the spark to our design team, and perhaps our whole company. It was clear that he was intrigued, but we just weren’t able to offer him enough money to justify leaving his cushy government job. In hindsight, I’m sure we just didn’t seem like much of a cultural upgrade from his stuffy government job.
We sold the company in 2007. While we worked for the new owners for a year after the sale, we tried again to hire him, this time for a more senior role. He could smell that there was conflict in our organization, so he passed once again. We touched base a couple of times that year, but our timing was never great. We just couldn’t convince him that it was worth the switch. I decided it just wasn’t going to happen, but I felt a connection with this guy that got stronger each time he turned us down.
A year later, on June 12, 2008, Eryn went into induced labor with our second child. It was a long process. We had been at the hospital for several hours, but we knew we had a long way to go. She had been in labor for 20 hours with our first child, so we were preparing for a long day and night. We took several long walks through the halls to pass the time. We’d wander slowly around the maternity ward, politely waving and nodding at the nurses and other patients and visitors, without looking too hard at what anyone else was doing. I had learned that women don’t like to be stared at when they’re in labor. As I floated another half-wave toward another pair of labor-walkers, I was taken aback. It was Ryan and his wife, who was well on her way to dropping their first child.
By this time, I had ditched the khakis and button downs. I was wearing my favorite Public Enemy t-shirt. Ryan immediately took notice and hit me with some Chuck D lyrics. The average southern Indiana white kid would be doing well to quote Flavor Flave, but Ryan even knew some Professor Griff. I already knew this guy was cool, but I had no idea he also knew - like really knew - hip hop. God was shouting in my face that this guy was supposed to be in my life.
We had just started planning the launch of SproutBox. We were assembling a design team, so his name had already come up. We decided we had to try again. He rebuffed us again, but this time, he came with a counter-proposal. He wanted to start his own design consultancy, so he offered to move into the same space with SproutBox, and he would carve off a portion of his time to dedicate to our projects. We accepted, and even though he wasn’t on our payroll, he immediately became part of the team. He helped design and literally build our workspace. He spent late nights helping to install flooring and artwork in a space we was planning to pay rent for. He knew we were building a community, and he was showing us what community meant.
He weighed in on every major decision and had huge impact on the early SproutBox portfolio. More importantly, he defined the SproutBox culture. He was tucked away in a quiet corner office when he needed to work, but he was front and center when there was a collaboration, an event, or an intense ping pong match. He was always cool, and he showed others how to stay cool, even when he had a full plate. He shared good art and good music around the office, and he was always available to give feedback or help brainstorm on a new product or campaign. He helped organize and promote Bloomington’s startup events. He was truly a founding father of the Bloomington Tech Scene.
I’m sure there are others who feel this way, too, but it felt like he was especially always there for me. Ryan was a very accomplished skater. When I decided at age 35 that I wanted to learn to skate, he gave me a really nice board and offered to teach me. He even agreed to meet me at the skate park on Wednesday mornings, so I wouldn’t have to embarrass myself in front of the kids. I knew that he had some vague blood disorder, but he seemed to be in good health. He was executing kick flips with ease, and even nailed one while clearing a 30 gallon trashcan on one Wednesday morning.
He hinted that his doctors didn’t want him to be exerting himself that much, but I didn’t understand why. He eventually told me that doctors had expressly prohibited him from skating. Soon after that, he told me they had diagnosed him with leukemia, and that he would probably need a bone marrow transplant. We stopped skating, but he was still there for us. Even when he was undergoing treatment, he was still chatting online, and came back to work as soon as he could. We knew he had a tough path, with multiple rounds of treatment, but no one had any doubt that he’d recover.
He had some complications with the treatment, but he never lost his optimism. He lost his appetite, and a ton of weight, but still showed up for TechLunch. We never questioned if he would recover, only how long it would take. Even when his body was weak from transplants and radiation, his creative spirit was strong. When I got a half-baked idea to start an apparel company, he jumped right in offered to help. He saved me from some pretty terrible ideas and created the Wolfsen brand. He was a creative genius with a keen sense of what made people tick. He loved creating and building things, just for creativity’s sake. He especially loved creating things that would move people.
Just a few weeks later, I got word that his health had turned for the worse. Before I even realized how serious it was, he was gone.
His final tweet, ten days before passing:
“I got so much trouble on my mind, refuse to lose…” chuck d.— Ryan Faubion (@actuel) April 24, 2012
He ultimately lost his battle with cancer, but he won in life.
We didn’t have much time together, but in a few short years, Ryan left a distinct mark on my life and so many others. He had an amazing way about him. He was ambitious, but not in the way most of us are. His ambition wasn’t for fame or fortune. It was for peace and beauty. He refused to accept any offer that would threaten the peace in his life. He enthusiastically accepted any offer that he felt would bring joy to others. He aggressively defended his ability to maintain this lifestyle. It’s as if he knew that his spirit was a gift to others. He protected and nurtured it so he could keep sharing it.
I loved this man. He was a brother to me. Today, it’s been five years since we lost him. I miss him as much as ever, but his presence is still felt here everyday. His gifts are forever imprinted on Bloomington’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit. It brings me joy to think that he is resting now in the same way he lived. RIP @actuel.