Hoya Highlight: Ryan Wilson (C’12, L’15), CEO and Co-Founder, The Gathering Spot

The Gathering Spot is a business rooted in community culture.

TIME ON THE HILLTOP

What was your favorite class or who was your favorite professor at Georgetown?

I was a government and sociology double major so I had several favorite courses. I have to start with Father Kemp. I took many of his classes over the years. I recently learned he will no longer be teaching Struggle and Transcendence, but that was a classic. Many professors in the Sociology department were also very influential. Father Shall taught an amazing course that had an impact on me. I was in and out of a lot of departments but Government and Sociology are where I spent most of my time.

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

I am going to give you two. It is too hard to give just one. The first memory was the night President Obama won the election in 2008. I had campaigned pretty hard for him in Northern Virginia so that was a really, really special night. The next memory was a speech I gave in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Kennedy Center. A part of that celebration was President Obama also giving a speech at that event. After he finished speaking, they did not take down the Presidential seal on the podium so I also gave my speech with the Presidential seal still in front of the podium. I also was able to meet him backstage. That was a very special memory and Georgetown experience: being able to meet the President of the United States and speak after him.

What advice would you give your younger self (or current Georgetown students)?

To take advantage of all of the opportunities on campus. I ended up starting my own business but I originally wanted to be a lawyer throughout my life and certainly during my entire undergraduate time at Georgetown. It was all the experiences that happened on campus and my extracurriculars that gave me insights into other things that I could potentially do. I was one of the Georgetown Day co-chairs, and in that role I planned an event for several thousand people. Now, I operate a business that in-part hosts events. You never know how the things you are involved in on campus will play a role in what you do later. Sometimes there will be a direct link and others will be indirect links, but all will be influential in some manner. Also, don’t take for granted that this is a time in your life when you have full access to people from all over the world, with different interests from you, who live right down the hall from you. Try new things, go to events that discuss new or different interests than yours, and broaden your mind.

What extracurriculars were you in that led to the change in your career path?

I was the freshman representative for GU Democrats. Right after that, I joined GU Brothers for Christ. That was amazing. I ended up meeting people through that, which led me to another group called Student Commission for Unity (SCU). It was founded by two alumni, who graduated two years before me. The group wrote a research report about the cultural climate on campus, which was eventually turned into a series of recommendations for President DeGioia. President DeGioia turned these recommendations into three working groups: academics, student life, and admissions. I spent most of my sophomore, junior, and senior years as co-chair of the admissions working group with Dean Deacon and then Dr. Porterfield. That work allowed me to learn campus in a different way. SCU laid the foundation for the new diversity requirements and long-term goals. I was also part of the founding team for the Cristo Rey Summer Immersion Program, which still continues today, and I was a Patrick Healy fellow. I still go back to campus very often for events related to Patrick Healy fellows.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

I owe a lot to the institution. I am married to a Georgetown graduate, so Georgetown has affected me in very personal and tangible ways. But from a broader perspective, Georgetown helped me really solidify and develop those skills as a leader. In business, it is all about leading teams. I had ample opportunity to learn what it means to be a good leader. Although I am nowhere near a perfect leader, Georgetown gave me the opportunities to gain the confidence to make effective change and advocate for my beliefs. I was fortunate to win the Lena Landegger award and later, the Copley award, which gave me confidence in my skills.

CAREER REFLECTIONS

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Small ideas will keep you small. You need to dream big and fight for the best possible version of the ideas you have and realize the opportunities in front of you. The framework for fighting for the best possible outcome of whatever idea you have was really important for me. It is an inevitable part of the journey to struggle, but you will get to the other side of it. I always fight for the best possible version for my ideas and that perspective has helped me through the challenging times.

What are the big trends in your industry you’re seeing now?

It is an interesting time to be in the private club business or any business that has space as a part of it. We always focus the energy on building community and people. I did a lot of community work at Georgetown and it has continued on into what I do now. So, private spaces are closed now, but the community we serve is really what our business is all about. We have been closed physically, but the work we do in connecting people and building community has not stopped at all. Community does not cancel. Our industry is changing the ways we gather in pretty significant ways.

What has been one of the most rewarding moments of your career?

Making it to the four-year anniversary of our business. It’s so hard to make it that far! Being able to see all the relationships built in the past four years and the importance our club has in the community is really rewarding. We have hosted more people and experiences that I can count at this point. Making it to this milestone and reflecting upon all that has happened leading up to now has been very special. This was an idea created out of my apartment in D.C. and now it is an important place in our community. It is really humbling and inspiring for me.

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

I started this business while still in Georgetown Law School. The day after I graduated from law school I moved back to Atlanta to start my business full time so there is nothing I really regret. I wish I’d recognized sooner that just getting started is the most important thing. There is not going to be a perfect day or perfect circumstances—you just have to move forward and believe that things will eventually work out. Often, in school, I would read the biographies of people that I respected. I realized that we see people in a moment of time, but there are a lot of experiences that lead up to that moment. You should never feel rushed because you are on a timeline that will eventually make sense.

A DAY IN THE LIFE

What does your workspace look like? Are you at a desk frequently or on the road? What do you have on your desk or with you at all times?

I have my laptop and my phone with me at all times, but I can fully operate on my phone so long as I have WiFi. I don’t have an office; when designing the Gathering Spot, I was asked where I wanted my office to be and I told them I didn’t want one, that I wanted to be able to live in the space that we were curating each day. I’m nomadic in my work, and I am normally traveling quite a bit to help open up our ten new spaces across the country (we’re currently building clubs in D.C. and L.A.). I often run on very little sleep because we host a lot of private functions for people from Drake to Eric Holder. Now, with the virus, I’m home more than I ever have been and I’m in one place working more than I ever have been. I’m spending more time with my wife and daughter than ever before.

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?

I am a big believer in using the mornings to set yourself up for a successful day, so I do three things every morning: spend family time, workout, and inform myself (I am a furious consumer of news).

Who or what is a source of strength and inspiration?

The Gathering Spot community. I am surrounded by a resilient group of entrepreneurs. Particularly during this time, they inspire me daily to keep moving forward. These are difficult circumstances but seeing people find new ways to be supportive of one another inspires me to do the same.

What are your words to live by?

I am a big quote person. I have two that I live by. The first is a Denzel Washington quote. In part he states, “Dreams are God’s proof to you sent beforehand that it is yours already.” I always think of that when I have an idea, that there’s confirmation that there is something to it, I just need to figure out how to get there. The second is from a group, Little Brother, and it is a question I ask often: “Do you really want to win or look good losing?” That quote is important to me because when you are looking at a crisis, you need to ask yourself if you really want to win and go through all you have to go through to come out on top. Some people are okay with losing as long as it looks good. What it takes to win is a different gear you have to click into.

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