A self-described serial entrepreneur, Ryan Whitaker started his first company in high school. Now 32, Whitaker moved directly from Baylor University to the ground floor of an Oklahoma City startup tech company a decade ago.
Whitaker and two partners founded Element Fusion in a 100-square-foot office after drawing plans for the Web site design company over a pizza. Over the years, the company’s focus has evolved from Web sites to custom application development and finally into Web-based products, which now provide the lion’s share of the business’ revenue. And the company now occupies a much larger, more elegant northwest Oklahoma City office. Whitaker’s varied interests — from power lifting to photography — reflect his beliefs in determination and creativity. His single-mindedness has allowed him to help direct his firm’s changing model. "I’m very, very focused about what I do here,” he said. Whitaker sat down last week with The Oklahoman to discuss his business, his motivation and his outlook. This is an edited version of that conversation. Q: Do you consider yourself to be a success? A: I do. That’s validated somewhat by the awards we’ve gotten over the past four years. The fact that we’ve been debt-free from the beginning I think is a successful thing. We’ve been profitable from day one. That’s one thing that a lot of up-and-coming tech companies can’t say because a popular idea among tech companies now, especially among ones that are starting up, is that they want to get popular and then years down the road develop a business model that makes them money. Our approach from the very beginning has been to make money. ... Even with all that, we don’t have any outside investors. The company is split evenly between me and Justin Cowan, and with that we have complete creative control over what happens with the company and that gives us the ability to change quickly and it also enables our ideas and vision to not become diluted by what a potential investor could do. Q: What’s the most fun you had? A: The most fun I’ve had recently was when I took my oldest boy, Owen, who’s 4, out to the country and shot a bow and arrow together. That was, for some reason, a life-changing day for me. It’s like I fully understood how much my dad loved me, and then just how much I love spending time with my boys. Know It: Careers