By Rebecca Palermo
When the critically acclaimed reality show, Shark Tank, called Ryan Diew in the spring of 2017, his mom, Danine Manette, was not surprised. Ryan’s budding mobile app, Trippie, was in its infancy, but he had garnered recognition from a variety of authorities on entrepreneurship. Further, he had displayed ingenuity and ambition since his early childhood, impressing family and friends from a young age.
As a child growing up in Oakland, CA, Ryan developed a fascination with the way things work, studying trains and becoming familiar with mechanics and engineering. While other boys enjoyed sports in the backyard, Ryan would focus on the inner workings of mechanisms around him. He would pull remote controls and other devices apart and attempt to reassemble them, and occupy his attention with multiple objects at a time, holding one item in his left hand and another in his right hand. He was an early reader, and eventually transferred to a school with a more rigorous academic focus, so that he could study physics at a more advanced level than other children his age. Despite early auditory issues which impaired his hearing greatly before improving, and an ADHD diagnosis, he continued to excel.
As he grew older, of course, he developed the same interests as his friends, taking up basketball while he continued to excel at his studies. A well-rounded young man with an eye toward the future, Ryan enrolled at the prestigious Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. At Colgate, Ryan endeavored to help students with learning challenges similar to his own. He founded a learning differences group at Colgate, living in the dorms with other students with learning challenges, and supporting them as they coped with a competitive academic environment.
Ryan juggled this responsibility with his role as a Google ambassador on campus, aiding Google in its recruiting efforts at Colgate. He also played Division I basketball at school, traveling with the team while holding down excellent grades in his classes. During his junior year, he was in an airport, on a layover on his way home to California. He was hungry, but wasn’t able to find a restaurant in his terminal, so he searched his phone for an app that might be able to help him locate a nearby spot to grab lunch. When his search failed, he decided to build an app himself that would link airline passengers in airports around the world with restaurants and services they need. Trippie was born.
Ever ambitious, Ryan conceived Trippie as an airport mapping device that would outline exactly which restaurants were in proximity to passengers’ location in airports, even calculating the amount of time it would take for passengers to obtain food before their next flight. He learned how to code, and refined the product continuously, until he and fellow Colgate alumnus, Samantha Braver, pitched the app at Colgate’s 2016 Entrepreneur Weekend, receiving over $22,000 in funding. In 2017, Trippie was selected as a recipient of Colgate’s Entrepreneurs Fund, which offered Diew an additional $15,000 in startup funding and workspace located in an incubator space in Hamilton. Trippie then went on to be featured in Inc.com’s Coolest College Startup competition.
Inc.com’s list drew the attention of ABC’s hit reality show, Shark Tank, whose producers contacted Ryan, asking him if he would like to be a part of the show. While other contestants generally must audition in order to be on Shark Tank, the producers reached out to Ryan proactively. At first, Ryan was unsure. Trippie was still in its earliest stages of development, and he had not begun to seek out the type of funding which Shark Tank contestants generally have under their belts by the time they appear on the show. He wasn’t sure that Trippie was ready for the intense competition. But the opportunity could mean publicity for his fledgling app, so he accepted the offer and flew to Los Angeles after graduation to tape a segment for the show.
His mom, Danine, who had been waiting behind the scenes, was invited onto the set, and was told when Ryan’s segment was finished taping, she could greet him to either celebrate with him or lift his spirits, depending on how well the segment went. As she waited patiently throughout 45 minutes of taping, unable to see on the monitors what was unfolding, she felt uneasy. As the national viewing audience found out months later, when the segment aired, Ryan pitched his idea confidently and awaited the judge’s feedback. The feedback he received was difficult to hear, and much of it was not aired. After getting his hopes up and gearing up for this enormous opportunity, his spirits were temporarily dampened by the criticism of the judges. When he came backstage to see his mother, he was understandably emotional, but Danette said that she was impressed by how quickly he composed himself and accepted the words of the judges.
“As soon as the camera stopped rolling, Ryan picked himself up, dusted himself off, and told me that he viewed this as a learning experience and an incredible opportunity.” She was relieved to see that while he was knocked down for a few minutes by the tough judgment of the panel, he quickly resolved to make the best of the situation, which was in his nature to do. “I just wish that the audience at home could have seen how proud he made me when he accepted the words of the judges and decided to use their criticism and the show’s reach in order to better himself and push himself even harder to develop the best product possible. When the camera stopped rolling, he hadn’t yet had a chance to overcome his initial reaction to the judge’s critique, and they made that emotional moment eternity.”
After the show aired, for every bit of negative feedback on social media, Ryan received several more positive pieces of feedback. He was able to tune out the negativity and focus on the potential that had earned Trippie so many awards and so much recognition thus far. He continued to develop his app, and has been meeting with other incubators, developing new partnerships with airports around the nation, and is even releasing Trippie gear. Trippie now has thousands of new downloads and followers, and is poised to grow exponentially.
Danine is extraordinarily proud of her son and is optimistic about the future. “As a mom, I know that, despite what the world may think about our boys, my son is incredibly focused and determined, and will achieve his dreams.” Just as Ryan overcame early health issues and ADHD, and juggled an intense schedule devoted to service to his fellow students, sportsmanship, and academics, he is also poised to take the positive accolades his venture has received and the challenges he faced on Shark Tank, and turn every bit of these experiences into fodder with which he can pursue and eventually achieve the goals to which he aspires.