Multi-Business Owner Ryan Tungseth on Rising Up When The Chips Are Down
In November of 2017, corporate decision makers at the Twin Cities-based Target headquarters revealed their intention to close the Fergus Falls store in only three months – following more than a decade in the community. Local leaders and the public rallied against the decision, but the company wouldn't bend.
Kmart had closed four years before. Herberger's, a long-time anchor of the Westridge Mall, would close only two months later. The closures followed national trends, fair enough, but Fergus Falls seemed to many to be particularly impacted. Rumors spread about other local big-box stores teetering on the edge, and city officials and business leaders found themselves busy trying to curb misinformation.
Ryan Tungseth, meanwhile, had spent nearly three years as part of the Target store's management team after decades of more independent ventures. He had gotten the job primarily for the health insurance benefits, but the closure meant all that was off the table.
"When Target closed, people around town [thought], 'Fergus is gone,'" Tungseth recalls. "You can take that view, or you can go make something happen."
He chose the latter.
Bursting the Dot-Com Bubble
Tungseth grew up a Fergus Falls kid, graduating in 1994. Diploma in hand, he blew out of town, making a break for the metro. At the Hennepin Technical College he secured a degree in Advertising Art & Design, before landing his first job as an in-house designer for a software company. It was an age when the world was discovering the wide-open spaces of the worldwide web, and so Tungseth was trained in coding HTML and asked to design his company's first webpage.
The details of what happened next and exactly when are a blur, because what developed was a pattern. Tungseth fell in with tech startup after tech startup, but each job evaporated through buyouts, layoffs, or business closure. The late 90s were a volatile space for new tech firms.
"There were multiple [jobs] that I was there two months and then they gave me three months' severance," he says. Young and carefree, he'd tell himself, "I'm going to go skateboard for a month and then figure out what I'm doing next."
The next job would come along, and the cycle repeated. After nearly a dozen similar experiences—and as his relationship with the young woman who would become his wife became more serious—Tungseth decided he'd had enough of short-stay software startups. He landed a few long-term positions in design before securing a stable gig with the Edinburgh golf course, in Brooklyn Park, which mixed a longtime favorite hobby with two challenging businesses.
"Basically you're managing a retail store attached to a hospitality industry," Tungseth says.
Golf would lead him back home to Fergus Falls. In 2011, Tungseth was hired to manage the Pebble Lake Golf Course.
Meaning and Mentorship
Where the live-fast, die-young startups had shown Tungseth what doesn't work in business, the golf clubs and his own sideline programming consultancy shared a bit of what does. At the time of the Target closure, Tungseth invested that severance into his business, which he named 4T Creative. He operated from his house at first and found enough work to launch a full-time venture. Within a short period of time, he formalized his company, became CFO of Otter Tail Glass, Vice President of Sign Guys, and owner of Fergus Metalworks.
By 2020, his consulting business was making big changes, and Tungseth reached out to Greater Fergus Falls (GFF) for guidance. He wanted to work with other entrepreneurs looking to get their big plans off the ground.
"There [are] a lot of great ideas out here, so how do we help these people?" he asked. "What can we do to create the next thing?"
Those conversations helped form the Greater Fergus Falls Entrepreneur Initiative, to which Tungseth has served as a mentor since inception. He says his focus is always on growth, and he approaches business finance with a growth mindset. Where others trim expenses, his aim is always to increase revenue through marketing.
"The expenses are going to be what the expenses are," he says, "so how do we create more sales than expenses?"
With his entrepreneur clients, Tungseth talks process efficiency, mistakes to avoid, and writing a competent business plan you can take to the bank.
And what's the use of all this if you're not an entrepreneur? In a word, Tungseth says: Opportunity.
"The more businesses we have, the more jobs that we create, the more people we can bring into the community." He says cities like Fergus Falls have benefited from a shift to remote work and are often insulated (at least in part) from national events like recession. Through his work with the Entrepreneur Initiative, Tungseth hopes to help create more businesses to bring more income and tax base to the community. He wants to help others take control of their lives and careers.
Above all else he says, "I enjoy helping people realize their dreams."
- R.C. Drews for Greater Fergus Falls
Interested in discovering more about GFF's Entrepreneur Initiative? Click here to learn how you could be the area's next startup success story through this all-expenses-paid, one-on-one expert training program.