Editor's Note: Before they were entrepreneurial stars, these founders were regular people with regular jobs. Here, we look at how those early positions helped form today's high-flying entrepreneurs. 

Eric Ryan is the co-founder and chief brand architect of method products, a consumer products company that introduced design to the natural home care products arena. They make the kind of cleaning products you don’t have to hide in the pantry or under the sink. 

Founded in 2000, method is now in more than 40,000 retail locations worldwide, including Target, Lowes, Whole Foods and Kroger. But before Ryan set out on his mission to fight dirt--as well as unsightly packaging--he was just a student with a bent for breaking rules. He also dabbled in pizza-making and bagging groceries--two unglamorous jobs he credits with much of who he is today. 

Here’s how those early experiences helped Ryan propel method.

Rebel With a Cause 

Growing up in Grosse Point, Michigan, Ryan didn’t know he’d become an entrepreneur one day, but he was building companies way back when. 

“When I would play with Legos as a kid, I wouldn’t just build spaceships,” said Ryan. “I would actually build little office buildings. I would design little companies.” 

As a student, he often felt bored in the classroom, especially when it came to multiple-choice tests that required him to memorize facts. This was in contrast to the excitement and pleasure he felt when he was encouraged to think independently or create something. That, oddly, didn’t come until he took a job at Little Caesars. 

The Little Caesars pizzeria that Ryan worked at was more than just some high school job. It turns out new franchisees would come to train at that location regularly. So every day, Ryan received an education and the opportunity to see the process of becoming an entrepreneur firsthand. 

The pizzeria became a laboratory for Ryan where he could experiment and break the rules during his downtime. When the store was empty, he would create and test his own concoctions using various ingredients and the conveyor belt oven. 

“It was always fascinating to see what would come out the other side,” said Ryan. “[My pizzas] were like hypotheses. I probably wasted so much of [Little Caesar’s] food with my experimentations.” 

Speaking Up 

Ryan frequently found ways to push boundaries--and buttons--in the name of making a better pizza. 

During franchisee training, Ryan would regularly provided unsolicited input. 

“I remember they were testing how to get rid of bubbles” on the pizza crust, says Ryan. “I was trying to explain to them like, ‘No, the bubbles are the character of the pizza. Why do you want to get rid of the bubbles?’” 

He also remembers getting in trouble for being too friendly with customers, although he took customer service very seriously. 

“I was probably the best at answering the phones,” he says. “I always tried to entertain [the customers] a little, and I enjoyed that. But I would always kind of push the boundaries of what was probably appropriate.” 

Still, Ryan learned how to get his hands dirty at Little Caesars--and that’s helped him maintain an open attitude and a willingness to pitch in wherever needed. 

About the Journey 

After many other odd and not so odd jobs--he spent seven years in the advertising industry, working on campaigns for the likes of the GAP, Old Navy and Saturn--Ryan realized that the ingredients for a successful career were a combination of persistence and disrupting the status quo. It’s the through line that holds his career together. 

“If something is expected or pedestrian, I always find it boring,” says Ryan. “There’s a heightened sense of excitement that comes from doing something that scares you.” 

For Ryan, it has always been about that journey--and overcoming fears. Whether it’s sorting recyclables at a grocery store, tossing pizzas or disrupting a competitive industry, he takes great pride in his work and what it took to get there. 

“What I learned in those formative years was that I wanted to experiment and be different,” says Ryan. “But I [also] always understood that to break through, you didn’t have to just be different. You had to work really, really hard as well--whether it’s shoveling snow, bagging groceries, or making pizzas.”

Published on: Dec 17, 2014