Welcome to part II of the new series The Athletic Artist: Sparking Creativity Through Training, where I’ll be profiling a motley crew of individuals on how they use training to help fuel their creativity in their business and/or artistic endeavors.
In part II, we’ll be profiling CEO and co-founder of Snowman, Ryan Cash. Ryan is a former colleague (and friend) who has achieved monumental success in the gaming industry. One thing I love about Ryan is that despite his burgeoning career success, he’s still one of the most humble and grounded individuals I know.
Alongside the release of his first app called Checkmark, Ryan also launched his company, Snowman, in 2012, which he describes as a “small studio at the centre of artful experiences.” In 2015, Snowman launched the widely successful snowboarding game Alto’s Adventure, followed by the sequel Alto’s Odyssey. The Alto series alone drove over 100M downloads to-date and has won numerous design awards. Since then, Snowman has released other award-winning games including Where Cards Fall, and Skate City. With more exciting things coming soon.
However, you’d be remiss in pegging Ryan’s scope of interests as being limited to game development. Training and workouts have become an integral part of his workday, alongside other passion points like photography, writing, travelling, and driving. You could say that Ryan is a true Renaissance Soul.
A Drive in Business and the Inception of Snowman
Like so many prolific entrepreneurs, Ryan’s path to success was a bit unconventional. Growing up, Ryan’s education and career trajectory was laid out clearly—or so he thought—but upon entering his senior year in high school, he expressed that a teacher sparked an epiphany that provided a comfort in exploring other roads that can lead to “success”:
I had always planned to go to University, get a degree and get a good job after high school. But in Grade 12, I had a teacher who definitely left an impression on me. To boil it down she really stressed that “The American Dream” isn’t the only way to live your life. It’s a great option, but it isn’t the only way.
Following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, John D. Rockefeller and so many other successful entrepreneurs, Ryan tested the waters in formal education before realizing it wasn’t the right fit. While he did give college a go for a year, he wasn’t really enjoying it; deciding to withdraw from his program.
After Ryan’s short spurt in college, he landed a job at a small software company that develops Mac apps for small businesses called Marketcircle (this is where I actually met Ryan for the first time). He admits that this decision “changed the course of [his] life forever,” wondering to this day “where [he’d] be if only the smallest little detail was changed.”
Like so many of us, Ryan also had aspirations to build wealth. He remembers reading the back cover of the The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton, realizing right away, that path to wealth wasn’t for him. For those that haven’t had the chance to read Chilton’s most well-known work, the book juxtaposes two neighbours’ outlook on money. One makes exorbitant amounts of money and spends his income to support his luxurious lifestyle, while the neighbour, a barber, makes a more modest income but decided to save and invest early on and continued to do so consistently over time. Spoiler alert: when it came to retirement, the barber was the wealthier of the two, despite the lower income. Ryan didn’t want to play it too safe though…he wanted to embrace a bit more risk than the anecdotal barber.
On the flip side, Ryan remembers when 50 Cent released his first album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was more in line with his thinking. Ryan writes:
I remember holding [They Wealthy Barber] in one hand and the album in the other and saying to myself “I’m opting for the latter (aka die trying)”. I just couldn’t see myself being cautious, smart and responsible for my entire life and following a path that everyone else said was the right way to live your life…I felt like I had to do something different.
Ryan’s business drive was influenced in part by ignoring society’s three-step plan on how to “be successful” and his pursuit to build his own future and foster a comfortable lifestyle.
After 5 years at Marketcircle, Ryan was ready to move on to something else, although admits the decision was by no means easy. Shortly after leaving the first company that helped give him legs in the business realm, he released his first own app called Checkmark. The app focused on improving location-based reminders and making it super simple and fast to enter date/time-based reminders.
Although Checkmark did get quite a bit of publicity, he said it wasn’t a “smash hit success”. Ryan writes:
We had no real plans beyond Checkmark either – we were just going with the flow. I think at the time I had assumed we’d sell millions of copies and then figure out where to go from there. That didn’t happen.
While Ryan’s first app didn’t meet his personal measure of success, it didn’t crush his curiosity or stop his entrepreneurial drive. His team began working on a second app focused on privacy, but came to a halt mid-way through and decided to shift gears and focus on developing games instead. Snowman’s designer, Marcelo Marfil’s privacy app idea reminded him of the brain game Simon (a classic from the 80’s) which sparked an entirely new conversation.
His team paused, and said, “wait, why don’t we make that instead.” The team at Snowman thought it would be cool to recreate a popular classic physical game into a digital version. The next app released, influenced by Simon, was a memory game called Circles; a precursor to his most successful game to-date: Alto’s Adventure. For a full back story on the inception and inspiration behind Alto’s Adventure, you can read more about it here (which I highly suggest because it’s super inspiring).
Ryan’s Fitness Journey
Ryan played several sports growing up, including soccer, skateboarding, snowboarding and basketball—in which he had aspirations to be in the NBA one day. While his career in professional basketball unfortunately didn’t work out, he still injects his love for staying active in his day-to-day.
Heavily influenced by his dad who would workout religiously in their home gym comprised of “some dumbbells and a rickety bowflex-like machine”, when Ryan turned 20, he found himself gravitating towards a gym setting for his training. He writes:
I always remember my dad talking about working out as a kid. I definitely think that’s where my primary motivation for sports and fitness comes from.
Ryan learned the fitness ropes himself and describes himself as “self-taught.” That is, he spent innumerable hours learning about fitness online and watching YouTube videos—something a lot of us millennials can relate to. He briefly dipped his toe into the running pool, but soon realized that it wasn’t his cup of tea due to some pretty brutal shin splints. Biking has become his bread and butter.
If Ryan’s accolades don’t already speak for themselves, I’m sure you’re now noticing that Ryan is pretty much the definition of ambition. He writes:
I have pretty strong willpower, and if I set my eyes on something I’ll work as hard as I can until I achieve it. I like pushing and testing myself. I thrive in adversity.
Although, he does admit (like so many of us…including myself) that finding a balance and moderation can be tough. He feels the best in his workouts when he’s sticking to healthier meals, but loves to chillax with a pizza by his side too (who doesn’t? We feel you, Ry). He describes himself as “all or nothing” and he’s either “working out all the time and eating super well or travelling/in vacation mode and eating whatever [he] wants.”
Fuelling Creativity Through Training
Ryan uses his workouts as a way to disconnect and disengage. His business requires a lot of screen time, so his workouts help him de-stress, step away from the computer and gives him the recharge he needs to stay focused in his work for the remainder of the day.
When Ryan is in his regular routine, he’s pretty consistent with his training—he’s eating healthy and skipping workouts are few and far between. When he’s travelling however, Ryan admits that he finds it nice to take a bit of time off. He writes:
While it can sometimes feel good not working out for a week or two while traveling, I always look forward to getting back in the gym.
When consistency starts to slip, Ryan sees his good habits start to disappear simultaneously—eating less healthy and a worsened sleep are just two of the negative side effects. He’s a firm believer that we need to make ourselves “physically tired,” especially when working at a desk job. “I need to get some kind of workout in, even if it’s just a walk”, he writes.
The Creative Process
Ryan doesn’t have a standard process when it comes to creativity.
Most of my creative work usually happens when I’m not working. Ideas have a way of popping up when our minds are still, in between intensive thought. The best ideas I’ve ever had have come in the shower, while I’m driving, during a workout, on a hike or while traveling in another country. I find it’s almost impossible to sit down at my desk and actually come up with good ideas.
While the execution of the work is done at his desk, his creativity and idea flow surface between conscious thought. Ryan is also cognizant of his internal clock and tries to capitalizes on his peak productive hours, lately from 7-9pm and from midnight – 2am.
Day in the Life
As most of us can attest, our lives exist between two points in time: pre-pandemic and current pandemic. Ryan is no different.
Pre-pandemic, Ryan would wake up between 9-10am, make a coffee and start work right away from his him home office. His first few tasks include responding to emails and slack messages—trying to “rid anything either very time-sensitive, easy, or urgent.” Because his team is located across many different time zones, he tries responding quickly to anyone that’s waiting to hear back.
He works until around 11:30am – 12:30pm (depending on the workload) then tries to “rush away from my desk as soon as possible to get my workout in”. He walks to the gym and will work out for anywhere between 45 minutes – 1.5 hours. After his workout, Ryan would then walk into Snowman’s office (pre-pandemic of course).
Ryan stuck to this schedule every single day, finding it to be a vital ingredient in increasing productivity for his remaining work hours. “My workouts are so crucial for not only breaking up the day, but making sure that when I’m at work, I can fully focus.”
On his way back to the office, he would typically stop and grab a healthy lunch (usually comprised of protein + veggies). Ryan has been practicing intermittent fasting for the last 3-4 years as it helps him feel more nimble, gives him a clearer mind, more energy, and better strength in the gym. He’ll typical practice the 18:6 window, sometimes the 16:8 (the most common), and occasionally incorporates the OMAD protocol (which is only eating one time per day).
He gets back to the office around 1-2pm, eats his lunch, catches-up with colleagues, and then gets back to work as soon as possible. The afternoons are usually taken up by meetings and calls. Ryan will typically leave the office around 7-9pm, but admits that he stays at work so late because he works with his friends and sister. “We’d often end up all staying late and joking around/kind of getting work done.” Before the pandemic, he’d usually make plans with friends after work or just relax at home.
Ryan writes, “If I’m home and have nothing to do, I usually end up working.” Ahhh, the life of the self-employed.
Since the pandemic hit, Ryan’s work and training life has changed dramatically. On top of that, Ryan also underwent shoulder surgery in December, 2019 then had a second surgery on his other shoulder in December 2020. The road to recovery has been “brutal, treacherous, and slow-paced.” The physio required after shoulder surgery is intense. Ryan writes:
It’s 6-weeks in a sling (without using your shoulder at all) followed by many months of physiotherapy and rehab. It takes about 5-6 months until you’re able to workout in any meaningful way, but before that you’re slammed with about an hour of tedious shoulder exercises every day. I love working out, but I do NOT love physio exercises. So right when my first shoulder was starting to heal up, the pandemic hit.
Ouch. Although Ryan was limited in what he could do physically, it didn’t stop him from exploring other interests. Ryan admits that watching TV grows tiresome quickly, so instead, found himself reaching for a book—something he never really did for the last 15 years. After that, he “was hooked”.
I now start my day every morning by reading. Sometimes it’s only for 15 minutes if I have a really busy day, but other days I’ll read for an hour. I generally read non-fiction— I’m usually learning something that I can either apply directly or indirectly to my job.
On the mend from restrictive shoulder recovery, Ryan bought a bike and some dumbbells to give working out from home a shot. However, he admits that it’s a struggle and hard to focus at home. He still manages to squeeze in a few sets here and there throughout the day. He writes:
Instead of an intense 1 hour workout, I found that most of the time I’d just squeeze in 2-3 sets of something here, 2-3 sets of something there, constantly bouncing between working out and answering slack messages, or working out and emptying the dishwasher. I’ve found it really hard to focus. Workouts seemed to span the entire afternoon.
Although working and training from home is not ideal, Ryan has made the most of it. “I’ve learned to kind of enjoy it” he writes. He’s also became a voracious reader—finishing 20 books in 2020 and “not planning on slowing down anytime soon”
Conclusions & Main Takeaways
Ryan’s work ethic, drive, and perseverance is admirable. While we now know he works a lot, life can’t be all about work. We need to carve out time for ourselves and loved ones, to pursue other interests and most importantly, take care of yourself. This should be obvious, but many people don’t schedule workouts because they think they’re being selfish with their time. Here’s some of the main takeaways on how training can help with our creative pursuits:
- Training can give us the necessary attentional space to come up with new ideas to help bring more creative flow to our work.
- Taking breaks to exercise throughout the workday can give us energy and focus.
- If you feel like you don’t have time to workout on a given day, try walking meetings, or incorporating a bit of exercise when you have a few free moments. Something is always better than nothing!
Thanks so much for participating in the series Ryan and stay tuned for part III of the Athletic Artist coming soon…