Ryan North: How the Internet Makes Unlikely Successes Happen

Meet Ryan North
A computer programmer turned self-made web cartoonist and writer, Ryan North is the most unlikely person to succeed. This is his story – and how the Internet made all this possible.

1. It opens up a whole world of different jobs and opportunities you never knew existed.
Say, you want to become a web cartoonist – but you can’t draw. So you take a dinosaur comic, write your own dialogue to it, and simply switch up a story by changing the dialogue. Sounds incredulous? Ryan North made it work, all thanks to the Internet that gave him a platform to do so.

“There are so many weird jobs today that didn’t exist 10 years ago and may not exist 10 years from now but you can do and be really awesome at and no one else in the world will be doing that exact same thing. And that’s all because the internet is so weird and it’s really good.”

2. You can find an audience for practically anything you put out.
Ryan North found himself a niche audience that appreciates his Dinosaur comics. He says he owes it all to the Internet: “The great thing about the internet is that you can self-select a different audience that likes what you’re doing and feels like this work is speaking to them individually.”
“The bottom line is you’re trying to get this work you created in front of an audience and hopefully a sympathetic audience who enjoys it,” he says. And that he did.

3. Can’t find an audience? Keep trying.
When he first started out, Ryan North had a grand total of two people who read his comics – his mom and himself. Then his mother stopped. Instead of giving up, he thought otherwise: “You put a comic up and nobody likes it, you don’t think ‘my comic sucks’. You think, ‘everyone else hasn’t recognized my genius, but I’m gonna go and make this better and better and better’.”​​

4. Crowdfunding can explode – literally.
To raise funds for his book To Be or Not To Be, Ryan North went on Kickstarter. He set stretch goals up to $100,000, though he only aimed to raise $20,000. he hit $100K in the first day. “I remember for half million dollars, if we reach this I will literally explode, thinking that will not happen.” It did, and to keep his end of the bargain, he exploded a 3D version of his head.

5. You can have any co-worker you want, and it’s hard to get fired from your job.
Collaboration is the heartbeat of Ryan’s work. “I became a huge fan of working with people you really respect and collaborating that way because it makes a much stronger work than it would be on its own.” Because Ryan can’t draw, he looks for illustrators to work with, and the Internet opens the door to finding these people. “Without it, these people I would never meet, I would never know their work.”

And it gets better. Working full-time on the web has another perk. “You’ve traded one boss who could fire you at their merest whim for 10,000 tiny bosses. And you have to get them all to fire you before you’re in trouble. And that’s always a nice thing to have. I’d rather have a lot of tiny bosses than one giant boss.”


Rahil Arora leads Lenovo's Customer Stories Program.