Hi. I’m Ben. I run a modest little Link Building Tools company called Ontolo. Even still, understanding the world, self and what it means to live a good life has been my passion.
For some backstory/history, I suggest reading this post: My Story of Starting
And that’s that.
- Andrew Davidoff: Flickr Profile
- Andrew Hyde: Andrew Hyde
- Andy Beal: Trackur, Marketing Pilgrim, AndyBeal.com
- Tim Duke: 1142pm.com, Analytical.me
I decided to consolidate several "about" pages into this one. Use the menu below and to the right to skip around.
Here’s some stuff for us to shoot the shit about one day…
I rock climb. More specifically, I boulder. But, before I tore my ACL, I was getting acquainted with a rope. Once I’m healed up from that ACL stuff (Spring of 2012), I’ll be taking aim at some Colorado 14ers and ski-mountaineering.
I revere travel and have done so, at times in my life, to the degree of it being my lifestyle. In 2007, I lived in a van with a friend for 3 months and 15,000 miles around the country. In 2008, I spent 6 months hopping around the country picking up sublets I’d find on Craigslist. Aside from 2009, since 2007 I’ve traveled at least three months out of the year while also maintaining either a consulting practice or Ontolo. I enjoy the mobile lifestyle and wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up back in a (larger) van again one day traveling from one climbing destination to another.
I consider myself relatively utilitarian. If something isn’t useful to me, I try and remove it from my life. In 2008 and 2010, I didn’t drink, for example, to better understand the utility of alcohol. Since 1/1/2008, I’ve worn only white and gray t-shirts and jeans or shorts, with rare exception. I’ve trimmed my possessions by more than 90% from 2007. I also frequently setup meal routines that allow me to eat healthily for just a few dollars a day with less than 30 minutes of prep and eating time, total, in the day. I’m not a minimalist, per se, but I use the things that I have and try to use them well.
In 2000 and 2001, I threw raves in Austin, TX. It was a good time. I also DJed for a number of years. With turntables. And vinyl records. For folks that just liked a solid groove and thick bass line.
I’ve found personal growth and development to be the single most beneficial effort I’ve put into my life. It’s taken me on some interesting tangents. If you dig consciously improving yourself, let’s get a beer.
And, finally, if you’re into that sort of thing, I’m an INTJ.
I’ve been doing SEO since August of 2001. But I did some things before that, too. I’m partially logging this for myself. In fact, I’m realizing that some dates I had originally thought about things were wrong. Like, I wrote my first HTML guide in 1995, not 1996, which I had previously thought.
- 1990: Online for the first time. Prodigy. I wasn’t a fan of computers or the internet in general. Except for the Palindrome game and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. Although I think my interest in the latter may have been because I “caught” her the first time I played. Which means I’m awesome.
- 1995: Friends get me to play games on the modem. Namely, Descent. I’m terrible. But…
- 1995: In the process of playing games, I get back online. I somehow stumble on the idea that I can create web pages. I’m hooked.
- 1995: I write my own HTML guide and website. I didn’t know about search engines or even consider that I could search for one. Or even that there would be a book about one. So I printed out web page after web page along with its source code. I deconstructed as much as I could. My guide was 8 pages, single-spaced, printed and stapled.
- 1995: The first time I find a site with frames, I’m confused. Where’s the source code?
- 1995: I start writing my first web pages.
- 1996: I make one of the most difficult decisions of my 15-year-old life: I’m not going to be a paleontologist. I’d wanted to be a paleontologist for 10 years at this point. Instead, I’m going to own my own business online.
- 1996: I see Hackers for the first time. My passion for technology now becomes a cultural thing as well.
- 1997: HTML 3.2 comes out. I poop my pants.
- 1997: I discover VRML. I poop my pants again and buy a huge book on it.
- 1997: I start a web design company with a friend. It didn’t go anywhere, but the seed was planted.
- 1999: I try and start a company with a friend that sell classifieds listings for boats. It doesn’t quite pan out again, but it was the first step in seeing that I could build a product, not just a website.
Things get wacky here for a bit. I go off to college and, despite going into UT as a computer science major, began losing touch a bit with technology. I was more interested in DJing, going to raves and partaking in associated recrecreational activities.
However, my passion for business didn’t recede, it merely shifted.
For a while, I traded stocks quite successfully. I hit a lot of timing right and quintupled my money in 5 years. I was very lucky, but hadn’t realized it at the time. I just thought I was that good. When the tech crash of 2000 hit, the 60% of my portfolio that I’d just put into telecom stocks tanked. Along with the rest of my portfolio, the majority of which was in tech.
This was the second semester of my freshman year at UT. I had more money than I needed. Hadn’t been to class in almost 8 weeks, was enjoying myself, and was an ignorant, arrogant 18 year old with money. It was quite the perfect trifecta. I dropped out of school.
I screwed around all summer and by October of 2000, I had thrown my first rave (we donated all of the profits to charity and gave out free water), and was hooked. My passion for house music met with my passion for business and I started looking for a venue. Luckily, the main venue in the area, Pulse, was up for grabs. I bought the lease, added some things to spice it up and went from there.
In January of 2001, I bought TexasBeatz.net. It was a messageboard that was insanely active with hundreds of new topics going up each day. Welcome to Social Media in the year 2001. The short story of TBn is that Andy Davidoff and I grew it to over 60,000 members by setting up an automated system for DJs to upload their mixes. In 2003, we were transferring over 3 terabytes of data each month. Our 10mbit dedicated server was constantly pegged with traffic. Eventually, we got a copyright threat from someone (it wasn’t our first) who was serious enough that we believed she would take action. As I drove home from New York City two days after News Year’s Eve, we decided the risk wasn’t worth it. After lots of DMCA research and meeting with lawyers, we took the mixes down and the site has steadily declined in activity ever since.
Back to January of 2001… Our first event to reopen the venue, Reborn, drew 1,800 folks and we brought in over $25,000. We’d never see an event come close to that again.
At that time and place in my life, I found it difficult to run a business in the party/club/rave scene and not party myself. It was constant partying, everywhere. The business scraped by and I put all of my money into a “final” event. US law changes (like declaring bottles of water “drug paraphernalia”) signaled the beginning of the end of the rave scene. I saw it coming, planned one last event and planned to move to clubs. Despite still being under 21, I found myself digging the club scene more than the rave scene. There was more of a focus on the music and the folks were a bit more mature.
This last event was big. 4 stages, 42 DJs (2 from the UK), 18 hours of music.
And, for a variety of reasons, it completely flopped.
It was time to sell my sound system, get a job and see what happens next.
Then the sound system got stolen. And I didn’t have insurance on it.
At this time, 19 years old and completely dejected and in debt, I moved back with my family who had just moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. I hated the thought of leaving Austin (I think it’s the greatest city in the world) and planned on moving back within a year and a half after I paid back my debts. When I told my company I was leaving 18 months later in December of 2002, they nearly doubled my salary and promoted me. I stayed.
- July, 2001: I decide I have one requirement for my job search: It must be an internet company.
- August, 2001: I interview with KeywordRanking.com and get the job. I’m officially employed. In Sales.
- August, 2001, 2 weeks later: We all realize I couldn’t sell cheap water in the desert. They recall that I wrote a web page once and move me to the service side.
- August, 2001 -> April 2005: We grow KeywordRanking/WebSourced from 30 to 180 employees. The stock goes from $0.05 to $5 (and back down around $2). My responsibility is to lead the growth of the teams (copywriters, account managers and SEOs) and to educate the company on SEO. Along with Andy Beal, we’re the main source of SEO knowledge at the largest SEO company in the world. At one point, we have more than 1,400 clients.
- October, 2005: I start working with Andy Beal at Fortune Interactive. Within a few months, I’m promoted to VP of Operations. Within 9 monhts we had 23 employess, I was responsible for 13 of them, and we peaked with a cash flow of $140,000/mo. Not bad for a startup.
- November, 2006: I start consulting in SEO.
- July, 2008: I write the first lines of code for Ontolo.
- December, 2008: Ontolo pitches and gets its first two clients.
- April, 2011: Ontolo moves out of agency work and to the Link Building Toolset, full time.
And that’s that.
I never understood when people said they “love to travel.”
Until I lived in a van.
In July of 2007, I convinced my best friend to go halfsies with me on a van and take a road trip around the country. Two months later, completely sleep deprived, I was flying down to Florida to buy a van from someone I’d never met. We found the van on eBay. It was…sufficient. I drove it from Florida to Raleigh and a couple weeks later we were on the road.
We spent three months on the road. We drove 15,000 miles and slept in Wal-Mart parking lots and metered street parking. We stopped in more than 40 cities and I’ve been hooked ever since. Combined with the spirit of the message in The Four Hour Workweek, I’ve integrated travel into my lifestyle to varying degrees.
In 2008, I sold my house and from July through December, moved from one city to another every few weeks. I’d pick up sublets I found on Craigslist while in the previous city, meet some folks, and move on. It was fantastic. I loved it.
- July: Boston, MA
- August: Chicago, IL
- September: Bellingham, WA
- October-November: Denver, CO
- December: Boston+Raleigh
Since then, I’ve traveled at least three months out of the year, every year, except for 2008. I also find myself moving often. I lived in Boston from Dec 2007 through May of 2008. Moved to Austin, TX until December of 2010. Then moved to Seattle, WA, where I am now. And will be moving to Denver in October of 2011.
Since January of 2008, I have worn only white and gray t-shirts. The exception is when it’s cold and it warrants a white long-sleeved t-shirt, it’s a formal occasion and requires a white button down or polo, or I’m being filmed on a white background and, therefore, where a blue collared button down.
It’s a lot less to think about. Even more than I realized before I made the decision.
I do something similar with food, eating the same, easy-to-prepare, low-cost, healthy food for extended periods time. The routine allows me to figure out the lowest common denominator of what’s both good and useful, to find the lowest cost (time and money), and follow that routine. In the end, I’ve had times where I’ve eaten healthily for $4-$5 per day and had a routine where I spent less than 30 minutes a day on preparation and eating. Those extra couple of hours every day add up and I find a similar utility in not having to think or worry about clothes.
If you’re interested, consider giving it a shot during a period when high levels of productivity are required and see if you find it useful.