Today I’m going to share with you an incredibly fascinating interview I had with Ben Hubbard, co-founder of OlimDives.com, an online based stock market exchange game that lets you learn about investing in the markets with a fun, social twist. Ben is currently living an untemplate life as an entrepreneur in Saudi Arabia, many thousands of miles away from his hometown in Plano, Texas.
What is Olim Dives?
First of all, here’s a little more background on his business. You may be wondering where the name Olim Dives comes from. Turns out it is translated from ancient Latin as “future wealth and prosperity.” Pretty cool! Olimdives.com is a way to learn about investing using virtual money while you compete with other members. Membership is also totally free and you have the chance to win real cash each month if you’re a top member.
They also hold an annual tournament that lets you invest $100,000 in virtual cash, with the chance to win over $15,000 in prizes and cash. The more you trade and participate, the more virtual cash you’ll accumulate. So now you can see how it gets addicting and super fun without the agony of losing real money in the volatile stock markets.
An Inside Look At Entrepreneurship Overseas
When I found out Ben lives abroad in Saudi Arabia, I got extremely curious about his untemplate lifestyle and experiences in such an unusual place. I’ve never traveled to that part of the world and can only imagine how vastly different it is to the U.S. Much of the land in Saudi Arabia is desert, and I can’t even fathom how exhausting the heat must be in the summer with average temperatures at 113 degrees Fahrenheit!
Without further ado, here is my interview with Ben sharing his journey with traveling and entrepreneurship overseas.
Sydney: When did you come up with the idea to create Olim Dives?
Ben: I came up with the idea of Olim Dives while working on assignment in the South Gobi Desert of Mongolia. Living on a man camp in such a remote location offers a lot of free time in the evenings which I spent researching and discussing investments on various blogs and message boards. I quickly became frustrated with having to deal with spam and message boards flooded with self-promotions, unrelated posts and disrespectful content. Thus, Olim Dives was created from the idea of allowing people to connect socially with individuals of their choice and share investment opinions with a trusted network.
Sydney: How long did it take to get your business from an idea, to beta, and then to a full launch?
Ben: The site was first conceptualized in September, 2010. As an Engineer I had some coding experience but not at the level required to develop such a complex site with third party integration. I submitted various requests for proposal, and soon awarded the work to Elune Art, whom has proven to be an outstanding company to work with. The first wire frames began development in January, 2011. Over the course of the next 14 months, legal documents were generated, third party integration contracts were awarded, web hosting packages were secured and CMS and site functionality finalized.
This was soon followed by an internal beta test launch in April, 2012. After 6 months of internal beta testing, the site was transitioned into a full beta test which lasted from September, 2012 to December, 2012. The site was officially launched on December 7, 2012. After 5 months of evaluation, the Olim Dives decided to reshape the structure of the site to incorporate virtual trading accounts, gaming features and additional social functionality in order to enhance the social aspect of the user experience. The re-launch of the site took place on April 29, 2013. It has been a long process to develop the site while working all around the world, but it is a site our team is very proud of.
Sydney: What were some of the biggest challenges in becoming an entrepreneur and living overseas?
Ben: Living overseas in remote locations can be very demanding both mentally and physically. Some of the key challenges include:
• Time zone. It is difficult to communicate in real time when you are 8-14 hours ahead of U.S time zones.
• Finding the motivation to spend your free time wisely. After 12 hour work days and 7 day work weeks the only thing you want to do in the evening is nothing at all. Forcing yourself to keep working on a personal project can be difficult when you are mentally exhausted.
• Instability of IT infrastructure. Many times we would go many days without an internet connection which can prove difficult when you are working with virtual teams. This is best combated by planning your work 2-3 weeks ahead.
• Everything is electronic. When trying to grow a business it is important to network with people, participate in conferences, attend conventions and build a network of industry contacts. This proves difficult when stuck in a desert.
Sydney: Do you have employees? If so how did you decide when was the right time to start hiring?
Ben: Currently the Olim Dives team consists of 5 individuals including myself. All of them are either family or close friends who specialize in a particular field that contributes greatly to the development, marketing or public relations aspect of the site. When starting a company, there is nothing more important than surrounding yourself with quality team members who you can trust. Each member of the team has greatly contributed to the success of Olim Dives and has a relative stake in the company. We do not yet have any salaried or full time employees, although we hope to get to that point in the near future.
Sydney: What are some of the goals you have now or have achieved with Olim Dives?
Ben: As project control analysts, we specialize in cost control, schedule development and risk management. It probably goes without saying that we have developed a very detailed plan that consists of targeted milestones. One such milestone is to achieve 10,000 active members no later than March, 2014. Another goal is to successfully develop and launch or very first Annual Dive Madness investment bracket challenge tournament on April 21, 2014. We are excited about this concept as we believe it will be the first of its kind. Other goals include such things as incorporation of foreign markets, additional stock challenges and games and additional badges. This will hopefully all lead to our ultimate goal of receiving our first round of funding to aid in the growth of the company.
Sydney: Tell us about your time in Mongolia and what you liked, disliked.
Ben: First off, Mongolia is cold, and I mean cold. It would get down to -55 degrees at night. I lived in something called a Ger with another person, which is nothing more than a glorified tent, so it was often difficult to concentrate or maintain the discipline required to start a business. I won’t even get started on the food. However, the Mongolian people and culture was incredible, and I was able to establish relationships with many locals whom I maintain communication with to this day. Living in a place like Mongolia teaches you to appreciate the little things one takes for granted living in the United States. Clean portable water, healthy food, warm clothes, privacy and social life are privileges and wants rather than expectations.
Sydney: How did you end up in Saudi Arabia? What is it like living there as an American?
Ben: I currently reside in the Ras Al Khair desert North of Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Myself and 3 of my team members all live on a man camp consisting of tens of thousands of employees (all men). We are all part of the large capital engineering and construction business working in the Mining and Metals division. When the recession occurred, commodity prices spiked sparking a flurry of projects in the Mining and Metal Refining industry. Saudi Arabia is not only filled with substantial oil deposits, but also numerous amounts of raw minerals including bauxite, which we are processing into Aluminum. It has been interesting living in the Middle East during the Arab Spring, something that has and continues to change the ways of the world. There has been a large presence of Western culture in Saudi Arabia for quite some time, so Americans are not as foreign as they might have once been. Perhaps the most difficult and intriguing aspect of living in Saudi Arabia has been adapting to the Muslim culture and way of life. This includes such things as different work weeks, restrictions on the consumption of various products and goods, a male only workforce and very strict social laws.
Sydney: You’ve traveled to 35 countries in just three years! Tell us about your itinerary and the highlights.
Ben: In the interest of keeping this blog post to a reasonable length I will only highlight some of the best parts. As per our assignment policy, we work an 8×2 rotation meaning we work 8 weeks straight followed by a 2 week vacation. In addition to visiting all of Western Europe I have been to a range of countries including Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, Slovakia, Denmark, Thailand, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Zambia, South Africa, Lebanon and Bahrain.
Highlights include celebrating the Thai New Year in Koh Samui, Thailand, enjoying the festivities at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, bungee jumping of the Victoria Falls Bridge in Zambia, sailing the Mediterranean islands of Croatia, exploring the ancient wonders of Ha Long Bay (Vietnam) and the Angkor Wat temples (Cambodia), driving the entire Southern Coast of France, experiencing a safari in South Africa and playing a round of Black Jack at the world famous Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco. That even sounds absurd when I read it.
Sydney: Since you’ve seen so many places, where would you like to see yourself living long-term? How much of that is based on being on entrepreneur?
Ben: Despite all of the amazing countries and cities I have visited, many of which I could see myself living in, I intend to settle back down in Plano, TX which is my home town. I am very close with my family including my brother and sister who both live in Dallas and Houston respectively. In addition to being centrally located in the United States, Texas also offers excellent business tax incentives and promotes a culture for the growth of small business.
Sydney: Now that you’ve done it, what tips can you share for visiting a lot of countries in a short period of time?
Ben: Plan your trips, but leave some room for spontaneous adventure. The one thing we learned quickly was to over allocate time required for site seeing. So many people plan vacations around seeing famous sites, but do not realize that most of it can be accomplished in a single day. To me, the most fun is getting lost in the cities, integrating with the local cultures, enjoying the native foods (don’t be afraid to eat street food), and participating in any celebrations that may be taking place.
This will allow you to get the most out of any city you visit for a short amount of time. Another tip is if you are traveling with a group then don’t waste your time staying in hotels. Instead, book villas or rental homes. Not only are the accommodations much nicer, private and relaxing, they end up being cheaper than staying in a hotel. Lastly, try anything and everything. Being in foreign places provides an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and try things you may not otherwise do. Trust me when I say I never intended to jump off a 340’ bridge.
Sydney: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business?
1. Don’t just talk, take action. Way too many times have I heard people come up with great ideas that started with “someone should develop” or “I wish someone would create.” Be the person that starts or develops the idea or product. You will never know if your business idea could be successful unless you try. This does not mean skip your due diligence to determine if the demand is present, but don’t be afraid of turning thought into action. It is ok to fail.
2. Listen to your audience. You may have a great idea, but if your audience wants something else or an adaptation to your concept, listen and don’t let your pride get in the way. When we first launched Olim Dives we were excited about its potential and what I had to offer, but quickly learned that users wanted more out of the site. Instead of resisting change we decided to modify the concept to incorporate a more virtual trading environment with a gaming side. It proved to be the right move as we have seen a surge in member growth.
3. Ride the emotional waves and stick with it. There are going to be numerous times your confidence in your idea or product falls and you will feel the urge to discontinue development. This is natural. The key is to remember that your original idea was born from confidence it filled a gap in the market or provided a need to a target market.
Untemplaters, are you and Olim Dives member? Ever been to Mongolia or Saudi Arabia? Do you have any goals to live abroad and experience entrepreneurship overseas like Ben? Where would you want to go?