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Meet Entrepreneur: Ben Lee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ben Lee.

Ben, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I first got started as a busboy and worked my way up to being the manager of a major hospitality group doing 25+mil in revenue before I was 18. From there I launched a string of businesses in food, entertainment, and tech before cofounding Neon Roots in 2011. We started as a traditional dev shop, and we were good – we worked with the likes of Salesforce and Spotify. But we really started to set ourselves apart with the advent of Rootstrap.

One of the things I noticed in my previous role before Neon Roots when I worked as a coder at another major agency, is that the digital development model is fundamentally flawed. The way it works currently is that clients pay development agencies hourly (or time and materials) to build a product – for every hour a coder works on the software, the agency charges a fee. Much like a law firm.

This misaligns the incentives. Under this model, the dev agency is incentivized to create the biggest app or software possible, because that’s what generates the most billable hours. Unfortunately, though, bigger is not better: this ends up keeping clients in the development cycle way too long and creating big, bloated apps with a bunch of features users don’t care about. Clients end up blowing through budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars without any assurance the app will ever turn a profit, and often because the app is so bloated, it’ll just fail.

Rootstrap was our answer to this problem. It’s a pre-product development workshop that focuses on defining the core concept of an app, testing and validating the key value proposition in the market and against real users, creating a clickable prototype (MVP), and building out a step-by-step roadmap to development, all before writing a single line of code. The idea is, first we ask if it even makes sense to build the app, then we decide how to build it, and only then do we go through and build it.

The model has been tremendously successful. We’ve done over a hundred Rootstraps now, and our success rate is that 13% of all Rootstrap alumni raise a minimum of $250,000 in pre-product funding. Half of that 13% end up raising over a million in funding. So that puts Rootstrap alumni as having a 2,600% better chance of funding than the average startup. We’ve worked with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Tony Robbins in Rootstraps, and we just had our first alumni of the program get acquired.

Has it been a smooth road?
Oh my goodness no. We’ve had lots of rough patches along the road – we once got screwed on a fixed-scope project that damn near bankrupted us, and mind that we’re bootstrapped so if we ran out of cash that would’ve been the end of that. But, that crunch ended up prompting the brainstorming that leads to Rootstrap, which really became the defining feature of the company. So there’s a lesson about innovating your way out of the hard parts there; sometimes you really can make misfortune your advantage.

Tell us about your childhood, what were you like growing up?
I remember being a hacker (the good kind 😉 ever since I could remember. I’d love hustling things on eBay and creating all sorts of micro-sites, blogs, and landing pages to market new things that would interest me. I definitely got the entrepreneurial bug early on. As far back as I could remember, I always wanted to be a “corporate executive.” I used to dress up in fancy clothes as a kid and always wanted to be in the business world. Some kids wanted to be firemen. I wanted to be a businessman.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Writing a letter to Fidel Castro when I was 12 years old. I received an autograph picture along with a personal invitation from his admin to come visit the Medical Clinic in Havana, Cuba. My parents thought I was nuts! I’m sure this got me on a few government watch lists too!

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Build more product and games. Expand our skills in growth hacking and influencer marketing. Learning to better leverage influencer marketing for promotion.

Pricing:

  • Rootstrap starts at $20k.
  • Typical development engagements with Neon Roots start at $250k+. This is post Rootstrap. Should you decide to do development with us after Rootstrap, we credit you 100% of the fee ($20K) towards your MVP cost.

Contact Info:

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