Interview With Entrepreneur, Podcaster, Forum Master And Owner Of The iFroggy Network, Patrick O’Keefe

Interview With Entrepreneur, Podcaster, Forum Master And Owner Of The iFroggy Network, Patrick O'Keefe

Meet Patrick O’Keefe. At 27 he’s a published author, sought-after public speaker, owner and manager of the iFroggy Network, podcaster with media and technology leader SitePoint as well as on Jonathan Bailey‘s Copyright 2.0 Show and all-’round entrepreneur. He has enough energy and enthusiasm to leave us “regular” folks breathless. If you’re a couch potato, or a dreamer-not-a-doer, you should probably stop reading – it could be bad for your heart. Consider yourself warned.

But if you want to be inspired? Come on along and find out more about this pretty amazing guy.

I’ve been a fan of Patrick for some time and was fortunate enough to be able to interview him about his many passions and the release today of his new book, “Monetizing Online Forums“. I’ll let Patrick tell you more about that because if I told you right now that the book is absolutely free I bet you’d be a bit skeptical. Just wait.

And when you’re done reading this I hope you’ll check out the book for yourself, and be inspired by Patrick’s dedication to creating something great and sharing it with the world.

Interview With Forum Master Patrick O’Keefe

Question: Patrick, I’ve read your G+ profile, LinkedIn profile, forum site and Twitter page but to date I have yet to dig up the origin of the name “iFroggy”. For the sanity of the perpetually curious, where did you get that name?

Patrick O'KeefeBack in 1999, I wanted to start a web portal. I was inspired by Yahoo! and I wanted to follow their example and create a web portal and cover as many topic areas as I, one person, could. At that time, domain names were $70 for 2 years. You couldn’t even get them for $35 for 1 year yet. I was 15 and $70 was a lot of money to me (still is, really). So, I took my time and came up with a list of names. I wanted something that was fun, memorable and easy to spell.

I ended up registering ifroggy.com on January 1, 2000 (Y2K). I’m glad I did, because some of the other names on that list were really terrible. I launched it as a web portal shortly thereafter. Eventually, I started to launch niche websites with a specific focus or goal. I really liked the idea of that, so I stopped doing the portal thing, but kept the iFroggy name as the banner brand above my network of websites.

Question: It’s definitely fun and memorable, so good job to your 15-year old self! Beyond registering domain names, you had an interesting childhood. I understand you were homeschooled. Sadly there are some negative stereotypes associated with that so could you tell me a little bit about how you became a brilliant online manager, author and all-around success story?

Thank you for the kind words. I was homeschooled for grades K to 12 and I think homeschooling is a great thing and a great option. It’s not for everyone. Public school, private school, other forms of education – they can all be great options. None of them are ideal for every person. I have heard my fair share of disparaging comments about homeschooling and have dealt with some directly. You can check out the comments of any homeschooling related article for a big, mainstream outlet and you’ll find it, on display. As long as people don’t try to impact my ability to homeschool, I don’t really care.

It is awkward when homeschoolers are held to some weird standard. The story of Andrea Yates, who drowned her kids in a bathtub in 2001, made national news. And so many outlets pointed out that she homeschooled her kids. As if sending them to public school would have meant she had no opportunity to drown them. Ignoring the fact that her kids were aged 6 months old to 7 years – meaning most or all of them wouldn’t have even been in school to begin with. Most crimes are committed by people who went to public school. What does that mean? It means nothing. That’s the point. Yet, if a homeschooler does something bad, the fact they’re homeschooled is reported, because it is different from the norm.

The normal stereotypes that you hear trotted out are tied to being sheltered or not being able to interact with people. It’s kind of funny because I think most people realize that most of the poorly functioning adults in society weren’t homeschoolers. So, what does that say? Again, nothing. It just means that there is far more to it than where someone goes to school.

I manage online communities visited by thousands, I wrote a book read by thousands and I get on stage and speak to hundreds of people and for companies like FedEx, Dell and CNN. Suffice to say, I communicate pretty well. When I was younger, and we would, of course, go to places like the grocery store at times when public school kids would be in school, my mom always told us that we should be a good example for others, because people weren’t familiar with homeschooling and they would think badly of homeschoolers if we acted in a poor way. These days, I don’t really care what anyone thinks about my education, but I’d like to think I’ve tried to keep that lesson with me.

As an aside, I thought that Blimey Cow’s video about homeschooling was funny.

Question: I admire your positive attitude and I agree that there are many complexities that go into making a person who they are. For you, what was the best part of having such a unique education?

Flexibility is the greatest thing about homeschooling. I think that public school is a tremendous time suck. Why do kids have to stay in school for 8 hours and then do homework on top of that? When you factor in getting ready for school in the morning and transit time, at the very least, you are looking at 10-12 hours a day. You want kids to sleep for at least 8 hours. That means 18-20 hours, of a 24 hour day, are gone. That’s a lot.

Realistically, the required work can probably be done in a few hours, 4-5 days a week. As a homeschooler, you have that flexibility. I could do school for a couple of hours, be done and go on to doing things that interested me.

Question: Sounds like having the flexibility and freedom to pursue your own diverse interests was an advantage that helped you get where you are today.

I was always very entrepreneurial and having the time to do what interested me is how I started playing around with computers and with the web and that’s how I started down the path I’m on now. I had time to do what I enjoyed. Flexibility also extends to off time. I don’t have to be off in the summer. I could be off in the winter. I didn’t have to go to Disney World in the peak season. I could go in the off season. Less people!

I was interested in computers and the internet, so I played around with it and I started developing websites. I was interested in writing a book, so I wrote one about a topic that I am passionate about. I was curious to see if I could be a public speaker, so I tried. I podcast because I am interested in the topic and/or it is fun. I wrote this ebook with Skimlinks because I like the company, enjoy working with them and felt we could create something special. I started a new video game show with my brother Sean this summer, called FirstSixty because we have fun, we’ve wanted to do something like this for a while and we enjoy video games.

In life, my hope is that I am driven mostly by passion and because my passions are diverse, my projects mirror that.

Question: Managing online forums seems to be your true passion. What do you enjoy most about it?

That’s an interesting question. It’s hard to quantify. I enjoy doing it and I enjoy the result of the hard work. For example, we have such a tremendously great environment at KarateForums.com. The way people speak to one another, how helpful they are, how they encourage – how they remain civil around even the most controversial topics. That doesn’t just happen by magic. It takes a lot of hard work. I enjoy creating those environments and those experiences that deliver real value to the members of my forums.

Question: Online forums are a topic that many businesses aren’t particularly versed in. So for the sake of people who are newly intrigued, what are online forums and what good are they?

Online forums are where the deepest and most engaged conversation on the social web occurs. Focused online communities are where people go to engage around a specific topic or interest. These are passionate people who care about the topic. If you type a question into Google, there is a fair chance you will be directed toward a forum. This isn’t coincidental. Great, detailed knowledge is shared on forums.

For a business, there is tremendous value in building a presence on these communities because people learn to trust your insight (if you actually share it) and you become top of mind. Not convinced? My friend Jason Falls recently revealed that 90% of trackable online conversation around banks and bank products happens in online forums. 90%. Microblogs like Twitter? Less than 1%. Social networks like Facebook? Less than 1%. People will be shocked by that, but it is just the tip of the iceberg and forums hold their own across the board, in most industries.

Question: Sounds like the type of relationship- and community-building that everyone hopes to achieve with social media. For businesses looking to take advantage of that tremendous opportunity, you’ve written a book called “Monetizing Online Forums” and it’s fresh off the presses today (congratulations!) What made you decide to get involved in this project?

Monetizing-Online-Forums-CoverSkimlinks. They’re a good match for me because, from working with them for years, I know them to be an ethical company. They offer a great solution that helps online publishers make money without adding additional advertisements to their website. It’s really powerful and it works like it should. They have always stressed ethical use in my conversations with them and spoke about the importance of disclosure.

I have a great relationship with their team, including CEO and co-founder Alicia Navarro and co-founder Joe Stepniewski. When Joe came to me with the idea for the project, what really caught my eye was that he said that he wanted the book to mention their one and only competitor. They want me to include their competitor, right alongside them, in a book they are paying me to write. That’s crazy. There is integrity there.

But, that wasn’t what sealed the deal. What sealed the deal was true editorial freedom. They wanted an independent work that was truly valuable. To maximize that value, I wanted full independence. I wanted to go away, write and then give them the complete project, which they then had to publish, no questions asked. They agreed. Not every company would do that, but they did. It takes a certain amount of faith, but they trusted me to create something special and I’m really proud of the work.

Question: That’s practically unheard of, especially considering most (or all!) companies would want final say over how they’re portrayed. So that’s one gold star. You were pretty strict about the terms of your agreement with them.

I had the final say on every word in the book and who was allowed to contribute those words. I think a lot of companies would have balked at that, but Skimlinks didn’t. We all agreed that independence was important. It wasn’t because of some fault with Skimlinks, it was really all about the way that I work and how people would view the project. We all know Skimlinks sponsored it. People will look at it in a certain light because of that, that it might be biased in Skimlinks favor. I get that.

But, my plan was to mitigate that. Skimlinks already did most of that when they said they wanted their competitor mentioned in the book. I just finished the job by ensuring that I was free to work independently. Skimlinks wanted that to happen and so did I.

Question: Now for gold star number two: the book is completely free. Without even an email address required as quid pro quo. Now that’s really unheard of. How did that decision come about?

The pricing strategy, if you will, was developed out of numerous conversations that we had. We being Alicia, Joe, Skimlinks marketing director Aaron Weissman and me. There were a lot of ideas thrown around. Should it be free or should we charge for it? I mean, this is a legit book. I want people to read it and say “wow, I would have paid money for that.” I never want them to think “that was good – for a free book.” I’m a professional writer and I approached this project with the same diligence that I would a book for a major publisher.

Once we decided it was free, we then talked about how people might acquire it. Let’s be honest, most free ebooks are marketing gimmicks and teasers meant to build mailing lists. How valuable are those addresses? Many people probably unsubscribe the moment that they have want they want, decide to skip the free book or mark the emails as spam. You do get some legit addresses and there is some value there, don’t get me wrong. But, with my encouragement, Skimlinks did something that I think is a little bold and simply said: we are going to give it to them for free. No strings attached. No cost, no email address, nothing. I think this is really cool and a different way to look at it. It wasn’t my call, it was theirs.

Question: What does Skimlinks hope to achieve by giving the book away?

Skimlinks is a publisher centric business. Their service helps publishers. So, I think we share a similar aspirational goal, which is to help online forum owners and managers to more effectively monetize their communities, in a way that balances the need for revenue with the need for a positive member experience. If you do it poorly, you can kill your forum with over monetization. We want to help people do it the right way.

For Skimlinks, their value is going to come from being associated with the project. The number of downloads and the amount of press it generates. They paid me and they put many staff hours into ensuring this project was created at a very high standard. And now they are simply giving it away. At the end of this project, I really want them to feel like they got tremendous value from being associated with this work. I love their patience on this, with what I feel is a big picture approach, as opposed to just going for the low hanging fruit.

Question: Who would you say this book is aimed toward?

This book is aimed at people who own and manage online forums that they want to monetize or already are monetizing. It could be a huge community with a large staff or a small timer just looking to pay for hosting bills. The book will also be helpful to anyone looking to monetize a website, including web publishers, bloggers, podcasters and more.

Question: What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

I think the hardest thing was just the waiting that occurred at various stages, where we couldn’t move forward because we were waiting on something. To their credit, Skimlinks was very patient and did not try to rush the work at all.

Question: How about the most fun?

The most fun was having the full support of everyone involved. It’s good to be wanted and to work with people I like and respect. I hand selected Alicia, Ted Sindzinski and Todd Garland of BuySellAds.com to contribute in areas where I felt my knowledge wasn’t where I wanted it to be. It was fun to have them involved in the project and, especially, to give Alicia, Ted and Todd yet another platform to share their great insight. Aaron managed the project for Skimlinks and was flexible and ready to work with me in the manner that I would have hoped for. It was just a good, positive project where I was surrounded by people who gave me the room I needed and helped me to create something better than I could have created on my own.

Question: Could you give me a really quick sneak peek into the biggest thing people will learn from it?

The book is a really detailed guide covering all meaning methods of monetization. One of the things I think people will walk away with is a new perspective on what exists. There is so much more than display advertising. There are so many different, creative ways to generate revenue. You will learn about those methods, how they work and how to integrate them in a way that is respectful to the community.

Question: Is there anything else you want to tell me about the book or your experience writing it that might be interesting or surprising?

All forums don’t need to monetize. This is said in the book, as well. Every community is different. For some, it isn’t necessary. For others, it is. This book isn’t about convincing people to monetize and it is not about squeezing every last dime out of your forums. Instead, it is a guide to methods that exist, how you can use them and what considerations to keep in mind, to ensure that you are not damaging your forums. It’s a tricky balance, one that I myself sometimes agonize over, but we aim to help people with it.

Beyond that, one interesting detail is that I love the book cover so much. It was designed by Skimlinks designer Barbara Somlai and I think it is a work of art. It is so beautiful and so smart. She took a list of things that I said the book should stand for and turned it into this amazing illustration that communicates the care that it takes to run a community. It’s probably one of my favorite things about the whole book. Truly brilliant.

Question: Patrick, you’re truly brilliant. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me about your passions and your new book. And for the icing on the cake, could you tell our readers how they can get their own copy?

That is very kind of you. Thank you for having me. The book is available for download at monetizingonlineforums.com. It’s available in PDF, MOBI and ePub formats.

That’s it folks. I hope you’ll check out the book, and while you’re there see what Skimlinks has to offer that can help you monetize your website. Then find Patrick on one of his many networks, podcasts or blogs. I hope he’s inspired you to get moving and start doing!