Ben McDougal is a tech founder, multimedia marketer and caffeinated ecosystem builder. His passion for the art of connection has allowed Ben to merge interesting roles with innovative side hustles. Along the way, he learned that the energy of accelerating others is unmatched.
Ben was born in Ohio, but has lived his life in Iowa. He was not formally taught how to be an entrepreneur. After graduating with a computer science degree from Loras College, Ben went to California to be a video game tester. Realizing that was not viable, he returned to Des Moines and took a sales job at a small web development firm. The Internet was still unfamiliar territory in 2005. Ben helped all types of business owners conceptualize their own company’s online identities and accumulated over a million dollars in sales.
In parallel to this commission-based role, Ben started his first side hustle in 2006. He had played competitive soccer his whole life and used online marketing to launch The Iowa 3v3 Soccer Challenge. With support of family and friends, Ben hosted two successful events before selling this company to a local soccer club that continues to host this annual event.
In 2007, Ben McDougal co-founded Jet Set Studio and launched Gathering of Gamers®. This was back when MySpace was cool. Gathering of Gamers® grew into a nationwide social network for video game enthusiasts. To connect online gamers in real life, Jet Set Studio also hosted live video game events. As eSports emerged, Jet Set Studio hosted larger video game tournaments throughout North America. The Iowa Pro Gaming Challenge, UGC Niagara and iconic Guitar Hero events were all remarkable. In 2011, Jet Set Studio launched Tournament Seeker. This was a new weapon for competitive gamers looking for video game tournaments. Today, Jet Set Studio is only a sliver of Ben’s career portfolio, but the XP earned will be forever sweet.
In 2012, Ben retired from web development and went in-house at a high performance home builder. For the next eight years, Ben made nice things look nice in the home construction industry. He aligned the Drake Homes brand to match the quality of new homes this team built throughout Des Moines. His intrapreneurial art included web development, photography, videography, social media, print and events. Along with his creative work, Ben championed change to boost internal efficiencies and enjoyed working alongside the ambitious team.
In 2015, Ben launched his third company. FliteBrite® infused technology into the food and beverage tasting experience. To do so, FliteBrite® patented the world’s first electronic serving system. The early embodiment of this innovative technology was an electronic beer flight paddle. Each paddle featured a color touchscreen on the handle. For thirsty customers, smart beer flights provided dynamic details made to share. The Wi-Fi enabled paddles connected to an online dashboard as well. This gave breweries, restaurants and bars a modern way to showcase their products while collecting data-driven insights. The entire platform was designed and manufactured by this company’s trio of co-founders. The team chose time over money, but two years without sales left the company vulnerable. When efforts to raise capital failed, the team shifted to serving smart flights with a mobile app. As the software-only approach was being tested, it caught the attention of the Iowa Brewers Guild. This partnership led to FliteBrite® adding a beer festival app to their product line. Today, FliteBrite® has a successful beer festival app brewed to scale nationwide. While the electronic serving system is on hold, Ben’s reverence for #SmartFlights continues to ferment.
In 2020, Ben co-founded his fourth company. OpenOpen is an open house scheduler built to optimize internal communication for the real estate industry. As teams coordinate recurring open houses, long email chains, endless text strings and annoying website updates are now replaced with single clicks from any device. OpenOpen allows available properties to be showcased more often with less time required. The result is more leads for teams of real estate agents and increased sales for home builders and property owners.
The story of Ben’s work would not be complete without sharing how his career has been caffeinated by 1 Million Cups. 1 Million Cups (“1MC”) is a nationwide movement developed by the Kauffman Foundation. The format of this educational initiative is simple. Entrepreneurs come together every Wednesday morning to enjoy caffeinated conversations. Along with enjoying free coffee as a community, different entrepreneurs present their businesses each week. After concise presentations, the attendees ask questions and provide supportive feedback. This educational experience accelerates the presenter, enlightens the audience and unites entrepreneurial ecosystems nationwide.
1MC started in Kansas City, then Des Moines launched the first remote location in 2012. As 1MC became a consistent source of inspiration, Ben joined and soon led the volunteer organizing team for five years. Yes, Ben drinks a lot of coffee with a lot of entrepreneurs.
As more 1 Million Cups communities launched, the Kauffman Foundation formed a new Regional Rep position to sustain this nationwide movement. Ben was chosen to help pilot this new leadership role and became the first Midwest Regional Rep in 2018. The Midwest region consists of ND, SD, NE, KS, MO, IA, MN, WI, MI, IL, IN and OH. Ben became the primary contact who supported and connected each 1MC organizing team from all 50+ communities throughout these twelve states. Collaborating with so many remarkable people has been transformative. Ben’s willingness to lead has expanded, but also intensified his understanding of entrepreneurship, communities of practice and entrepreneurial ecosystems. This caffeinated calling is work he’ll always remember, but the uncommon friendships will last a lifetime.
Alongside his work with the Kauffman Foundation and 1 Million Cups, Ben joined Techstars as an Entrepreneur in Residence and Ecosystem Builder. This innovative role allows Ben to continue accelerating inspired founders while connecting mentors and investors from around the globe.
In 2020, Ben wrote his first book. You Don’t Need This Book: Entrepreneurship In The Connected Era was written for those who spark action and champion change on the timeline of now.
“May the best of your todays, be the worst of your tomorrows.” -BEN MCDOUGAL