My Life as a Teenage Dotcom Millionaire
Auto-confessional press release
Today, We received a press release concerning one time "teenage dotcom millionaire" Benjamin Cohen. We thought we'd share it with you. Reproduced in full below.
The Last of the Teenage Dot.Com Millionaires is to Disappear... He's turning twenty
Benjamin Cohen has been at the forefront of one of the most innovative industries that the UK has ever seen, the dot com industry. Founder of soJewish.com, the community portal, he was thrust into the limelight at the tender age of 16. Figures of £5m were quoted for his personal stake in the business. As it goes, the company merged with the London Jewish News (the largest free Jewish newspaper in the world) and then reversed into Totally plc on the AIM market. For a day Cohen was the youngest director of a publicly quoted company ever. His share in Totally was not worth anything like the £5m that was quoted two years earlier, it was valued at £310,000
but had reduced to £40,000 when he came to sell his stake.
Cohen was hyped from day one of his media debut. However, this was not by PR people - he had none - but by the press. Speculating at his stake in the business, Ben was made into a millionaire.
"For Britain's business journalists, Benjamin has come to represent the internet world in all its wonder and bizarreness." Jon Ronson, Evening Standard
Cohen for his part never truly believed what was said about him and his bank balance and realised that at the end of the day he'd be very lucky to walk away from SoJewish.com with a few hundred thousand pounds.
Immediately after completing his A-Levels, Benjamin decided to concentrate his energies on CyberBritain.com, a business that he had first started developing when he was 15. He successfully raised capital by the end of 2000 and started to hire a team to work around his concepts. All of this was filmed by the BBC for their "Trouble at the Top" series.
"When I look back at the way that I was in that documentary I cringe. I was at the top of an industry that was built on sand. I was carried away with the fact that I, a mere 17 year old had as much experience as anyone else at building an Internet company."
"I can remember how rude I could be at times to journalists and people phoning up for advice. Back then, I could be as obnoxious as I liked and people would still come back for more, they had to, I was Benjamin Cohen, the Dot Com sensation."
In reality the business that Cohen built up had little focus, it didn't concentrate on key ideas but instead on a logic that said its better not to have all your eggs in one basket. CyberBritain.com built up ten separate businesses and brands with the hope that one of them would be worth something in the long run. Yet almost a year later there was no revenue for any of them, just mounting costs.
Shortly after the documentary was screened Benjamin says he grew up.
"I realised the stupidity of what was going on, there was no concentration on key revenue streams, it was all about land grab and not about money. I decided that the only way there would be a future was to start to cut back."
Company by company, dotcom by dotcom, Cohen made his already small team redundant. He closed down skipmusic.com- a loss making music and mp3 portal, dotfamilies.com - a family safe search product and ceased development on a revision website, an mp3 software business, a cross communal website and
The cut backs which took until last October to complete left CyberBritain.com with two full time staff (including Benjamin) and three part-time directors. CyberBritain.com by now had moved into the offices of the (now defunct) internet incubator Cube8.com plc. A telling sign of the times, the 5000sq ft office which once had two hundred people working in it now only houses CyberBritain.com in a 175 sq foot area. The other 4825 sq feet lays empty leaving the landlord around £16,400 short a month.
Benjamin also decided to start a degree at King's College London in Religion, Philosophy and Ethics. This, he says, has also forced him to grow up.
"The added work load of a degree has made me focus a lot more when I am in work. I still manage to spend around 40 hours a week at work but it is a lot more focused on what can make money as opposed to what makes me look good in the papers."
"I think that really I spent too much time flirting with the media and not enough time working in the early years."
The degree has also make Benjamin rethink his impressions of internet pornography, a subject that he has been criticised for in the past. CyberBritain.com owned Hunt4Porn.com; Europe's first and largest adult search engine. Destined to cause controversy, Cohen has always displayed mixed views towards this aspect of his empire.
"In once sense I still stand by the comments that I made last year about freedom of speech and the right of the individual to access pornography. Yet I have come to realise that there is really little money that I can make out of it. I have not and will not ever sell actual pornographic images or content so it is very hard for me to monetise it. I had in effect a user base eager to buy porn but no one to sell it to them. If I didn't have my morals I could have already made a small fortune out of the site but I can't
bring myself to selling porn. I really don't want to be a porn baron."
When Jon Ronson described Benjamin as "the unlikely porn baron" it would have been more accurate to call him the "reluctant porn baron". When he sold the porn assets to British Virgin Island's based Liddell Consultants in August of 2002, he was glad to finally be able to ditch his porn baron label.
Benjamin has grown up into a sensitive and sensible young man. He has dispensed of his obnoxious, brash manner of the past into quite the perfect gentleman. He has the ability to laugh at himself and realise his faults but most importantly, change them.
"Benjamin is now 18, with sticky-up hair that I think he's quite fussy about in an appropriate teenage way. "Hang on," he says to the photographer. "I've got to gel my hair." Deborah Ross, Independent
"This little boy - Benjamin was 15 when he burst onto the scene - makes millions. He is our first millionaire teenage dot.com success story. He is the American dream, slap bang in the middle of Kentish Town." Jon Ronson, Evening Standard
Benjamin may no longer be the 18 year old concerned with how sticky his hair us. He may no longer be the 15 year old that makes millions. He may also no longer be the millionaire teenage dot.com success story; but then he prefers it that way.
"I prefer the new me a million times more over than the old one. I much prefer the calmer, sensitive and perceptive nearly twenty-something than the excitable temperamental teenager."
Benjamin Cohen was the first and the last dot.com teenage millionaire, sure there were many after he first appeared but they disappeared from the scene long ago. He's excited that the label will finally be dropped and he can become Benjamin Cohen, the businessman, student, media commentator and human being. ®