Phil LaBoon and I first met while traveling in Europe a few years ago. I was halfway through my three-month journey, and he was on the last leg of his trip when we happened upon the same hostel in Budapest (shout out to Tiger Tim’s Place!). A few days later we parted ways, but not before I got a chance to hear his story.
As an avid globe trekker, Phil has visited more than 21 countries, anywhere from Central and South America to all over Europe and Asia. A self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur”, Phil has done it all from selling breathalyzers to founding a multi-million dollar real estate brokerage firm. Phil lost it all, however, due to the dealings of a shady business partner.
Determined to come back better than ever, Phil never faltered in his desire to be an entrepreneur and, starting from the ground up again, he took a $10 an hour consulting job to rebuild his clientele. His efforts eventually paid off and soon became the basis for his most successful venture Eyeflow Internet Marketing, a multi-million dollar business consulting company specializing in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Social Media Marketing.
Most people, however, will probably recognize Phil as the broken-hearted groom who recently received international media coverage when he turned his once-planned wedding reception into a fundraising opportunity (LemonAID) for Surgicorps International, a non-profit that provides free surgical and medical care to disadvantaged individuals in developing countries. (Check out his story on People Magazine.) And that is the type of person Phil is, selfless with his time, earnest in friendship, and always loyal – qualities that endear him to the many who consider him a friend (myself included).
From success to failure and back again, from heartache and betrayal to triumph, Phil’s unwavering perseverance is a testament to his indomitable will, a story I hope will inspire fellow travelers and entrepreneurs alike when in pursuit of their dreams, whether it be on the road or in the boardroom.
How did the idea for Eyeflow come about?
When I started the company in 2001, there was almost no competition, especially locally. Everyone assumed a web designer knew how to market a website and generate traffic & rankings from search engines, but the truth was the fundamentals were never taught in school. I saw an opportunity to offer what I thought would be a niche service, which turned out to be a fast growing multi-billion dollar industry.
What was the biggest challenge/fear you conquered in starting Eyeflow?
I started the company when I was 20, and it was VERY difficult to be taken seriously especially in an industry where I am selling a service instead of a good. I had to work extremely hard to establish trust with clients and show results faster than my competitors.
What does your normal day look like?
As the CEO of a fast growing company, my day is spent addressing many various issues, most of them being unrelated to Internet marketing. While I do help guide the process and speak with larger prospective clients, a big chunk of my time goes to reviewing the work of others in the company and directing the growth of the company at large.
What has surprised you the most about being an entrepreneur?
That more people don’t do it… To me, much of what I do seems like common sense, but the longer I’ve been an entrepreneur, the more I realize it’s an acquired skill. I guess a huge surprise for me was how rare the “entrepreneur gene” is among our generation and how risk averse most people are.
How has travel influenced the way you’ve done business?
I was lucky enough to start traveling early on in adulthood, and I think it completely changed my perspective on the world. I think it’s easy to become complacent and believe that our very limited [view] of the world is the only one out there. Every time I experience a new culture I feel like I’m learning more about society and myself.
What advice would you have for travelers who want to start their own business but think it’s too hard?
Many people think that starting their own business is just too hard or too risky, but I would argue that by challenging someone to look looking at how risky the traditional route is. No matter what your industry, there are always employees being forced to take pay cuts, work unpaid overtime, being laid off, etc. At least by working for yourself, you are in control of your success and failure in life, which provides me with a great amount of security.
You have overcome and persevered through many hardships in your life, how have you been able to keep perspective and stay focused on your goals?
I have had many businesses fail and investments not pay off but I keep getting back up and moving forward. I feel many reasons people fail in business is they hit one obstacle and they give up and move to something else too quickly. I personally look at every failure as a learning lesson… After enough failures, you become immune to most of the devastating consequences your decisions could bring.
So many people want to travel but think it’s too expensive or dangerous. What are a few tips and tricks you learned on the road to help debunk this myth?
There are many ways to travel on a budget, but I think the most fulfilling way is to stay in hostels. I have met hundreds of peoples over the years by staying in hostels all across the globe. In fact, the person that contacted me for this article I met in a hostel while traveling.
What would be one travel moment that you would want to relive?
When I was traveling through Indonesia, I met a local who told me about an old beach vacation town that basically is in ruins because a corrupt politician sold the sand off the beach. We drove hours in the middle of nowhere to come across a town that appeared to be completely taken over by nature, and it was awe-inspiring to say the least. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera then, so all I have are the memories of that day…
What has been your most memorable travel experience?
I was traveling with some friends in Singapore, and we ended up meeting a massive amount of hospitable locals that took us to a nightclub. It was one of those places that played all kinds of local and national top 40 hits. Then, almost out of nowhere, a band came on and played “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis. Everyone in the club rushed to the stage and sang along – you couldn’t even hear the band it got so loud, and it completely changed the vibe and you could just feel the energy.
If you could go anywhere in the world (other than your hometown of Pittsburgh), where would you like to spend your ideal day? And what would you do?
I have always been a beach guy at heart, and I spent a fair amount of time traveling through beach towns in Central America. Personally, I see myself retiring on the beach and doing something very low stress like running a small bar / restaurant. I don’t think I’ll ever give up working completely as I find the routine fulfilling.
Where haven’t you gone that you would love to go?
I’d really like to spend some time in Morocco. I always felt a longing to go there, but it was just never in the cards. I like the idea of exploring an African country with strong western European ties.
What is your favorite meal/restaurant?
There is a small restaurant in Pittsburgh that I eat at quite often called Dish Osteria that makes the most amazing Mushroom Pasta. Still do this day I don’t think I have found a better restaurant in my travels.
What does being a jetsetter mean to you?
To me being a jetsetter means I get to see the world and be my own captain. I worked very hard to live a lifestyle where I could travel at my leisure, and I am proud that I worked hard enough to turn that dream into a reality.