History of Anglotopia

Anglotopia has grown so much in the last year or so – I realize that there are many people who read the site every day who don’t know the story behind it. It’s quite a story, and it really says a lot about how we run the site and what direction we’re taking it in.

So, I thought it was a good time to start telling our story so far.

Anglophile Beginnings

I’ve always been an Anglophile. I don’t know when it started or why, but I’ve always been interested in England, London and everything in between. From a young age I dreamed of visiting England and going to London. I watched hours of Rick Steves documentaries, read any book I could get my hands on and searched the web near and far for anything about Britain. My passion drove me to make my first trip in 2001 when I was 17, and that was just a start.

As time went on and as I got older, it became increasingly clear that there wasn’t a website out there for someone like me – a central gathering place for Anglophiles to read about all the things that interested them about Britain.

Beta Phase

When I graduated from college in spring 2007, I had been to England 4 times and was desperate to get back. I was also at a crossroads – post-college, and I needed a job! I had always loved the Internet, and it was how I spent most of time spare time in college, so I opted to look in the Internet field for a job. To help my job prospects, I opted to learn about making websites, something I had always wanted to do.

I bought a domain for myself, and then I had an idea that had been bumping around in my head – a website called Anglotopia that would be dedicated to all the things that interested me about Britain.

Using only a Mac and the iWeb software that came with it, I learned to make a website. While iWeb made building a website simple for someone who didn’t know what they were doing, as I built my personal website and Anglotopia I began to run into walls. I made it look like the way I wanted, but it was a pain to update, and you had to update every little thing on the site if you made the slightest change.

Anglotopia 1.0 – Please Don’t Laugh

I figured out how to get it online, and it was launched. I had no idea how to run a website, though, and I quickly lost interest due to a lack of traffic and revenue. Shortly thereafter I found a job, and my free time decreased dramatically. Anglotopia went dormant.

The Closet Phase

By Spring 2008, Jackie and I were living in Chicago in a tiny apartment. I was gone most of the day at work. We were in a pretty miserable phase in our lives. I wasn’t making enough money, everything was a struggle, Jackie was still going to school, we were desperate to get back to England, and I was very unhappy in my job (this was connected to the low pay).

However, much had changed over the last year. My first job out of college had been at a major Internet retailer, and I’d gotten a crash course in all aspects of Internet marketing and in this thing called “blogging.” My idea for Anglotopia had been percolating since my first failed attempt, and when I learned that people were starting to make serious money with their blogs, I thought “Hey, why don’t I give that a go?”

In my office in our tiny Chicago apartment – which was actually a tiny closet big enough for a desk – I spent all the free time I could rebuilding Anglotopia. I’d learned about this platform called WordPress – it was installed on the server, and it automated a lot of the aspects of running a website that eluded me on my previous attempt. It was everything I’d been looking for.

In May 2008, Anglotopia was reborn using WordPress, and that’s really when I consider Anglotopia to have started.

Our first post was an amusing screenshot from the BBC News Homepage that said “Blue Tits Respond Well to Warming.” Check it out here.

By this time, I switched jobs and we moved back to Indiana and created a much happier life for ourselves. I’m a big believer in the idea that if you think your life sucks and you want a different life, then go out and get it. We did that and we were cushioned by finally making enough money at my new job. I began to spend more and more of my free time working on Anglotopia with the goal of getting us back to England. I wrote articles on topics that interested me. Traffic began to grow, people started to leave comments, and – crucially – people started clicking on the ads I placed. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

The Growth Phase

Over the next few months I wrote post after post. Traffic grew to motivational levels. I learned more and more about blogging. There was so much to learn. I started following Darren Rowse, who founded Problogger, and he really sets out the template on how to start a blog and make money from it.

Singular focus and passion kept me going in those early days. It certainly wasn’t the money! It took us six months to make us our first $100 on Google Adsense. But after that, earnings really started to increase. By my math, if I kept at it, I’d earn enough for a trip to Britain in about a year.

That was the goal for the site from day 1 of the relaunch – get us back to Britain. I still wasn’t making crazy money at my job, so getting by was still a struggle that made saving and planning for an expensive trip to Britain difficult. My reasoning was that the harder I worked when I got home from work at night, the sooner I would get back to Britain.

Let’s just say that Jackie is a very understanding wife.

The blog format worked for us, but as we got more content on the site, it was becoming harder and harder to explore the site and find stuff. I explored options and discovered that you could buy themes for WordPress that changed the way your site looked and the way people interacted with it. I discovered the Revolution themes by Brian Gardner and found the perfect theme called Lifestyle. I made a few changes to it and launched the new design.

Anglotopia 2.0 – Much More Familiar To Regular Readers

That was really when growth exploded, mostly thanks to the way people could interact with the site more, spend more time on it, share stuff they found, and click those ads. We would not be where we are without Studiopress (the company that Revolution eventually became).

Another crucial aspect to site growth was when we brought in guest columnists. Our first major columnists were Lisa Coulson and Mike Harling, both Americans who have settled in Britain. They wrote about life in the UK, and these posts proved to be our most popular draw for traffic. We added a few other columnists, as well, including Anglophile in Exile. Anglotopia would not have been able to grow if it hadn’t been for their free labors, so I will be forever grateful to them.

I’ll save the businessy aspects of growing Anglotopia for a future article for those interested, but another very crucial aspect of building Anglotopia was building relationships with people. That’s one things they don’t really tell you in all those “make money on the internet” programs – your business will succeed or fail based on how nice you are and the relationships you build as a result.

The First Trip

As Anglotopia grew in size, we started to develop relationships with many people who could help grow the site. I won’t go into personal details, but we befriended the person behind the British Airways Twitter account (it has since changed), and this person was very critical in helping us learn how to deal with large corporations as well as point us in the right direction.

In the summer of 2009, British Airways launched the Face-to-Face contest, which was their effort to rekindle demand for business travel. During the economic downturn, business travel – which was most airlines’ bread and butter – was decimated, and British Airways needed to find a way to get people to start traveling again. Their advertising agency created a brilliant program that sought to show small business owners the value of physical face-to-face meetings in growing their businesses.

They launched a contest which sought to give several hundred small business owners a free trip to London followed by a free ticket anywhere else so that they could build their business. You had to write an essay that told how getting the trip would help grow your business. I immediately jumped on this opportunity and entered the contest.

When I was at Dragon*Con 2009, I received the email that I’d won for the Chicago leg of the trip. We’d won two tickets to London – something we had been working towards for years.

We’d finally be going back to Britain. Finally.

And Anglotopia made it all possible.

I won’t rehash our experience in the British Airways Face to Face experience here – you can read all about it here.

The big take away from the whole experience was that we’d truly built something of value – value that others saw. This was a real big boost to us and really helped us take Anglotopia more seriously as a business. We finally saw something on the horizon that made us redouble our efforts on the site. That something was that we could potentially make our living from this site and go to Britain whenever we liked.

Super Growth Phase

Over the next year I worked like crazy on the site. I spent my days at my day job going to work in Chicago, and when I got home at night I’d work on the site until bedtime.

Traffic grew. Earnings grew. It turned into serious money.

With enough drive and motivation, I was determined to work for Anglotopia full-time. I spent every waking hour trying to make it happen.

I should add that during our growth, we’ve had many failures on the site. Many people may have noticed them. We’ve tried all kinds of new functionality on the site from a photo gallery, video gallery to a forum and link directory. The list of failed projects I spent my time on is so long, I care not to write it.

But when you run a website like this, nothing is a failure. Everything is a learning experience. One thing I took away, though, was to focus on what has worked on the site, which was writing great content that people wanted to read. That’s why people came back every day. That’s why some people set Anglotopia as their homepage – they wanted to read our stuff as often as possible. We’ll always be trying new things on Anglotopia, but the focus will always remain on content.

This site is running a self-hosted version of WordPress, and Anglotopia has grown as WordPress has grown. It started off as a simple blogging platform, but as our site has grown, WordPress has turned into a full-fledged Content Management System – which means we have so much potential for growth.

In June of 2010, huge opportunities abounded. Anglotopia was opening doors for us.

I’m going to tell this story in full in the future, but the short version is that I was offered a job (and a visa) in London. It was such a great opportunity that I had to get to London the next week for an interview. The wife wanted to go. I had vacation time built up, so we turned it into a working trip. We needed tickets fast, and I’m proud to say that our strong relationship with British Airways provided them.

You can read all about this trip here.

I ended up not taking the job (long story), but that trip was a big milestone for us.

Less than a year later I’d be working for Anglotopia full-time.

Full-Time Gig

The time from after our trip to London in July 2010 until Spring 2011 was a blur. I continued to work at my day job and work on Anglotopia every chance I got. Christmas is always a busy time for us as we try to cover all the British TV Christmas specials we can.

In January we launched our first sister site, Aussietopia. I’d always had an interest in the land down under and wanted to start a website dedicated to it that would follow the Anglotopia model and hopefully get us there one day on a trip. Growth on that site has been slow, but that’s because I haven’t spent much time on it.

Also in January we filed the paperwork to incorporate Anglotopia and sort out it’s tax situation. We also began the process of hiring an accountant to do the books. Anglotopia.net became wholly owned by our new holding company, Anglotopia, LLC.

In February we launched our second sister site, Londontopia. We’d covered London a ton on Anglotopia, but since there’s so much more to Britain than London, we’d held back so we didn’t overwhelm people with London stuff. We launched Londontopia with the goal of creating a site where we could go London crazy all we wanted. It’s been a success so far, but still has much growth to do.

We had our first baby on March 3rd, 2011 – which was big enough in itself!

The goal was to build these sister sites (and several others we’ve mothballed for now) so that we’d have more revenue streams. I set the goal of quitting my job and working for Anglotopia full-time for November 2011 when we’d take a 3-4 week trip to Britain.

That plan was not to be. On March 30th, 2011, I was laid off from my day job.

The severence pay would tide us over until mid-May, and the question was, what do I do after that?

I really didn’t want to go find a job – I wanted to work for Anglotopia full time. My wife was on my side, and we decided that rather than wait until later in the year, now would be the time.

So, on March 31st, 2011, I woke up and became the first full-time employee of Anglotopia, LLC.

Much has happened since then – most notably the Royal Wedding, which saw my mug put on the telly in Britain.

Check out the video below:

As I write this in June 2011, we’re at another crossroads. Anglotopia has to make it or break it. Money is certainly much tighter having lost my salaried job and taking on the cost of health insurance ourselves. But we believe we can make this work.

We have a lot planned for the future. One thing is for sure: Anglotopia is not going anywhere. Anglophiles will always have a home here.

I would like to also say something special to my wife Jackie. She’s been my partner through all of this. She encouraged me to run with this crazy idea, and let me spend countless hours in my office ignoring her. Without her support, there wouldn’t be an Anglotopia. Thank you, my love!

Thank you for reading, and we hope you continue to!

Update Since 2011

This page hasn’t been updated in almost two years and much has happened since then, so it’s time for an update.

Anglotiopia is still running strong. It’s still our full time jobs. It’s become so much work, we’re able to hire some help when we need it. 2012 was our best year yet as far as revenue goes.

2012 saw us have to hire a lawyer for the first time to protect Anglotopia – that wasn’t a fun experience. We can’t really talk about it, it’s behind us anyway.

We returned to England again in May 2012, this time for almost 3 weeks – our longest trip yet. We attended all the major Diamond Jubilee Festivities in London and filmed footage for the first Web Series dedicated to travel in Great Britain: Travels in Britain. We have more episodes planned when we return to Britain next.

We also released our first Guidebooks in 2012 – 101 London Travel Tips and 101 Budget Britain Travel Tips. Culled from our experience of traveling to Britain 10 times, we gathered our best trips together to make the most of your trips to Britain. We published them ourselves using the Createspace platform and the books are available in print and in eBook format. Sales have been good and we have more books planned.

In late 2012 and in early 2013 Anglotopia went through it’s first existential crisis where we almost lost the site (and several others). Several of our domain names were stolen, including Anglotopia.net and we had to launch expensive legal action to get them back. We were eventually victorious but those were some dark days for us. You can read about the whole story here.

In February 2013, we released our latest book – Anglotopia’s Dictionary of British English: British Slang from A to Zed – which has been a runaway seller for us.

Spinning off a T-shirt Business

anglotees-large-logo

In late 2013, we designed an Anglotopia T-shirt that ended up being extremely popular. So popular it got us thinking that there may be a business opportunity there. We came up with the idea for Anglotees – a new website that sells a unique British themed t-shirt every week. The shirt is available for just one week at which point it won’t be available for general sale again (though we reserve the right to offer the best sellers around the holidays).

Anglotees was founded as a separate business but it is very much complemented by Anglotopia and we will use Anglotopia’s available marketing platform to support the new business. It’s off to a great start and we have many great designs in the pipeline.

Check out Anglotees

Anglotopia Network of Sites

With the success of Anglotopia.net, we’ve been adapting the model to some of our other interests – including launching sites dedicated to London, Australia, New Zealand and many more.

To take a look at all of our web properties, click here.