Head in the Clouds.
Feet on the Ground.
20 years of impact through startups, community building and adventures.
Helping people and organisations do work that matters to them (& the world).
2022: Working on Rebel Book Club & Raaise, & hosting at Virgin Startup.
Podcast Hosting: The Jump, Startups Will Save Us & The Books That Made Me (coming summer '22)
Podcast Interview: The Escape Artists, A career journey from a remote Fijian Island to co-founder of Rebel Book Club & Raaise.
From an island in Fiji, via the beaches of West Africa, to the English West Country, Ben has spent 20 years exploring how to make a positive impact through building startups, communities and adventures.
Ben has helped 1000s of people and organisations do work that matters to them (& the world) - whether that’s through starting an impact business, building an exciting career, or growing a purposeful community.
Escape Artists: In conversation with Escape the City, May 2022
Part One: Tribewanted
"On January 14, 2006, Ben Keene received an email that changed his life. The weather outside was rainy, windy, and freezing and Keene was holed up in his loft office, the window fogged with mist. He had just taken a sip of hot tea when the message popped up, and Keene did a double take at the subject line: “A TRIBE IS WANTED” National Geographic
The idea behind Tribewanted was to recruit a group of similar people online before heading to the Fijian Island of Vorovoro to build a sustainable community alongside the local indigenous tribe.
The idea was swept along with a flood of interest, the island lease was secured, and the virtual community sprung to life.
Tribewanted had to quickly overcome multiple challenges including a fire sweeping through the island in week one of the project, a military coup, and a tropical cyclone threatened to wipe out the emerging village. Online disagreements also made decision making hard and pushed it to the edge.
The project survived, and for a while, thrived. Ben spent 10 years leading Tribewanted: building crowdfunded sustainable-tourism villages on an island in Fiji (which was turned into a 5 part BBC series and book and invested over $3m into the local region), a beach in Sierra Leone (from ‘Blood Diamonds to Beach Football’ & measuring our impact) and a farm in Umbria (think River Cottage but with homemade pasta, olive oil and red wine).
Blog 2008 - 2014
Part Two: Escape the City
In 2010 Ben spoke in a Soho nightclub to 600 drunk bankers at the launch of ‘Escape the City’. Two good things came from that event - a new role helping build ‘The Escape School’ to support ‘escapees’ making the transition from unfulfilling corporate careers to something new, and he met his wife (not a drunk banker). Over the next 5 years the ‘Escape Team’ built two curriculums and led 1000s of people through 3 month part-time evening and weekend programmes. Ben personally led 10 ‘startup accelerators’ and is in close contact with many escapee projects.
Alongside Escape the City, Ben worked with a sports development project, Right to Dream, which has grown into the most successful football academy for boys and girls in Africa. This led to helping host the Ghanaian Paralympic team from Right to Dream at London 2012. Ben also joined THNK: School of Creative Leadership, as a way to connect with other impact entrepreneurs from around the world.
Part Three: Rebel Book Club
Soon after Ben’s daughter was born, he and his wife headed to Bali to set-up an impact startup retreat. In a bamboo co-working space in the monkey forest he started Rebel Book Club with a friend, to help solve the problem of what the Japanese call ‘Tsundoku’ - the growing pile of unread books on your bedside table (or, kindle).
Rebel Book Club is now a global community of paying subscribers who, every month, read one non-fiction book together, meet and, over a book-inspired cocktail, discuss it and see how they can apply its lessons.
Alongside Rebel Book Club, Ben continues to support first-time entrepreneurs at Escape the City, Virgin Startup & THNK.
Ben’s goal is to move his work to be 100% ‘earth focused’ within the next few years, to do the best he can to tackle the climate and ecological crises through education and community, in the most creative, fun way possible. Started doing this at Raaise.
Blog 2014 - 2021
Speaking, Hosting & Workshops
Ben speaks regularly about how to build a career or business around your passion whilst tackling problems you care about – whatever your age or background. He is the host of virgin Startup meets and podcast: The Jump.
His journey shows how you can turn a passion into a job, a way of life and so much more.
Ben has delivered keynotes, hosted events and led workshops at events all over the world from a CIA conference in Las Vegas (which he didn't realise was the CIA until afterwards) to a mosque on a remote island in Myanmar.
“Thanks to Ben for being a brilliant host for Simon (Sinek) and myself.”
- Sir Richard Branson, September 2020
“Everyone found Ben’s session and presence inspirational.”
- Dame Jo Williams DBE, Chief Executive, Mencap
“Ben Keene gave one of the best presentations I have ever seen.”
- David McQueen, Speaker, Entrepreneur, TV Presenter
“The best speech at the conference by a mile.”
- Chris Cramer, ex-President CNN International
Started 'Career Break Cafe' blog after driving to Timbuktu to help people plan long-terms trips mid-career
Crowdfunded the renting of Vorovoro Island in Fiji (with 1000 new tribe members): Tribewanted was born
Survived an island fire, a cyclone & a political coup in the first year of island life
Celebrated 3 years island success - BBC tv documentary & book: 'Paradise or Bust'
Travelled to Sierra Leone & worked with Right to Dream on setting up the Craig Bellamy Football Academy
Spoke at launch party of Escape the City before setting up camp for a year on the beach in SL
Became a founding member of THNK: The Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership.
Supported the Ghanaian Paralympic team from Right to Dream with my fiancee at London 2012
Launched Tribewanted's first European project: Monestevole, a farm in Umbria, with Filippo Bozotti
Advised entrepreneurs at Virgin Startup, wrote about 'Schools for Life', mapped the world's treehouses & made the first 'Escape to the Woods' festival
Spent the winter hosting startups in Bali with Tribewanted (& pool hunting), started Rebel Book Club in London & led the startup tribe programs at Escape the City
Full-tilt at Escape London - leading 2 more startup tribes & building our team. Rebel Book Club hits 20 books + 150 members
Consolidated the Escape School - leading 2 more accelerators + getting our curriculums online. Mentoring at THNK & ZINC.vc + workshops with Virgin Starutp. Read 50 books in a year!
Strengthened the startup programmes at the Escape School. Doubled size of Rebel Book Club. Moved our family to Ko Lanta in Thailand!
Went full-time at Rebel Book Club and crowdfunded £150,000. Moved to Dorset with the family.
Pivoted Rebel Book Club to 100% online during the covid pandemic. Hosted a dozens of online events including a chat about optimism with Simon Sinek & Richard Branson. Welcomed a puppy called Bula.
Slow return to in-person events for Rebel Book Club. Launched Raaise and started on-boarding our first climate stratups. Recorded 'The Jump' podcast for Virgin Startup.
Its not what you start, its that you start. Selling online ads is hard.
Braveness is rewarded but comes with significant responsibility. Don't complicate the mission.
Tenacity is critical but being clear on priorities is not easy. Feedback can be good for the head but not for the heart.
Ego can be the enemy if you're not careful. Power is better shared.
New beginnings can revitalise.
Taking on the biggest challenge not always the best business move but often the best life move.
Keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground.
Inspiration can come from unlikely sources - stay open.
Sometimes its good to pick low hanging fruit.
Creativity should be central to most things.
Mindsets shift with community. Scaling impact models not easy.
Building a team (& family at the same time) is hard.
Focus on the product. Easy to say, hard to do well. When we did it made a big difference.
Sometimes your comfort zone is closer than you think.
Do everything at once.
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.
Organisations & projects I support with donations or time.
Tribewanted Book (2008)
"Couldn't put this book down - What a story. In a world where most of us fail to attempt anything bold, exciting or different it is refreshing to read of an entrepreneur who does so half the world away in a profoundly unique, intact Polynesian culture. Great pictures, too!"