I love the freedom of working for myself! Freedom has always been something that is SO important to me, and the notion of a 9-5 and having to ask permission to take a vacation – well, it never sat well with me! - Alison Andrews, SBI! member since 2009

How This Online Business “Feeds” 15 Gourmet Pizza Restaurants

You have to be a little nuts to succeed.

Ugo Ortolano and his Taiwanese girl friend Ruby had a big dream: to get married and start their own business. The plan was to open a pizza shop in Taichung City. Great idea (and true to Ugo’s Italian roots)! There was just one problem: neither of them knew how to make pizza, let alone how to open and manage a restaurant.

That was back in 2011. Now, in 2017, the couple owns the fastest growing gourmet pizza chain in Taiwan. They are currently working on opening their 15th restaurant.

Ugo and part of his Pizza Rock team
Ugo and part of his Pizza Rock team

To tell the whole story, we have to back up all the way back to 2000. That was the year when Ugo first came to Taiwan to rock climb, learn Mandarin Chinese and explore the island. He taught English to support his travels, all the time looking out for a more rewarding challenge.

He kept hearing about people who were earning money online by sharing their personal experience with the world. He knew Taiwan inside out and had hundreds of photos. When he came across Solo Build It! (SBI!), things fell into place. He decided to build an online business about the country he loved. In 2008, taiwanese-secrets.com was born.

Today, his website makes money through AdSense and affiliate income, but — more importantly — it became the main promotional instrument for his “Pizza Rock” restaurant chain. Ugo built himself a free perpetual advertising engine. Let’s hear the story from the man himself.

1. How does a Québécois with Italian roots end up with an online business about traveling and living in Taiwan?

I left Quebec when I was 17, right after high school. I wanted to see the world. I traveled a lot around Asia, the States, Canada. I first came to Taiwan to rock climb in 2000. Then I stayed to learn Mandarin Chinese and to travel around the island extensively.

Over the years, I started hearing about people who were making money online sharing their personal experience with the world. It seemed like a good idea to do that as I had tons of pictures about Taiwan and had traveled around the country more than anyone I knew.

Hiking in Taiwan with friends who used Taiwanese-Secrets.com to plan their 3-week journey.
Hiking in Taiwan with friends who used Taiwanese-Secrets.com to plan their 3-week journey.
TAKEAWAY #1: Ugo’s probably one of the first “digital nomads.” Hey, perhaps he even started that growing trend! According to the Urban Dictionary a digital nomad is…

someone who derives income remotely and online, rather than from commuting to an office. This enables the digital nomad to not need a permanent home base, and she/he can travel anywhere at any time.

It doesn’t say much about the type of work you do. You could still be an employee, or offer your services via one of the many freelancer networks.

A solopreneur like Ugo is much more than that. He runs his own business. He sets his own schedule. He can choose whether to do this from his home, a pizza joint, a co-working space or an RV.

2. How did you know that taiwanese-secrets.com was the right topic for you and had great business potential?

I knew right away that my website had to be about Taiwan because it was my main passion at the time, and I considered myself to be quite knowledgeable about the culture and a lot of stuff related to travel.

I knew it was going to make good money because it was (and still is) a relatively not-too-competitive topic, and it has lots of high value keywords.

TAKEAWAY #2: Whatever your special “island of knowledge” is, there’s a business opportunity inside. You may not know your niche right away as Ugo did. SBI! helps you uncover it. The first 5 chapters of the SBI! Action Guide (we call them “DAYS”) focus on discovering and researching the perfect topic for you.

What makes a perfect topic or niche? It excites you. You have first hand knowledge of it. You love learning more about it. It’s neither too broad nor too small. It has good monetization potential.

SBI! guides you step-by-step through the niche choosing process. Before you build your first web page, even before you register your domain, you’ll have a business blueprint in hand.

3. You provide lots of great content for free. How do you make an income from your online business?

My income mostly comes from Google Ads and the Hotels Combined affiliate program. When people click on the ads, I make money. When people make a reservation on Hotels Combined, I make money. All I had to do was put a simple piece of code from Google and Hotels Combined on my web pages 9 years ago.

I used to sell ebooks straight from my site and those were big earners, but I had to stop because they were outdated and a lot of the info was obsolete. Unfortunately, with my restaurant business growing fast at the moment, I have no time to update the ebooks.

I also provide ad space for local businesses who contact me, wanting to advertise on my site.

TAKEAWAY #3: Like many solopreneurs, Ugo started out by using passive monetization models (Google AdSense and affiliate programs). They are easy to implement and maintain, but also have the lowest profit margin.

He moved on to a semi-active income stream: creating and selling his own ebooks. For informational sites, ebooks and other egoods are the next logical step in their monetization evolution. They need more work upfront, and — as Ugo pointed out — more maintenance, because you need to keep them up-to-date.

Many solopreneurs stop there, and that’s perfectly fine. It really depends on what you want to get out of your online business. Are you happy with leaving some money on the table but having more free time? Then stick to passive or semi-active income generation models.

Or, do you want to maximize your profits? Then it’s time to go fully active, as Ugo did. To discover how, read on.

4. On top of your online business, you’re the founder of “Pizza Rock,” a restaurant chain with 14 branches across Taiwan. How does your restaurant chain benefit from your website?

Currently, we are working on our 15th restaurant in Taiwan. Taiwanese-Secrets.com brings in a massive amount of customers at Pizza Rock because I advertise my restaurants throughout the website. It’s on more than 500 pages.

When people search for “pizza taiwan” or “pizza taichung”, or other keywords on Google, very often “Taiwanese Secrets” will come up BEFORE my restaurant’s website!

Ugo on a billboard at one of their restaurants in Taipei City.
Ugo on a billboard at one of their restaurants in Taipei City.
TAKEAWAY #4: Having your own free advertising machine for your offline business — how cool is that? That’s exactly what Ugo has. He built up a steady stream of targeted visitors to “Taiwanese Secrets.”

These people are either planning a trip to Taiwan or are already there. Now he can send them to his own restaurants, making him dollars per visitors instead of cents for a Google ad click or an affiliate commission.

How did Ugo build up all that traffic? He followed SBI!’s proven Content Traffic PREsell Monetize concept.  

First, he provides the Content that prospective Taiwan travellers are looking for. His high-quality topical content gets found (search) or discovered (social), attracting free targeted Traffic (aka interested visitors). Once on the page, his visitors are hooked because Ugo over delivers… he presents the best possible answer to what his visitors are looking for, in a unique “been there, done that” voice.

This PREsold visitor is intrigued when he sees that Ugo has his own restaurant chain. Of course will he try out the nearest Pizza Rock location. Hey, he might even meet the man himself!

Ugo isn’t the only one who uses his SBI! site to drive customers to an offline business. For example, check out how fellow SBI! member Richard Bergman leverages his informational site to drive traffic to his own online store and to recruit distributors for his products across the United States and Canada.

Many travelers also visit our restaurants to see me. A few write me in advance and I am sometimes able to make time to have coffee or pizza with them. Really cool that I get to meet my website’s visitors in real life, as they are traveling around Taiwan AND eating at my pizzeria!

TAKEAWAY #5: Agreed. That is pretty awesome! You never know which pleasant surprises your solopreneur career has in store for you. 🙂

5. How do you do it all? Expanding your restaurant business and maintaining an up-to-date online presence?

I was born in a rush, I was hyperactive when I was a kid, and now at 37 years old I still consider myself as someone being super, hyper-active. And I LOVE being this way!

That’s who I am. I have a lot of energy, and I laser-focus that energy on my passions, which also happen to be my businesses.

TAKEAWAY #6: Bingo. Ugo points out one of the most important success factors, perhaps the most important one: no, not the hyperactivity (although this can be helpful when you need to juggle a plethora of tasks), but the “passion equals business” aspect.

To quote Steve Jobs: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.”  

When you research possible topics for your online business, passion for your niche is one of the four factors that should flow into your decision making, along with knowledge, time availability and monetization potential.

Sounds complicated? As an SBIer, you’ll have access to many tools to help you build your business. To help the budding solopreneur make decisions at this critical point, we provide “Niche Choose It!”. This nifty piece of decision-making software helps you weigh up all the critical factors. It takes a complex – and crucial – decision-making process, and makes it easy.

I travel a lot, I spend half my time around the world these days, backpacking, hiking, surfing… Most of the new content for “Taiwanese Secrets” is actually built on the road, outside of Taiwan.

I no longer have to be here to build and maintain the site. I know my topic like the back of my hand, and I can write about it effortlessly, without having to physically be there.

Ugo, at his office
Ugo, at his “office” in Columbo, Sri-Lanka. Ugo says: “The office is wherever I go! It’s the iPhone and the MacBook. Simple.”

6. Do you use social media to promote your businesses? Which platform(s) work best for you and why?

Unfortunately, I have no time to do any social media at the moment. I used to have a Facebook Page for Taiwanese-Secrets.com, but it was using too much of my time and I was not able to monetize it.

Lately I’ve been reading many great ideas on the SBI! forums. Some people are using social in very creative ways, without having to spend all of their time doing it. So I would like to give Facebook one more try in the future, when I have more free time.

TAKEAWAY #7: Another excellent observation from Ugo. He dabbled in social, but eventually gave up on it as it was using up too much of his time with little or nothing to show for.

He’s not alone. We’ve studied solopreneurs’ social media presence, both SBIers and non-SBIers. A small percentage do it well. Most don’t. While SBIers are 100x more likely to build a successful business, they are only slightly better than average at social media.

The reason? There is just too much information out there. It’s the same problem as the larger challenge of building a business. SBI! was created to overcome that issue and enable solopreneurs to succeed by allocating their time in the most efficient business-building process possible.

Now we plan to replicate that with social media. To help solopreneurs like Ugo, we are developing “Social Media Action Guides” (included in every SBI! subscription for free).

Just like the main SBI! Action Guide, the social media version will take proven best practices, while dropping the 90% that is either useless, bad or more complicated than is worth the time. Then we’ll organize this information step-by-step, from setup to advanced techniques.

7. What has been your biggest challenge so far on your journey from solopreneur to entrepreneur?

Growth! My pizza business is exploding here, and our stores are really successful. As CEO of the company, it is my duty to make sure that we are growing sustainably, without sacrificing quality. It requires a lot of effort, day in and day out. Managing growth and success is fun, but also highly stressful.

Managing “Taiwanese Secrets” is much easier. It’s always been pretty stress-free. Even when I finally reached the “snowball effect” — i.e. when my traffic grew exponentially within a few months — it didn’t put any pressure on me. All I had to do was happily grin while watching my traffic stats go up, up, up every day.

TAKEAWAY #8: At a certain point, every solopreneur has to decide whether to stay “solo,” (perhaps with the occasional outsourcing of certain tasks or hiring a part-timer) or whether to aim for growing big. Ugo’s decision is clear. He opted for growth, with all its challenges, responsibilities and rewards.

When your mindset changes to growth, you stop being a solopreneur. You’re moving into the world of the entrepreneur. You’ll be hiring people who have talents and skills  that you don’t have. You’ll be managing more. You may even set up a franchise. In short, you’ll be growing a significantly larger business that is less under your direct control. It’s a big change in mindset.

Should you do it?

That all depends upon your original goals and how relevant you feel they still are. As long as you think it through and don’t stumble into a lifestyle that you didn’t want, you will make the right decision for you.

Unsure which path is best for you? Lilach Bullock, serial entrepreneur and digital marketing influencer, did an excellent job describing the differences between a solopreneur and an entrepreneur.

8. What do you enjoy most about being a business owner? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

Two words: “freedom” and “mobility.”

The main reasons why I decided to build an online business back in 2008 was to be able to do that from the road, from anywhere. I wanted mobility more than anything else. My restaurant business uses a franchise model, so I don’t have to be in Taiwan all the time anymore.

Ugo and his wife Ruby on a hike in Northern Taiwan.
Ugo and his wife Ruby on a hike in Northern Taiwan.

I have a team under me who undertake the hard work on the ground and do training, and most of the business operation part. 80% of my work is done from my iPhone these days.

This past year, I’ve worked on Taiwanese-Secrets.com from 12 different countries on 3 continents. Last month I was in Myanmar. Last week I was in Thailand. In two weeks, I’ll be in Italy, then Greece, Turkey, Serbia, and finally in Montreal to visit my family.

I’ll be able to work on my two businesses, Taiwanese-Secrets.com and Pizza Rock from the road, whenever I want. That is real freedom for me. Priceless!

TAKEAWAY #9: “Freedom and mobility.” That, in a nutshell, is the essence of solopreneurship. The freedom to live life on your terms, to do meaningful work, to be able to take your “office” with you. Whether that means to travel the world as Ugo does, or to look after your loved ones when they need you, is up to you. You are in charge.

Ugo has built a true “Business without Boundaries.” We captured his story in the video below 4 years ago. He’s added a whole new layer to his business with his Pizza Rock restaurant chain, and still managed to keep his freedom and mobility. Congratulations, Ugo!

9. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who is just starting a solopreneur career?

My top tip is to START! Begin today. Plan carefully, of course, but don’t over-think. Trying to analyse what may happen is useless and only causes doubt and fear, which stops creativity from flowing.

Action today is always a good step forward. Even if it’s not perfect, you’ll learn from the experience, adjust, and do better tomorrow. Always trying to aim, aim, aim, without ever taking a shot won’t make you win the game or achieve your dreams. Now is the time! Deep down inside, you know what you want. Just do it. Today!   

It saddens me to see so many people having so many dreams, so many awesome ideas, but they never take a single shot, they never take the first step. As Martin Luther King said: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”

TAKEAWAY #10: In our 20 years of working with solopreneurs, we’ve seen two types of personality:

1) The person who researches, then researches some more, then some more (aka the “Ready-Aim-Ready-Aim-Ready-Aim” personality). For this person, follow Nike’s (and Ugo’s) advice… “Just Do It!”

2) The person who leaps before s/he looks (aka the “Fire-Ready-Aim” personality). If this fits you, Ben Franklin said it best: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Let us expand on Ugo’s top tip: Yes, by all means, take that first step today. You don’t need to worry about the whole journey. What you need, though, is a mentor who guides you from step to step, until you reach your goal.

Solo Build It! provides exactly that. The SBI! Action Guide takes you by the hand and shows you what to do at each step of your online business-building journey, and how to do it in the most efficient way.

And while you, as a SOLOpreneur, build your business on your own, you’re not doing it alone. Within the SBI! community you have access to like minded solopreneurs in our friendly, help-and-be-helped focused forums and to our world-class, 24/7 support team.  

Key Takeaways

  1. There’s never an ideal time to start your online business. If living life on your terms is your goal, get started today!
  2. When deciding about your niche, take these four factors into account: passion, knowledge, time availability and monetization potential.
  3. Whether you stick to passive income models, go fully active, or stay somewhere in between, is up to you.
  4. Have an offline business? Done right, your online business can turn into a free advertising engine.
  5. And if your friends and family think your solopreneur career is a crazy idea and doomed to fail, take Ugo’s advice to heart: “You have to be a little nuts to succeed.”
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Learn From More High-Traffic, Profitable Solopreneurs

  • Recent Success Stories With Takeaway Lessons. Read more recent inspiring stories from our blog. They deliver useful ideas and takeaway lessons from folks who’ve “done it and won it.” If they can do it, you can, too!
  • Multi-Year SBI! Reviews. We take a deep-dive into the long term, full business stories of several different types of solopreneur successes. They periodically update their progress so you can see how they and their businesses grow over a period of years. This gives you excellent insight into what solopreneurs can accomplish with real online businesses.
  • Hundreds of the “Top 0.5%.” Every one of these SBI! businesses (hundreds of them) rank in the top 1 million active websites (out of approximately 200 million!). That’s all the more impressive because 1) we are such a small community and 2) many Top 0.5% sites are mid-sized or large companies.

Solopreneurs fail at astronomical rates. SBI! makes you 100x more likely to succeed (that’s not a typo!). It will never be easy, but we do make it way more doable.

Scan the wide variety of solopreneurs who are winning in real niches. Use it to get a feeling for what SBIers do, as well as to generate ideas. What do you know? Turn it into a business.

Ugo Ortolano
Originally from Quebec, Ugo Ortolano first visited Taiwan in 2000 to rock climb. He fell in love with the country and decided to stay. To support his nomadic lifestyle, he started his own businesses, both online and offline. Ugo and his wife Ruby are the founders of "Pizza Rock," the fastest growing gourmet pizza chain in Taiwan. When he's not busy opening new restaurant branches, Ugo enjoys hiking and traveling the world together with his wife.
Ugo Ortolano

Latest posts by Ugo Ortolano (see all)

  • Mary Morris

    This is an incredibly inspiring story, Ugo and Ruby. I love how you are using one successful platform to promote another. Gives me new thoughts for our online business too. I really enjoyed reading your story. Thank you and best wishes.

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