By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Many people know Lani Rosales by name or reputation, but few have a clue how many hats she wears. She is co-founder (with Benn) of the Big Ass Social Happy Hour (B.A.S.H. H.). She’s the fierce administrator of the nearly 9,000-member Austin Digital Jobs Facebook Group where she admonishes anyone on the site “Do not post anything for sale or you’ll die instantly.” She’s chief operating officer of AGBeat, of which Benn is CEO. She’s the face of their organization who, at the first Ignite Austin, gave an etymology of curse words. She’s the tender-hearted kitten lover who in one minute tells her nearly 3,000 Facebook friends and 10.5 thousand Twitter followers “buy my book, BITCHES” and in the next shares a heartbreaking post about the loss of their son, Kennedy.
In an entrepreneurial world where egos abound and many people aspire to celebrity status, Lani and Benn Rosales hold ground in understated, earthy Austin culture like Spartans prepared for siege. A couple of closet introverts, they befriend everyone, their contributions rarely spotlight their primary business—AGBeat—and Lani’s social media voice always translates as authentic and personal.
“She’s not afraid of ripping someone’s face off if they’re a fraud a scam artist…,” said Kyle Bailey, a close friend and B.A.S.H.H. volunteer who’s amazed at Rosales’ willingness to be call it as she sees it, rather than play business politics. “She’s judicious about it…there are a lot of people talking smack, but for Lani it’s about ‘Who are you hurting?’”
The Rosaleses run the American Genius website, which started as Benn Rosales’ blog about real estate and has expanded into a site that also covers technology and entrepreneurship. From there, the couple started the Austin Digital Jobs, B.A.S.H.H., BizBashh—a networking event for startups—and Spark of Genius, a business camp for decision makers. Lani also co-authored the book Real: A Path to Passion, Purpose and Profits in Real Estate.
The Birth of B.A.S.H.H.
Benn Rosales started AGBeat in 2006 as realtorgenius.com, hoping to write about national real estate issues without impacting the brokerage where he worked. When the Board of Realtors demanded that he stop using the word “realtor,” in his URL, Lani Rosales said, he had to decide whether to fight back or play the victim. He chose to complain about the organization picking on the little guy, and overnight his blog exploded, from a few thousand visitors a week to 60,000 a month. That’s how the couple got into publishing. Some of those visitors were entrepreneurs who commented that the content was useful to them as well, which inspired expansion of AGBeat’s focus.
“We have this really naïve idea that we can change people’s lives…,” Lani Rosales said. The focus is producing content with meat. “If we can tell a reader one thing that leads him to saving some time and money, that’s a huge win for us and helps them to focus on their lives. It’s embarrassing if someone opens the site and looks at the top couple headlines and just…eh. We haven’t appealed. We haven’t done our job. I would rather have zero stories in a day than 10 fluff stories.”
B.A.S.H.H. started as a small collection of early Twitter users who had befriended one another online and decided to meet up in person. Bailey calls it “a room full of introverts.” It was Benn Rosales’ idea to formalize it, and it has grown into an event that draws hundreds of people every month to network and hang out. It still has that core group, but has expanded into other events, like the BizBashh, connecting job seekers and recruiters.
“It has been our mission to more meaningfully connect people online by taking them offline, both socially and professionally, all the way down to helping people all the way back in 2008 to find jobs through our personal connections, which was essentially the birth of ADJ,” Benn said “We knew we had to do something more long-lasting to help Austin to maintain its talent.”
“Several startups have been created there,” Rosales said, “Businesses, marriages…” It often happens, she said, that a new transplant will arrive in Austin and be instantly welcomed and introduced to B.A.S.H.H.ers networks. “Everybody has their arms open when you come to the city…it’s part of the Southern hospitality. Nobody is from here so they’ve all had that experience of having to come here and rebuild.”
The only downside, the weakness of Austin, she said, is that while people will introduce you to everyone in their networks, they often hope for you to do work for free, which is “not kosher.”
The Story of Lani and BennRosales IS from here. She grew up in Austin and planned to be a journalist in high school. But when assigned her a story about a student who wasn’t expected to live to graduation, she balked. “It felt cheap and salacious and extremely invasive,” Rosales said. In that case, her teacher told her, she’d never make it as a journalist. So she switched to English. Her father had a rule that if she stayed in Austin for college she had to study abroad, so she spent two semesters in Spain, studying at the University of Salamanca—founded in 1134. When her school session was done, she asked for a little more money from family to get a trip to Italy and was told she had made “the last withdrawal from the family bank.” Fortunately, she had a ticket to get home but arrived broke and directionless.
She met Benn at a Starbucks they both frequented, and, she said “We’ve been inseparable ever since.” He had moved to Austin from Oklahoma to work for Apple, with a background in upper management, marketing, public relations and UX and UI. But when his brother needed help with branding and marketing his real estate firm, Benn wound up making that his full time gig. He hired Lani to help with marketing.
She says, almost apologetically, that they’re one of those “disgustingly in love couples.” She’s the public face of the company. He’s the boss.
“Part of our secret is that we decided early on who is the boss, and who takes responsibility for failures, which removes the power struggles that hold most couples back from working together,” Benn said. “Lani is the yin to my yang, and vice versa, especially with fleshing out ideas.”
The couple has had several major blows over the last 10 years. In 2005, they learned they were expecting a child, but Kennedy had several major health issues and was stillborn. Two years later, Lani’s brother Aaron, her “best friend outside of my marriage” was killed in a car accident. And in June, Benn, whose family has a history of heart disease, was told he needed an emergency quadruple bypass.
For a long time, they didn’t share the loss of Kennedy with anyone but close friends. But by the time of Benn’s triple bypass, because of the kind of friendships they’ve built in the community, they felt like it would be a betrayal not to share. Because Benn’s heart condition is genetic, Lani said the “super long term plan” is that he would not have to work and she could go write in a cabin someplace.
Benn– who stood outside Rattlesnake Inn at the November BizBashh, sardonically wondering why someone hadn’t filled in the last open space between two buildings—said their mission is really about the preservation of Austin.
“Our long term contribution is in the conservation of Austin as it is. Although it may remind people of California, it is NOT California. It isn’t SXSW. It isn’t a lot of things people think it is. It’s a home away from home, it’s a place people call home. It’s wonderful people. It’s beautiful hill country and lakes, it’s a small town and it is a natural wonder that doesn’t really need to change to be special.”
So there Bitches!