After Brent Oxley sold the Web-hosting platform HostGator for $220 million, he wanted to get into a business a little more...wild. His pivot was Ox Ranch Investment, a high-end hunting ranch in Uvalde, Texas, where visitors can hunt zebras, kangaroos, and other exotic and native species for trophy fees as high as $35,000. Despite criticism from animal rights groups, Oxley has turned this niche resort, which occupies a plot of land larger than Manhattan, into a company growing at 1,965 percent per year, earning it the No. 246 spot on the 2018 Inc. 5000. --As told to Catherine Perloff
I started Hostgator.com in my college dorm room back in 2002. About a year in, I was making more than the average college graduate with a business degree. So I decided to drop out. Fast-forward to 2012, I sold the company. I grew it from around $1,000 in my bank account, a one-man show, to more than 1,000 employees, over $120 million in annual revenue and eight million websites hosted.
I accomplished a lot of my life goals before 30. I just wanted to do something fun, so I took a big chunk of that money and invested it in the land. I was just looking for a large property to enjoy the outdoors. I was born and raised in Boca Raton, Florida, which is known for its golf courses. I had never gone hunting before. I didn't know anything about ranching. I couldn't even name one species that was out here.
I started the hunting side of the business to build something that I believe has never been done before, as well as to help cover some of the costs. After investing so much into it, I decided I needed to get to breakeven. If not, everything I built out here would be for nothing. All the animals would be auctioned off. They probably would end up in cages again. I started seeing all these different species here and wanted to build up herds and help with conservation, bringing animals back from the brink of extinction. And also, why not create an adult playground that can be rivaled by only Jurassic Park?
I was an internet guy, and I did what I did best: build a better website than our competitors. With the SEO we did, I was confident that we'd rank at the top of the search engines within a year. I started advertising on Google AdWords, and we immediately began turning paid clicks into $1,000 hunting deposits.
The real challenge wasn't selling the hunts, but building out the infrastructure and wildlife herds required to entertain thousands of visitors a year. We basically built a small city in the middle of nowhere, including a 6,000-square-foot lodge, dozens of luxurious cabins, a high-end restaurant, lakes, and a 5,800-foot paved runway, and added thousands of animals from over 60 species.
I've yet to meet or talk to one person who has ever even heard of anyone importing an animal from Africa. They got to Texas from being surplus animals from the zoos many decades ago. They're thriving out here.
One of the biggest misconceptions about us is we're just evil people killing Bambi to make a profit. At the end of the day, the animals here are a million times happier than any animals at any zoo. For people who are antihunting, they look at meat as OK when it's prepackaged in a pretty little box, but don't consider the animal that's been treated cruelly its whole life at a slaughterhouse. And as far as marketing goes, bad publicity is good publicity for us.
Something like this takes money. It takes a lot of it. It's not something you can get into, ranching or hunting, without buying a large property. Early on in my life, there's no way I could have done anything like this.