Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh on Surrounding Himself with More Talent, and the Future of the Global Humor Blog Network
Ben Huh is a very busy man. He’s only 32, yet he’s already spent much of the last few years soaking up the media spotlight due to the almost instant success of his network of humor blogs famous for its eccentric and misspelled name, I Can Has Cheezburger. In the three years since Huh purchased the main Cheezburger site, also known as LOLcats, from two entrepreneurs in Hawaii and built it into a treasure trove of funny pictures of cute animals with the site’s signature misspelled captions plastered over them, the company has grown to become the largest humor network in the world with 340 million page views per month.
Cheezburger, formerly known as Pet Holdings, has been consistently topping the Seattle 2.0 startup index for the last year (and it’s still no. 1), has won a national webby award, and has been one of the few Seattle-area startups to continue hiring, even through the recession. The network now has over 50 sites, each dedicated to a particular niche of comedy. It would take a few paragraphs to list them all, but some of the more famed in the bunch include FAIL Blog, Babies Making Faces, There I Fixed It, Engrish Funny and Totally Looks Like.
Greg spoke with Huh about the startup’s strategy, rapid expansion and sudden fame in the online world back in October, when Cheezburger had 26 sites, 21 employees and had just exceeded 1 billion cumulative page views. Now, just eight months later, Huh has built a small empire with 51 sites, and 45 employees spread across the world (including one in Poland). According to Huh, Cheezburger has no plans of slowing down.
The company, as it grows, has sought to bring in more seasoned managers to help Huh manage this opportunity. The latest addition to the team is Pearl Chan, who has signed on as Cheezburger’s new chief financial officer among a slew of other titles, including treasurer, controller, director of finance, strategic business analyst, and tax manager.
I swung by Cheezburger’s Lower Queen Anne headquarters yesterday to chat with Huh about the company-turned-Internet phenomenon’s fast start, milestones in its relatively young startup life, where it’s going, what position it will be hiring for next, and the new user-involved “creation of culture” that Huh says makes the company unique. The office had all the trademarks of a startup. The reception area consisted of a small coffee table with a few of Cheezburger’s books strewn across it, and simple wooden chairs, no receptionist. The main room was an open space filled with rows of folding tables lined with computers and editors sifting through the over 19,000 user submissions Cheezburger brings in on a daily basis. Here are the highlights of the conversation, edited for length and clarity as always.
Xconomy: You graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism. Were you planning on being a journalist?
Ben Huh: I was actually, but this was back in—1999 was when I graduated. That was like the heyday of newspaper valuation, so newspapers were going crazy. They were hiring. They were investing in dotcom stuff. They were merging and buying each other. It was pretty exciting. My role was actually on the presentation side/the design side and not so much the reporting. I did go to journalism school to be a reporter, and we didn’t have a visual program, but that’s what I ended up doing actually.
X: So you moved to Seattle in 2005, and in 2007 Andy Liu (also the board member) from BuddyTV helped you buy the original I Can Has Cheezburger site (officially launched in September 2007). How did you come across the site and what made you realize that you wanted to buy it up and eventually launch this massive humor network?
BH: My wife Emily, who also works here—she’s the editor—we started a pet blog because we had a dog—we have a dog—and we’d just moved here and we didn’t really know … Next Page »