By Alpa Agarwal
It began with a single LOLcat photo on I Can Has Cheezburger?, a site originally created by Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami, and has grown to a network of over 40 humor blogs including such popular sites as I Has A Hotdog, FAIL Blog, GraphJam, There I Fixed It, Failbooking, Chatroulette Trolling, Must Have Cute and more. The sites are visited by as many as 15 million people every month.
Recognizing the popularity of the original site, Ben Huh, a former journalist, put up $10,000 of his own money to buy the ICanHasCheezburger.com site in 2007 and raised investor funding. Huh says the success of his company, the Seattle-based Cheezburger Network, has been the biggest surprise of his life.
The company has been profitable from the beginning. Advertising revenue is supplemented by online sales of merchandise and books such as FAIL Nation,Graph Out Loud, How to Take Over teh Wurld, I Can Has Cheezburger? and the forthcoming I Has a Hotdog: What Your Dog Is Really Thinking.
After buying the company, Huh focused on increasing traffic. It had been flat-lining, but it began to grow again when the company instituted a regular publishing schedule that guaranteed five new LOLcat pictures every day. For marketing, the company relied exclusively on its users. “To this day, we do not do any kind of advertising to draw in users,” says Huh. Cheezburger employs about 15 people on its content team, and most of them work full-time. “It's expensive, but we're also serious about quality,” Huh explains. “There's no substitute for humans.”
Huh attributes much of his company’s success to a few key principles. “Keep Your Lazy Attitude,” he advises. Cheezburger shuns complexity. As Huh says, “Human nature has a tendency to admire complexity but reward simplicity. The space shuttle is a wonderful thing but we would never buy it; we buy things that make our lives simpler.”
Cheezburger keeps things simple for both its users and its developers. Users are offered a simple LOL builder for submitting photos and videos – one page with space for just three captions. The company uses off-the-shelf products and outsources services whenever possible to free its developers to devote their energy to the company’s core technology. “We want to focus on what makes us different,” reasons Huh. “We can only do a few things well and those are the things we focus on. … We are a publisher not in the business of publishing. We are a publisher in the business of creating community.”
Huh’s overall goal for the company is “to make the world happy for 5-minutes a day.” What has he learned from his experience at ICanHasCheezburger? “When you’re entire business relies on a culture of generosity, the generosity of your community who share content, you become a believer in the inherent goodness of people.”