Ben Huh, CEO Cheezburger Network

October 5, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

z0mg, I can haz keynote!

Sorry. It’s the last session and I couldn’t help myself. Up on stage we have Chief Cheezburger Ben Huh and Danny Sullivan. This…should be entertaining.  Actually, it already is entertaining as Danny is on stage telling jokes and threatening to sing.  Danny banter is teh awesome.  So is chocolate. But I don’t have any of that here.

Ben starts off talking about, failblog and icanhascheezburger — all of which are about to publish new books. They’ve been able to build a business based around user-generated content.  They have 2 New York Times Bestsellers and have won 4 Webby awards.

We’re going to play a numbers game! Ready?

  • 2: Number of years they’ve been in existence.  They bought the I Can Has Cheezburger blog when it was 8 months old.
  • 21: Number of months it took for them to reach their first billion page views.
  • 10,000: Number of submissions a day
  • 8.5 Million: Number of page views every day
  • 11.5 million: Number of people people who visit
  • 1 billion:  How many page views has done since it started

They’re proftable because they keep their costs down and simplify their business model to get the most by spending the least.

True Virality

It is difficult to build your business around the idea that everyone is going to see everything. True virality is vital to what a lot of businesses do.

Entrepreneurship focuses too much on the wrong kind of dreams. If you’re trying to build a business, you often focus on what YOU want to do. I want to be a milionaire. I want to rank for [sex]. To succeed you must turn the dreams of OTHER people into reality. No one will pay you for your dream. They want their dream.

When you come across an idea or a phrase that someone else said you’ll nod and say, yeah, that’s true. That truth and shared experience is what he’s talking about.  True makes people nod in agreement, truth is debated.

3 Companies that Leveraged True

  1. Google: I want a simple way to find information
  2. Starbucks: I want a third place that’s not home or work
  3. Cheezburger Network: I want to be happy for a few minutes a day

How do you get to True? If it’s complicated, it’s not true. True has to be enjoyable. It’s hard to enjoy complicated things. If you went to Google and it looked like a mess, it wouldn’t have taken off. Google succeeded because it realized that people wanted something that simplified their life. People just wanted to search.

For them, it means “keep it simple”. Just make sure people get their funny cat photos.  They did that by keeping their lazy attitude.  Lazy is a useful tool when it comes to building a business around simplicity. They said, “If I wanted to work 4 hours per week and still be successful, what would I need to do?” For a user’s perspective, if a user had only 40 seconds to spend, what would they want to get out of your site? Focus on the collective imagination and needs of your users.

An example of this in motion: What happens if a caption’s too long? They had four ways to handle it:

  • autoscale down the font size
  • wrap the test
  • warn the user
  • do nothing

They chose the latter: do nothing. They’ve never had a complaint.  People want to do what they want to do and if you get in their way, they’ll leave.  Human nature has a tendency to admire complexity but reward simplicity. The reason big companies like Google and Microsoft have lots of products is because the small, simple, powerful products gave them the freedom to be where they can do things that are complicated.

In 1999: He was on top of the world. He had just graduated college was given a big signing bonus when he took a job with a cool dot com. He bought a car! But the company was losing money fast. So he quit and started his own company.

2001: Closed his company and spent two weeks in bed. He was 50k in debt and he had to lay off all 10 of his employees.  Life sucked.

He got back up and said he can’t die like that.  So he started. over  You can start now too. You have to realize that you are the obstacle. That should be your mantra.  You don’t need a big product, you need a simple product to get you through tomorrow.  You  have to break yourself and your habits for others to succeed.  You have to make sure you’re not preventing people from doing what’s right.

Start by examining your habits and your assumptions.  The future is shaped by people who refuse to believe that today is true.   Companies are more willing than ever to help you with your dreams for almost nothing.  Who?

  • WordPress
  • JS-Kit
  • YouTube
  • Google Apps
  • Skype
  • Amazon SE

You can fire up and forget.   He doesn’t spend much money on overhead. He focuses on what matters to the business and helping other people find enjoyment in their day.


Question & Answer

How do you make money?

Advertising. Licensing – books.  Merchandising.  It’s not rocket science.

Do you think your users will ever tire of making you money?

They try to create a system where people enjoy making content. As long as they can make users feel good about creating content, the train of content coming in won’t stop. It should be fun to add value to their business.  He thinks they’ve done that.

When you have a single product, the entry to barrier is very low. If you’re making money, then halfway down the road your competition will join the fray. Then what?

Competitors look at your simplicity and make it more complicated. They shoot themselves in the foot right out of the gate.

What do you feel is the next evolution of meme shirts?

The nature of memes is that its hard to predict.

It’s been a hard year for content owners, are you purely ad-based or do we need to do other rev models?

They’re not purely ad-based.  They had projected a 48 percent fall between Q4 of 2008 and Q1 of 2009. It actually felt 56 percent.  They cut back fringe benefits and were able to ride out the storm. It gave them a real shock and made them start branching out aggressively. If you’re a publisher, you should find other forms of revenue. Find different people to give you money. Always diversify.

And we’re done with day 1 of SMX East.  Thanks for hanging out with us today. See you bright and early tomorrow. :)

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