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Attention Aspiring Internet Millionaires: Learn From The Creation of A Web Empire That Started With Cats

Updated on November 9, 2010

Funny Attack Cat!

Source

How It All Got Started

Anyone who has surfed the humor pages of the internet has probably come across some of the many sites devoted to funny cat pictures. It was probably several years ago or more that this phenomenon began to really take off. Specifically, a type of image, known as the LOLCat picture began to circulate all over the web, quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing online memes. For those unfamiliar with the term, a LOLCat is a funny picture of a cat accompanied by a funny caption written from the feline perspective. The LOL of course stands for "Laugh-Out-Loud", as most probably already know. In the beginning there wasn't any site in particular that had the market cornered on displaying funny cat pictures, but there was a community message-board site called 4chan.org (still around today) that had somewhat of a reputation as being a site were you could find lots of LOLCat pictures. Eventually the LOLCats of the internet would become even more of a sensation.

Seizing Opportunity

One of the catalysts that would propel the Internet cat trend even further was a decision made by two Hawaiian bloggers. On January 9, 2007, Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami took special notice of a new LOLCat. It was a large grey fluffy cat that was meowing out the now famous caption "I can has cheezburger?". The blogging team recognized the iconic potential and quickly registered the domain name icanhascheezburger.com, planning to create a website that would rely on LOLCat images as the main content. The idea worked out great, with the new website quickly becoming the leading site were anyone could create and upload a LOLCat. In fact the idea actually ended up working out "Too Well" for the two bloggers. Although Nakagawa and Unebasami were aware of the potential possibilities for their cat website, they were unprepared for the explosive growth in traffic that their site would experience over such short period of time. This is how a savvy web entrepreneur named Ben Huh would come into the picture. Huh also recognized the incredible potential for building business around the LOLCat phenomenon. In particular he had taken a special interest in the I can has cheezburger website.

Taking It To The Next Level

The "Light Bulb" went on for Huh when his own pet blog crashed as a result of being linked to icanhascheezburger.com. In what Huh has described as "A White-Knuckle Decision", he began to solicit financing from investors and committed $10,000 of his own savings to buy the popular website. Officially the overwhelmed bloggers accepted an undisclosed offer to sell their website, although Time magazine reported icanhascheezburger.com sold for around $2 million. An amount of that size may have seemed insane at first, but Huh has been effective at capitalizing on his pricy investment through hard work and ingenuity. The Korean-born former journalist says that the site has been profitable from day one when it was just him and his wife working on the operation. Huh still runs things as economically as possible, but his workforce has grown to 40 employees. The site itself has continued to grow as well. According to Web analytics firm Quantcast they attract 16 million unique visitors and it is reported that they receive on average, more than half a million submissions each month. Huh and 20 of his employees assigned to the content team devote allot of time to screening the many submissions for only the most "laugh-out-loud" items. Only 1% of submissions end up being qualified to go up on the site. It has been this dedication to quality content and a constant drive to expand and innovate beyond the initial website that has created a seven figure per year revenue stream for Huh's business.

Building An Empire

Huh purchased a site that was very popular already and through good management made it more popular. But it has been his ability to go beyond the single-site advertising model that has turned Huh's Cheezburger Network into a web empire. While the site was generated revenue and was profitable from just the advertising alone, Huh has further monetized the site through licensing fees and merchandise sales. This includes five books that have been published and T-Shirts with user generated images on the front. Three more books are in production along with desktop calendars and a line of greeting cards. There have also been rumors of a possible TV show circulating on the internet. Along with successfully diversifying the revenue stream away from just, Huh has also done a wonderful job of expanding his company's web presence beyond just the initial icanhascheezburger site. His Cheezburger Network is now made up of more than 53 websites. They are all modeled around the same concept (user submitted humor content), but they include other categories besides just cat comedy. For example, FailBlog.org has become another internet sensation. The site revolves around images and videos submitted by users that show various types of catastrophic mistakes and poorly thought out plans. Fans just can't seem to get enough, as the content from FailBlog.org can be found circulating all over the internet. Other lesser known sites in the network include wedinator.com which displays funny wedding content and ihasahotdog.com which is kind of the dog version of icanhascheezburger. So what are the lessons to be learned from this amazing entrepreneurial journey that all started with a funny cat website?

Takeaways

I think there are a number of pointers that aspiring web entrepreneurs can take away from this amazing internet success story. One of the big ones that stood out to me while doing the research for this hub, is the realization that a Million dollar enterprise can be founded on the strangest of ideas for those who are just willing to take action. After all, it would have been easy for Ben Huh to simply shrug off the popularity of the quirky cat humor site as a fad that would be short lived. Instead, Huh had the insight and vision to see the potential for adding value and building a thriving business. More importantly he didn't over-think his instincts. He went with his gut and took action by not only using his own money, but also raising money from outside investors to buy the icanhascheezburger website. The rest, as they say, is history. Huh is now running a growing online business that looks to have a bright future ahead of it. There are still other pillars of the icanhascheezburger phenomenon. Quality content is of course always an important factor for monetizing a website. In order to sell products or collect money from advertisers you need to grow and keep traffic on your website. Great content of course helps a website's rank on search engines and it keeps users coming back for more. Huh seems to understand this as evidenced by him and the Cheezburger team's constant attention to picking user created content that is aligned with hot new trends on the web. Huh even admits in one interview that most of his own submissions don't make the homepage because they aren't funny enough. Another important thing to learn from this story is the tremendous return on investment (ROI) that innovation and creativity can generate. Huh took a website that was already popular enough to make money on advertising and started leveraging the content to produce revenue from merchandise and licensing. Of course it didn't just stop there. As I explained above icanhascheezburger has evolved into an entire network of sites. Huh has taken icanhascheezburger's basic model of silly cat humor and applied it to sites that focus on other genres of humor. Not all have worked and Huh has been quick to pull the plug on sites that failed to take off quickly. However, his willingness to experiment with new ideas has helped him to develop some of the most popular online properties on the web. Last, but not least, the icanhascheezburger story is a great example of how entrepreneurs can build an internet business by empowering the individuals who visit and use their websites. All of the content on the Cheezburger Network is user generated. Huh has built successful collection of websites by building communities.

Hope all readers enjoyed this hub! Check out the sources I used below:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-20005287-52.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/technology/internet/14burger.html?_r=1&pagewant...

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/sep/23/business/fi-benhuh23/3

 

CEO of Cheezburger Network - Ben Huh

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    • Mr Tindle profile image
      Author

      Mr Tindle 7 years ago

      Thanks for the positive feedback Suziecat7. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      It all takes guts, follow-through, and a lucky idea. Great Hub - enjoyed the read.

    • Mr Tindle profile image
      Author

      Mr Tindle 7 years ago

      Jeremey,

      Thanks, for stopping by and reading again. I'm glad you found it of interest.

    • Jeremey profile image

      Jeremey 7 years ago from Arizona

      Interesting info here on some unfamiliar territory.

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