SMX East 2009 Keynote: Ben Huh, CEO Cheezburger Network
Danny Sullivan is counting us down to this first keynote of the conference. And he says it’s not gonna be just about funny cats. Though I wouldn’t mind if it was! :P There’s a lot of lessons to take from a network that was formed out of a viral concept.
Ben Huh is on the stage now and says that he built a business on funny content the users create. Here are some numbers:
2: Year’s the Cheezburger Network has been in business. It started when Ben bought icanhascheezburger.com.
21: Months it took to reach a billion page views.
10,000: Submissions received across the network every day.
8.5 million: Page views a day.
11.5 million: Visitors in a month.
1 billion: Page views in the last 2 years.
The most important number, though, is profitability, getting the most by spending the least.
He brings up the phrase “true virality”. It’s the kind of virality that can be turned into a successful business. The nature of viral content, it’s difficult to nail down.
Entrepreneurship focuses too much on the wrong dreams. To succeed, you must turn the dreams of others into reality.
What’s “true”? It’s about the other person’s dream. It’s not about “truth” or “honesty.” “True” makes people nod in agreement. “True” is an unrealized dream of millions of people. The Cheezburger Network addresses the true: “I want to be happy a few minutes a day.”
The “true” that’s worth chasing is not complicated. Keep it simple. All they did when they started the ICHC blog was keep it simple. They decided to keep their “lazy” attitude. They answered the questions: “If I had to distill my day into 4 hours and still be successful, what would I do?” and “If my users had 40 seconds on my site, what would they want to do?” A beautiful alignment will result in a win!
Focus on the collective imagination and need of the user, and give it to them in a simple manner, that’s where you’ll get your start.
Human nature has a tendency to admire complexity but reward simplicity.
This gets to the heart of why people want to create complex products. You don’t have to prove that you’re smart. You have to prove that you know how to handle less is more — one feature that is so solid that everyone will use it.
A non-unique story: In 1999, Ben felt he was on top of the world. He was fresh out of school and had gotten a signing bonus at a dot com. He found out that the company wasn’t doing well so he left to start his own company and start his own. So that he could start losing his own money instead of someone else’s.
He ended up depressed and in bed with $50,000 in debt. It was his own fault. He had to lay off his 10 employees. After 2 weeks in bed he got up and decided he wouldn’t die like this. You can start down the right path now. You don’t have to be depressed and in debt to realize “I am the obstacle.”
He had to come to the realization that ego, pride, assumptions, cover-ups, reputation, and even some users are obstacles you’ll have to get past. For your team to succeed, break yourself.
Start by examining your habits and assumptions. He spent 6 years in the desert, i.e. 3 jobs, 3 CEOs. He decided he wanted direct access to a CEO so he could learn from really smart people.
He realized that companies are more willing than ever to help you realize your dreams. It’s even their business model. Look at YouTube, Skype, ratings databases, mail servers, etc.
Free up your time and focus on the things that matter to your business. If you focus on making the core of your business better, helping others realize their dream, the graph will just go up.