NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Who knew pictures of cats with funny misspelled captions would evolve into one of the bigger indie blog networks in the world? Ben Huh, 31, is CEO of Cheezburger Network of Seattle, publisher of a growing blog empire best known for I Can Haz Cheezburger (aka LOLcats) and Failblog, but also hits such as Engrish Funny, There I Fixed It, Roflrazzi, and the newly launched blog about cars with problems, That Will Buff Out.
The privately held company was launched in 2007 when Mr. Huh acquired I Can Haz Cheezburger; since then he's built it through acquisitions (Failblog in 2008) and launches (It Made My Day), into a network of 30 blogs visited by 11.5 million people a month. Failblog's video site just passed CBS as the 7th most-viewed channel of all time on YouTube. It now has 21 full-time employees and five part-timers and is profitable, though Mr. Huh wouldn't discuss specifics.
The blogs are, in a sense, perfect media properties for the web. All the content is user-contributed and culled by editors. The company has been profitable since its first quarter, monetizing almost entirely via ad networks and Google AdSense. Are the kittehs taking over the world? We asked Mr. Huh.
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Ad Age: Is it OK to call you a blog mogul? Do you aspire to be a big media company?
Mr. Huh: We're just going through the process of creating content that makes people happy for just a few minutes a day. We are not trying to be a TV network; we're not trying to be a big media company. We are growing small things that are gathering loyal audiences. When you show up and you want to laugh or take a break from your daily work, then we have this little blog for you. You go, load the page, you scroll, and you're done.
Ad Age: If users are submitting the photos, and the captions, how do you keep it funny (and clean)?
Ad Age: You sell merchandise and have had two bestselling books, but the bulk of your revenue comes from advertising. How does that work?
Mr. Huh: We have no direct sales force. Our ads are sold through ad networks and rep firms, MTV Networks, Gorilla Nation, Technorati; and we just signed a deal with a company called Dogster, a pet-social-networking company. What we found is that we want to concentrate on the growth of the traffic. We can only do a few things really well, and we are already profitable.
Ad Age: How do you isolate the meme that will become the next hit blog?
Mr. Huh: The way Roflrazzi came about is we have a builder where you can put captions on your own pictures. We noticed that 10% to 20% of the photos in our builder were entertainment photos. Our moderators classified it as non-cat and it would just sit in this bucket. We didn't know what to do with it. So we turned it into a site.
Ad Age: Are you funny?
Mr. Huh: I love the fact people think I do this out of my garage! I am a business person. Let's put it this way, no LOLcat I have ever created has made the home page.
Ad Age: Have you launched any blogs that didn't catch on?
Mr. Huh: We have lots of fails. I call our new blog-development team the "Skunkworks" not because it's secretive but because most of our ideas stink. We had a failure called 140pedia. Great idea, good content, just didn't build traffic fast enough. But that's how you get to success. It's a part of our culture to FAIL.
Ad Age: You've acquired two of your most successful blogs. Are you competitive?
Mr. Huh: We've gotten into situations where we've tried to acquire a blog for large sums of money, and they turned us down, and we've gone on to compete and we've won. My final offer is, "If you do not do this, we will start a competitive blog, and we will not stop until we win."