October 15, 2009

Cheezburger Network Scales Company By Focusing On Happy

The Web simply can't get enough funny cat pictures. Or dog pictures. Or sleeping cat pictures. Or pictures of people failing. Or creative approaches to fix things. The Cheezburger Network has grown dramatically, racing to the point where they are seeing a billion page views every four months, after it took nearly two years to reach the first billion. Growing the company on rapid scale is no accident, as the network has focused its business objectives on its customers, aiming to remove distractions and obstacles that could hinder potential growth.

Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger, said the company focused not on how many features they could push into the network, but instead on simplicity - letting the users dictate how the business would grow. And the company is realistic about what it aims to do. They aren't out to make a billion dollars in profit, or to change the world.

"Our mission statement is to make people happy for five minutes a day," Ben said today at Blog World Expo. "We kept hearing from our audience members, 'You make us happy,'. When you allow your users to dictate how your business will operate, and can develop a thick skin, that is how you grow."

If you have spent any amount of time on social networks, or received any e-mail outside of your office, you probably have encountered work from Cheezburger Network. From I Can Haz Cheezburger and I Has a Hotdog to the FAIL Blog, GraphJam, There, I Fixed It, E-mails from Crazy People and It Made My Day, the company is trying to reach a broad audience through more sites and more content, based on user feedback. In fact, today they announced a new site featuring sleeping animals, called Daily Squee, which is reminiscent of the also popular and off network Cute Overload.

The sites' mantras are pretty simple. Post funny pictures with custom captions. Ben said that human nature has a tendency to admire complexity, but rewards simplicity, and that through introducing complexity, it has an inverse effect on your business' ability to scale. Instead of investing in expensive custom software and hardware, Cheezburger utilizes standard products including WordPress, JS-Kit, YouTube, Google Apps, cloud storage and open source applications, keeping costs low.

While some of the network's sites may seem fanciful, they are thoughtfully planned out and new proposals are theorized frequently, and target those who may not yet be avid fans of the network. Ben theorized that half the company's traffic was non-critical and transient, while 30 percent of traffic constituted the regulars, another 15 percent were fans, and an elite 5 percent were people who show up every day, multiple times a day. He suggested that businesses focus on the greatest population that could migrate to higher devoted level (in this case the 30 percent), as that will increase the total number of fans, and discourage targeting the site by scaling to the power users, who are typically edge cases.

Beyond keeping its audience happy for 5 minutes at a time, Ben said the company frequently thinks in small time allotments, saying, "If I had wanted to work four hours a week, what would I have to do?" and asking, "If my users had forty seconds on the site, what would they want to do?" Key to satisfying these short term visitors? Eliminating distractions and removing barriers.

The goal is to keep the company in touch with what the users wanted, and purging common mistakes that come from within, including ego, pride, assumptions, sacred cows, secrets, coverups, and individual reputation. The result is one big fat happy network.

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