A successful startup in your face: 9GAG

09 Sep 2014
| Last update: 31 Aug 2016

successful startup

Let’s say you have some great intriguing startup ideas on your hands, which you think will win the founders’ hearts and be a sky-rocketing success, and you have a side-project: 9GAG. Without you knowing it, it turns into a successful startup!

It all sets off when you’re a student at the Hong Kong University, and you don’t expect this side- project to reach 2 billion page views and be the biggest content discovery/sharing website. This was the case of Ray Chan and his team. Now 9GAG, deemed the Biggest Little Startup at Y Combinator’s Demo Day, by Whitney Phaneuf, has become a successful startup in the whole world’s face.

9GAG: Good joke or successful startup?

We all need a bit of humor in our lives, don’t we? We like to see something intriguing, interesting and funny. Sometimes dark humor is what tugs at our hearts’ strings, or just a bit of sarcasm, after a hard day. You can experience a bit of everything, as users share content of various types, such as memes, videos, picture, on this website. Finding 5 minutes in our daily hustle and bustle just to relax and enjoy ourselves with whatever we like, but all being “quality content” as Ray Chan puts it, is just what the creators of 9GAG had in mind. Creating products “just for fun” has been the success mantra for Ray Chan, the co-founder of the humor-packed social media website, where everyone is free to upload and share user-generated content.

Why is 9GAG a successful startup? Well, today many people create websites, as it is an easy process, but getting a million visitors or a billion page views doesn’t happen to all websites. To 9GAG it did. Some say it was luck, some say it was a winning strategy, but all agree this startup is more than just a good joke. Even so, 9GAG roots its name in jokes, somehow. It owns its name to the page distribution the website had previously used.  Initially, there were 9 gags, meaning “jokes”, per page, though today that is no longer the case.

The road to successsuccessful startup

It all started in 2008, in Hong Kong, as a side project developed by Chris Chan, Ray Chan, Derek Chan, Brian Yu and Marco Fung.

Since the website’s funding in 2008, it has grown in popularity really fast. It currently has over 17 million Facebook “likes” and 2.7 million Twitter followers.  Since 2008 the number of unique global monthly website visitors has also increased from 500,000 to 67 million. On AngelList  you can find out about 9GAG: “With more than 65 million unique visitors and more than a billion page views per month, 9GAG has the most actively engaged user community of any humor website.”

9GAG didn’t stop there. The guys wanted their success to get to be known to the world. So, in 2012, at Y Combinator Demo Day, they wanted to make history. As Whitney Phaneuf shows there were startups like ReelSurfer, which closed a $880,000 seed round, and financial-advice engine SmartAsset, which raised $900,000 in seed funding, but 9GAG was the biggest winner at Y Combinator. In the April of that year, 9GAG had also closed a $2.8 million deal for funding from True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, Kevin Rose and more. They also later released an iOS iPhone application.

A Hong-Kong based startup, while now having offices also in Silicon Valley, 9GAG’s journey didn’t stop there. 9GAG came to Silicon Valley through the 500 Startups incubator. Here it gained a US audience and met its early investors: Kevin Rose, Tim Ferriss, Chris Sacca, Benjamin Ling, Karl Jacob and many others. You can take a look at all here.

Ray Chan talked about their reason of coming to Silicon Valley: “We wanted to get into the best network, in Silicon Valley”. In July 2012, Y Combinator got equity in the company, but its founders thought it was a fair trade.

Currently, as Iris Leung shows in his post, 9GAG is working on new verticals for the website, such as the “World Cup” section. Collecting data from the users’ activities on the site, they find out new ways to attract people and engage their interest further on. Such is the case of the 9GAG.tv.

They have also been working on 8FACT, which is much like 9GAG, only that it offers interesting facts that range from the educational to the entertaining.

9GAG is nowhere near its desired global success, especially by the optimistic and ambitious Ray Chan. They also joined Echelon 2014, and I too found out (here) of Chan’s beliefs shared with the people present at the event. The writer amusingly deems Chan: “the humble man from China”, because Chan thinks 9GAG has yet to become successful and it still has a long way to go.

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Ray Chan: A successful startup always has a goal

One of the things shared by 9GAG’s co-founder at this great event in Asia was the importance of having a goal when starting a business. At the conference, he actually reminded the audience of the Mark Pincus’s, co-founder of Zynga, popular quote: “Not having a clear goal leads to death by a thousand compromises.”

He also confessed why he thinks 9GAG is so successful. This happens because from the start off they tried to understand the taste of the target audience and users, as they are the essential part in a company. Any company that wishes success should identify the preferences of their audience.  Paul Graham of Y Combinator puts it clearly: “It’s better to make a few people happy than to make a lot of people semi-happy.”

He also explained the importance of knowing the platform for your website. Anyone who wants a successful startup should learn the best way to operate on their platform and in their field. What defines 9GAG’s success is also their ability to offer their content in an attractive, easy way. Also, they try to deliver good content consistently and they try to keep their audience hooked by testing different formats and messages.

At this moment, they are a team of 22, but 9GAG is looking to add engineers (service and mobile), editors and curators to their team. They are looking for people who are  passionate about working for 9GAG, not just any second person who wants to get a job. The reason for enlarging their team goes hand in hand with the optimistic future they plan for the company. Moreover, don’t imagine you’ll laugh all day and make chintzy jokes every minute. The Co-founder of 9GAG emphasized many a time that they want to offer quality content, which also entertains people. Anyone who finds 5 or so minutes to browse the website should find something that he or she likes on it. That’s why the content is not necessarily meant to be a good joke, but various and unique.

How a successful startup acts

If you’ve got it, flaunt it! That’s how the guys from 9GAG have always acted. They are liked, wanted and successful. So, they are a success in everybody’s face. Even if there are controversies over sharing stolen content from other similar sites, and copy-right disputes, they have nothing to hide of their enormous success. What’s more, it all started just as a side project.

What do you think about 9GAG’s success? Could you build a successful startup in the world’s face?

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Ligia Mangra
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Ligia Mangra

Content Writer at Squirrly
A passionate writer. I love seeing a full moon and I like to rock 'n roll in life. Can't wait till my first novel gets published. Thumbs up, it'll be a fantasy horror!
Ligia Mangra
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