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Ben Huh

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Cheezburger, Inc. founder and self-described “Internet Content Connoisseur” Ben Huh has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. The 14-year-old Seoul-native founded his first business, a typing service, while growing up in Rancho Cordova, CA, advertising it around his apartment complex. His second endeavor would transpire five years later, while a student at Northwestern University. The 19-year-old journalism student founded a front-end web development company, marketing it by informing all of the school’s department heads via e-mail that their websites could use improvement. The heavy-handed scheme won him two clients.

After graduating with degrees in Journalism and Sociology in 1999, Huh spent a brief period as an Interface Designer for Cars.com before embarking on his next entrepreneurial endeavor. Raydium, a web analytics company founded in 2000, folded in just 18 months, sending Huh into a deep depression. He spent the next six years working for others, beginning with a brief stint as acting general manager at AccuRadio. He also held a series of positions, including Director of eBusiness, at InstalShield, before joining Intava as Director of Product Management in 2005.

In the meantime, for their own entertainment, Huh and his wife started a blog about life with a dog in Seattle. After the company responsible for a series of pet food recalls in 2007 took down their website, Huh delved into the company’s cached files. He found and posted on his blog a PDF outlining the company’s customers, revenues and facility locations. The post was linked throughout the Internet, including on a humor site called I Can Has Cheezburger. One of the site’s owners, Eric Nakagawa, had used an image Huh had created and almost brought down Huh’s site. Wanting to figure out how he did it, Huh offered to help with Nakagawa’s site, pro bono. In September 2007, he connected with a group of angel investors to purchase I Can Has Cheezburger.

From that first site, Huh proceeded to build an entire media company. Cheezburger Inc. would eventually encompass more than 50 sites, including Memebase, The Daily What, Know Your Meme, and FAIL Blog. The sites pull in 20 million unique visitors per month, and more than 400 million page views, a popularity that has allowed Cheezburger Inc. to achieve profitability from its first quarter. The Cheezburger Network has expanded beyond online media. They’ve released five books, two of which were New York Times bestsellers. They’ve also ventured into television as the feature of Bravo’s 2012 reality series LOLwork.

Huh founded a second media company, Circa, in 2011. The company, aimed at reimagining news media, raised $750K in Series A funding in 2012. When Circa folded in 2015, Huh decided to step down from his position as CEO of Cheezburger, as well. While he remains on the company’s board, he is currently on sabbatical.

Widely recognized for his success transforming Cheezburger Inc. from a single creative site to an online entertainment powerhouse, Huh’s accolades include ranking on Fast Company’s 2010 list of “The Most Creative People in Business” and receiving the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2011. He’s a frequent speaker, sharing his insights at SXSW, Web 2.0 Summit, and TEDx Seattle. He currently lives in Seattle with his wife, Emily, and their poodle mix, Nemo.

Companies and Investments

Cheezburger Inc. (Founder, Board Member, Former CEO), Circa (Co-founder, Board Member, Investor), Intava (Director of Product Management), InstalShield (Director of eBusiness, Web Team Manager, eMarketing Manager), AccuRadio (Consultant), Raydium (Founder, CEO), Cars.com (Interface Designer)

Lessons Learned

It's OK to fail. I had a startup in 2000 and it folded 18 months later. It was a train wreck; it was the worst time of my life. It's a pretty difficult road back. The thing that needed to be repaired the most wasn't my finances – even though they were pretty terrible -- it was my self-confidence. During that time I struggled with thoughts of suicide and I didn't leave my house for two weeks. It was a pretty terrible moment. It starts with having something to live for; I needed someone who depended on me to do something. (Ben Huh on getting back up after failure, in an interview with Entrepreneur)

I had a terrible boss that was phenomenally good at recruiting talented people, but he was a tyrant -- he would storm in your office and scream at you. He paid generously for the right to be an asshole, so people put up with him, but it didn't last.

I learned that that's one way to run a business, but there is a cost to being an asshole, and it's not just financial. The costs were so culturally terrifying for the company -- no one respected him or trusted him. (Ben Huh on effective leadership, in an interview with Entrepreneur)

By talking to other really smart people who have personal views on my industry or something related to my industry, or even something totally different -- and it's like "holy crap -- this is a side of the universe that I've never seen before." (Ben Huh on how surrounding yourself with and listening to smart people fuels your own development and inspiration, in an interview with Entrepreneur)


Inspiring Quotes

1. Recruit and retain the best people.2. Make sure you never run out of money.3. Make sure you have a clear vision that you articulate to all the stakeholders.

Fred Wilson

Ben Huh's Quotes

You are never as good as you think you are, and you are never as bad as people say you are.

Ben Huh

We don’t have any limits. We want to see how good we can get.

Ben Huh

Work on what you love with people you love in a place you love.

Ben Huh

Influential Books

Stephen R. Covey - The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Mentors

References


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