Ben Huh is the CEO of Pet Holdings, Inc., the parent company of viral photoblogs like I Can Has Cheezburger, I Has a Hotdog, Graph Jam, Fail Blog, Engrish Funny, and Once Upon a Win. Pet Holdings’ latest acquisition, Ugliest Tattoos, catalogs a “Gallery of Regrets.”
Ben Huh is also a published author; “I Can Has Cheezburger?: A LOLcat Colleckshun” remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 13 weeks when it was released last fall. We talked with Ben about the role trendspotting plays in the world of Internet memes.
12 Questions with Ben Huh
1. How do you keep your work on the cutting edge?
I consume an enormous amount of pop culture content. I watch a lot of TV, read a lot of websites… Basically, my life revolves around consuming popular culture.
2. How do you reset yourself to become creative? Do you have any rituals?
I don’t know that there’s anything… I’m always throwing out ideas, so it’s not creativity, it’s just volume.
3. What is an example of a time where you have thrown away an existing idea to force yourself to find something new?
There have been several cases where we thought about a blog idea, started working on it, and then thought that the execution didn’t lend itself to the original idea, so we went back to the drawing board.
4. How did you get involved in I Can Has Cheezburger, and what motivates you to continue?
I was an Internet friend of Eric’s [Eric Nakagawa, co-founder of I Can Has Cheezburger] and then began helping out on the site—things like improving the user experience, because I had experience in that area. My friends kept telling me to buy the website, and one finally said, “If you run the site, and buy the site, I’ll help you raise money for it.” That’s how it happened. The motivation is that we love what we do here. There aren’t a lot of jobs out there where you can make people happy every day.
5. How significant are the topics of cool hunting and trend spotting in the world of LOLcats, FAIL blog and the other LOLz underneath the Pet Holdings umbrella?
I’d say trendspotting is significant—not necessarily cool hunting, because that’s more of an “us vs. them” mentality. Definitely trendspotting, though. ROFLrazzi came directly from trendspotting—we noticed that a ton of people were uploading and captioning celebrity photos, so we created a site around it.
6. How do you define cool?
Well, we don’t try to define things in terms of cool or not cool, but instead in terms of “Does it make me laugh?” I don’t know that creating graphs that chart how often your boss stops at your desk compared to what’s on your screen is cool, I mean, I think it’s geek cool, but… for us, it’s a question of “How fun is it to work with this content?”
7. Do you need a culture of innovation to create something that is cool?
I think you need an open mind. I don’t think that we do anything particularly innovative, but having an open mind and being honest to yourself about what’s funny and what’s not.
8. What is the best way to create an infectious idea, product or service?
You have to get a small group of people very passionate about what you are doing. Do something that pisses someone off—and makes a small group of people love you for it. The worst thing in the world is to be bland.
9. What is the key to innovation?
Being paranoid. That really drives us. We realize that we are trying to understand what the Internet wants, and the Internet is a big, giant, vast space. We’re always trying to figure out the pulse of the Internet is.
10. What are the most important trends you see in the world of viral online content?
Understanding what memes are. The MSM gets it wrong—there’s a big difference between a meme and a viral video—but the fact that they’re trying to use the word and apply it means that the medium of a meme, which is restricted to the online world and requires interaction, is making its way into the ‘real’ world.
11. What are your ambitions for I Can Has Cheezburger and all of Pet Holdings’ other sites?
To continue to grow. Make more people laugh. Stay relevant. Stay focused on our goal of letting people drive the community and drive the sites. We’re not like typical media with editors who decide what makes it—this is more about people who participate.
12. If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be and what would you do?
Let me turn the question on its head. We would love to collaborate with lots of people who want to create their own sites, on our platform. We want to create a place online where people can come to us, where people want to start something using us as the platform.
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