A Brief History Of BuzzFeed
BuzzFeed has gone from a twinkle in the experimental eye of Jonah Peretti to a household name in the media world. It has truly disrupted the media landscape, forcing old fogies like the New York Times and fresher pubs like Mashable to re-think the way they present their content. And if that weren’t enough, BuzzFeed’s promoted content business could very well be the best and most profitable in the game.
There’s a lot to learn from a look back. Join us.
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New Year's Day, 1974
Jonah Peretti rings in the New Year by being born.
This is what he looks like as a grown-up.
During his post-graduate studies at the MIT Media Lab, Jonah Peretti runs his first big experiment on the viral internet.
He shares an email conversation between himself and Nike, disputing whether or not Peretti should be allowed to have “sweatshop” printed across his personalized Nike iD shoes. This leads Peretti to question whether or not this type of viral success can be replicated.
After MIT, Peretti works at an artist/creative non-profit studio called eyeBeam, where he meets a guy named Ken Lerer.
As luck would have it, Mr. Lerer has a friend named Arianna Huffington, and all three express mutual interest in starting a new internet media company.
The Huffington Post is born.
After a year of building out the Huffington Post, Peretti feels the need to get back to his tinkering roots. He co-founds Contagious Media, LLC with John Johnson and Ken Lerer.
Peretti is splitting his time between a downtown Contagious Media office, where he experimented with social sharing, to the fast-driven Huffington Post Soho office, where the attitude was “let’s build faster, let’s take over the world,” said Peretti.
Suffice it to say, early strategies weren’t quite as refined as they are today.
Peggy Wang joins as the first editorial hire at Contagious Media. She will go on to become Editorial Director of BuzzFeed Life.
BuzzFeed launches officially, with Peggy Wang authoring the first piece of content. It looks far more straight-laced than the BuzzFeed of today.
Over the course of the next 18 months, BuzzFeed would make a number of notable hires, including Scott lamb and Eric Harris.
But without investment, the growth of the blog simply won’t be able to meet demand. So Peretti and friends set out to create an investor deck with an interesting twist on traditional media: native advertising.
It works! BuzzFeed (now named BuzzFeed Inc. officially) closes a $3.5 million Series A led by Softbank and Hearst Ventures.
The company is comprised of 9 employees with around 1 million uniques, and starts focusing on the business side of things.
The Series A leads to a handful of new hires, including the additions of Andy Yaco-Mink (now Director of Engineering), Jack Shepherd (now Editorial Director) and Matt Stopera (now director of Creative Projects, who started out as an intern.
BuzzFeed publishes its first big meme, Disaster Girl, by Scott Lamb.
BuzzFeed begins growing rapidly by taking internet native formats (gifs, pins, tweets, lists, etc.) and treating them as equals to traditional formats like long-form writing.
Kicking off 2010, BuzzFeed signs its first client for promoted content. Comedy Central signs on with the media company to promote Tosh.0.
With sponsored content off and running, BuzzFeed closes an $8 million Series B.
By now, the site is seeing 7 million unique views and is on the prowl for a new President to handle the business side of operations. They land on Jon Steinberg, formerly of Google.
Turns out, the whole sponsored content thing works out really well, forcing the company to start hiring out a sales staff. Steve Loguidice joins as director of sales. He is the first sales employee.
Even up until now, Peretti is still involved in the Huffington Post until it’s acquired by Aol.
In preparation for the end of days, BuzzFeed holds a last supper/rapture lunch for the staff.
Making a clear decision to focus on more journalistic endeavors, BuzzFeed brings on established reporter and columnist Ben Smith as Editor-In-Chief.
BuzzFeed makes its first acquisition, buying Star.Me from Ze Frank for an undisclosed amount.
To kick off the new year, BuzzFeed raises a $15.5 million Series C led by New Enterprise Associates, Lerer Ventures, Hearst Interactive Media, Softbank, and RRE.
With the presidential election around the corner, Ben Smith focuses in on political coverage, breaking the news that Senator John McCain plans to endorse former rival Mitt Romney. The company also hires Michael Hastings to cover the President’s re-election campaign.
BuzzFeed comes under fire for lifting images and ideas from Reddit and other forums on the web without properly crediting the original creators.
BuzzFeed acquires KingFish Labs.
BuzzFeed beefs up its video offerings with the hire of Ze Frank as EVP of Video.
Still growing, BuzzFeed launches a Los Angeles bureau.
Like clockwork, 2013 starts out with a new injection of cash as BuzzFeed closes a $19.3 million Series D round led by NEA along with existing investors, RRE, Hearst, SoftBank, and Lerer Ventures. Michael and Kass Lazerow join as new investors.
BuzzFeed launches a newsmaker speaker series called BuzzFeed Brews, which goes on to include interviews with Marco Rubio, Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Weiner, Jerry Seinfeld and others.
And just like that, BuzzFeed goes international with the launch of BuzzFeed in the UK.
By summer’s end, BuzzFeed is a household name, with 85 million unique visitors and mentions from folks like President Obama and its own “Saw It On BuzzFeed” category on Jeopardy.
And after just 87 short months, Jonah Peretti announces that BuzzFeed is a profitable company.
BuzzFeed hits 130 million unique visitors.
BuzzFeed publishes its most popular long-form feature story to date with over 1.5 million views. It’s called “Why I Bought A House In Detroit For $500.”
However, BuzzFeed’s most viewed story of all time is a quiz. (“What State Do You Actually Belong In?”) It currently has 41 million views.
Quizzes are so popular, in fact, that celebrities start to get in on the fad. Rupert Murdoch got himself in a quiz about billionaire tycoons, and Ellen Degeneres learns she is actually Chelsea Handler in the “Queens Of Comedy” quiz.
Reports claim that Disney tries to acquire BuzzFeed, with BuzzFeed asking for at least $1 billion.
BuzzFeed Video reaches 1 billion views.
BuzzFeed President and COO Jon Steinberg leaves, with reports claiming that tensions between Steinberg and Peretti are the cause. He’s replaced by Greg Coleman.
Steinberg joins the Daily Mail.
Gawker catches one of BuzzFeed’s most prolific writers, Benny Johnson, the viral politics editor, for having lifted text from various sources on the internet. Further investigation reveals that Johnson plagiarized more than 40 times.
All instances of plagiarism are removed from the site, Johnson is fired, and EIC Ben Smith apologizes.