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Can Imgur Turn Its 150 Million Users Into A Booming Business?

Can Imgur Turn Its 150 Million Users Into A Booming Business


Each month Imgur (pronounced “imager”) attracts more than 150 million unique visitors, more than 5.5 billion page views and 45 million new images. Since 2009, when Schaaf built the site in his Ohio University dorm, Imgur has become the default launchpad where content is uploaded before blasting off across FacebookTwitter, Reddit and the blogosphere. But Imgur is increasingly shifting from being an image host to a prime destination of its own. Roughly 30% of its audience (largely young and geeky) now views content directly on the Imgur home page and mobile app.

That trend helped Schaaf raise $40 million from the venture capitalists at Andreessen Horowitz in April 2014, after bootstrapping the site for its first five years. “It’s an incredible community,” says Andreessen partner Lars Dalgaard. “Users are building meaningful relationships with people they might not ever see and are finding people that they have more in common with than anyone at work or school.”

Imgur now has to start making real money off all that traffic while dealing with a social network unlike Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Imgur’s content isn’t shaped by friends or follows. Everyone sees the same images on the home page, ranked by popular vote. Top posts can get thousands of comments and tens of thousands of votes.  “Imgur is a shared experience,” says Schaaf. “I don’t see posts because I follow a certain person but because it was voted up through a democracy.”

Stashed in: Awesome, Monetization, internet, @a16z, Imgur!, Active Users, Microentertainment, Alan Schaaf

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Voted up like a democracy means Imgur is very much like Reddit.

Imgur gets its resourcefulness from Alan's mom:

I had no experience handling traffic, but I had to learn. If I didn’t fix it then, Imgur wouldn’t exist,” says Schaaf, who credits Imgur’s survival on the self-reliance he had learned from his mom, Jean Hoyt. “She built her own company [real estate appraisal], and when something breaks in the house, like, ‘We need a new toilet,’ she installs it.”

Now at 45 employees, looking to double by end of year:

That number has grown to 45 since the $40 million venture round last spring. Schaaf says he’ll hit 90 employees by the end of the year as Imgur attracts a more mainstream audience through its new iOS app, launched in March. Plans are afoot to jump to Web-connected TVs. Says Andreessen Horowitz’s Lars Dalgaard: “This is amazing content that is not being seen by even a percent of the people who’d be elated and ecstatic if they knew it existed.”

If 150 million monthly visitors is 1% of the people he thinks it can appeal to, he believes the market for this content is 100 x 150 million = 15 billion monthly visitors. 

Seems legit. 

I'm all about setting bold goals... but that one might be... a little too bold?

Well, once the population of the planet doubles in size, 15 billion monthly visitors will be achievable.

So he's really forward looking.

New business model will be in-house branded ads:

The bulk of Imgur’s revenue today comes from the single ad on each page. To fuel more growth, Imgur is building an in-house agency that will create and publish branded images, so-called native ads, designed for viral sharing. Schaaf says these ads will mesh with the style and tastes of the site. Test campaigns for films and games (Grand Theft Auto V) were a hit with users, with some ads getting liked and shared by an average of 4% of the audience. Imgur must tread lightly. Online clans, especially those emboldened by their anonymity, can protest viciously about commercials in their feeds. “The most valuable thing about Imgur is the community,” says Schaaf. “Only we can take the community away.”

So basically the business model is like Buzzfeed. 

Here's another Imgur snapshot: 2011 / 30 million monthly uniques / 6 employees :

In 2011, with Imgur getting 30 million monthly uniques, Schaaf and Strader (now Imgur’s COO) moved to San Francisco and hired four employees.

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