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I can haz business: King of the LOLcats on what it takes to build an empire

Stephanie McDonald | March 28, 2013
An entrepreneur who has reached the depths of depression after a failed start-up is now the CEO of a million dollar company

As a person who's built an empire based on grammatically incorrect cat memes, you would expect Ben Huh to know a thing or two about how to generate income from unlikely sources.

Born in South Korea and armed with a journalism degree, the CEO of the Cheezburger Network - whose flagship website is the cat-filled icanhas.cheezburger.com - is surprisingly serious.

Besides a comment about a circling crow sounding like a crying baby, it's mainly business talk with Huh, who shows he is clearly passionate about some of the big issues facing the tech world, such as Internet freedom.

Huh bought the "I Can Has Cheezburger" website in 2007 when it was eight months old. He has spent the past 18 months trying to "reinvent" the business and looking to build platforms that allow users to create their own sites.

"That mentality is all about taking risks. We're big enough [now] where I can say 'great, let's sit on our arse and let's rest'. But that won't help us grow. That won't actually help us take up new opportunities," he says.

"We have to take everything we've learned and everything that we've built so far and say 'let's bet it again because we think there's a better opportunity'."

Huh is also working on generating revenue from advertising and working out how to make money while still building platforms that make people laugh.

"There's this chicken and egg [situation] where do you build the product first or do you generate more money, and you have to keep balancing that," he says.

The Cheezburger Network now has 50 offshoot sites and Huh stars in a reality TV show about how the company creates content.

But it hasn't always been this way. Like many entrepreneurs, Huh experienced failure before he found success - his first startup failed after 18 months.

"It wasn't until after I seriously contemplated suicide that I was ready to handle a $30 million [cheque]," he wrote in his blog, wracked by self-doubt after the failure of his first company in 2001.

Although Huh says he toyed with the idea of giving up being an entrepreneur, he says his need to try again when he fails spurred him along.

Nine years after his first company folded, he asked venture capitalist Brad Feld for a $30 million investment in Cheezburger.

"The biggest struggle for me personally is not knowing that I'm right; it's dealing with ambiguity," he says.

"A lot of people are great when they're told [what to do] ... and a lot of people are great at high level strategy when they're not accountable for what happens...

 

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