幽默商業/專訪Cheezburger執行長:不冒險,問題更大

The Business of Humor
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起司漢堡網執行長何賓(音譯,Ben Huh),解釋他的群眾外包網站如何維持敏捷和創意。

蘇西.傑克森: 歡迎收看《哈佛商業評論》的Ideacast。我是蘇西.傑克森。今天的來賓是起司漢堡網執行長何賓,他旗下有許多很受歡迎的幽默網站,包括「我可以吃起司漢堡嗎?」和「失敗部落格」。班,非常感謝你今天來上節目。

何賓:謝謝邀請。

蘇西.傑克森:起司漢堡網現在大約有四十個網站。但你一開始只有一個,「我可以吃起司漢堡嗎?」。請問你在一個專門收集有趣貓咪照片的網站上,看到了什麼,讓你願意自行出資一萬美元投資,最後收購了它。

何賓:我必須說,最初我是想在矽谷找工作,或者說我有機會這樣做。我不是真的很想在企業內升遷。我想再次創業,所以我抓住這個機會創業。我不認為,經營貓咪圖片網站是我再次創業的第一選擇,但我想我是真的很愛這個社群和它的幽默。

蘇西.傑克森:很多人很熟悉你的網站,每天工作時都在看。但你是否能為我們詳細說明,你的事業實際上是在做什麼?

何賓:好的。起司漢堡網集合了一些幽默網站。我們的幽默網站其實是由使用者自己推動。我們屬於一個大類別,稱為「使用者產出內容」,我想最明顯的例子就是YouTube。人們可以在我們的網站上創造內容,包括拍照和添加標題,或者上傳照片、文字或影片,與朋友和其他人分享。

我們的模式與YouTube有點不同,我們允許使用者提交內容,這些內容會發布到符合主題的特定網站。例如,「我可以吃起司漢堡嗎?」主要特色是以貓為主題,配上拼寫錯誤的有趣字幕。「失敗部落格」通常標題是相同的,即「失敗」。但「失敗部落格」主打人類生活中的錯誤,與「我可以吃起司漢堡嗎?」完全不同。

蘇西.傑克森:起司漢堡網的使命非常簡單,但具體、崇高且有些奇妙。就是要讓人們每天開心五分鐘。你能否談談怎麼會想到這個使命,以及這個使命對你每天的工作有多大影響?

何賓:我很想把使命聲明歸功於自己,但其實,這是來自我們的使用者回饋意見。我們的使用者發送電子郵件給我們,說:嘿,當我在工作上感到壓力很大時,你們是我的快樂小天地。或者,我下班回家後會上這個網站,讓自己開心幾分鐘。我們收集了使用者回饋意見,濃縮成我們真正為他們提供的內容。我們是從原本就已存在的網站開始,所以公司沒有真正的核心使命。我們採納了使用者提供的使命。這就是我們想讓大家每天快樂五分鐘的由來。

蘇西.傑克森:幾年前,你擁有八個網站時,曾在某次演說中提到,你自認永遠不會達到擁有五十個網站之類的程度。能否說明你當時的策略?這個策略現在是否有變化?

何賓:好的。我認為經營企業一定會碰到的情況之一,就是犯錯。這顯然是我們不明白自己正在做的事情的潛力。我們最初是從幾個網站開始的,我們認為可能會是與動物有關,但我當時的想法更大一些。我希望會更加與幽默有關。我覺得人們到「我可以吃起司漢堡嗎?」是為了幽默,不見得是因為貓。那個網站結合了這兩者。

因此,當我們開始擴展網路時,嘗試為人們提供一個可以玩耍的遊樂場。如果他們想談論與食物有關的事情,我們就應該要有與食物有關的東西。當人們開始提交內容給我們的系統時,這是整個網絡的運作方式,我們大部分內容都是使用者產出的,我們的想法是,可以檢視內容的流入,以了解模式發展的情況,並以它為中心創建一個網站。我們經營四十個、將近五十個不同的網站,不斷重新評估網站的組合。其事,我們最近收購了一個網站,讓我們有點超出使用者產出內容的根基,這個網站叫「每日新聞」。

蘇西.傑克森:請說明,為何每日新聞與起司漢堡網的其他部分不同?你為什麼決定朝這個方向發展?

何賓:好的。每日新聞其實很獨特,因為它只是處理使用者產出的內容。我們確實收到使用者提交的內容。但這是我們所謂的網路文化新聞。對我們來說,網路文化實際上比流行文化更獨特得多。流行文化包括音樂、電視、名人文化等等。但網路文化源自一群基本上生活在網路世界的人,他們的主要資訊來源是網路,並發展出截然不同於流行文化的世界觀。大多數人都熟悉網路文化,因為他們看過網路流傳的爆紅影片,人們互相傳送,或者因為他們見過某個迷音梗圖。迷音的拼法是M-E-M-E。其實這是一種構想的病毒,在人與人之間傳播。

蘇西.傑克森:收購每日新聞之類的行動,是不是某個總體計畫的一部分?

何賓:嗯。每日新聞真的是種幸福的意外。我當時發現這個叫每日新聞的網站,那時它的規模較小,但網站編輯表現非常出色。我們想要做的,就是把它加到我們的網站組合中。儘管它從技術面來講不是幽默,但我們知道,我們的幽默吸引了網路文化群眾,每日新聞就好比CNN,或是這個群眾首選的新聞來源。因此,當我們真的讓它完整加入我們之後,這個網站就開始成長。我們能夠為它添加流量,它們之間有很大的互惠關係。

網路受眾的反應非常好。我想我們看到一群過去習慣看主流媒體、主流流行文化的族群遷移,他們終於真正了解網路文化的含義。我認為在十年前,人們主要是使用網路進行交易。也就是我會上網購買機票,或搜尋資訊。這是非常交易性質的,也是我們所謂的網路1.0。網路2.0的真正定義是,網際網路本身就是世界。消費對網路文化族群很重要,我們實際上是透過部落格來表達自己。我們使用推特,或使用一些事物,以便透過這種特定媒介來溝通和創造文化。

蘇西.傑克森:我猜想你可以自由嘗試很多東西,而沒有太大風險會對品牌造成太大損害。能不能談談你如何判定某件事會成功?另一方面要如何決定某件事失敗了?

何賓:我們嘗試考慮未來的成長潛力。隨著網站成長,隨著它變得更加主流,往往會流失最初的核心受眾,然後獲得新的受眾。所以我們看重的是,這個網站是否有潛力繼續成長,還是會在這個小區域停滯不前。我們只能經營這麼多的網站,所以我們的想法是,應該放棄某一個主題,以換取更廣泛、吸引力更大一點的東西。

蘇西.傑克森:有沒有哪件事特別讓你覺得一定會很成功,卻以失敗收場?

何賓:有的。我曾經有個想法,就是貓熊,牠們真的很可愛,但牠們有一個邪惡議程,我們真的應該告訴人們有關貓熊的「邪惡議程」。於是我們建立一個網站,結果根本就不是個好主意。這是個相當具體的失敗例子,但我們也嘗試在業務中運用失敗。換句話說,我們了解失敗是冒風險的一部分,而承擔好的正向風險,就是企業運作的關鍵。因為若沒有風險,就沒有回報。

所以,當我們談論失敗時,不是把它看成絕對的死胡同,而是當成某個流程的一部分來討論,而且我們嘗試要降低失敗的成本,因此我們通常花兩個星期推出一個新網站。我們過去一直嘗試盡可能簡化這個流程,以便抓住很多機會。

如果你能運用失敗,並降低失敗的風險,你的員工就會持續冒風險。我們會讓他們知道,如果你有個差勁的構想,或你嘗試推動差勁的構想,並不會損害你在公司的聲譽或職涯。真正有害的是,如果你沒有從你的錯誤中學習,或者你沒有冒險。我們認為,這才是比真正感受失敗還要大的問題。

蘇西.傑克森:你認為,從事更傳統業務的人,可以從大笑貓圖片和起司漢堡網的成功中,學到什麼?

何賓:我想讓大家明白,員工在工作時如果放鬆精神五分鐘,實際上可以提高生產力。這比讓員工過勞,剝奪他們原本應該擁有的創意還更好。我認為,一方面,讓你的員工上網是很棒的主意。還有專注於目標。專注於企業真正要達成的使命,通常這可以把員工團結在一起。我們公司的使命宣言原本可以是非常財務的,或者是非常針對自身組織的。

例如,我們想成為全球最佳幽默網路之類的東西。但我們沒有這樣寫,因為我們覺得,如果給員工一個很崇高的使命,他們就會迎接挑戰。不是說我們要治癒癌症。我們也不是想藉由這樣做來實現世界和平,但我們知道,我們每天上班,都在為人們的生活增加一個很正向的層面。這個使命,是我們所有人都可以承擔的。

蘇西.傑克森:能否談談你的未來規畫?一年或五年後的計畫?

何賓:我其實沒什麼計畫。我們試圖很專注在立即的未來。因為我們已經錯了很多次。有時我告訴人們,儘管我們會做錯,但在許多方面仍成功了,而不是因為有我們所以會成功。我們嘗試不那麼看重自己。我們嘗試在兩週的週期中規畫。我們使用敏捷流程來開發產品。

這表示我們其實採用的是最精簡可行產品。以我們來說,實際上是稱為最簡精可愛產品。我們希望它更特別一點。而且我們每週發布一次功能。在敏捷軟體中,這稱為「衝刺週期」。我們只打算規畫大約兩個衝刺週期,因為超出兩星期的任何事情,其實都會受到市場力量的影響。

蘇西.傑克森:如果你只提前兩個星期規畫,會不會很難向創投家等人推銷?

何賓:是的,我想這有點非正統。而我認為,這就是我們成長的基礎。我們是反應式的公司。我們從購買網站開始,而不是自己建立網站。這些並不真的是我們的概念。我們是用我們的用戶群,來「群眾外包」取得想法,以了解市場需求。

創投家的反應式思維,讓他們習慣檢視五年的預測,以及市場規模之類的東西,但我們從未寫過商業計畫書,也從未做過市場規模研究。我想大家都只是知道有個巨大的市場,值得投資。迄今我們透過Foundry、Avalon、Madrona和SoftBank Capital募得創投資金,背後的想法是,他們投資的是一個已經過驗證、我們可擴大規模的模式。

蘇西.傑克森:你們網絡中的所有部落格,都遵循相同的商業模式,對嗎?

何賓:是的,全都是。都是使用者產出的內容,或由我們的編輯精心策畫的內容。我們針對它出售廣告,或把內容轉化為商品。「我可以吃起司漢堡嗎?」已經有兩本《紐約時報》暢銷書,仔細想想,這實在很驚人,因為這書是可以在網上免費取得的。

但事實證明,以書本形式擁有這些內容,是很有價值的,因為你可以離線使用它,這就是我們所說的廁所閱讀。這真的很有趣。我其實是和《洋蔥報》的某人聊到,我們之前寄給他們一本我們失敗部落格的實體書《失敗國度》。他說,它被珍藏在《洋蔥報》中最神聖不可侵犯的地方。我說,是哪裡?他說,廁所。

蘇西.傑克森:這真是太棒了。恭喜。

何賓:謝謝。

蘇西.傑克森:非常感謝你今天過來,何賓。這位是起司漢堡網的執行長。更多資訊請見HBR.org。


Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger Network, explains how his crowd-sourced websites stay agile and creative.

Susy Jackson: Welcome to the HBR Ideacast from Harvard Business Review. I'm SUSY Jackson. With me today is Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger Network, home of the wildly popular humor websites, I Can Has Cheezburger? and Fail Blog. Ben, thanks so much for joining us today.

Ben Huh: Thank you for having me here.

Susy Jackson: There are about 40 websites in the Cheezburger Network today. But you started with just one, I Can Has Cheezburger? Tell me what you saw on a website that collected funny pictures of cats that led you to invest 10,000 of you own dollars and purchasing it.

Ben Huh: So initially, I have to say, I was looking for a job in the Silicon Valley or I had an opportunity to do this. I didn't really want to be working up the corporate ladder. I wanted to be an entrepreneur again, so I kind of seized this as an opportunity to do that. I don't think that running a cat picture website was really my first choice to be back to being an entrepreneur, but I think I was really in love with the community, and the aspect of humor.

Susy Jackson: Many people are familiar with your websites and are looking at them every day while at work. But can you explain to us more about what your business actually is?

Ben Huh: Yes, so the Cheezburger Networks is a collection of humor websites. And our humor websites actually are powered by the users themselves. So, we belong in this large category called user-generated content, which I think the most noticeable example is YouTube. So, on our sites, people actually can create content in terms of taking a photo and adding a caption, or uploading a photo or text or video to share it with their friends and among other people.

Our model is a little bit different from YouTube in that we allow users to submit content and they get actually published the specific sites that cater to a subject matter. So for example, I Can Has Cheezburger? actually features mostly cats with misspelled funny captions on them. Whereas Fail Blog is usually has the same caption, which is “Fail.” But Fail Blog traffics in the mistakes of human life kind of category, whereas it's completely different from I Can Has Cheezburger?

Susy Jackson: Your mission at Cheezburger Network is very simple, but specific, lofty, and kind of fantastic, actually. It's to make people happy for five minutes a day. Can you tell me how you came to have that mission and how much it really influences the work you do every day?

Ben Huh: I would love to take credit for the mission statement. But actually that come from our user feedback. Our users would actually email us and say, hey, you're my little happy go-to place when I'm at work and I'm stressed out. Or I come home from my workday and I really go here to make myself happy for a few minutes. And so we collected that user feedback and distilled it down to what it is that we're actually providing for them. Because we started out with a website that was already in existence, the company didn't really have a core mission. So we adopted this from our users. And that's where we want to make everyone happy for five minutes a day come from.

Susy Jackson: Several years ago, in a conference address, when you had eight websites, you said that you didn't think you'd ever get to a place where you'd have something like 50 websites. Can you tell me about your strategy then, and now, if it's changed?

Ben Huh: Yeah, I think one of the certain things in businesses is that you're going to be wrong. And that's clearly the case where we didn't realize the potential of what we're doing. So we initially started out with a handful websites around, we thought maybe would be animal-related, but I was thinking a little bit bigger. I was hoping that we would be more humor-related. I felt that the reason people went I Can Has Cheezburger? was because of the humor, not necessarily because of the cats. There's a combination of the two.

So when we started growing our network, it was trying to give people a playground they could play on. So if they wanted to talk about something that was food-related, we really should have something related to food. And in fact, when people started submitting content into our system, which is how the entire network works -- most of our content is user-generated-- the idea was that we could actually look at the inflow of content, see what's actually a pattern developing, and created a site around that. We run 40 some different websites, almost 50 sites, and we're constantly kind of re-evaluating the mix. And in fact we actually acquired a site recently that makes us a little bit stray beyond our UGC roots, which is called The Daily What.

Susy Jackson: Tell me why The Daily What is so different from the rest of the Network and why you decided to go in that direction.

Ben Huh: Yeah, so The Daily What's actually kind of unique in that it doesn't deal uniquely in user-generated content. In fact, we do get submission from our users. But it's what we call internet culture news. And internet culture to us is something actually quite a bit distinctive than popular culture. Popular culture, you have the music, you have TV, you have celebrity culture, and things like that. But internet culture takes a bunch of people who live basically on the internet, whose primary source of information is the internet, and develops a very of separate view of the world than how popular culture sees the world. Most people are familiar with internet culture because they've seen viral videos, where it gets passed from person to person, or because they've actually encountered one of them memes. Meme is spelled M-E-M-E. It's actually an idea virus that's passed from person to person.

Susy Jackson: So was it in some master plan to acquire something like The Daily What?

Ben Huh: Yeah, so The Daily What was kind of a happy accident. I found the site called The Daily What. It was relatively small at the time, but the editor on the site was actually doing a phenomenal job. And what we wanted to do was add that to our portfolio of sites. Even though it wasn't technically humor, we knew that our humor appealed to the internet culture crowd, and that The Daily What was really the CNN or the go-to news source for this crowd of people. And so when we actually brought him on aboard full time, the site actually grew. We were able to add traffic to it and there was a hugely beneficial relationship between them.

And the Internet audience really responded well. And I think what we're seeing is a migration of people who used to see mainstream media, mainstream popular culture, who are actually finally understanding what internet culture means. It used to be that, I think ten years ago, people primarily used the internet for transactions. Meaning, I'm going to buy an airline ticket or I'm going to look up a piece of information. Well, that's very transactional. That's what we call, I think, Internet 1.0. And Internet 2.0 is really defined by the idea that Internet, in and of itself, is the world. And that by consuming things that are important to the Internet culture crowd, we are actually expressing ourselves by blogging. We're using Twitter, or we're using the things that allow us to actually communicate and create culture through this specific medium.

Susy Jackson: I suspect that you are free to experiment a lot without risking too much damage to the brand. Can you talk to you about how you decide when something's going to be a success, and on the flipside, how you decide when something's failed?

Ben Huh: So we try to think about in terms of future potential for growth. And as sites grow, they usually tend to shed the initial core audience and then they acquire kind of a new one as it becomes more mainstream. So what we're looking for is, is there a potential for this site to continue to grow, or is it going to be stagnant in this one little area. And because we can only run so many websites, the idea is that we should be shedding one subject matter for something a little bit broader, a little bit bigger appeal.

Susy Jackson: Is there something in particular that you thought was going to be a wild success that didn't end up working?

Ben Huh: Yeah, actually there was an idea that I had, which was that panda bears, they are really cute, but they had an evil agenda, and that we should really tell people about the quote unquote evil agenda of panda bears. So we started this website and it was completely not a good idea. So there's an example of specific failure, but also we try to operationalize failure in our business. In other words, we understand that failure is a part of taking risk, and taking good positive risk is what a business is all about. Because without the risk. There really is no reward.

So when we actually talk about failure, we don't talk about it as an absolute dead end. We talk about as part of a process and in fact, we try to lower the cost of failure, so it costs us two weeks to launch a new website, generally speaking. And what we've done is we've tried to make that as streamlined as possible, so that we can take multiple chances.

And if you operationalize and lower the risk of failure, your employees will continue to take the chances. And we let them know, if you have a bad idea, or if you tried out on a bad idea, that's not something that's going to be damaging to your reputation or your career here. What really is going to be damaging is if you don't learn from your mistake, or if you don't take risk. And we see that as being a bigger problem than actually feeling itself.

Susy Jackson: What do you think that people in more traditional business can learn from LOLcats and from your success at Cheezburger Network?

Ben Huh: Well, I'd like to make sure that people understand that when employees take a five minute mental vacation at work, it actually make them more productive. Right? It's better than you know being stressed out and that depriving them of the creativity that they would have. I think, for one, letting your employees surf the Internet is really a great idea. And focus on the goal. Focus on the mission that your business is actually trying to achieve, and that usually rallies the employees together. The mission statement of our company could have been something very financial or very kind of specific to the organization.

We want to be the best humor network in the world or something like that. But that's not we went toward because we felt that our employees would rise to the challenge if we gave them a very lofty mission to shoot for. And it's not like we're trying to cure cancer. Right? We're not trying to get world peace by doing this, but we know that we're adding a really positive dimension to people's lives by coming to work every day. And that's a mission that we can all get behind.

Susy Jackson: Can you talk to me about your plans for the future? Do you think a year out, five years out?

Ben Huh: I actually don't. We try to keep ourselves very much limited to the immediate future. Because we've been wrong so many times. And sometimes I tell people, we're successful in many ways in spite of us, not because of us. We try to take ourselves a little less seriously. We try to plan in two weeks sprint. We use the agile process for product development.

And that means that we actually take a minimally viable product. In our case, we actually call it a minimally lovable product. We want it to be a little more special. And we release a feature every two weeks. And we call that -- in agile software, it's called a sprint. And we're only trying to plan about two sprints out, because anything beyond that is really subject to the market forces.

Susy Jackson: Is it hard to sell someone like a venture capitalist on your vision when you're only looking two weeks in advance?

Ben Huh: Yeah, I think it's a little bit unorthodox. I think that's kind of the basis of how we grew up. We were very much a reactionary company. We got started by buying a website. We didn't build it on our own. None of these are really our concepts. We're really using our user base to crowd source and understand what the market's wanting.

So, because of their reactionary mentality, I think venture capitalist are used to seeing a five years projection, and things like the market size, whereas we never wrote a business plan. We never had a market size study. I think everybody just realized that is a huge market and that this actually worth investing in. So for the VC investment that we raised through Foundry, Avalon, Madrona and SoftBank Capital, the idea was that they would invest in a historically proven model that we can scale up.

Susy Jackson: And all of your blogs in the Network follow the same business model, correct?

Ben Huh: Yeah, they all do. It's user generated content or highly curated content by one of our editors. And we sell advertising against it or turn it into merchandise. In fact, I Can Has Cheezburger? has had two New York Times Best-Sellers, which is pretty phenomenal, if you think about it, because it's a book that you can get online for free.

Yet it turns out that having that content in book form is actually really valuable, because you take it offline, and it's what we call bathroom reading. So, that's really kind of interesting. I was actually talking to somebody at The Onion and we had sent them a copy of our Fail Blog book, called Failed Nation. And he said, it is in the holiest place of holiest places at The Onion. I said, where is that? He says, it's in the bathroom.

Susy Jackson: That's fantastic Congratulations.

Ben Huh: Well, thanks.

Susy Jackson: Thank you so much, Ben. That was Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger Network. For more, go to HBR.org.



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