Memo To The BuzzFeed Team

/// Memo To The BuzzFeed Team

September 5, 2013  |  Blog

BuzzFeed’s Next Year….

Hello BuzzFeeders,

Before anything I want to thank you for all your amazingly great work

over the last year. All of our success is because of you. And as we

move into new offices soon and begin a new year (when you have

children like I do, you tend to think of September as a new year

because of school) BuzzFeed is on a significant roll, we have reached

new milestones and our future looks tremendously bright.

Here are some highlights.

BuzzFeed reached record traffic of 85 million unique visitors in

August. We are 3X bigger than we were just one year ago, 8X bigger

than we were two years ago, and we have served more web pages so far

in 2013 than we have in the entire previous five year history of the

company. By this time next year we should be one of the biggest sites

on the web.

Much of this growth is driven by the amazing technology platform built

by Mark’s team, the elegant products built by Chris’ team, the

breakthrough optimization developed by Dao’s team, and the data

science insights delivered by Ky’s team. It wasn’t easy to build all

our own technology from scratch. Most other publishers integrate

off-the-shelf products built by others, but this full-stack,

vertically integrated approach was worth the significant, multi-year

investment and is paying off fantastically today. There are great

tech companies and great editorial institutions, but it is very rare

for one company to take both as seriously as we do.

We are also rapidly expanding to new platforms beyond our website. Our

iPhone app is consistently in the top 5 in the news category and

sometimes at #1. We have quickly become one of the leading original

video channels on YouTube with over 50 million monthly views and 2

million subscribers. And our BuzzFeed Brews live events with guests

like Sen. Rubio, Sen. Gillibrand, and NYC Mayoral Candidate Anthony

Weiner have become a leading venue for newsmakers to reach a young,

web-savvy audience.

We also booked record profit in August. We’ve gone from zero revenue

four years ago to a profitable company with over 300 employees. We’ve

become the leader, and primary innovator, in social content

advertising. Last year we ran 265 programs and this year we will do

between 600-700 with more than half of the top 100 brands.

Despite the struggles of the traditional media, there remains an

insatiable desire for great reporting, entertaining content, and

powerful storytelling. Facebook, Twitter, and the other Silicon

Valley-based social sites are amazing distribution platforms, but user

generated content alone isn’t enough to fill the hole left by the

ongoing decline of print newspapers and magazines. The world needs

sustainable, profitable, vibrant content companies staffed by

dedicated professionals; especially content for people that grew up on

the web, whose entertainment and news interests are largely neglected

by television and newspapers.

This is why BuzzFeed has a major role to play in the coming years

producing great journalism and compelling entertainment. We have the

potential to be a defining company, the same role the traditional

media companies played decades ago. These companies were once small

and scrappy like us. They faced the skepticism of their incumbents,

they pioneered new models, embraced new technologies, and succeeded

because they served their audience better than what came before. This

is a great aspiration for us as well.

It won’t be easy to deliver on this potential. We need to build on our

past successes but also continue to make changes in how we operate as

we move ahead. We are like an energetic teenager, discovering new

talents, but not sure yet how to use all of them them productively. We

are capable of doing so much more than just a year ago and we need to

update our thinking, ambition, and temperament to match our new

abilities. This shift in mindset is a tough challenge for any fast

growing company so I wanted to share some thoughts on big growth areas

in the coming years.

1) News

There is a huge opportunity to be the leading news source for the

social, mobile world. As we saw during the 2012 election, the Boston

bombings, and our LGBT focused coverage of the Sochi Olympics, a new

generation of readers are turning to us for news. This is why Ben has

been growing his team so aggressively, building new teams to cover

topics from business to travel, hiring Lisa Tozzi to run our breaking

news desk, hiring Miriam Elder to build a team of foreign

correspondents around the world, hiring Steve Kandell to lead longform

features, and launching the Michael Hastings fellowship to continue

Michael’s legacy of fearless investigative reporting. And this is just

the beginning. We will continue to hire the most talented reporters

and writers in the world, we will expand our breaking news coverage,

build the infrastructure and team for large-scale investigative

journalism and all the intense research and reporting that entails,

and inform our readers about the issues that matter to them and their

world. We, of course, still don’t have the trust the traditional news

brands have won over the past 100 years, but we are working hard to

earn it, and it won’t take us 100 years to get there.

2) Formats

BuzzFeed is famous, and sometimes infamous, for our lists. Lists are

an amazing way to consume media. They work for content as varied as

the 10 Commandments, the Bill of Rights, Google search results, ESPN’s

Sportscenter, and internal company emails. We will always do lists but

we have the advantage of not being limited to a single format like

many traditional media companies. We do long form, short form,

quizzes, video, original graphic art, rubbable gifs, apps, and more.

In the coming years, we will continue our R&D focused on inventing and

advancing media formats. This requires ongoing interdisciplinary

effort combining product, tech, and editorial, and we are off to a

great start with the weekly “canary ops” meetings and Alice DuBois’

amazing collaborations between edit and product. We are just

scratching the surface of possible formats for social and mobile

content and there is so much more to do.

3) Video

This month, we open our social video studio in our new 12,000 sq ft

LA Bureau and an additional 5,600 sq ft black box production facility.

Before having a dedicated space and in less than a year (!), Ze Frank

has recruited a talented team of video producers who have created 570

videos, with over a hundred videos passing 1 million views each, 350

million total views, and 2 million YouTube subscribers. The prime time

for viewing our video is the same as primetime TV – people are

watching our videos on their mobile devices instead of TV or in

addition to TV to get through the commercials and boring plot lines.

Consumer behaviors are changing rapidly and the rise of social and

mobile is just starting to disrupt the way video content is consumed.

Ze is building the TV studio and movie studio of the future but that

doesn’t mean he will make TV shows or movies. Social, mobile video

will be different, and we are in a great position to help invent new

video formats that match new patterns of media consumption. There

seems little doubt that the future “TV network” will be social web

video that is viewed and spread on mobile.

4) Mobile

In August we had 100 million mobile visits to BuzzFeed’s site and

apps. But much of our success here has been based on luck, not skill.

We are fortunate we don’t have slideshows, banner ads, a complicated

site design, or other features that don’t work well in mobile. We are

lucky that 100% of our advertising is social content marketing that

works even better in mobile. And we are lucky that our audience is

young and embraced mobile content sooner than the general public. But

luck only takes you so far. We need to get good and then we need to be

great. We will be investing heavily in mobile technology in the coming

years with many new developments on the very near horizon. Stay tuned.

5) International

It is an outrage that there are countries and languages where people

don’t get to enjoy BuzzFeed! We are going to work to change that, but

our plan is to internationalize like a tech company, not a media

company. We won’t launch different sites in different markets, or the

equivalent of “local newspapers” in every market. We will have one big

global site that will dynamically change to meet the needs of

different countries and languages. The social web is global; Facebook,

Twitter, and other platforms have strong market share across the

world; memes and viral content jump geographies and languages, and

there is a big opening for a global social content company. We already

have offices in New York, California, London, and soon Australia, with

correspondents to cover world news starting soon in Eastern Europe,

Turkey, Cairo, and more. Web culture is global, youth culture is

global, news is global, and this provides a clear path for BuzzFeed to

globalize as well. This is also a great career opportunity for any

BuzzFeeders who are bi-cultural or bi-lingual who want to get more

involved in this effort!

6) Business

Part of our strategy is being a great business. This sounds strange as

a strategic goal, isn’t that obvious? But we are in a market where

many traditional publishers are run at a loss by wealthy families and

many high profile venture-backed startups generate no or little

revenue. Surprisingly it is contrarian that we are running BuzzFeed as

a profitable business. Jon’s incredible success turning BuzzFeed into

a great business in just three years has been the reason why we’ve

been able to hire so many other talented new people. So don’t forget

to thank Jon for your job if you joined BuzzFeed within the last 3

years. ;)

7) Advertising

Part of being a great business, is being a “must buy” for advertisers

who have many options. This means giving advertisers the full

advantage of our scale, our data, our creative team, our social and

mobile reach, and our technology platform. As we do bigger

partnerships, it is clear that we can offer brands programs that

nobody else can match. The majority of our readers are 18-34 year olds

who are educated, active online, and culturally aware. We have more

expertise about social content than any other company. We can light up

the social web for an advertiser across Facebook, Twitter, and

YouTube, with content that is worth clicking and sharing. And thanks

to the amazing efforts of Andy and our talented sales team, we have

worked with 50 of the top 100 brands (you should also thank Andy for

your job!). In the coming years we will expand BuzzFeed University to

train brands and agencies in the “BuzzFeed way”, we will launch a

branded video studio in LA to compliment our creative team in NYC, we

will grow our partnerships with Facebook and Twitter to expand buys

beyond BuzzFeed, and we will develop our social homepages product to

power social advertising across the web. We have the ability to solve

our clients biggest challenges with a unique combination of

technology, content, scale, and expertise.

8) Team

I am so grateful to work with such a talented group of people at

BuzzFeed, to learn so much from my colleagues each day, and to see so

many people across the organization who are willing to take

initiative, experiment with ideas, and make decisions. We have been

able to grow quickly without major organizational breakdowns by

attracting great people and trusting them to do great work. The best

work comes from small groups of smart people with considerable

autonomy and the ability to collaborate freely with others when it

makes sense. This is why we continually reorganize our internal

structure, why we breakup teams that grow too large into smaller

groups, and why the person you report to this year might not be the

person you report to next year. This is why the talented UK team has

the independence to grow something great in London, why Ze Frank runs

BuzzFeed Video like a sister startup in LA, and why the creative team

and edit team keeps dividing and multiplying into “color groups.”

Nothing is more powerful than small groups of talented people with the

freedom to do their best work. This is the key to our future.

9) Focus

In addition to these big growth areas, we will continue to invest in

the core BuzzFeed platform, following the vertically integrated,

reader-first strategy outlined in the memo I sent last year ->

http://bit.ly/Qza53Q. And we will continue to launch small

experimental projects, such as fre.sh, star.me, and other labs

projects that don’t distract from the core and have the potential to

be much bigger in the medium term future. But there are many exciting,

tempting, glamorous, lucrative opportunities that we will NOT do in

the coming year and as more of these opportunities present themselves

it will take discipline to stay on track. We will NOT launch a

BuzzFeed TV show, radio station, cable network, or movie franchise -

we’ll leave that to the legacy media and Hollywood studios. We will

NOT launch a white labeled version of BuzzFeed to power other sites or

a BuzzFeed social network – we’ll leave that to pure tech companies in

Silicon Valley. We will NOT launch a print edition or a paywall or a

paid conference business – we’ll leave that to other publications. We

have a great business model that has a bright future as social and

mobile continue to become the dominate form of media consumption. We

will stay away from anything that requires adopting a legacy business

model, even a lucrative one like cable syndication fees or prime time

television ads. What seems like a lucrative opportunity today is often

a distraction from building something much more exciting tomorrow. We

need to stay patient and focused.

And that’s our plan for the coming year! We are building the defining

news and entertainment company for the social, mobile age. It won’t be

easy. We need to be ambitious but stay humble, we need to work hard

and have fun. We need to learn from the smart critics, ignore the dumb

haters, and maintain our sense of humor. We need to keep

experimenting, not get risk averse, and focus on the long term. There

will be ups and downs along the way. But there is no reason we can’t

succeed. We are already on our way.

Thank you all for doing such inspiring work and congratulations on an

amazing August.

I’m really looking forward to the coming year!

-Jonah

Link: Memo To The BuzzFeed Team

LinkedIn - Jonah Peretti


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