Two weeks ago, Warrior Forum welcomed 9GAG co-founder Ray Chan for a special Warrior TV episode hosted by Freelancer.com Senior Vice President of Growth Willix Halim. It was also the first 9GAG meetup in Sydney. To those who missed the event, these are the highlights of our chat with the King of Traffic.
The Beginning of 9GAG
Built in 2008, the website is the co-founders’ alternative to email where people can share jokes, funny photos or videos. The team raised fund from the business accelerator 500 Startups and later on joined Y Combinator’s incubator to have better connections with the best tech guys in the world. In between 2011 and 2012, the team decided to drop all other projects and focused full-time on 9GAG.
Ray admitted that since 9GAG is their first company, they didn’t know about marketing or growth hacking. To spread the word about 9GAG, the team spammed their friends with jokes and funny photos. After the 500 Startups accelerator program, they learned more about the Internet and used Facebook to grow their users.
In mid-2012, they realized it would be too dangerous to rely totally on Facebook because of how frequent they change their algorithm. With that, they started to grow their community and built features that allow people to sign up instead of using Facebook as a primary tool for promotions.
The 9GAG Team
The team of less than 40 people are based in an office in Hong Kong. Sixty percent of the group are engineers. Community and Content are composed of six to eight persons, Operations is handled by two people, and social media is being run by one person.
The team believes that people who go to 9GAG have some free time so aside from showing them funny pictures, they came up with 9GAG Games and 9GAG TV for people to enjoy. They also created a social app for their users called 9CHAT. This app is to let users keep in touch with groups that share the same interests with them.
On Revenue and Retention
Ray mentioned that product is their highest priority. He also noted that you can create more revenue if you have more users that’s why their focus is always on the user growth instead of the revenue growth.
Speaking of more users, on their mobile website, retention is pretty good as there are 7 to 8M monthly active users and 4M daily active users, who come back once or multiple times a day. The key to retention? Creating value.
Ray said that for an entertainment-related product, the culture barrier is not that high because after all, people just want to be happy. The most important thing for them is how to make people think of 9GAG all the time whenever they think of something funny. Also, the King of Traffic pointed out that it’s not exactly how you localized, but how you internationalized.
All the other sites and apps that consume people’s time are 9GAG’s competitors. Anyone could be your competitor but the important thing is how you provide value and how people will remember you because of that value. With 9GAG, they give bite-size content. They don’t really mind where you are, whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. For as long as you are on that platform, they will try to create value for you.
A lot users go to 9GAG just to look for funny pictures and that’s engagement for them. Some of them upvote, some sign up, some upload content, some leave comments. The goal is always to engage users and to get them to come back no matter what they do. If they come back, Ray’s team will have a chance to engage them. It all boils down to how you create value and build relationships.
Encouraging People to Create Their Own Content
The biggest incentive for 9GAG users is how they can get more attention. When you post something on Facebook and it didn’t get enough likes because you only have 500 friends, post on 9GAG and get the attention of millions of people. They will start to engage with your content if they can resonate with it and if they found it on the right time.
Dealing with Negative Users
“Haters gonna hate,” Ray said.
Ray suggested that you should focus on creating value for the positive users and ignore the negative ones. The 9GAG team have measures to detect the bad users, particularly spammers. They do shadowban to ensure those spammers won’t affect other users.
9GAG’s business model
9GAG’s current business model is the advertising model, which they don’t see in the long run. The challenge is how they can get value from the users without annoying them or jeopardizing user experience.
Ever wondered where their profits go to? Here’s a breakdown: 30% to shareholders, 30% for future development, 30% for team members, and 10% for social purposes or charity. In Hong Kong, they do something for an organization that helps homeless cats and dogs.
9GAG in Two Years
Ray shared that they’re thinking of how they can expand as an entertainment company in general. They might also host events in the coming year, Comic Con style, but with smaller audience first so they can scale the whole thing. If you want to create something that could last a long time, getting in touch with people offline is vital, Ray recommended.
Happiness According to Ray Chan
“Happiness is very personal.”
When asked how come the jokes are almost the same, Ray said it’s because life is basically very similar for most people everyday. The challenge they have now is how will they be able to create funny content as their users grow up.
What is Ray’s favorite joke? There’s this one funny quote he read on 9GAG and posted on his Facebook account the day he got married and it says: “All men are born free. Some of them get married.”
Majority of 9GAG users are from the United States followed by Germany, Netherlands and the Philippines. Biggest user age group is 18 - 24 years old. Surprisingly, female users comprise 30 - 40 percent of 9GAG’s user base.9GAG has 70 to 80 million unique visitors per month and 10% of the people in their community use the app directly. Rey said they want people to bring 9GAG everywhere that’s why they encourage them to use the app.