Once called the ‘bored at work’ website, BuzzFeed has grown into one of the most powerful media brands in the digital space. But where did they come from? And who’s behind the rise of the New York-based company? Today, Ignitia takes a closer look at some of the key figures and moments behind the rise of the mass media company BuzzFeed.
After graduating MIT, BuzzFeed co-founder Jonah Peretti was introduced to a woman looking to found her own internet media company, Arianna Huffington. One year later, in 2005, Peretti helped Huffington launch The Huffington Post. After another year getting The Huffington Post off the ground, Peretti and friend John Johnson decided to start their own viral content company called, Contagious Media LLC. In 2006, the company was launched.
Originally, Contagious Media was little more than an algorithm identifying subjects and articles from across the web that seemed to be gaining enough traction to go viral. This was done after Peretti convinced many prominent sites to install his software that monitored their traffic. Peretti’s company would then notify users of articles gaining popularity and drive traffic back to these sites. It wasn’t long until the company began to hire people to write summaries of the articles to further incite users to view them as well.
In 2008, after officially changing the name of the company to BuzzFeed, Peretti and Johnson were able to secure a $3.5 million in Series A round of funding led by investor, SoftBank. By June of that same year, though the company had only nine employees, it was gaining over 1 million unique users per month. During the next two years, BuzzFeed used the round of funding to hire key personnel and to promote new phenomenon’s such as memes and GIF’s. Two years later in 2010, BuzzFeed began to promote sponsored content. This content was paid for by brands and advertisers who wanted access to BuzzFeed’s growing fanbase. The strategy paid off, and in May of that same year, BuzzFeed closed a second $8 million round of Series B funding. At the same time, BuzzFeed hired top ex-Google employee, Jon Steinberg as its new president.
New Venture Expansions
The following year, BuzzFeed made its first real push into hard news. It was then the company hired long time journalist Ben Smith as its first editor-in-chief. With so much in the works, a new infusion of funding was needed, and later that year BuzzFeed successfully closed a third $15.5 million round of Series C funding led by New Enterprise Associates.
With its flag firmly planted in the news game, BuzzFeed remained a solid source of information for millennials throughout the 2012 presidential campaigns. Also in that same year, BuzzFeed made its first real push into original video content by hiring EVP of Video, Ze Frank and opening original production facilities in both Los Angeles and London. By the end of 2013, BuzzFeed had begun to grow into a bonafide media behemoth. The company had closed a forth round of Series D funding worth $19.5 million, and was seeing over 130 million unique monthly users to the site. It was also in this same year, the company reportedly became profitable.
Late-Stage Funding, and the Future
In 2014, after proving it was a stable media brand, BuzzFeed experienced a brief flirtation with selling to Disney. According to reports, BuzzFeed asked for a $1 billion price-tag, which Disney was unwilling to pay. Though they weren’t able to secure the payday they were looking for with Disney, BuzzFeed was able to secure another $50 million round of funding from the secondary market led by investor Andreesen Horowitz. Over the next two years, though missing earnings estimates on occasion, the company continued to land two massive rounds of funding, including a $200 million Series F round in 2015, and another $200 million Series G round in 2016, both led by NBC Universal. The latest round saw the company gain a valuation of $1.5 billion.
Though long rumored, many reports suggest that 2018 will likely be the year BuzzFeed goes public with an IPO. When exactly that might happen is anyone’s guess, but one thing that is for certain is the company has come a long way since the early days as a side project in the offices of The Huffington Post.