Category Archives: Business

Top 5 Travel Lessons Learned Spending 50 Nights in Hotels

It’s about 7pm on September 10, 2010. I’m sitting on a hard steel chair at another mega-airport looking for ways to kill some time and charge the laptop. Last night, I spent my 50th night in a hotel room this year.

Two hours ago, in a series of coordinated hand foot movements I took the entire contents of an Apple store, a dozen chargers and cables including a folding power strip, clothes for almost every occasion, and countless other items past security in two, neatly packed TSA-approved bags. And I didn’t even have to take out my toiletries or my laptop. It was like a scene from Up In The Air — complete with the disdain for all those civilians with the Dora the Explorer bags holding up everyone else.

Before the end of the year, I’ll have spent almost three solid months on the road. And the road has taught me many lessons. I’ll list 5 practical ones here.:

Lesson #5: Memorize this sequence of taps like you memorized Control-S: Wallet, phone, laptop bag, carry-on, boarding pass.
Just before I check out of my hotel room, I tap each of these: W-P-L-C-B. Just before the cab leaves me behind: WPLCB. This helps me to never forget the vitally important things I need at every checkpoint. It’s like saving the game at a save point. Remember: Wild Pelicans Like Canned Beans.

Lesson #4: Before starting a routine, confirm that it is, in fact, routine.
I spend 95% of my time renting from the same rental car company. The remain 5%, I just mistakenly assume that it’s the same company. It’s really hard to get an Avis bus to pick you up from the Hertz rental center — especially if you’re running late to an important meeting. Routine is the enemy if the routine doesn’t contain safety checks.

Lesson #3: Book once, check the timezone twice.
If I accept a meeting request for 10am in SF while I’m in Chicago with my calendar timezone set to Eastern time, did it get added correctly? Today, I showed up to a meeting at a TV studio 3 hours/timezones early. Yesterday, I accidentally made it on-time to a bus because a meeting was cancelled, saving me from being an hour embarrassingly late because I forgot Indy is in Eastern, while Chicago is in Central. Whew!

Lesson #2: Take the pill you intended to take.
Clearly separate pills if they look remotely similar to each other and take them one at a time. Not many frequent travelers talk about this, but I usually carry a small pharmacy’s worth of pills. A couple of types of allergy pills, sleeping pills, zinc, vitamin C and various cold-fighting remedies, etc. I don’t use a pill-box. I put them in ziplock bags since they take up less space and when pills bounce around in a hard container, they tend to crack and powderize. As you can imagine, mixing up the sleeping pill with the allergy pill can wreck havoc on anyone’s schedule.

If you think all of this is overkill, or I have some kind of obsessive compulsive behavior, just wait until you show up at wrong rental car center looking dazed and confused because you took the sleeping pill (instead of the vitamin C) on the plane by accident. And then you realize that you’re missing your wallet because you left it in the bathroom back at the airport. Why? because you rushed there to pee since the flight you though was just an hour was actually a 2-hour flight (timezone change) and by the time you woke up (sleeping pill) and realized you had to go, the flight attendants wouldn’t let you. (This, uh, happened to someone I know.)

And the final lesson?
Be polite and exercise a little courtesy. Share the arm rest and power outlet. Let others get on or off the plane before you. Don’t tell the kid in sneakers and a t-shirt to move out of the First Class line. He’s probably me. And I’ve got more miles than you.

Condé Nast, I’m publicly offering to buy Reddit.

This was an email I sent to one of our sites, The Daily What:

Hi TDWers, I’m Ben Huh, and I run the Cheezburger Network (which includes The Daily What, if you were too Prop 19’d to notice). I have made this offer privately to a few people associated with Reddit, and I’ll say it publicly now:

I believe that Reddit is one of the best communities I have seen on the Internet. I also believe that Reddit would benefit from more resources and less corporate interference. We can offer all of the above. And we’d love to buy Reddit and all those pesky troublesome users that we love so much.

Condé, we’ll be waiting for a call.

Cheers,

Ben Huh.

The Paranoid Mind of A CEO

Here’s a list of thoughts that haunt me. From talking to dozens of founders and CEOs, I know that this isn’t uncommon. Some of these thoughts are totally irrational. Some of them, totally sound. Most of them add very little value to my work.

  • Being blind-sided by a competitive threat, whether it’s an actual competitor, or market change.
  • Having a competitor out-execute us.
  • Market change that will dry up revenues quicker than we can change our model.
  • Hitting an invisible ceiling on growth, where our method just stops having any impact.
  • Missing the signs of employee apathy
  • Saying something really stupid in public
  • Taking our community granted (by myself or by the team)
  • Not planning or testing enough for a change.
  • Planning for too long and taking too long to change.
  • Being stuck in a paradox of contradictions

Well, that’s not the full list. But I didn’t want to put you to sleep — which I probably need.

I change jobs every 3 months

As soon as I took on the job of CEO for the world’s weirdest cat site in 2007, the focus hasn’t been about growth — in fact, I’d go as far as saying focusing on growth can have the opposite effect of what’s desired. The focus of my job has been on reinvention.

Let’s take a look at my “career” at the Cheezburger Network:

  1. Sep. 2007: That idiot who quit his job to run a cat picture site. (Staff count: Approx. 1)
  2. Jan. 2008: That idiot who quit his job to run some photo sites. (Staff count: Approx. 3)
  3. Jan. 2009: That idiot who quit his job to run a time-waster network. (Staff count: Approx. 15)
  4. Jan. 2010: That idiot who quit his job to run a… what the hell are they trying to do over there? (Staff count: Approx. 35)

Every quarter, we embark on a project or come across an opportunity that would fundamentally alter who we are. If you would have told me in 2008 that we’d be running 40+ sites and be one of the largest networks on the Web, I would have not believed you. In fact, I am on the record saying that we could never really see ourselves beyond the 25-sites mark at Gnomedex 2008.

Yet, here we are. WTF?

I believe our ability to grow has to do with two things:
1) Having no false expectations about who we are (we’re here to make you happy for a few minutes, nothing more) and,
2) Having no holy 3-year plan. (Few thought we’d be anything, so it was easy to be something).

That meant we could relentlessly chase what our users wanted each and every month — our own visions be damned. Every year, we look back on the last, and we’ve reinvented ourselves as a different company. Perhaps to the outside world, we haven’t changed much (which I see as a huge positive), after all, we still post the same number of lolcats to I Can Has Cheezburger? each day, but the dramatic internal change is easy to recognize in the office.

That constant drive to reinvent means it starts with me. Every quarter, I look back at the last and my “job” has totally changed. Last quarter, I was hell-bent on finding the Cheezburger way to do recruiting and hiring. This quarter, I want to create a lasting Cheezburger culture within the company. The only thing that’s common from quarter to quarter, from “job” to “job” is that I’ve never done it before. It’s scary as hell. But I really don’t have anything to lose. I can always get a new job.

Italy, the Ostrich Republic

Italy’s courts convicted 3 Google execs in absentia for a video posted by a user using their service showing bullies beating up an autistic boy. Thanks to the video, the bullies were caught and justice was served. However, Italy’s criminal justice system also prosecuted Google who hosted the video until the investigators asked them to take it down.

The term Banana Republic is a pejorative term originally used to refer to a country that is politically unstable, dependent on limited agriculture (e.g. bananas), and ruled by a small, self-elected, wealthy, and corrupt clique. (via Wikipedia)

I’d like to introduce the term Ostrich Republic to describe countries like Italy who bury their heads in the sand* when faced with freedom of information. The more we restrict access to information, the more we are likely to stay ignorant.

The prosecution of an Internet host for posting evidence of a crime has a deep chilling effect on the people of Italy. Some have argued that Google should monitor all content posted to its sites and make sure that material like this doesn’t get posted and that it’s just a matter of money that Google doesn’t’ want to spend.

Well, they’re absolutely right. Google could spend lots of money and screen all content that comes in, but freedom of expression should not only be available for those with the funds. This ruling affects everyone, including individual bloggers, universities, non-profits. Will they have the resources to screen every user comment? Or will this ruling just shut down public discourse on Italian websites for the fear of possible liability?

Unfortunately, Italy is not the only Ostrich Republic to apply the laws of the last century to a new world. The fundamental belief in the freedom of expression on the Internet assumes that the user, and therefore society, is made better by it and that we do not need to be protected from information.

(* I know that that’s a myth about ostriches. But work with me here.)

Learning to Hold Your Tongue

The ability to distance yourself from a particular situation and think logically is a virtue. Often, as CEO, I run into situations where I feel compelled to “fix” or “correct” a situation. It’s my job to do so within the company. We see the situation as an opportunity for learning and growth and we’ve learned to appreciate the growth value of our mistakes.

However, when it comes to dealing with the public, the same is not true. Unlike a team environment where people want to learn, the public generally doesn’t care about one particular view or another. It’s easy to pass judgment and paint the other side as a moron, pure evil or a greedy bastard. I do it all the time. And the Internet has made it that much easier to polarize each other.

Jumping into the flame war can have serious consequences. Ask anyone and they will tell you that they prefer a factual and reasoned argument over name-calling and absolutism. But a quick read of pretty much any site’s comments will reveal otherwise.

But I don’t buy the “public is stupid” argument that people use an easy way out to paint the users. I’ve learned over the past three years that the public is in fact quite intelligent and reasonable. When you run a user-generated content network, you rely on the smarts of your audience for everything. Quite the contrary to conventional cop-out, the public is actually pretty awesome — with occasional, temporary, lapses.

The broad stroke of painting the users or the public as “stupid” will only color you ignorant. This is a lesson we drill into our team at every opportunity.

If you’re going to start a public-facing company, here’s a few well-earned lessons I learned over the last several weeks:

  • Lesson Number 1 is to not argue with the Internet — there’s really no winning.
  • Lesson Number 2 is that I am not as clear of a communicator as I wish I was.
  • Lesson Number 3 is that disagreements are impossible to avoid, so don’t fret about it.

Haters gonna hate, but learn to love your haters ‘cuz they’re just like you and me.

Suing Failbook.com (Documenting my very first lawsuit)

UPDATE:
We settled without going to court. Both we and Cristian are happy. Here’s to creative deal-making and calm nerves.

OP:
Last month, I filed a lawsuit for the very first time in my life against someone who was trying to mislead our community and profit from it. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the first time I had seen such brazen attempt of trademark fraud.

The problem wasn’t the domain name, but that he was trying to confuse and defraud our users by marketing the content and site as his own and profit from it.

The facts:
– The Cheezburger Network launched Failbooking.com on January 5, 2010 (The idea was based on Facebook fails posted on Failblog.org as early as 2008).
– A few days later, the owner of Failbook.com iframed Failbooking.com and attempted to auction off the domain for more than $50,000. (Failbook.com was registered in 2006, but it was a parked page until he iframed our site.)
Screenshot: Note that nowhere does he mention that he’s not related to our site, Failbooking.com, but the title of the page makes it look like Failbook is in fact Failbooking.com (click image to enlarge)

– The owner of Failbook.com tried to market our content and site as his own by promoting on social news and networking sites as Failbook.com
Screenshot: Here is the owner of Failbook.com, trying to promote his domain as if he were us. (click image to enlarge)

– The owner of Failbook.com, who runs an Internet marketing agency in Mexico also even bragged about the “easy traffic” he was getting due to Failbooking.com on Twitter. (Which appears to be missing now.)

- As soon as we were able get his attention, we sent him a settlement asking him to reimburse us for our legal expenses (approximately $9,000) and to agree in writing that he would not violate our trademark or promote others to violate our trademark. He refused and tried to rewrite history and is now levying personal threats.

When we first learned about this, we had a few choices:
1) Go after the domain via the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy.
2) Send a Cease and Desist.
3) Take the case to court.

Our logic?
1) We had no problems with someone else owning a similar domain, especially since he had registered the domain well before us and our problem was NOT with the domain name itself, but the fact that he was trying to confuse our users into thinking he was operating our site at Failbook.com. So we didn’t pursue going after the domain name.
2) Sending a C&D would not stop the domain auction in progress. He would still benefit from the fraudulent activities he committed.
3) Suing was the last choice, and the most costly one for us, but it would mean that we would stop him from profiting from the fraud. So after some serious thoughts, we felt this was the right choice to make. Iframing an entire site and marketing it as your own is not the same as linking to another site, and doesn’t even fall anywhere near fair use. Traffic is nice, but if our users were becoming confused about the ownership of the site and we had no idea what Failbook.com’s owner planned to do with the site once he did amass our users’ goodwill.

I know from a PR and legal perspective, I probably shouldn’t be writing about this, but I realize that I am a public person and that the Cheezburger Network is company based on the goodwill of our users. Suing someone doesn’t feel like being a good Netizen, but I feel that the owner of Failbook.com got caught red-handed while trying to commit fraud and is trying to rewrite history.

I hope this helps people understand why we decided to sue and hear both sides of the issue. We are continuing to reach out to settle the suit that would ensure that he will not try to mislead our users again. We are not looking to profit from the case, but if he continues to apologize to us in private and then threaten us in the next breath, we’ll have no choice but to continue with the suit.

Bland is the flavor everyone hates the most

Almost exactly 10 years ago, I started my first start-up which would lead to a textbook crash and burn. Almost exactly 6-years ago, I was fired from my first real management position. Just as the recession was starting in the fall of 2007, I left a management job with a 6-figure income to run a cat picture site.

I’m blessed enough to have endured some of the most humiliating lessons of my life early on in my career.

Are you what you earn?

We posted 2 jobs recently: 1 for an office Admin, and 1 for a Jr. Designer. Both are contract positions (no benefits and short-term) at 40 hours per week. The candidate must send in a resume and fill out a detailed questionnaire to be considered.

To top it off, the postings clearly lists $8.55 to $10 per hour for these jobs. So far, I’ve received more than 4 applications, out of more than 180, suggesting that I kiss the candidate’s derriere. One applicant wrote: “I don’t even wipe my ass for $10 an hour” and then wrote about how great he’d be for the job.

We advertise lower wages for entry-level positions because the worst candidates focus on money the most. Believe it or not, advertising lower-than-market wages actually helped us yield better candidates. Higher advertised wages resulted in much higher level of noise from candidates who really didn’t care about the job. (FYI: Advertised pay and actual pay are two different things.)

It’s become clear to me that bad candidates focus on money like that’s the only thing they’ll get out of the job. The best candidates just want to do the job that’ll make them happy. In fact, for our entry-level positions, I believe that our biggest selling points as a company are our shared vision of making our users happy for 5 minutes a day and the huge opportunity for growth.

Every manager and CEO has a story about the lazy-ass, unqualified pisser who demanded a top salary and a raise every 3 months. But those same mangers and CEOs will also tell you about the butt-busting, entry-level employee who never complained and eventually rose to become the team lead or an executive. Guess which of the two they recruited away to their next company? And the next…

If you’re a hiring manager or CEO and you’re reading this, I encourage you to summarily reject a candidate if they bring up compensation (unless you prompt the topic) in the first interview. To me, it’s an indication of the following:

  1. The candidate’s inability to control their personal expenses, which inevitably leads to drama and demands at work.
  2. The candidate’s lack of belief in his or her ability to succeed and grow within the ranks.
  3. The candidate’s inability control the diarrhea of the mouth, the leading symptom of the disease called poor judgment.

So what should a job seeker do?

If the economy has dealt you a bad hand, I am truly sorry to hear that. I know what it’s like because I’ve been there. If you have high financial requirements in order to absolutely survive, I don’t really know what to say than go get a job at a bank (you know what I mean). But if you really want to have a great career, don’t worry about how much you’ll be paid now. Instead, focus on finding a company you’d love to work for and a job you’ll enjoy doing, then find a way to live within your means. That’s the recipe for growth both financially and personally.

This is the advice I took when I shut down my first start-up at the age of 23 and found myself $40,000 in debt. I went from being a CEO to minimum wage “consultant” working for another start-up. It was less than a year before I found myself back on my feet.

I am not what I earn. I am not the balance in my bank account. I am not even my title. I am what I accomplish and that makes me happy.

If this makes you want to work with the like-minded, talented and passionate people at the Cheezburger Network, our jobs can be found at http://jobs.cheezburger.com

The other side of the boardroom

I always wonder how other people see me. It’s a natural curiosity (see: googling yourself) that most people don’t want to admit. Often, the challenge of putting together a good picture of how we are seen is because it’s hard for us to be not us.

The Cheezburger Network’s Board of Directors is the one and only boardroom experience I have. While things are going well, I feel that it’s important for me to know how other Boards operate (so I can get ideas, experience something new, and make meaningful contributions) but I know that being on the other side of the Boardroom allows me to see myself with more objectivity.

As a board member, here’s what I can offer:
1) Everything I know about being a start-up CEO and growing it to profitability.
2) Everything I know about making the hard decisions as a person.

So, I am actively looking for a board seat at another startup as an outsider. The criteria for me is simple:
1) It cannot conflict with my responsibilities at Cheezburger.
2) The startup must have E&O insurance.
3) The company must be committed to good corporate governance.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.