Ben Huh is responsible for much of the world’s lulz. As the founder of The Cheezburger Network, he is on a mission to make the world happy for five minutes a day. He also has a serious side: Through his new venture Circa, which just launched an app today, he wants to change the world of journalism.
But before he started a profitable business that posts cat photos online, Ben had gone through a dark phase in his life. When he failed at his first startup in 2001 and fell USD40,000 into debt, he became depressed.
“I couldn’t leave my house, I couldn’t leave my bedroom. I just couldn’t face the world,” he said at the keynote speech of the first-ever FailCon in Singapore. The burden of losing hundreds of thousands in investor’s money was too much for him to take.
It even left him suicidal. “Death was a good option — and it got better by the day,” he wrote in a blog post describing how he eventually climbed out of the hole.
Struggling with the emotional turmoil of failure was not pleasant for Ben Huh, but it was a valuable experience. It enabled him to stand on stage to share about his life with a dose of humor — thankfully.
He observes how we are amnesic about the little failures — like new year resolutions for example — yet we make too much of a big deal out of our failed ventures.
“Argh, I shut that website down, I’m a failure,” he said.
“That’s bullshit. No one labels you a failure except you.”
Entrepreneurs tend to put themselves at the center of the universe when they fail, thinking that everyone will know about it and castigate them for it. Ben finds this mindset bizarre. Just like how a startup’s success isn’t necessarily a concern of everyone, failure isn’t exactly the first word that comes to everybody’s minds when one walks into a room.
“Dude, no one gives a fuck about your mistakes. No one cares about you, in a good way,” he said.
At 35, the South Korean native is by all accounts a model of success. Ben says that Cheezburger.com is one of the top 50 entertainment sites in the United States today. Investors are so enamored towards the site that it raised a USD 30M Series A round led by Brad Feld’s Foundry Group.
His first startup failure prepared him for the responsibility of managing such a large amount of cash. The pressure was much higher the second time around. Ben had to grapple with the thought of potentially losing the money all over again.
“The odds are you will fail, more than the odds of being successful. And I have to accept that in order for me to move on and say, I will take your money; I understand that you’re professionals.”
“And if I fuck this up, I’ll have a 32 million dollar MBA.”
More lessons on failure: Check out our series of interviews with entrepreneurs who share about their mistakes and failures.