The world of English-language online media is evolving rapidly. Not only are publications like BuzzFeed, Business Insider, and Quartz changing the way readers consume news by merging the law of the click with real news street cred, they’re taking this model beyond US borders. Business Insider struck a deal with Tencent. Quartz has set up a local office in India.
BuzzFeed is often cited as a leader of the new media charge, but for all its innovations, in some capacities it still operates like any other business. News markets must be sought out, entered, and conquered. It has already invested in overseas English markets like the UK and India and, after receiving a US$50 million funding round, BuzzFeed announced that it will expand to Japan, among other non-English speaking countries, by the end of 2014.
Though the company has 27 reasons why moving to Japan is great, it will find one very real competitor upon arrival.
Curazy, a website for humorous, viral observations on Japan and the outside world, is steadily attracting a strong following. Recent articles titles include “What is Acrobatic Kissing?” and “Even After Their Owners Became Homeless These 12 Dogs Stayed Completely Faithful”. The site, which launched in January, attracts five million unique users per month and just closed a JPY 100 million (US$964,000) round.
The company only has five full-time employees, lead by Shinnosuke Ito (CEO), Masahiro Kawasaki (head of marketing), and Taisuke Takemoto (head of business). None of the three have prior media experience but they are all entrepreneurs at heart. Ito previously operated a tutoring school via Skype during college, Kawasaki was doing sales for a homepage web developer while working on side projects, and Takemoto, who joined this summer, was running a website design company of his own.
Curazy launched in January 2014, but its operating company, Laugh Tech, first had an interest in manga (comic books in Japan). Ito explained they launched Cosmo in October 2013, only six months after incorporating Laugh Tech (then called Bit Gather). The service was well-regarded and the netted the team the “Google Award” at a pitch contest held for Google for Entrepreneurs Week 2013.
Users, however, did not follow the plaudits and the team began planning a pivot. They had already started experimenting with a 9gag clone, Curazy Pix, a simple collection of humorous images. The early feedback was positive, leading the team to work on the release of Curazy.
Looking to the future, Laugh Tech definitely got the memo startups are supposed to set big, audacious goals. The team wants to hit 300 million in monthly pageviews and exit via IPO or acquisition within four years. The pageview goal is definitely a reach considering BuzzFeed – which does not report pageview data – recorded 179 million total visits from 25 July 2014 to 23 August 2014 from American alone, according to Quantcast. BuzzFeed’s 150 million unique users, acquired over the past eight years, are also a significant increase from Laugh Tech’s 5 million.
As a start, the company has already expanded outside of Japan. Its Taiwanese incarnation is managed by a husband-wife team who translate some of the Japan site’s content and also add localized pieces.
Early traction is a positive sign but Ito is well aware of BuzzFeed’s position in the digital media market and is no rush to become bitter rivals. In fact, his team has already identified BuzzFeed as a potential acquirer. “BuzzFeed, are you reading [this article]? Buy us!” he said.
Ito’s tongue-in-cheek approach to the company’s future evinces his sure-footed confidence. BuzzFeed may be a behemoth but Ito believes Japan will be difficult to conquer. “Humor is a part of culture, and the culture here is too different,” he said.