Ray Chan, Co-founder and CEO of 9GAG, started the website along with his friends that were students at the University of Hong Kong at the time. What began as a “fun side project” has snowballed into a website with 80 million monthly users and $2.8 million in funding.
It all started in on the island. So just how important is the Hong Kong tech ecosystem?
Ray Chan will be discussing this on a panel moderated by the Financial Times’s Wang Feng and included GogoVan’s Steven Lam, Lan Kwai Fong Group’s Jonathan Zeman.
We caught up with Ray just before his talk. How does he like to waste time when he’s waiting around?
When did you realise that 9GAG was more than just a side-project and could actually be a legitimate business?
It was after two to three years. At first we thought 9GAG was kind of like a silly project. But while all the other ideas we’d been working on didn’t work, 9GAG continued to get more users.
We thought, hey, we’re making people happy; making people laugh. That can be a business. That was in 2012.
Was there a particular moment when you realised that 9GAG was going to be successful?
There was a night when we were at 500 Startups. We talked about 9GAG with one of the mentors there, and he said, ‘Hey Ray, you should stop all your other projects. Just work on 9GAG. It’s a project that has users. Why not focus on that?’
That was a night that kind of changed our whole company’s life.
What are your tips to startups that are trying to create a community online?
Be part of the community yourself. Don’t just think about how to ‘create’ a community. Most of the time when you talk about how to create a community, it sounds like you’re the admin and everyone else are just users. Like you want them to do a certain thing and you control them.
Most users hate that.
What we want to be like is, ‘Hey, we’re one of you; you’re one of us.’ That way we can all be part of something and create something meaningful. Maybe it’s sharing funny stuff; maybe it’s stuff about gaming. It’s about being part of the community, where people know that they can communicate with you, can reach out to you, and they can give ideas to you.
How do you strike a balance between appealing to advertisers and letting your community run free?
We don’t try to strike a balance. We think more about what we want our company to do. We want to make people happy; we want to give power to the world, so users can make others happy.
There are kinds of content that we don’t want on our platform. You can have freedom of speech, but we just don’t want certain kinds of content on 9GAG. It’s totally against our mission.
For advertising, of course you’ve got to make money to keep the company alive so that you can reinvest in more features for the users. But in general we think that if something is against our users’ interests, then we don’t do it.
We try not to compromise for advertisers.
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