Laugh-Out-Loud Hong Kong Website 9Gag Adding Games to Guffaws

Ray Chan
Co-founder and CEO of 9GAG Ray Chan. Source: Ray Chan, via Bloomberg

Ray Chan has something to say to parents whose children spend hours a day scrolling through his humor website 9GAG instead of studying.

“Sorry,” he shrugs. “Sometimes people just want to have a good laugh.”

9GAG Inc.’s irreverent video website attracts 80 million visitors a month with a growing library of consumer-generated content. In an effort to distinguish itself from competitors such as Cheezburger Inc.’s website, Chan is adding more games to the seven-year-old service and localizing content for users from Germany to the Philippines.

The company, whose slogan is The Joker’s catchphrase “Why so serious?”, also is exploring other ways to generate more traffic through its mobile application, which has 7 million monthly active users.

“We don’t just want to be known as a funny website,” Chan, 31, said in an interview at his Hong Kong office. “Funny content is always on the Internet, but users come to our site because we make it easy to consume and create content.”

9GAG, named for the Cantonese phrase “gau gag” meaning “to crack a joke,” is profitable and earns millions of dollars in revenue through advertising, Chan said, declining to be more specific. The majority of users are Americans ages 18 to 25, he said.

Startup Seeding

Chan started 9GAG after studying law at the University of Hong Kong. He joined an accelerator program in 2011 run by 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley-based seed fund, and raised $2.8 million from investors, including Y Combinator, the following year.

Chan said he isn’t seeking more capital now: the service mainly aggregates content, and selects and hosts games developed by other firms.

The challenge for 9GAG is keeping its website fresh, said James Giancotti, chief executive officer of Hong Kong-based Oddup Ltd., which rates startups.

“If they kept the business going for as long as they can, it’s just going to be something that people may get tired of,” Giancotti said. “Gaming is probably a smart move on their end.”

From the wackily bizarre to the basest forms of humor, 9GAG pools videos, GIFs and images from around the online sphere. Debate over whether a cat is climbing or descending a flight of stairs is encouraged, and a frowning feline is one of the pop-ups that appear after three minutes of inactivity.

A “WTF” section pools material with a more outlandish streak, though offensive posts and nudity are banned.

“We want positive, funny content,” Chan said. “Users want content they can consume in one or two minutes. They want to open it, chat with someone, e-mail it and then watch something funny again.”

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