You may not have said the company’s name out loud before, but you’ve probably seen Imgur (say it like you would “imager”) before. It’s the go to host for shared photos on meme-friendly sites and other sharing destinations, most notably Reddit.com. And for a bootstrapped little company of 11 people, Imgur’s reach is hard to wrap your head around: 120 million unique monthly viewers click 4.5 billion different pages every month. That translates to 1.4 billion individual images getting looked at every day.
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Built in 2009 as a photo-sharing host for Redditors, Imgur’s founder Alan Schaaf is proud of the independent community that he’s since built, over 30 million or so “Imgurians” who go directly to the site to post, comment and share. (If you’re still completely lost, check out this Atlantic profile for an origin-story refresher).
But what’s most interesting about Imgur is that for all that size, the company has barely started to grow up. Venture funding? Its founder, Schaaf, tells FORBES “We are bootstrapped from the beginning, so we’ve had to be profitable since the beginning,” says founder and CEO Alan Schaaf. “But revenue is not where the focus of the company is at. We are focused on pushing out cool products like our analytics. We want to be the best place on the Internet. That’s where the focus is at.”
The analytics Schaaf means aren’t super complicated, at least yet. Imgur will now offer its “pro” account users who pay $2 a month details on how their image fared across the Internet. Did it get picked up by BuzzFeed and go crazy in traffic? Imgur will tell you when. While free users can still track their traffic totals on an hourly basis, hardcore users may be excited to see which of their posts crack Reddit or don’t, or how much of a lift referrals bring for each of their posts.
Where this goes is more tools for advertisers, who Schaaf says provide most of the incoming revenue for Imgur. Commercial posts selling a product are banned from the site, though users are encouraged to post original content like cartoons that could get them traffic back to their own websites or businesses. Brands, however, can buy time, typically 24-hour or 48-hour slots, to promote an image on the Imgur homepage and in users’ streams, Imgur’s version of native advertising used across media sites today. Imgur has offered native ads for a year now but hopes interest will go up with access to the data to see how those ads perform in later referrals or re-posts across the Web.
“It’s very early for us still with the business model,” says COO Matt Strader. “We want to get this data out there and get some feedback.” Imgur has a lot of decisions to make about how to charge brands moving forward, Strader admits. Among those questions: will brands have their own corporate accounts or just pay to be a “pro”? Should Imgur charge based on engaged eyeballs versus a window of time?
Imgur’s already worked with Paramount on an ‘Anchorman 2′ campaign and with video game maker Rockstar for its latest ‘Grand Theft Auto’ title, but the company skipped alpha testing its analytics in favor of tapping a few companies to beta test its product over the next month. Perhaps the biggest question is how much to charge brands to reach those 130 million viewers, many of whom are 18-25 year old males, without scaring them away. Sponsorships right now typically run up to $10,000 a day.
So Imgur’s announcement raises a lot of questions that Schaaf himself freely admits the company is still figuring out, from whether to accept venture funding in the future or how advertisers will think of Imgur over the long-term. But Imgur’s move into analytics is a sign that it’s starting to consider that identity down the road, and the company presumably has a lot more data it could consider offering later on, as well as product improvements like a system to flag and keep track of image re-posts.
“To bring in some context here, the team is just 11 people now and there’s only one person who is dealing with all inbound requests for advertising,” Schaaf says. Two of Imgur’s 11 are women and two were hired just two weeks ago, the founder adds.
“There’s a lot of questions out there. We expect people to be really excited about our data and like it. It’s to be determined whether they then sign up.”