Andreessen Horowitz GP Chris Dixon calls BuzzFeed a “full stack startup”. I believe him. And I believe that BuzzFeed will be profitable. But I don’t believe it will ever be relevant
Congratz BuzzFeed, you did it!
No, I’m not talking about the 50 million dollars the popular content curation platform just scored from Andreessen Horowitz. I’m talking about how according to their new benefactor, General Partner at AH, Chris Dixon, BuzzFeed is now a legitimate, high quality media and content company worthy of our respect. Who knew?
Dixon sums up BuzzFeed’s legitimization, rags to riches story in his latest blog post by explaining how, “BuzzFeed started out focusing on lightweight content like memes, lists, funny photos, etc. This led some industry observers to dismiss Buzzfeed as a ‘toy’. The company has since moved steadily up market, following the typical path of disruptive technologies. It now has an editorial staff of over 200 people covering a wide range of topics – politics, sports, business, entertainment, travel, etc – and plans to invest significantly more in high-quality content in the coming years.”
A monkey in a suit
So Dixon wants us to believe BuzzFeed is not a “Toy”. Here’s what Dixon so eloquently dresses up for us. BuzzFeed’s path to legitimization is a two part process of slumming it till you make it. First the ‘slumming it’. With their ridiculous Gifs, Memes and endless lists of Best, Worst and Dumbest, BuzzFeed sold out to the masses emphasising quantity over quality, sensationalism over realism and cheap thrills over meaningful content. They gave the social media street what it wanted. Pornagraphy sites and online gambling outfits use similar strategies. Strategies born of the recognition that there’s no faster way to build up an audience then to appeal to its most base and simpleminded sensibilities.
However, unlike porn and gambling sites, BuzzFeed has loftier ambitions. This is the second part of the journey. The ‘making it’ part. Powerful enough now with its name recognition and massive engagement stats (150M users reached /month), BuzzFeed seems intent on shedding its plebeian skin and donning a three piece suit of respectability. Like nouveaux riches, it is now pretending to forget its roots and hoping that you will too, casually attempting to mingle at the same smorgasbord as Yahoo, AOL, Time Warner, Fox, msnbc and the other hoi polloi of the content and media world.
The path most taken
We’ve seen the slum-it-till-you-make-it approach taken many times before in all walks of life. fiverr went from $5 dollar giggs to $500 dollar giggs. A piece posted in Playboy is now something to brag about. Jesse Ventura became Governor of Minnesota. Madonna won a Golden Globe and I wouldn’t be surprised if Miley Cyrus twerks her way to an Oscar one day. You can’t deny that the strategy works.
On the flip side, the unfortunate reality of the high road to success is it’s a long and arduous route often fraught with pain, hardship and failure, especially where content is concerned. But along this same route can be found breakthroughs, accomplishments and the advent of truly affective ideas and effective innovation. It is the route taken by those who want a chance to matter.
Dixon calls BuzzFeed a “full stack startup”. I believe him. And I believe that BuzzFeed will be profitable. But I don’t believe it will ever be relevant. That is the price it must pay for the path it has taken. Many would say, ‘They just picked up $50M. Do you really think they care?’
Well, that’s the funny thing about money. Once you have it, it doesn’t mean as much to you anymore. And if BuzzFeed really doesn’t care, why the sudden urge to put on the suit?