Photo-sharing and hosting site Imgur has raised $US40 million from Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowtiz.
The company, which was founded by Alan Schaaf in his Ohio University dorm room in 2009, has been bootstrapped and fighting off investors for the past five years. One angel investor even flew out to Schaaf’s campus in the company’s early days, but Imgur was profitable and didn’t see the need for funding.
Now Imgur has 13 employees, 130 million monthly unique visitors and 4.5 billion monthly pageviews. Reddit, where the photo utility was first introduced and quickly adopted by users, is still Imgur’s largest traffic driver. Facebook is Imgur’s second-leading referrer.
Late last year, we reported Yahoo was in talks to acquire Imgur. When asked if Imgur had experienced acquisition offers alongside investment offers from VCs, Schaaf replied, “I guess, yah, well — I don’t know. Our plan for Imgur is to build a big independent business, but it definitely wouldn’t make sense to take all this money then sell.”
Schaaf never intended to build such a big business. When he founded the company, he was an avid Reddit user who was frustrated with other photo sites. Schaaf noticed there were a lot of great places on the web to host photos, but not images. “Photos are fundamentally different from an image,” Schaaf says. “A photo is something that typically comes from your camera. It’s probably taken of certain subjects and requires you to have different functionalities.”
Because photos aren’t always intended to be widely spread, Schaaf ran into sharing restrictions on photo websites. Most inherently didn’t want photos to go viral. Schaaf’s site hosts animated GIFs, memes and other pictures with the intent of spreading them far and wide. Users can upload images with one click, vote their favourites up or down, comment on them, and share them with friends.
Although Imgur has taken meetings with investors in the past, Andreessen Horowitz was the first firm Schaaf ever pursued. He had heard good things about them from friends, and was flattered when the firm’s partner, Netscape founder Marc Andreeseen, told him he was an Imgur user and fan.
Schaaf liked that the firm offered other resources besides its money, like help with PR and recruiting. It also offers access to all the firm’s partners, although Lars Dalgaard will be the one joining Imgur’s board. Schaaf said an initial meeting with Andreessen Horowitz led to the partners chatting around a table, laughing and brainstorming ideas to further Imgur’s business.
It’s hard for Schaaf to believe what he’s built.
“Back when I started it I had no intention of actually creating a startup,” he says. “I’m not even 100% sure I knew what a startup was back then.”
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