Buzzfeed CEO and co-founder Jonah Peretti and investor Chris Dixon spoke at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club on Wednesday, where Dixon asked Peretti about founding Buzzfeed and how he got started.
To tell that story Peretti explained how his first project, The Huffington Post, came to be.
Before anyone had heard of HuffPo or Buzzfeed listicles, Peretti was visiting Nike’s website, designing a custom sneaker.
Peretti, apparently not a Nike fan, wanted to print the word “sweatshop” on a pair of sneakers.
When he tried to order the shoes, Nike emailed him and said the word sweatshop was “inappropriate slang.”
Peretti argued, using the dictionary definition of sweatshop, that it was a word like any other.
Nike eventually told Peretti it reserved the right to reject any order for whatever reason, but Peretti took his interactions with Nike and threw them into an email that he forwarded on to everyone he knew.
The email went viral, and it got Peretti thinking about making content online and what it takes to make content go viral.
Peretti said soon after that he was meeting up with Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lehrer, with whom he founded HuffPo.
His success at HuffPo and AOL’s acquisition of the company in 2005 led him to start Buzzfeed, which then was just “an experiment lab,” not intended to make money.
He also spoke about how the future of media is writing for a very diverse segmented audience, as opposed to one mass audience.
You can see this at Buzzfeed: a lot of its content is meant to appeal to a very specific group of people, like babysitters or people working in very cold offices. People are much more likely to pass around a story that echoes their personal experiences than a story that feels like it was written for everybody.
Peretti’s interviewer, Chris Dixon, led Andreessen Horowitz’s $US50 million investment in Buzzfeed last summer, which reportedly valued the media company at $US850 million.