Back in 2009 I met a young man named Alan Schaaf. Alan had created a site called Imgur that was catching fire. It was becoming THE photo hosting site for social aggregation sites like Reddit and Digg. Two years and 6 MILLION visits per day later, Imgur has become one of the biggest sites on the planet and growing at a 20% PER MONTH rate. Alan and I have kept in touch over the years but I figured it was time for him to update us on how everything was going.
Well Alan, a lot has changed since we last talked. First of all, congratulations on being nominated as Best Bootstrapped Startup in the Crunchies awards.
Thanks! The Crunchies nomination is really exciting.
I understand that you somehow managed to graduate from college and then moved. Tell us a little about where and why?
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science in June of 2010 and continued to live in Athens, OH, building up the site on the cheap until everything was ready to make the move out to San Francisco, which I did in July 2011. I chose San Francisco because of the great connections, opportunities, and talented people that are out here. This place has great energy and you can really feel the startup culture. It’s great to finally be out here.
Let’s cut to the stats. Imgur has grown to one of the most trafficked site in all of the Internet. Give us an idea of the numbers on a daily. Visits, pageviews, pictures submitted etc.
Per day, there are about 400 thousand images uploaded, 6 million visits, 3 million unique visitors, 55 million pageviews, 70TB of data transferred, and Alexa.com has us as the 35th most popular site in the US.
What’s the growth rate on the site and at this time next year how many daily visits would you expect?
The site grows around 20% every month on average. That means next year at this time we should have grown 140% (take the stats from the last question and multiply them by 2.4).
That’s amazing. Do you have staff to help you manage the site since it’s gotten so big.
There are 3 fulltime employees, including myself, and a few part time people back in Ohio. However, we have 7 open positions that we’re hiring for right now.
Those numbers sound like they would take an incredible amount of server space. I see you use Edgecast, the Content Delivery people that sites like Break.com use. What prompted the switch from your previous supplier?
Edgecast is a top CDN with really great performance and competitive prices. Since site performance is a big priority for us, the switch seemed like a no-brainer.
What does something like that cost a month? If you don’t want to give your price, what would it cost someone else in today’s market?
CDN prices vary quite a bit, but for a small site, you could expect to pay between $0.15 and $0.20 per GB of bandwidth. If your site is much bigger and transferring terabytes of data per day then it’s much cheaper and could be between $0.02 and $0.05 per GB. However, that’s just for the bandwidth. You also need servers, storage space, etc.
The last time we talked you were getting close to breaking even without taking into account your time. Are you making money now?
Traffic has grown tremendously since then and we have some really top tier advertisers now. I’m excited to say that Imgur is now profitable and growing!
I noticed you were having trouble with the ad providers. From sound ads to possible infected ads. What are some of the challenges when dealing with advertising. Have any plans on hiring a salesperson to help sell ads?
I work with these companies called ad networks, which work with individual advertisers that pay to put their ads on your site. I then work with this company called Rubicon that works with hundreds of ad networks. There’s this huge web of advertising going on and I never see or get to approve the ads before they start running. In truth, I have absolutely no idea what ads are running on the site, nor will I ever. This is the same for any site that uses ad networks and doesn’t sell advertising to individual advertisers, which is any site that doesn’t have their own sales team.
Eventually I’d really like to start selling more direct ads and bypassing the ad networks, but this is more of a long-term project once I have a bigger staff.
Has anyone made any serious offers to buy Imgur from you? Mind giving us a number that you’ve turned down (I know you don’t like talking about this stuff but the readers love numbers)
I’ve had a few serious offers, but I can’t talk much about them. Sorry!
Is Imgur what you do for a living now or do you have other financial interest ?
Imgur is my fulltime job and basically my life, and like I mentioned earlier, we’re also hiring.
Are you currently working on any other projects? If so you mind sharing?
No other major projects right now. Any smaller cool things I work on usually find their way onto Imgur.
And a few personal questions.
You have a girlfriend? How about a pet?
I have a girlfriend who’s living with me in San Francisco right now. I also have a German Shepard dog named Goku. They’re both awesome.
What kind of car do you drive? Has it gotten better since Imgur became a success?
I don’t have a car. I drive a 125cc Yamaha Vino scooter. Don’t judge.
What do your parents think of all this?
They’re both really proud, but I’m not quite sure they grasp the scale of it yet. My mom is still wondering why I’m in San Francisco and why I need any employees.
What group is the most played on your ipod?
My iPod photo broke a few years ago. I’m mostly into internet radio now and spend most of my time listening to the stations on DI.fm.
Final question. Who’s the most famous person in your contacts of your phone?
Ben Huh from icanhazcheezburger, but I haven’t talked to him in a few years. I like having his number handy though.