One of the great things about interviewing Imgur founder Alan Schaaf is his utter disregard for carefully worded responses when discussing the image sharing service’s business development plans.
In the five years since launching, Imgur has become a stupidly successful and profitable business without a penny of outside funding. No investors mean no one to harp at you for strongly worded quotes in tech news articles.
So naturally, I wanted to know just what in the hell Imgur plans to do with its first $40 million funding round, which it announced today.
“That’s a good question,” Schaaf told me in a phone interview, later adding that the startup will use it to hire A-list developers, grow its community, and continue improving its image sharing service.
The better, or more fitting question, however, is what can’t Imgur do now that it has $40 million.
Imgur is among the rare breed of startups that achieved its success without sacrificing its principles or equity in the company. Imgur generates over 2 billion unique image views per month and brings in more than 100 million unique visitors to its site — surpassing even Reddit. Its revenue comes from donations, a paid version of Imgur, and advertising. And over the last year its built some really cool new features into the site, such as its meme generator and a slick image analytics dashboard.
So with its pockets full, and its community happy, the only thing left for Imgur to do is to take its place alongside other massively influential tech companies like Facebook, Google, Reddit, and many others, which this new investment will help with.
“We’ve met with so many investors over the years, but at the end of the day we never really got anywhere because we didn’t need the money. We didn’t want to give up a piece of the company to just anyone, either,” Schaaf told me, explaining that he and the team were leery of anyone who may have taken credit for their success as a result of an investment.
The first and only investor Imgur ever reached out to was Andreessen Horowitz, who ended up leading the Series A. I asked Andreessen Horowitz general partner Lars Dalgaard, who helped negotiate terms of the deal and will join Imgur’s board, where Imgur fell among other pre-series A startups that don’t need funding:
“I don’t think I have met any others,” Dalgaard said. “The environment in San Francisco is so funding-oriented. There aren’t many smart companies building important things that don’t factor investment into their strategy for success.”
The only other investor participating in the round is Reddit, who has been an invaluable partner for Imgur, despite never having a formal agreement to work together, according to Schaaf. “Now it’s just on paper,” he said. “We’ve got some really cool things we’re working with Reddit on.”
As for changes to Imgur as a result of the funding, Schaaf said one big one would be that the startup will run fewer advertisements from ad networks like Google. Eventually, he added, you’ll see more relevant native advertising.
The most notable change, though, will be to Imgur’s roster. Schaaf said with the new funding, the company will be free to hire all-star-level developers, and split the company’s development operations into separate groups. But if you want a better idea about the scope of changes in store for Imgur, look to the company’s most recent hire, Tim Hwang, who is known for his work improving tech policy, organizing Internet culture events ROFLcon, and experience working with tons of important organizations.
“My new role is really split up into a few different areas,” Hwang told me in an interview prior to the funding announcement.
“As Imgur goes into this new phase of going from a utility to an exporter of content from a rich community, there’s this really interesting question about how to support it… nurture it so that we’re doing the kinds of breakout events and movements,” Hwang said, using Reddit’s part in the rally in Washington D.C. from years ago or 4chan’s war against Scientology as examples. Basically, he thinks Imgur is ready for its “Reddit moment.”
And with $40 million at its disposal, Imgur shouldn’t have any problem making that happen.
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