May 29th, 2013 Startup Grind: Jon Steinberg of Buzzfeed

On Wednesday, May 29, 2013, OLC attended Startup Grind New York City’s event hosting Jon Steinberg, President of BuzzFeed, hosted by Neil Anderson, the Director of Startup Grind.

Jon Steinberg is the President of BuzzFeed in NYC. He is an Ex-Googler previously as a Strategic Partner Development Manager on Google’s SMB (Small Medium Business) Partnerships team.

Neil Anderson is a New York & London based entrepreneur and early stage investor with operational experience in corporate strategy, enterprise software & innovation management, international outsourcing and infrastructure development.

NA: Tell us about how you as a 16-year-old got into engineering.

JS: I really liked the magazine Scientific American. I saw an ad about being an Imagineer in it, so I filled out the survey and wrote an essay and sent it off to Disney. I got a call back from the VP of Marketing asking me if I really was a 16-year-old kid. He flew me and my family out to California and I got to meet the marketing team and got myself an internship. I thought that I would go into software development. I wasn’t creative as the creative people there. Seven or eight years later, I got hired by Google and the campus was in the old Silicon Graphics space. It was then that I realized that nothing is forever.

NA: Tell us two things. One is, you have an incredible platform. Two, it’s an important inflection point. Tell us how it’s influenced your thinking point.

JS: The R&D team at Disney was recruited by Sony. Trevor, my mentor, told me to go to Berlin to increase my knowledge in marketing. In my spare time, I had ideas about putting screens in elevators, screens in buildings. I got to meet Jerry because he wanted to see a Cisco 3D visual system in hallways. He wanted to see me and asked me what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to go into banking and he said that that’s a good idea, but not a great idea. I ended up working for him and got my own office. It didn’t feel like a business gig. It really wasn’t mine. Jerry put me as a Chief of Staff and I made the mistake of going to business school. It was a waste of time and money.

NA: Why do you think that about business schools?

JS: I found accounting to be more successful than finance. I think I should’ve gone to law school because I read contracts all the time. Business schools are a farce.

NA: Do you hire MBAs?

JS: I don’t know if anyone went to college or has an MBA in my company. I quickly forget where new hires went to school. I think we’re part of the last generation that where you went to school doesn’t matter.

NA: BuzzFeed has gone though a lot of funding—

JS: I joined in Series B.

NA: Yes, Can you tell us how it feels to be part of a rapidly growing company?

JS: I think it’s amazing how much you’re used to so much stress every day that you end up finding ways to deal with it in any given day. There’s an advertiser that’s no happy with some sponsored content or there’s team dynamic issues. I don’t particularly think raising capital is that interesting. It’s easy to find seed money. Once you get it, it’s easy to get more. If you have no revenue, but have massive growth like Instagram, you’re okay. Even if you have massive revenue with little growth, you’re okay too. I think BuzzFeed is a balance between real business and not.

NA: Do you think BuzzFeed will end up like Buddy Media?

JS: No, I don’t think so. We’re the world’s leading cat side and now the same with politics and entertainment. I think BuzzFeed can be the next Hearst, the next NYTimes. You want to see it through. For 18-24 year-olds, BuzzFeed is their news source. We are now writing breaking news reports. Our strength is figuring out how young people consume news media. For one thing, we use YouTube—that’s a form of social media. YouTube is very easy to partner with. YouTube is effectively Time Warner, Comcast, all cable companies rolled into one. What’s exciting for me is that there are people younger than me that I can’t figure out. Everyone watches YouTube on their mobile device, but I don’t. It’s baffling.

NA: To people out there in social media startups, how can they partner with BuzzFeed?

JS: For people with certain amount of traffic, we will provide free analytics and free coverage. For CNN, we have a special partnership. We want to do a lot more of these deals. We want to partner with brands that have great content. We have been very slow with partnering in business development. When we do, it’s a like a trade. It takes a long time to do it. We think that every video that we release should get hundreds of thousands of views. Viral should get millions.

NA: What was the feeling when the President mentioned BuzzFeed?

JS: When the President mentioned it, I was shocked.

NA: What’s it looking like for the rest of the year?

JS: Our UK launch has been fantastic. We want to do more foreign coverage. Between that and hiring more staff, we have a pretty full plate. Agencies want to do things instead of understanding what we do. I think there is an over calibration on strategic thoughts, but that’s the stuff that comes to you unexpectedly. You need to first focus on tactical strategies. Strategy without execution is hallucination.

NA: Who do you see as your competition?

JS: I guess the New York Times.

NA: What do you think of the NY ecosystem?

JS: I’m excited about the big opportunities in consumerization in enterprise technology. We’re a BYOD organization, we use business products that are now moving to consumers. The new million is 10 million users.