9GAG, a Hong Kong-based startup with offices in San Francisco, today announced a seed funding round of $2.8 million, led by Freestyle Capital and True Ventures. The round also included Greycroft Partners, First Round Capital, 500 Startups and a number of individual investors including David Tisch. The site will be using the funding to build out its engineering team, but co-founder Ray Chan also told BetaKit in an interview that proving 9GAG is a serious contender in the world of online humor is another, equally important outcome of this early financing.
“The primary use of the funding is to hire good quality people to join our team. It’s quite hard to hire people, in Silicon Valley or in Hong Kong: good developers join investment banks or big corporations,” he explained. “On the other hand, it also proves that we’re a solid company that won’t close down shop anytime soon. That’s the main reason we raised funding.”
9GAG, in very basic terms, resembles a Tumblr for funny photos and captions, but it has a noteworthy difference to most of those informal blogging sites: 70 million monthly unique visitors, according to the company, and over a billion page views per month. The company is looking to help boost that engagement even further today, thanks to the launch of its new iPhone app, which it announced alongside the funding. Chan said that for 9GAG, mobile is an important focus, and will likely become even more important in the future.
“This is just the first version of the mobile app,” he said. “Mobile will be more and more important to us, because, as you can see, the content on our site is casual entertainment. Viewing that kind of content is best on mobile, instead of the desktop.” Chan explained that 9GAG’s entire purpose is to filter through the static, surfacing the best distractions and casual content for when users have a moment to spare; unlike Twitter, they don’t have to wade through their stream for funny content.
9GAG also will have to compete with sites like Buzzfeed, and to some extent, Reddit, which has a lot of humor-focused sub-categories. But Chan thinks that his site’s focus exclusively on humor will help set it apart, along with an emphasis on short, easily digested and shared content.
In the future, Chan said that original content could also be in the 9GAG roadmap, though for now it’s conceived of mostly as a place for users to gather and share content from other sources. That could help it increase awareness about its brand, but given its traction so far, there seems to be little reason to mess with its current formula in the short-term.