When a one-person outfit attracts millions of addicted users, it’s a business worth taking a close look. Fark – an aggregator of strange and humorous stories, and the granddaddy of news aggregators – has watched its audience explode since launching in 1999.
An online equivalent of “The Daily Show,” Fark draws 4.2 million unique visitors, 60 million pageviews per month. The average time spent on the site is more than seven minutes. While many startups spend millions to buy or ramp up to that kind of traffic and loyalty, Fark (watch video pitch here) remains one efficient shop.
Drew Curtis, Fark’s founder, runs Fark out of his home in Lexington, Kentucky, with essentially 16 virtual part-time moderators who edit the over 67,000 user-submitted stories per month. The moderators post only 100 of the most bizarre stories per day. These aren’t your typical news items. Among the stories submitted include: “A Japanese dog waited for his owner for 10 years. Meanwhile, your cat just ditched you for the neighbors because they buy name-brand food” or “Study finds cell phones are more deadly than cigarettes. No word yet on why people are smoking cell phones.”
Despite the huge inflow of stories, moderators only work part-time, according to Drew, who came to the Vator studios recently, and played Simon Cowel for our latest Vator Box episode. This helps keep Fark’s costs down. But money isn’t even the main incentive. Besides being part of one of the funniest communities online, moderators meet annually for beers and chicken wings with Drew in Kentucky.
Amazingly enough, the tens of thousands of articles draw nearly 900,000 comments per month. It’s not surprising given the composition of Fark’s audience. According to Quantcast, nearly 75% of Fark’s visits are from “addicts.” Compare that to Digg.com, with only 35% visits from addicts, and Reddit, whose audience is comprised of 10% of addicts. CNN’s visitors are only 23% addicts. Fark’s audience composition is similar only to social networks MySpace and Facebook. About 72% of MySpace’s visitors are addicts and 64% of Facebook’s visitors are addicts.
What was the trick to attracting such a large audience while running such a lean site?, I asked. Starting in ’99 was one of the best things that could have happened to Fark, he said. Essentially, because the 2001 recession put a damper on advertising dollars, Drew had no choice but to keep a low budget. Today, Fark remains scrappy, but given the rebound in advertising, it’s making a nice chunk of ad dollars. Additionally, Fark has 5,000 subscribers paying $5 per month to receive all the story submissions. The combined advertising and subscription revenues grew 40% in 2007 to a healthy number in the seven digits.
Profits scaled nicely, given his low overhead.
There's a lesson to be learned from Drew, who started Fark on a lark. Don't grow so fast that you have to operate a big burn. Stay lean, and do something you love, laugh a lot and you'll attract others who love what you do too. Maybe we should all start companies the way Drew did. As he said about his early days at Fark. "I was just wasting time," meaning having fun. It doesn't look like that fun has gone away. No wonder he's so successful.