Business model? What business model? “We don’t have one,” says Alex Chung.
The founder and CEO of Giphy, the Google of gifs, is perched in a green mid-century modern recliner in the company’s SoHo headquarters. The open, brightly-lit space looks out onto the Big Apple—like you might expect from a 2016 tech startup. But the free buffet lunch, which I was invited to partake in, doesn’t exactly smack of a struggling company with no business model.
That’s because Giphy isn’t struggling. Interest in Chung and his three-year-old company (which has booked $55 million in venture capital backing and sparked acquisition-related fantasies by Mark Zuckerberg, who once denied gifs on Facebook), has become a preoccupation in the tech world. And for good reason. The Giphy team has figured out the obsessively fun art of indexing, creating, and sharing the communication tool of the future.
“Gifs are efficient,” says Chung, who wears a strip of lank hair over his forehead beneath a floppy beanie as we talk. Chung’s skater look unintentionally (or cleverly) distracts from his wisdom. “It’s the easiest, natural way to communicate by using the entire lexicon of pop culture as your dictionary.” (By the way, the gif sage pronounces the file format with a hard “g,” as in great, not a soft “g”, as gee whiz. End of debate.)
So what’s the appeal of these little mini-movies, other than their easy-to-digest brevity? To answer, Chung poses a question: “We always ask, ‘When has the internet really made you cry?’ Or made you go, ‘aww?’ It doesn’t really do that! Unless you read some really beautiful poem. Usually without a video or moving image it doesn’t really happen.”
Whereas watching a video link from a friend can be a hassle, the gif finds the best highlight and holds down the replay button.