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How These Internet-Famous Cats Made Bank

Feline super stars, merchandise, movie scripts, book deals. The Internet's cult of cats has turned into a very serious business.
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Ten years ago, no one would have said you could get rich off a feline. But the Internet changed everything. Now, any cat with good looks and an eye-catching gimmick has a shot at getting famous (or at least scoring some free catnip). 

That's according to "How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity: A Guide to Financial Freedom," published Tuesday. The book delves into the business of cats--grooming basics and what to do when Friskies comes calling--for entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on their furry pet. Just a silly business idea that will fizzle out with time? Judge for yourself: Here are four cat empires that were built one viral post at a time. 

Cheezburger 

The blog for all things viral owes a debt of gratitude to cats. Most of its user-generated content features them and the site hosts "the LOL Builder," which enables readers to create their own Lolcat, or an image combining a photograph of a cat with irreverent captions. 

Still, things weren't always sunny for Cheezburger founder Ben Huh. As he told Inc. last summer, the company was always profitable until it took venture capital investments. After raising $30 million in 2011 and adding more employees, they "started more than we were making," he says, and Huh was forced to fire a third of his staff. Huh eventually recovered from the incident and today his company owns sites such as The Daily What, FAIL blog, and Know Your Meme. But he wouldn't be where he is--the owner of a multimedia empire--without all those cats his sites feature. "I think what we see here is the rise of the Internet cat industrial complex," he told NPR earlier this week. "I go to a meeting or a conference, and all of a sudden people are, you know, I've got iPhones in my face filled with cat photos and, you know, it's not like I can make it happen." 

Grumpy Cat

She may hail from Morristown, Arizona, and look perpetually displeased, but Grumpy Cat (real name Tardar Sauce) has done quite well for herself. That's in no small part thanks to her agent, Los Angeles-based Ben Lashes (real name Benjamin Clark), who's made a living out of turning Internet famous cats into media empires. To date, he's landed Grumpy Cat a one-picture deal with a Hollywood studio, guest appearances at the Mashable House during the South By Southwest festival, and a book, "Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book: Disgruntled Tips and Activities to Put a Frown on Your Face." Grumpy Cat's estimated worth: $1 million, according to New York magazine.

Lil BUB 

Another client of Lashes is Lil BUB, who has modest roots, according to her site: "the runt of a healthy feral litter in a tool shed in rural Indiana." Over the course of her stardom, she's managed to raise more than $60,000 for various charities through her online store and appearances at animal shelters across the country. She's also partnered with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Fans of the "perma-kitten" can show their support by purchasing a Lil BUB coffee mug, calendar, or hoodie, among other goodies. And like her pal Grumpy Cat, BUB has a book: "LIL BOOK: The Extraordinary Life of the Most Amazing Cat on The Planet." Her documentary, Lil BUB and Friendz, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 18, 2013.  

Keyboard Cat

Charlie Schmidt was baffled when he started receiving emails about a video he'd filmed in the 1980s of his cat Fatso. It was just a cat playing a keyboard, he thought, but when his friend's son Lashes suggested they turn the late tabby into keychains and branded T-Shirts, an Internet sensation was born. Today you can purchase Keyboard Cat-branded posters, mugs, pins, an iOS app, and an animatronic toy on the KeyboardCatStore. Lashes won't reveal a specific dollar amount for the worth of the Keyboard Cat franchise but he says it's in the "mid to high six figures."

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IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons (2), Getty Images
Last updated: Apr 4, 2014

JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer

Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.




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