The co-founder of BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti, was a schoolteacher in New Orleans. Then he ran a creative lab in New York. Then he tinkered with online publishing.
And then, poof! he was an entrepreneur.
Not so much. Despite that oft-telescoped narrative, Peretti's transformation was somewhat reluctant and gradual. It was one shepherded by investor and media mogul Ken Lerer, and catalyzed by a venture-capital firm.
As Peretti explained on stage at Tech Week New York on Friday, back when he was running the research-and-development arm of the New York City creative lab Eyebeam, he started working with Lerer on what would become Huffington Post around 2005. "He said, 'you know the Web; I know business,'" and brought Peretti along for the Huffington Post ride.
"At Huffington Post, I started to appreciate the form of a startup, in terms of a way to do things," Peretti said.
In upstarts, ideas move fast, due to little bureaucracy. That success means more money, which equates quickly to growth in head-count: "I'd worked in schools and nonprofits and universities, but I got kind of addicted to startups," Peretti said.
Within Huffington Post, he started experimenting with tracking the virality of subjects online, using something then-dubbed the Trend Detector, which would track topics and their surging--or ebbing--popularity. He built out BuzzFeed to experiment in capitalizing on those trends.
"We had this little R&D lab, but as we built the BuzzFeed site to test these things out, we sort of realized, 'Oh. We are starting a company!'"
The thought actually was paused for a bit, Peretti said, as investors grew interested in supporting his idea--as long as he stayed at Huffington Post. Referring to investment from SoftBank, a venture capital firm, Peretti said: "They said, 'Don't leave [Huffington Post]! You can do both!'"
Before long, Peretti was building a team at BuzzFeed, and found financial backers outside of the massive Lerer Ventures network. That outside funding meant BuzzFeed finally had investors who wanted it to grow on its own, outside of the Huffington Post purview. Those investors included Will Porteous, a general partner at RRE, a New York City venture capital fund.
Porteous, who was on stage Friday with Peretti, and who had just heard him say he never inteded to start a business, said he was immediately impressed with Peretti--and BuzzFeed--upon meeting him.
"Well, we thought it was going to be a real company," Porteous joked. "Maybe we should have asked harder questions!"
BuzzFeed officially spun out, and became its own entity in 2008. With more than 150 million monthly unique visitors, it seems like BuzzFeed is doing A-OK today.