One of the fastest and easiest ways to start a legitimate business is to take advantage of a viral hit. Recently, I had a chance to ask Grumpy Cat owner Tabatha Bundesen about how she turned one picture on Reddit into a popular business brand.
When did you first know Grumpy Cat would be a good business idea?
On September 22, 2012, my brother Bryan was visiting me at our home in Arizona and took a funny picture of Grumpy Cat (back then known as Tardar Sauce) looking extra grumpy and posted it on Reddit with the caption "Meet Grumpy Cat." Within just 24 hours, she became a sensation on the site, with over 30,000 upvotes, and the top spot on the front page. After people started arguing whether or not the photo had been doctored, we uploaded a video to YouTube, where it received 1.5 million views in the first 24 hours. Immediately we had T-shirt requests, and then requests for more memes, and so we started the website and it grew from there. Pretty soon someone recommend Ben Lashes to us, and we signed on with him to be Grumpy's manager. We started doing some media appearances, and national brands like Friskies started taking interest, and merchandise retailers wanted to make more than T-shirts.
How did the Friskies deal come about?
Friskies approached us soon after the popularity of Grumpy Cat began to grow. The relationship seemed like a great fit, as Friskies is a brand that Grumpy Cat eats at home and enjoys. After seeing the success of our first campaign, "Will Kitty Play With It?," we both knew the partnership needed to be extended; it generated a lot of buzz and attention nationally, so it made sense to work together in a longer-term capacity. Shortly after, Friskies approached us to be the brand's official spokescat, and we were honored to be asked.
Taking on the title, we were able to be part of some great events, like SxSW in Austin, and go to The Friskies (kind of like an Oscars award show for cat videos) to receive Grumpy Cat's first Lifetime Achievement Award (at the age of 2!). We also got to create music videos with fellow celebrity cats (Hard to Be a Cat at Christmas and Cat Summer).
For entrepreneurs, it's always exciting to know an idea can become a legit business. What have you done to keep things rolling and to make sure this stays in the public eye?
Grumpy Cat has the ability to surprise fans by keeping the story interesting, whether it's new content, brand partnerships, or a simple picture. Friskies, Disney, Lifetime, Cheerios, and McDonald's are brands we felt would make good partnerships that speak to the fans and families in a unique and fun way.
Grumpy has also made appearances at some key events over the past two years. She's appeared on American Idol, The Bachelorette, and Total Divas, and she's even had a front-row seat at the MTV Movie Awards. It's been really exciting to travel with Grumpy Cat and meet fans across the nation and beyond. From kids to adults, and even celebrities, everyone falls in love with Grumpy when they meet her, and they can't stop gushing.
What advice do you have for others who might want to pursue a viral idea?
I would definitely encourage anyone with a viral idea to use the social media tools that are available already and just put your "thing" out there! Reddit worked for us, but there's also Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other tools that are engaging millions of potential fans. Making content sharable and accessible allows for a viral idea to be spread, and it helps you to get it out there in the most important way: through word of mouth. Listening to fans, creating a website and social channels to allow people to connect with your idea and learn more, and partnering up with already successful ideas and platforms to enhance credibility--these are all great ways to keep the idea growing.
Say someone has a viral hit--what are some bad decisions people could make to have it not pan out?
If you have something go viral, follow the fans. Stay true to what they love about it, and always keep them in mind when making business decisions. Without them, there's no business.