When BuzzFeed published its notorious post debating the colors of a dress back in 2015, it garnered more than 28 million views in its first 24 hours on the site. 

But that's not the type of data that co-founder and CEO Jonah Peretti considers most meaningful. Instead, he says, his company craves metrics that are somewhat harder to measure.

"We look for different kinds of feedback," Peretti says. "What do people say when they share it? If it's a Tasty video, are they actually making the food? Are people who watch these do-it-yourself videos actually doing the projects? It's about being skeptical of data and looking for other ways to see if people enjoyed it."

Peretti shared the stage Wednesday afternoon with Lena Waithe, actor and writer for the Netflix show Master of None. The two spoke at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York City in a wide-ranging discussion of their respective creative careers.

According to Peretti, BuzzFeed, perhaps best known for creating humorous quizzes and listicles that occasionally go viral, is partially the result of his upbringing in a diverse area of Oakland, California. While kids in his neighborhood teased one another like any others would, he says that knowing people from different backgrounds gave him an appreciation for having awareness of multiple perspectives. 

One 2013 BuzzFeed quiz, called "27 Signs You Were Raised by Asian Immigrant Parents," pulled in between six million and eight million views. While the article was funny, Peretti sees it as serving another purpose. About half of those who viewed it were not Asian, which the CEO views as helping to transcend barriers. "It says, 'This is how I grew up,' " he says. " 'You probably don't understand it, but look at this content and maybe you'll start to understand it.' " (Of course, engagement is important for revenue purposes, too, since more shares and likes generally means more overall traffic, but alas.)

Subscription-based Netflix, on the other hand, does not share viewership data, even with its collaborators. So Waithe has no idea how many people are actually watching Master of None.

But no matter. "Being on Netflix lets us be experimental. We can do crazy things," Waithe says, adding that it's actually a relief to not know your show's ratings. "Things meant to appeal to the masses usually end up appealing to no one." 

That lack of pressure to maximize viewership, she says, gives her the freedom to create what she thinks is her best finished product. "For me," she says, "it's about making art that's not good but phenomenal. James Baldwin didn't want to just stay above the fray. Prince didn't think, 'I wonder what the industry is gonna think about Purple Rain. It's just, is this honest? Is this real? Does this move me? The rest is icing."

In September, Waithe was awarded a writing Emmy for the Master of None episode "Thanksgiving," which chronicles her character's gradually coming out to her family over the course of several years. With the win, which she shared with show co-creator Aziz Ansari, she became the first black woman to win the award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. Waithe, who is gay, has said that the episode was written on the basis of her own experiences.

"Ratings don't matter," she says. "If one person watching it feels affected by it, that's a success."

In response to a question from an audience member, Waithe talked about how race affects her art and vice versa. "My mother was born into a segregated America," said the 33-year-old actor. "How crazy is that?" She recounted a story of her grandmother, then pregnant with Waithe's mother, being turned away at a roadside rest stop because it didn't have a colored bathroom.

Fifty-three years later, Waithe won her historic Emmy.

"I feel like that completes the circle," she says. "I can't go back and change the experience my grandmother had, and my mother and my aunts had. But I can keep making art that pushes things forward."

Published on: Oct 25, 2017