Don’t Fight Failure: An Interview With Ben Huh, Founder Of Cheezburger
- By Rahul Varshneya
- December 20th, 2012
Ben Huh is the CEO and founder of Cheezburger. He’s a former journalist turned dot com entrepreneur who has a knack for nailing the zeitgeist and has been credited with bringing Internet memes to the mainstream and popularizing Internet culture. Ben graduated with a BSJ from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
The first time I was introduced to Ben Huh was when I saw his talk at TEDxSeattle in 2010. I was totally blown when I heard this from him, “There’s nothing harder than wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and see a failure. There’s nothing harder to realize that you’ve let people down, let your family down who put money in you, let your friends down who you hired. But, getting out of that struggle means that you become a person with character and moral values, and a person who has a center that cannot be shaken.”
Boy did he go teary eyed while saying this and am sure so did most in the audience! It just goes to show the true character of a person who has gone through failure in life and risen so beautifully from it. He added (edited), “Struggle is not a pain, it is a lesson learnt how to get through the pain.”
I decided to then dig deeper into this person who’s got plenty in him to help the aspiring entrepreneur enough inspiration to launch and the startup entrepreneur fodder to grow their business.
Here’s my interview with Ben Huh.
Rahul Varshneya: What have been the most significant learnings from your journey as an entrepreneur with Cheezburger?
Ben Huh: You need to put the fear of risk aside. Startups need leaders who are willing to persevere through the hard times. Failure is an option, and a real risk. Failure and risk are something entrepreneurs should understand well, and learn to manage.
Rahul Varshneya: What do you regard as the single biggest mistake that you made when starting up, something that you would have done differently if given a chance now.
Ben Huh: After college, I started my own company which unfortunately became a failed venture, left me $40K in debt, and with the feeling of having let down my family and friends. This time around, I said I’m going to be frugal, I’m going to save my cash, I’m going to find the best people that I can possibly find, and I’m going to be very, very product focused.
Rahul Varshneya: What is your definition of success?
Ben Huh: Success is not about money, it’s about following your dreams. If you believe your dream is to follow the money, you will leave the world nothing. If you follow your dreams, you will leave the world a gift.
Rahul Varshneya: Failures are an intrinsic part of entrepreneurship. How should one embrace a long series of failures without letting frustration overwhelm you?
Ben Huh: Don’t fight failure. Take it in and redefine what motivates you. If you can get up over and over again after being knocked down and teach others to do the same, then you can become a person of character with strong moral values and a center that can’t be shaken. After all, the practice of failure is necessary and never giving up is really the mark of an entrepreneur.
Rahul Varshneya: When you fail, how do you approach the next iteration?
Ben Huh: When I fail, I try to pick up, move forward, and learn from past mistakes.
Rahul Varshneya: What is your sales strategy advice for startups?
Ben Huh: Entrepreneurs should know how to make themselves more attractive to the target audience — which can vary wildly. If you are uncomfortable with learning to make yourself, your idea, and your business more attractive, it will make life harder for you.
Rahul Varshneya: When building a technology company, how does one choose the right technology platform for their product? What if the founder or co-founders are from non-technical background?
Ben Huh: You really don’t. But you can choose the tools you are best at. Technology changes and you will have to keep up and change with it. Picking a technology should match the team you have. If you don’t have a co-founder in tech, your first few tech hires will be critical. But let them drive the choices that they are comfortable with.
Rahul Varshneya: What are your greatest learnings as an entrepreneur, things that you would give as advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Ben Huh: Don’t have a fear of talking about your failures. Don’t hide your mistakes. Because we know that running a startup is really hard, and it’s a lot harder if you lie about it. It’s a lot harder if you can’t be honest about the situation you’re in, and you can’t be honest about asking for help.
Rahul Varshneya: What is the most important marketing lesson that you have learnt while building Cheezburger?
Ben Huh: The most important marketing lesson is to listen closely to your user community.
You can follow Ben Huh on Twitter @benhuh.
Photo credit: Dan Brunell.