It’s the final roar, or should we say meow for Ben Huh.
The charismatic CEO of Seattle-based online humor site Cheezburger announced today that he’s leaving the company that he started with his wife eight years ago. In a post on Medium, Huh notes that he and his wife have sprinted a marathon over the past eight years, and it was time to move on.
“We became Internet Famous before there was Internet Famous, thanks to all of our users,” writes Huh. “I could not have guessed how starting a company and buying a lolcat website called I Can Has Cheezburger? in 2007 would change our lives and our small corner of the world.”
He will hand the CEO reins to Scott Moore, an experienced former MSN executive and Slate publisher who joined the company in 2013 as COO. Huh, who recommended that he step down to the board, said the mission will remain to make the the world happy for a few moments everyday. His wife, Emily, also is leaving the company.
The news comes just a few days after Circa, a mobile news app co-founded by Huh, shut down after failing to raise more capital.
Despite its humble beginnings, Huh and his wife Emily built Cheezburger into an online powerhouse in the humor category, launching sites such as Fail Blog, Know Your Meme and Memebase. The company’s flagship site — I Can Has Cheezburger — featured funny photos and videos of cats doing silly things, like drinking water from a faucet, riding bikes or interacting with owls. Users of the site could add funny captions to the photos, adding an interesting dynamic.
Cheezburger raised $30 million in venture financing in 2011 from Foundry Group, Madrona and others, and then pulled in another $5 million in 2012.
At one point, the company operated more than 50 sites, and drew tens of millions of visitors each month. The company even participated in a wacky reality TV show called LOLWork that never really took root.
But the company fell on tough times as the audience shifted to mobile and other humor sites rose in prominence, eating into Cheezburger’s core.
In 2013, the company laid off of 35 percent of its staff, and many of its top execs left.
Huh writes in today’s post:
A person’s character is shaped from his or her circumstances and our circumstances have been extraordinary. I am grateful for our luck. Who else can say they had this much fun running a start up through the Great Recession? I have tasted many victories and humbling moments, sometimes in the same day.
I will miss our creative bat-shit insane ideas that end up working. I will miss the dedication and craftsmanship of our technical and product teams. I will miss staying up impatiently all night waiting for something, anything to go live. I will miss the random hysterical laughter in the office. I may or may not miss the finer points of what constitutes a visible nipple, but I will miss the discussions about the artistic merit of photobombs, and I will also miss telling a co-worker to tell an advertiser to fuck off, but not really going through with it. I will miss all of you who are and were a part of our motley crew who built an impossible dream.
I have many regrets but I learned that, just like fear, regrets have no place in life. I have learned that the greatest triumphs of our lives are disguised by their difficulty, so we should celebrate our difficulties as well as our wins.
Huh said he’s not responding to requests for comment from the press, and plans to spend the next several months “traveling, writing, reflecting, and connecting with friends before starting something new.”
Here’s more from Huh from a talk he gave at GeekWire’s Startup Day event earlier this year in which the CEO talked about some of the challenges he faced as an entrepreneur, including the notion that he had to hold up the startup on his own shoulders and what would happen if he screwed up.
“If you screw this up you will not die. In fact, you will probably be more experienced and probably will get a better job,” he said. “If you screw up at your startup the most probable outcome is that you will receive a raise at a bigger company. So when you have that really stressful day and you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders just remember that: I’m gonna get a raise.”