As JibJab celebrates its 15th birthday Wednesday, the Los Angeles media company with a humorous edge is showing that it can keep up on the latest trends.
JibJab has risen from two brothers in a tiny Brooklyn office mastering email marketing to now 80 employees in Venice taking on animated GIFs, Santa Claus and "Sesame Street." Here's a look at 15 highlights from one of LA's oldest venture capital-backed start-ups, which says it's profitable.
1. JibJab reached national prominence in 2004 by lampooning presidential candidates George W. Bush and John F. Kerry in an animation set to "This Land Is Your Land." The video was seen millions of times in the first few days, becoming one of the first viral hits of the broadband age.
2. Then-ABC News anchor Peter Jennings named JibJab cofounders Gregg and Evan Spiridellis as "People of the Year" at the end of 2004.
3. The company still makes a comical year-in-review video annually. But the politically themed videos -- even when they became hits -- cost more to produce than they brought in from advertising on the Web. And after YouTube made it easy for fans to distribute copies online, licensing deals dried up.
4. The brothers originally created the company because Gregg suggested to Evan, a filmmaker, that they try to see how the Web could improve distribution of videos.
5. JibJab's mission centered on and remains producing premium original content that people pay for.
6. Gregg Spiridellis, who holds the title of "CEO guy," shifted the company to selling e-cards, including ones that people could jazz up with funny photos of themselves. The former Wall Street banker realized it was a good idea after reading SEC filings to see how much e-cards brought in for card maker American Greetings (more than $60 million a year before the company went private last year). "We realized we can re-innovate what it means to send a digital card and we did raise the bar," Spiridellis said.
7. People pay $18 a year for unlimited access to JibJab's advertising-free e-cards and send about four to five a year on average.
8. After the JibJab brothers had children, they launched a line of educational apps called StoryBots when they realized "Sesame Street" wasn't cutting it on mobile devices, according to Gregg Spiridellis.
9. Last month, JibJab paid an undisclosed sum of cash to buy a company that sells families a video chat with Santa Claus during the holidays. "It's been 15 years, and I've got hundreds of Santa Clauses working for me," Gregg said. "Life couldn't be better."
10. Expect JibJab to push HelloSanta into new holidays -- chats with the Easter Bunny, for example. As Gregg described it, HelloSanta is simply "Uber for performers" or a "technology that enables a distributed network of people to tell stories."
11. A new venture, announced Wednesday, seeks to make JibJab more than a seasonal presence in the lives of teenagers and adults. Called JibJab Messages, it's an iPhone app that has more than 700 popular animations, from cats to "Power Rangers" clips, that can be personalized and shipped off via text message, Twitter, Facebook or other social media apps. The app turns the animations into videos to make them display on Facebook.
12. Whether JibJab can amass another base of subscribers remains to be seen. While people in Asia have shown a willingness to pay for digital stickers and animated smiley faces, Americans have yet to embrace them. JibJab sells unlimited access for 99 cents a month or 10 animations in a 99-cent pack.
13. The ultimate goal for JibJab is to become a globally known studio for the 21st century, Gregg Spiridellis said. The team wants to be more nimble than the major studios, but match their production value. He boasts that JibJab is already persuading top animation and design graduates to work for him instead of Pixar or DreamWorks.
14. JibJab received about $18 million in venture capital funding through 2009. Now that it's cash-flow positive, one of JibJab's next major investments could be adding content specific to international users.
15. JibJab plans to move into a larger office in Marina del Rey in December. "There's more ambition," Gregg Spiridellis said, adding that there were no plans to exit start-up mode anytime soon.