How Ray Chan started 9GAG, and a career in fun
MELD’S Fiona Ren ventures down the rabbit hole that is 9GAG and gets ‘trolled’ by co-founder Ray Chan.
Ray Chan never expected 9GAG to take off like it did.
The co-founder of the popular user-generated site says it started off as just a “fun side project”. The admission is perhaps unsurprising and even fitting for an online space that displays “just for fun” as its tagline.
Ray, who is a native of Hong Kong, looks back at his university days and regards it with fondness. It was a very “fruitful” experience, he says.
The 28 year-old attended the prestigious University of Hong Kong, where he was a member of the university’s debate team and lacrosse team. He lived on campus, staying in Ricci Hall, a boys-only dormitory where he says he met a lot of “brothers”.
“I just didn’t spend enough time on my legal studies,” he admits.
But it looks like that worked out well for him – and the millions and millons of people who now regularly visit 9GAG (but more on the statistics later).
The 9GAG website typically features memes or rage comics submitted by netizens. It was created in 2008 when Facebook was not yet popular in Hong Kong. Ray wanted to create an alternative to email that would simplify the process of sharing “funny” photos or videos online.
He is rather coy about the story behind the name though. When asked why ‘9GAG’, he cheekily quotes the famous line from Top Gun – “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you”.
Ray and his team at 9GAG are based in Hong Kong but travel to Silicon Valley, the hub of technological and Internet ventures, from time to time. It is perhaps a testament to the site’s continuing development.
At the time Ray spoke to Meld, 9GAG had more than 80 million unique visitors and two billion page views in the last 30 days. Not too shabby for an Internet start-up that began as just a side project.
Ray’s favourite meme is ‘Philosoraptor’ (because it’s “funny yet educational”), and he attributes 9GAG’s growth to its users who actively share the site’s content via social networks. He also attributes the site’s success to the “super interesting and funny” user-generated content.
Ray is also well aware that Internet speak has shifted offline and seeped into everyday interactions.
“It’s really interesting to see people use memes or other Internet slangs in their daily life,” he says.
But he asserts that 9GAG should not be taking credit for it.
“9GAG does not create memes or rage comics but helps spread them,” says Ray.
“We run 9GAG with our fans/users.”
However, it matters not whether a post is a meme.
“9GAG is not just a meme site,” says Ray.
It is simply a space for people to “share fun”.
Ray then says people should not be spending too much time on 9GAG.
He was only joking.
Like most of us, Ray visits 9GAG every day. It’s really fulfilling, he says, to see people share a laugh on the site.
However, as expected, the road to success has been anything but smooth. When they started out, Ray and his team did not really know how to build a website. It was an arduous learning process, but they were aided by people with experience.
He offers sage advice for people who aspire to a career in new media.
“Try before you reject,” he says.
“If you have an idea, build on it. Don’t just keep talking without working.”
Right now, 9GAG is Ray’s and his team’s only focus as they endeavour to make the site sustainable.
“There are so many exciting things that we haven’t tried on 9GAG, we don’t have time to think about other stuff,” he says.