Ashkan Karbasfrooshan and his team at WatchMojo have found themselves in an enviable position.
The 10-year-old Montreal company is now one of the biggest channels on YouTube with over 10 million subscribers. They’re Canada’s largest YouTube channel and likely a global top five in watch time, with 1.4 billion minutes per month (that’s billion, with a ‘B,’ Karbasfrooshan pointed out).
Still, the CEO can’t sit still.
With a head-count now at 30 full-timers, Karbasfrooshan has plans to expand into a women-centric channel, called Ms. Mojo, as well as a huge expansion into foreign content. He still largely sees WatchMojo as a “scrappy” unknown that needs to claw and scratch its way towards being a content mainstay for millenials.
WatchMojo creates hundreds of list-based videos each month that primarily cater towards millenial males (in fact, 85 per cent of its viewership are males). In-house employees and more than 100 freelancers produce more than 180 videos every month covering pop culture and “infotainment” topics like “Top 10 Unexpected Movie Deaths” and “Top 10 Controversial Symbols.”
In addition to 10 million total subscribers, WatchMojo said it did 218 million views in November, with viewers watching nearly 1.3 billion minutes of content during the month.
Despite the company’s success, Karbasfrooshan feels his team cannot afford to get complacent. Sure, they’ve had a lot of success within YouTube, but that won’t stop him from attacking other verticals.
Take the international expansion. WatchMojo is set to embark on an ambitious road that will see it launch seven foreign-language channels for French, Dutch, Portuguese, German, Polish, Korean and Chinese audiences. Karbasfrooshan said, frankly, “It’s a pain in the butt. But it needs to be done.”
The reality is, if you don’t take your content and translate it to Russian or Polish, some kid is going to rip off your content and do it for you thinking he’s doing you a favour. It’s kinda like you’re a disruptor and you get disrupted by randomness.
-Ashkan Karbasfrooshan, WatchMojo
Karbasfrooshan said that a true entrepreneur is always hungry, yearning for more. For some it’s materialistic while for others it’s like a disease . “I joke with the team all the time: we are crazy, we are maniacal, and we do want to be bigger, faster and better than yesterday.”
Maybe it’s just thinking smart. Karbasfrooshan admitted that the tech world is constantly in so much flux that online media companies need to be ready for change.
He even referenced William Randolph Hearst, the late newspaper magnate whose business sense profoundly influenced his time, as someone who was constantly embracing the day’s best technology. Hearst’s methods weren’t too much different from the best modern tech companies, really.
“Realistically, things change so much that in the last 15 years you’ve seen all these incumbents get destroyed. Friendster, Myspace, and even Facebook itself, had it not bought Instagram and went big on mobile, could have been surpassed.”
Fortunately for now, WatchMojo has time to breathe.
But there wasn’t always light at the end of the tunnel. Karbasfrooshan founded the company after five years spent at AskMen. He cashed in when IGN acquired the site in 2005 for about $13 million, and at 27 years old in 2006, went out on his own.
Watchmojo lost money every year during it’s first six years of existence until 2012. Karbasfrooshan still hadn’t been paying himself a salary and he’d invested all his money he had. He had sold off all his shares from a previous exit, sold his RRSPs and even got a mortgage on the condo he owned with his wife to keep the company afloat.
Up to that point, WatchMojo was still finding its own mojo.
At first, the company was producing host-driven content, but as video-capturing and HD technology improved, Karbasfrooshan realized viewers didn’t necessarily need a host to tell them how to cook the perfect chicken kiev.
Still, investors weren’t buying into the video content startup from Montreal. Whenever investors did seem to take notice, they’d try to steer Karbasfrooshan down a path he wasn’t really interested in.
“Through vision, ambition, persistence, execution, luck and timing we kinda stuck to our guns,” he said.
And while they had embraced YouTube, it wasn’t until 2013 that Karbasfrooshan decided the magic recipe would be clip-based countdowns on infotainment and pop culture for milennials, with a heavy focus on YouTube. They finally made a small profit that year.
Eventually when I appreciated Youtube more as a business platform, I just realized that it was gonna scare off a lot of traditional media companies who don’t want to build an audience on a third-party platform, especially that belongs to Google and that is probably killing your business. It’s not even a frenemy – it’s the Death Star.
But to us, Google was and is this unbelievable opportunity and platform.
In 2014, things quickly started to go really well. Too quickly, said Karbasfrooshan.
“In 2013 we started off the year with 100,000 YouTube subscribers and by October 2013 we hit a million. A year later we hit five million and this year we hit 10 million. We all of a sudden went from having no real viewers to having so many.”
Somehow, the team managed the new onslaught of attention.
Today WatchMojo gets a third of all its views from YouTube. In 2015, Karbasfrooshan wants the company to get to 15,000,000 subscribers, with its new channel Ms. Mojo to rise to several million subscribers.
They’re lofty goals and Karbasfrooshan admits that the yards are harder to come by as you get closer to the goal line.
“From day one, I always wanted to build the next great entertainment company after Just For Laughs and Cirque du Soleil,” said Karbasfrooshan. “And I think WatchMojo is now that, but for this largely-online generation.”