Three years ago, Giphy was just two weeks old, having just been launched by co-founders Alex Chung and Jace Cooke as a hacked-together search engine for animated GIFs—something they created as a side project within the New York-based tech incubator Betaworks. On Tuesday, the company announced a $55 million financing round that values Giphy at $300 million.
Is that valuation justified by the service’s massive revenue growth? Not really, since it doesn’t have any—revenue, that is. So why would investors be prepared to invest that kind of money? Chief operating officer Adam Leibsohn says it’s because Giphy has built not just a search engine but a content platform based around a unique visual format.
In addition to its financing, Giphy is now integrated into Twitter via a GIF search button the real-time information network just introduced on Wednesday. Leibsohn said Giphy is also now integrated into Outlook as well. That’s in addition to Slack—the corporate messaging tool of choice for hundreds of companies—and dozens of other services.
“We’re the definitive source for GIFs on the web,” Leibsohn said in an interview. “We’re the one place everyone goes to. But in addition to that, we’ve also built these really robust APIs (application programming interfaces) that allow us to reach literally billions of people through platforms like Facebook, Tinder, Twitter, and Slack.”
It’s not just distribution of GIFs either, the Giphy executive says. The company also has relationships and content partnerships with hundreds of movie studios, TV networks, music labels, brands, and ad agencies. It helps them create GIFs of their content quickly so they can be distributed through social media, whether it’s a new film, a new album, or a highlight from a basketball game.
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For example, a Giphy team worked with the recent Grammy Awards to do real-time GIFs of the action going on at the music awards show. It has done the same thing for HBO when there’s a new TV show or movie studios when they release new films like Zoolander. GIFs are becoming a crucial way of providing information through social networks, Leibsohn says—like a tiny movie trailer that can be shared and watched anywhere.
Everyone loves a funny GIF, but they often don’t get a lot of respect as a form of media because they are seen as trivial or silly. The idea that a company whose business is GIFs and might be worth $300 million seems farcical to many. But Leibsohn says this kind of criticism misses the point of what GIFs have become or are becoming.
The web is becoming increasingly message-based and communication-based. It’s not just how people self express, but also how they understand all kinds of information. So the GIF isn’t trivial any longer — it can be a sports score, it can be the weather, it can be the way I feel, it can be a clip from a new show. It’s information and emotion.
Leibsohn says Giphy’s valuation is justified because of its ability to reach billions of people through the networks it has partnerships with. “We started as a search engine, then we made it easy for people to create and share on their phones, so we have this whole platform for finding and creating. But we’ve also built this huge platform through our API, so we have this massive engine to create and distribute content at scale.”
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The result, Leibsohn says, isn’t unlike the kind of trajectory that other search-based companies have gone through, and while he doesn’t mention names, it’s pretty obvious of which he’s thinking. “If you look at other search engines and how they make money, and how they’ve expanded, I think you can probably extrapolate to the kind of things we’re looking at,” he says.
Can Giphy’s command of the GIF make it as valuable as that other search company? It might be hard for some to believe—especially if they see GIFs as just another way for millennials to waste time on their phones–but Leibsohn says Giphy has cornered the market on a new form of visual communication, and it’s not about to let go.