Meet RebelMouse: Our Story

The Founder’s Story — How Helping Spread Great Content Became My Life’s Mission

By Paul Berry

I wanted to take a moment first and talk about my own background and path through life to starting RebelMouse. I think it helps explain what makes us unique.

I was born in Mexico City. My dad was a journalist then, interviewing Fidel Castro, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Salvador Allende and covering massive events like the earthquake in Guatemala in 1976. While I was young, this feeling of being close to the news and what was happening around the world stayed with us as a family through the years.

My first paid job was actually as a newspaper delivery kid. It’s funny because it’s in the DNA of media to understand content must be delivered right to people’s homes . Today their homes are Facebook and the other social platforms, and we’re helping marketers and media companies get the content into everyone’s home. My mom is Mexican, and while we moved to Silicon Valley where I mostly grew up, I stayed very close to the Mexican side of the family. This matters to RebelMouse because I learned, even as a kid. to be close to people who are far away. We have over 65 engineers and designers in over 32 countries and counting. All brilliant individuals who love product, UX and understand our core mission. We are a close knit team of mothers, fathers who have learned to pass the baton around the world to keep up with the crazy acceleration of history.

My father, Tim Berry, decided to get an MBA at Stanford and start Palo Alto Software. This was when personal computing was just beginning. In fact, Steve Balmer was in his first-year MBA class at Stanford (he didn’t come back to the second year as he had gone to a small start-up in Seattle.)

I started writing code when I was 7. I was playing games like Zork (read Ready Player One if you haven’t) which were text based and for me coding was always very linked to language, writing and storytelling. Then, as a teenager, I built the Internet business for Palo Alto Software. We had a couple viral hits along the way which has since become my life’s work and obsession.

The Early Days : Traffic Junkie Weirdos Studying Contagious Media

I was in my final semester of ITP at NYU when I met Jonah Peretti. I had continued to pursue building viral projects and had a couple more hits behind me. He was teaching a class called Contagious Media, having just released BlackPeopleLoveUs.com and the Rejection Hotline. I built The Dog Island which blew up and we’ve been working together ever since.

Jonah Peretti met Ken Lerer who funded the Contagious Media Research Group which met at Eyebeam. This group included incredible people like Ze Frank and Mike Frumin. We were creating and playing without worrying about monetization or business models. It was incredibly thrilling when things took off and just such a low when things didn’t. For most of us, our sense of self worth was tied to the spread of these projects. Kings one day and losers the next and back again through the cycle.

The Growth Curve of Viral Stories

Viral stories were a classic steep bell curve, with a huge fast rise to the peak and a nearly equally fast slope back down. Think of “the dress” — black and blue or white and gold and almost everyone was talking about just that. At peak it was 5 million plus page views an hour and today it will be lucky if it does another 500k views all the rest of the year.

While I was getting my Masters at NYU’s ITP and working on these projects, I was VP of Technology for Related Capital, one of Stephen Ross’ companies,that we took public. I met Ricken Patel and built the foundational technology for Avaaz.org which now has 40+ million active global members. I was balancing building enterprise scale technologies and teams with the weird world of viral media.

The Growth Curve of Useful Technologies

Building HuffingtonPost

I joined HuffPost in 2007, as CTO, very early in the life of the company. I ran product, design and engineering there. This was a time when journalists, and writers in general, had little or no access to stats. Their only signal of success was whether they made the front page.

Media companies hadn’t even figured out a most popular unit, so readers literally were reading only what had been editorially selected by a small team.

HuffPost was the perfect opportunity for me to combine the growth curves of viral stories and useful technologies.

Every day, week and month we had a larger audience built from a better product that was delivering insights to writers and editors on how to gain better distribution. While some writers bristle at the thought of pandering to the masses and becoming a slave to stats, most of them really are very curious people who love to be popular. We always balanced brand perception with growth so that a hard-hitting story about Iraq would be featured and promoted even if it was clear that it was too depressing to ever go viral. But to get more eyes on these stories we were able to really leverage data science to give our property an advantage that propelled us from a small and important blog to one of the biggest media properties in the world.

Combining Two Growth Curves: Useful Technology that Helps Build Viral Traction

The Birth of RebelMouse

We ended up selling Huffington Post to AOL and I spent a year there as CTO of the HuffPost Media Group, running product design and engineering for all the media properties in the AOL portfolio (AOL front page, TechCrunch, HuffPost etc.). It became very obvious to me that there was an enormous gap in what publishers needed and what the software they were deploying and building on top of gave them. None of the solutions (WordPress, Drupal, Adobe and custom built CMS’s) cared about distribution and none were fast enough or cost effective enough to keep up with the acceleration of history.

We launched RebelMouse to solve that problem, and I love that every day since then we have woken up and chipped away at how to help get the right content to the right audience at scale.

RebelMouse in 2016

We now reach over 50 million visitors every month and have hundreds of millions of content views on social. The properties we power are growing by single and double-digit percentages every month. They represent the smartest marketers (big brands!) like PAPER Magazine + United’s Big Metal Bird and in the world. They also represent the most viral websites (smart kids!) like The Snug and Higher Perspectives.

In a world where ad blocking has become a cultural movement, there’s nothing more valuable than content worth sharing. And getting that content in front of the audience that would care to share it, in an efficient and savvy way, globally across every platform and device is what we do better than any platform in the world.

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