GIFs — or, let’s call it for what it is: short-form video — were always pretty popular, but it still seems surprising that we would embed them into our phone’s keyboards. But here we are in 2017, and there is a group of startups that are looking to bring the usage, or in the case of Gfycat the creation, of GIFs closer and closer to an everyday thing.
So it’s not surprising that Gfycat CEO Richard Rabbat would explain why the company says it has hit 130 million daily active users as many of these startups start to run past the 100 million mark. That number counts how many users call in short form video from the startup’s back-end, which means that based on tracking mechanisms Rabbat says aims to be on the more conservative side. Giphy, a GIF keyboard and network, said it hit 200 million monthly active users in July, and all this growth just goes to show how effective GIFs have become as a way of cramming a lot of information into a small amount of space.
“We focused a lot on creators over time,” Rabbat said. “As we’re looking at what creators want, they want to tell a story and want to put it everywhere. They want to discuss it on Facebook, Tweet about it, or put it anywhere else. We’re enabling more people to publish the content on different platforms. We’re showing up on Medium. I think something on social is happening where people used to say, I’m just on Facebook or Twitter, and now they’re everywhere. Now the content is just going everywhere, and it’s a much more diverse environment than it used to be.”
Rabbat said the company was at 56 million monthly active users in September last year, meaning the startup has more than doubled in size in the past year or so. While Giphy and Tenor expand into ways to bring GIFs everywhere, he said that Gfycat has largely focused on creators and building tools to help them build out the kinds of short-form video that can show up on other networks. After that, it’s figuring out what the idea of a short for video, or GIF, looks like on other platforms like iMessage and Facebook Messenger. GIF creation on those platforms may require totally different behavior, Rabbat said.
“We think of GIFs as one example of short-form content that people want to interact with,” Rabbat said. “Our new experiences with Facebook Messenger are a new avenue that’s creating content that doesn’t look like a GIF. It’s an expression that’s visual that people can share. In some cases, that’s a GIF, but in other cases, it wouldn’t be a GIF. It’s a drawing or something interesting with another vertical that makes sense.”
After starting off as a side project while working at Google, Gfycat raised $10 million in financing in September last year led by Alsop Louis Partners in addition to Pear Ventures, You and Mr. Jones and the Stanford StartX fund alongside other individual investors. Rabbat said over time they just kept seeing the Amazon bills grow while it was still a side project, and then eventually decided to pull the trigger on making it a full-fledged startup.
Of course, there are other creator tools like GIF Brewery which enable things like screen capture on desktops, making it easier for people to create GIFs with tools that are baked into the desktop experience. Rabbat said he considers tools like GIF Brewery as a “photoshop for GIFs,” which makes sense for power creators while Gfycat looks to build tools to create short-form video and content that’s approachable on any platform.
Getting back to the GIF keyboard question, both Giphy and Tenor have also amassed hundreds of millions of users. Rabbat’s argument is that short-form video, or the GIF experience, looks different on different platforms. There are transcoding problems like the ones he faced at Google in order to ensure a seamless experience. Still, the startup is going to face a ton of competition as all these other companies like Giphy, Tenor, or Imgur look to find new ways to enable creators to make short-form video experiences across different platforms before we consider dumping the “GIF” notion altogether.