Gregg Spiridellis took a phone call in January that could radically change the future of his company, JibJab. Two months later, he was sitting in the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, watching Mark Zuckerberg demonstrate his product onstage at the F8 developer conference.
Zuckerberg was introducing the new Facebook Messenger service, which allows users to seamlessly insert GIFs and stickers into their messages via external apps. To showcase the new tool, he sent a message that included a personalized JibJab GIF portraying Zuckerberg as a rock guitar player.
Spiridellis told Tech Times that the guitar GIF is his new favorite.
"Now that one's got a special place in my heart", he said.
It's hardly surprising, given the potential benefits for JibJab, which started out creating satirical political cartoons 15 years ago. What might surprise you is that Spiridellis wasn't surprised by the January phone call from Facebook and sees the journey from satirical cartoonists to technologists as a natural progression.
Gregg started JibJab in his Brooklyn apartment with his brother Evan in 1999. They started creating satirical political cartoons and sharing them online. They garnered nationwide attention with the "This Land" video, which went viral and even landed them a spot on Jay Leno's Tonight Show.
As they saw the Web becoming more social, JibJab pivoted to creating personalized comedy e-cards that people could share. That was when the relationship with Facebook began.
"In the early 2000s, we created political satire which was primarily distributed by email and then when Facebook launched their Web platform in 2007, we were pioneering viral distribution in newsfeed with e-cards," said Spiridellis. "Now we see messaging as the third wave of distribution."
In fact, before Facebook called, JibJab had already developed their own standalone app, where users can create personalized GIFs for sharing on any platform. However, for JibJab, there's a world of difference between someone copying and pasting a link into a messenger and the simple couple of clicks needed to send a JibJab GIF on Facebook Messenger.
As Zuckerberg demonstrated onstage, new users can install JibJab in just a few seconds from within Facebook Messenger and then, adding a GIF or sticker is as easy as adding an emoji. What makes the partnership particularly powerful for JibJab is what Spiridellis calls "viral hooks."
"When I publish content on my standalone app into iMessage, for example, the content is just in the message, and there's no way for the my friend to say, 'Oh, that's cool, I want that too,' but in the Messenger exchange, there's a button there that the recipient can click to get the app themselves," he explained. "There's exponentially more potential for virality in the messenger too that there is in our standalone app."
Being part of a messaging system gives JibJab instant access to the 600 million monthly active Facebook users — a number that is likely to rise quickly after this week's F8 announcements. In previous incarnations, JibJab was relevant to people with the odd viral video or at holidays and birthdays for e-cards, but Spiridellis now wants JibJab to be the "funny button" that people go to every day.
JibJab has more than 1,000 pieces of content that people can use for free, but plans to make its longer professionally-produced 90-second videos available in the Messenger to subscribers in time for the holidays by the end of 2015.
"The idea is people can use our content in everyday conversations for free and then there'll be seasonal opportunities for us to showcase our premium content and encourage people to become subscribers," said the 41-year-old CEO.
Spiridellis is a big fan of Facebook, as they're already the biggest driver of traffic to his site, but he genuinely believes Zuckerberg has stolen a march on the competition with the new Messenger platform.
"Facebook made a brilliant move here; I think this is the first domino," he says. "Other messaging platforms are trying to create all the experiences in-house, but Facebook has empowered a global network of creators to build really amazing experiences for their users just like they did on the Web. I think other messaging platforms will have no choice but to open up to third-party developers if they want to be able to compete."
Given the range of functionality available on Messenger, you'd have to agree with the JibJab CEO. At the very least, the likes of Apple's iMessage and Google's Hangouts have a lot of catching up to do. Little gimmicks like JibJab's GIFs, not to mention the other 40 apps already available, offer enough incentive for users to switch their standard messaging platform.
Just for giggles, check out the cartoon that first put JibJab in the public eye below.