Famous Birthdays’ Wish for Cultural Relevance Is Coming True

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

Famous Birthdays’ Wish for Cultural Relevance Is Coming True

In 2012, Evan Britton founded a website premised upon what the web arguably does best: help people obsess over celebrities.

Britton launched his first site in 1999 as a senior in college and has since made his living monetizing web clicks.

When he created Famous Birthdays as a sort of Wikipedia of celebrities nine years ago, TikTok wasn't even born and Snap had barely launched. The term "influencers" had yet to seep into the mainstream. But as social media created a new form of celebrity, the site has morphed into a pillar of the teen-centric world of online personalities and creators.


This month the company said it will surpass 35 million unique monthly visitors across its app and website. Third-party data providers, which use various methods to estimate web traffic, peg that figure anywhere between 4-6 million (Comscore) and 29 million (Similar Web). Many of those users are teens who use the site to browse celebrity profiles, contribute to popularity rankings and see who's trending.

"It's a pulse of the Gen Z community," said Talia Kocar, VP of Content at Mammoth Media, a Gen Z-focused mobile entertainment studio.

And as that community has expanded and entrenched its online presence, Famous Birthdays has ridden the wave. Britton's profitable website makes money from billions of programmatic ads that are generated from places like Google and Amazon and it has become a useful resource for the growing industry of monetizing online celebrity.

In April it will launch its third international off-shoot in French, joining Spanish and Portuguese, as the company anticipates the spread of influencer fever beyond America.

"Famous Birthdays is essentially the Wikipedia of influencers," said Ryan Detert, CEO of Influential, a leading influencer marketing firm. "It has become a very valuable tool within the influencer industry to do quick research on creators and it's also very popular with young fans. They have found a unique niche in the fact that influencers are the new celebrities for Gen Z."

Britton hadn't originally intended on serving that niche. He'd started Famous Birthdays with A-listers in mind and a user-first focus on growth. The plan was to add new profiles to the database based on users' search patterns.

"The internal search data guides our roadmap," he said. About 90% of user searches on Famous Birthdays yield a hit. The other 10% help to indicate what else users want.

"We built technology around analyzing those missed searches," Britton said, adding that Famous Birthdays' search engine now receives over 1 million inquiries a day. "It lets us know before anyone else what's happening."

Early on, it became apparent that users wanted something more than A-listers.

They wanted social media celebrities. So Britton and his now team of 30, including freelancers, took to reaching out to up-and-comers that the data suggested were on the rise.

In late 2018, for instance, Famous Birthdays contacted Paige Mackenzie, an Arkansas-based teen who at the time had about 600,000 followers on still-nascent TikTok.

"I was like 'oh my god'; I had a fangirl moment," Mackenzie said. "I was a normal girl with a couple of followers, and they want to know about me? That was the coolest thing."

Mackenzie has since grown her TikTok following to 7.5 million. She typically regales her fans with comedic videos she describes as "relatable," like when "your brother annoys your mom right when you're about to ask something important."

When Mackenzie was added to the platform, Famous Birthdays had about 20 million users. That has since exploded beyond Britton's imagination.

"The platform has evolved quite a bit over the years – much like how Gen Z's (and my) definition of a celebrity has," said Kocar, who added that Mammoth "constantly references" Famous Birthdays to inform its content decisions.

@willywonkatiktok

Thanks for making this happen :) Go boost me if ya want #willywonka#famousbirthdays

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"TikTok has been a wave that's really grown our platform," Britton said, noting that stars on the social-video stalwart are his site's most popular searches. "There's been a huge momentum for the creator economy and we've been on that wave because we were seated as the platform beneath all of that."

That momentum has led Britton to recalibrate his expectations.

"Six months ago, I would have thought our ceiling was maybe 50 million users, but I think we're gonna be there by the end of next year, based on how things are going," he said.

The company's Spanish-language version launched in July 2019 and now comprises about 15% of Famous Birthdays' total traffic, Britton said. The Portuguese version launched in October 2020 and the French version will launch in April 2021.

Britton hopes to replicate his platform's success in those new markets. In the U.S., arriving on Famous Birthdays has come to be seen by creators as a veritable badge of honor.

When Duke Depp was invited to bring his online persona Willy Wonka to Famous Birthdays in July, he bragged about it to his nearly 18 million followers.

"Check it out my dear children, I finally made it on Famous Birthdays," he said. The post has since been liked over 412,000 times and received over 4,000 comments.

In September, Grandad Frank told his nearly 5 million TikTok followers that "Something crazy happened!!!!" He'd made it onto Famous Birthdays.

Famous Birthdays currently hosts around 210,000 profiles, along with some 15,000 pages for shows, movies, bands and web groups. The team receives over 1,000 user-submitted edits and updates per day, Britton said, which they manually review and verify.

Using inputs like search volume and user engagement, Famous Birthdays also provides several popularity rankings.

The company has never raised outside capital and doesn't plan to start.

"Our vision is to build the Wikipedia for the Digital Generation," said Britton. "Given the scale we already have, we're confident that we'll be able to do it without raising VC."

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Patron’s Jason Yeh Says The ‘Future of the Consumer Internet’ Will Look More Like a Game

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
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Jason Yeh

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Patron co-founder and General Partner Jason Yeh discusses the technology driving internet innovation and a user-centered approach.

“At Patron we describe our thesis as the spectrum of play,” he said. “And so for us, it's kind of thinking about what the future of the consumer internet looks like. We believe that it's going to be more fun, social, interactive.”

As the former head of EU Sports at Riot Games, Yeh was in charge of shepherding the “League of Legends” game to players around the world. Much of his work and experience in that role influenced how he views interactive media and informs his investment decisions at Patron.

“This was just before Zynga had come out,” he explained. “And so it was still pretty counterintuitive to invest in a PC game, or to invest in this kind of idea of a free to play online game.”

Riot Games bet correctly, and their investment in a gaming format that could grow and evolve alongside its players challenged traditional ways of thinking about gaming marketing.

“It changed the course of how people build live services around games, and how you can use this business model to actually scale a really large business,” Yeh said.

But “League of Legends” wasn’t successful right away, and the Riot team worked hard to market their game to the correct audience. In addition to self-publishing the game in “almost every market around the world,” Yeh says he and his team paid close attention to the community of gamers.

“From very early on as a company, we focused on harnessing and being part of the community and using the community itself to help make the game more fun,” he said.

Yeh’s experience at Riot taught him the value of understanding your audience inside and out. Now, on the investment end of things at Patron, he is turning his sights to Web3.

“One thing that we've seen consistently is this idea that — similar to how we viewed gaming as a lens that can make the internet more social and fun — is this idea that Web3 and blockchain can be a technology that allows for a better version of the internet,” he said.

At Patron, Yeh believes in the importance of giving an audience more ownership and personalization in their online experience. He believes the shortcoming of many big media companies like Meta and YouTube is that they are becoming stagnant in improving user experiences and instead focusing their time and resources on advertising.

“If anything, it's like we've spent a lot of our best time and efforts to make advertising more targeted, or to see slightly more specific ads,” Yeh explained. “And so a lot of the core business model around the internet is still, how do I aggregate people's attention?”

Yeh believes that blockchain provides an alternative — a way for companies to get the biggest bang for their buck and users to get the most out of the products. For example, an avid Taylor Swift fan might spend hundreds of thousands of hours listening to the artist, but still, when a new album is released, their listening experience is the same as anyone else.

“One thing that we think blockchain enables is this idea that people can get more credit for the things that they do online, whether it's on chain or off chain,” Yeh continued. “This idea that there should be better ways to segment user bases, and kind of allow them to accrue value for the things that they've already done online to give them a slightly better or more personalized experience.”

In the years to come, Yeh thinks blockchain will continue challenging traditional forms of media to adapt to a more user-centered model.

“I think the most effective companies in the future are going to be the ones that focus not just on like Web3, Web2, but they focus on the internet as a whole.”

dot.LA Social and Engagement Editor Andria Moore contributed to this post.

Click the link above to hear the full episode, and subscribe to LA Venture on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

This podcast is produced by L.A. Venture. The views and opinions expressed in the show are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of dot.LA or its newsroom.

Is This LA Icon the Victim of Crypto Winter?

Daniel Nieblas
Daniel Nieblas is a bestselling author and featured writer for The Startup, the largest publication on Medium. His work covers various topics in technology, including Machine Learning, Autonomous Vehicles, and Cyberterrorism. He is also the Story Coordinator for LA Downtowner, and a Creative Associate of the Ferroconcrete Design.
​Crypto Arena before and after
Staples Center

Around this time last year, you could get a sense of the market fervor that the newly christened Crypto.com Arena embodied. A $700 million dollar naming rights deal had suddenly catapulted a small cryptocurrency exchange from relative anonymity into the global orbit of the house that Kobe built, formerly and often still addressed by fans as the Staples Center.

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LA VCs Weigh In On The Top Venture Capitalists of 2023

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

LA VCs Weigh In On The Top Venture Capitalists of 2023

2022 was a tough year for venture capital. Venture deals fell throughoutthe year as the economic environment became uncertain.

But despite the economic downturn, VCs still flocked to LA’s growing tech and startup scene.

We asked more than 30 investors to share which VCs are the best Los Angeles has to offer. The following list reflects those who received two or more votes.

A few familiar faces popped up, such as Bonfire Ventures’ Mark Mullen and TenOneTen’s Minnie Ingersoll, who both received the most votes in previousyears. This year, Mullen topped the list with six votes, while Ingersoll and M13’s Anna Barber both came in second with three votes.

The below results are listed according to the number of votes received. In the case of a tie, the names are listed alphabetically by last name.

Here are LA’s top VCs of 2022 according to their peers:

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