Behind the Keyboard: Interview with Ben Koo, CEO of Bloguin and Writer for Bucknuts

Interview with Ben Koo, CEO of BloguinIt is time for another installment of Behind the Keyboard, our regular feature here at MSF where we help you get to know the people who make the sports blogosphere go.

Today’s guest is Ben Koo, who holds the official title of “World’s Greatest Chinese Jew” (more on this later). Ben is also a proud graduate of The Ohio State University who regularly contributes to the esteemed online Buckeyes sports tome Bucknuts.com. (KVB’s heart just started racing a little faster…).

Most importantly, and what we wanted Ben to shine some more light on this interview, he is the CEO of Bloguin, a quickly growing and innovative blog network that includes guest MSF contributer Brendan Bowers of The Stepien Rules.

As usual, we start out with some quick-hit questions and then delve into the series stuff. We appreciate Ben taking the time to participate in this interview, and definitely check out his blog Koo’s Corner to learn more about him.

Enjoy.

  • Hometown: Mountain View, California
  • College: Ohio State
  • Favorite teams: Buckeyes, 49ers, A’s, Team RamRod,
  • Favorite athletes: Steve Young, Santonio Holmes, LeBron
  • Current blog: benkoo.com and Bucknuts.com
  • Twitter: @bkoo @bloguin
  • Contact info: ben [at] bloguin [dot] com

MSF: The tagline for Koo’s Corner is “The Unadulterated Gospel of the World’s Greatest Chinese Jew.” What exactly makes you the world’s greatest Chinese Jew?

Ben Koo: I was given that trophy in 2001 and was chosen out of the hundreds of millions of Chinese Jews. In the award presentation (on worldwide television), the Academy of Chinese Jews cited intelligence, sense of humor, ability to pick good movies, video game prowess, good looks, and “general awesomenss” as driving factors for my award win.
I am a humble guy, but it really was a special evening.

MSF: You are the founder of Bloguin. For those reading this who are unfamiliar with what Bloguin is, please briefly explain the history of its founding and some of the early success you have experienced.

Ben Koo: I actually didn’t start Bloguin. That accolade is all Derek Hanson the creator of Derok.net.. I was working at Yardbarker and had heard some rumblings about Bloguin before it launched. I checked it out when the network was just 4 sites and was really impressed by what Bloguin was doing.

I explored some ways for Yardbarker and Bloguin to work together and it set in motion me joining as CEO of Bloguin several months later.

Bloguin is very similar to SB Nation in that we are a blog network all built on one platform. We offer bloggers robust publishing tools, branding from professional creative designers, help with monetization, content promotion, and a community of writers to collaborate with.

We really try to cater to the needs of bloggers but have found a model that advertisers are also very comfortable with. Currently we have about 65 blogs that on a monthly basis reach half a million people.

We also recently launched Bloguin as a destination site for sports fans to find great content from around our network.

MSF: For bloggers just starting out, why is joining a network like Bloguin so important?

Ben Koo: If you can get into Bloguin or any similar network, I highly recommend it. I know a lot of people like the idea of being completely independent, but in most cases it’s just not worth it.

Bloggers for the most part need help in a) making their blog visually standout compared to all the others; b) finding advertisers for their website; c) promoting their content to new readers and a broader audience; d) technical abilities to improve and grow a site. Some bloggers can do all of these things independently, but many of these core needs are not areas of expertise for most bloggers, especially working with advertisers.

Some bloggers seem to think that major brands like Nike and Gatorade are just trolling the web reading blogs looking for a great blog to sponsor. The reality is that unless you have an audience in the hundreds of thousands or millions of unique visitors, your blog is going to have to partner with someone for advertising as well as promotion. Getting a cool redesign is also very valuable for many blogs on older CMS programs that are not as robust and look a little dated.

MSF:  What differentiates Bloguin from the other sports blog networks out there?

Ben Koo: That’s a great question, since there are some great ones out there.

There are a handful of sports networks that are really agnostic from the blog in terms of platform and design and are mainly or solely focused on just advertising programs.

While we share those core competencies, we also give our sites a really powerful new design and at times added site functionality. There are a handful of other networks that do that, but we think we really bend over backwards putting extra TLC into these new sites to ensure they will be successful. We also view Bloguin as a more flexible company then other networks where their model is more rigid in terms of how they work with network sites. We have several membership options.

MSF: Blogs With Balls 2.0 is taking place in October after a successful debut in New York earlier this year. What did you take away from the first BWB conference and why are these types of events so important?

Ben Koo: I loved BWB and you were actually quite the topic of conversation.

I learned quite a bit at the conference and expanded my understanding of why bloggers blog, what their needs are, and how to make a blog successful through a myriad of best practices.

It was great personally for me to meet so many people that I interacted with either through Yardbarker or Bloguin. I look up to a lot of these bloggers and I was in a Fan Boy state of mind to meet some and was floored when some of them came and found me to say hello.

That event fostered a lot of camaraderie and enthusiasm for sports blogs and got a great dialogue going on how to continue on all the momentum of the past couple of years.

MSF: What do you see as the future of sports blogs in the mid-term (6-12 months) and long-term?

Ben Koo: I have a very optimistic outlook on sports blogs. You see them being referenced as sources on ESPN, you have more and more athletes blogging, and the mainstream is beginning to realize there are other places to find great sports content.

The barrier to entry to start a sports blog is really nothing these days and there is a growing ecosystem of great blogs spanning multiple sports that are becoming as influential as traditional media websites.

More and more people are starting, reading, and advertising on sports blogs and that’s the bottom line.

MSF: What blogs (not necessarily sports) do you read on a daily basis?

Ben Koo: I try to make my way around the Bloguin network, in particular, to find content for bloguin.com. I think from a content perspective we have a lot of top-notch sites.

For technology I read Tech Crunch, Alley Insider, and Venture Beat.

Outside of Bloguin I’ll frequent Awful Announcing, Eleven Warriors, The Wiz of Odds, Every Day Should Be Saturday, Athletics Nation, and many of the Yahoo Sports blogs.

MSF: What is an up and coming blog that many people may not have heard of, but that you would encourage everyone to check out?

Ben Koo: I really like In The Bleachers, which is a fantastic college football blog with multiple talented writers.

If you are an NFL fan, Bloguin is launching a very comical blog called No Bathroom Breaks, which will poke fun at Andrew Siciliano (the guy who hosts the Red Zone Channel). That guy amazes me how sharp he is for 6 hours and the fact there are no commercials and it’s live. This blog will essentially be a fake diary for him.

MSF: Let’s backtrack for a moment. Discuss your own personal blogging history and activity. When did you start blogging, where have you blogged, and how often do you blog now?

Ben Koo: In 2006 I started writing for Bucknuts.com, a really large Ohio State website which is now affiliated with ESPN. Through this gig I actually interviewed a lot of athletes like Santonio Homles, Troy Smith, Greg Oden, and Mike Conley, and once had a field pass for a game. I really enjoyed doing it, but wanted an outlet for other areas that I thought I could write well about.

The domain name “Benkoo.com” was always taken but not a live site, which really made me mad. It became available in 2007 and I’ve been blogging about 3-4x a week ever since, mainly about sports and technology. The last 60 days, I’ve not been as active but I hope to keep my pace up in the fall.

MSF: SBNation recently raised around $8 million in funding, as you explained at Koo’s Corner. In the month since you wrote that post, have you learned anything more about what they plan to do with the money? What does it means for a platform/network organizer like yourself when you see that kind of money being invested in sports blogs?

Ben Koo: That $8 million dollars is really a remarkable amount of money and you have to tip your cap to something like that. It’s not only that they raised that much money, but also that investors valued their company at $30 million. That’s very remarkable for a sports blog network and really says a lot about what investors think about the future of sports media.

As for what they are going to do with that money, I really haven’t heard much. Right now they don’t directly sell their advertising, but that could change by hiring their own sales force, which is a popular guess among people I have talked to. Its funny because Bloguin and SB Nation actually share the same sales team and are at times packaged together. A lot of people think we’re really competitive, but we’re very happy they are doing well and think it bodes well for us that they’re doing so well.

MSF: In your opinion, are there/should there be different standards for bloggers and journalists? What are your general thoughts on the ever-blurring lines between the two?

Ben Koo: This is the murkiest topic that was brought up at Blogs With Balls. I definitely think bloggers can rightfully have more leeway than journalists on a lot of fronts. At the end of the day, if you want to be taken seriously and you want a broader audience and traditional media to respect you, you need to have substance.

If you just fly off and post ridiculous but sometimes entertaining stances on sports, it might attract an audience but you’ll never cross over to the core base of sports fans.

MSF: Blogs like Deadspin have always taken flak for running pictures of athletes from their private lives that show them in a “negative” light (i.e. Matt Lienart bong photos, and recently the Josh Hamilton). Where do you stand on this issue? If one of the bloggers from Bloguin received unflattering pics of an athlete and asked your advice on whether or not to run them, what would you say?

Ben Koo: I’d probably check our hosting provider to see if we could handle a traffic spike like that!

In all seriousness, we let the bloggers make those decisions. If I was asked for my advice, it would probably depend on the situation. Is there really a story here or just some cheap traffic because someone was at a bar having a good time?

I saw some pictures at David Garrard at a wedding posted somewhere. I think he was really sweaty in the pictures, but how that was news or interesting really befuddled me.

MSF: And finally, if you could round up any five people in the sports world (athletes, coaches, media members, bloggers, etc) for a tailgate, who would you choose, why?

Ben Koo:

  1. Spencer Hall from EDSBS – Can he be that funny all the time?
  2. Greg Oden – Funny, smart, blogger, and a Buckeye
  3. Kenny Mayne – I would hope he is not awkward in person, but he really really cracks me up
  4. Brent Musberger – You have no idea how much I love Musberger. His voice does things to me and he just always is in a good mood, knowledgeable, and excited about sports.
  5. Lebron James – Added star power to my new entourage.

**********

Once again, my sincere thanks to Ben for participating in the interview. Definitely check out Bloguin.com, whether you are an aspiring blogger or just an interested sports fan. A lot of really good bloggers that I converse with regularly have moved to their platform, and the network shows no signs of slowing down.



About Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.

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    Thanks again for sharing words of wisdom.

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