Have a Fallback

Small Business

Have a Fallback

Josh Abramson and Ricky Van Veen started their college-humor Web site while still in school. "If you fail, you just go back to being students," says Van Veen.

To see the burnished conference table, the sleek leather couch and the restrained modern art, you'd think you were visiting a San Francisco law firm. Then you spot the hoodie-clad employees. The framed T-shirts, with silly messages such as "Visit Cuba (some restrictions apply)." The whiteboard in the conference room, listing topics such as "condoms," "jello-shot mold kit" and "refrigerator magnet -- naked girls."

Welcome to CollegeHumor.com, whose founders, Josh Abramson, 24, and Ricky Van Veen, 25, have made big bucks operating an online repository for tasteless videos, silly digital pictures and sophomoric commentary, contributed mostly by college kids. The high school buddies started the Web site as college freshmen and brought in Jakob Lodwick, 24, and Zach Klein, 23, while the four were still undergraduates. The site, which earns its revenues by selling ads, T-shirts and other products, is expected to pull in $9 million in 2006.


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Abramson and Van Veen live the frat boy's fantasy, but they went into the gig with the seriousness of CEOs. "We wanted to start a Web business, and we wanted to do it together," says Abramson. "My brother worked for Advertising.com. He told us about silly Web sites making huge amounts of money in Internet advertising." A concept that relied on juvenile and blue humor spoke to their strengths, says Van Veen. "Our friends have always been funny, and we've always been jackasses."

The site soon attracted plenty of beer-centric, breast-baring content, along with an ad deal that generated $8,000 to $9,000 a month. Business fell off when dot-coms went south in 2000, but "we'd made enough money to keep going," says Van Veen. And they had a fallback: "College is the perfect place to start a business. If you fail, you just go back to being students."


In 2003, Van Veen graduated from Wake Forest and Abramson from the University of Richmond. Lodwick -- whom they had met online -- graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology the same year and Klein from Wake Forest the following year. The 2003 grads moved the business temporarily to San Diego ("It was like a one-year business sleepaway camp," says Van Veen) and later to a $10,000-a-month apartment in New York City, where the hours were 24/7 and the dress was Friday-night casual. "We worked in our underwear a couple of feet from our beds," says Lodwick.

Alas, everyone has to grow up -- or at least go up -- sometime. Now the partners take an elevator from their apartment to a sun-filled space a few floors above, which they share with 15 young employees. Ads have rebounded nicely, and accounts include Sprite, Coca-Cola, Toyota and DreamWorks. The College Humor Guide to College (Dutton, $24) hit stores in April, and a movie deal with Paramount is in the works.

The partners' payoff, besides a day job to die for? Well, there's the apartment, plus dinners at nice restaurants, travel for Klein (who also funded a grant program for young artists) and all the books Van Veen can read. Most of the stash, however, serves a long-term purpose (listen up, kids). Says Abramson, "The vast majority of our money goes into savings."

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