Boo is a Pomeranian dog whose resemblance to a cotton ball makes him undeniably cute. He also has more Facebook fans than CNN—about 2 million more.
Whether it’s the cat with an agent and a movie deal, the Japanese housecat with more than 200 million YouTube views, or the dog who models men’s clothing for his more than 37,000 Instagram followers, proof of the Internet’s love for animal media is everywhere.
Russo started Klooff as a social network for pet photos. The startup’s iPhone app works like Facebook or Instagram, but the focus is on users' pets. An upcoming release, which will include an Android app and website, takes pet photo sharing to the next level by making it a competition. Photos with the most votes will display at the top of a public leaderboard, giving any average joe pet the coveted opportunity to become a celebrity like Boo.
Why bother running an American Idol for pets? For the same reason Buzzfeed bothers curating listicles of cute animals: On the Internet, cute animal photos pay.
"The thing with pet photos is they haven’t been taken seriously," Russo says. "I see pet photos the same way that I see any other kind of content. It simply drives traffic. So pet photos or war photos or public policy articles, in terms of eyeballs and audience and pageviews and monetization are exactly the same. Exactly the same."
Like BuzzFeed, Klooff has used cute animal photos to grow its reach. By posting the Klooff app’s most popular snapshots to its Facebook page, the startup was able to expand its fanbase on the social site from 200,000 to more than one million in just 17 days. It plans to use a similar cute photo tactic, what Lusso refers to as "weapons of mass seduction," to build large social presences on other networks.
And unlike BuzzFeed, Klooff doesn’t need to pay an editor to arrange these photos into lists, and the site doesn’t need to hire reporters to cover other news, or commission a single photo. "We’re just going to get what is successful about BuzzFeed, which are the pet pictures, and just focus on that," Russo says. "We’re not going to do anything that is not awesome pet pictures." Russo says monetization opportunities for Klooff could range from a pet photo bank to more traditional advertising opportunities. But right now he’s focused on growing his userbase of 15,000 contributors.
"It’s very basic," he says of his startup’s focus on pet photos. "But that is what people like."