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Back in ancient times, 1998 to be exact, two brothers bore witness to an animated dancing doodie streaming over a 56K modem and it changed their lives forever. What Evan and Gregg Spiridellis saw in their browser was more than a dancing piece of dung; it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be pioneers in a brave new world of entertainment.

Comin' straight outta Brooklyn Gregg and Evan in the Brooklyn office, which also doubled as Gregg’s apartment

At the time, Gregg was an MBA student at the Wharton School of Business, recovering from four years of investment banking, and Evan was an accomplished independent animator creating festival-winning short films. The idea that production costs were dropping and distribution was opening up led the brothers to believe (some said naively) that they could create a giant, new entertainment brand. In 1999, the brothers started JibJab in a Brooklyn garage (despite the fact that starting an Internet company in a garage is really a cliché thing to do).

Evan assembled a team of painters, photographers, illustrators and sculptors. Most of them had little or no experience with technology, but Evan challenged them to think about the computer as just another tool, like a paintbrush or a sculpting knife. Gregg hit the phone cold calling people in search of business and, on the side, took to writing comedy, because the art team needed concepts to produce.

JibJab on Leno Evan and Gregg visit with Jay Leno

At the beginning, the brothers supported their business producing high quality eCards for other companies. Then, in February 2000, the brothers created their first viral video hit with an interactive video of the Founding Fathers rapping about the Declaration of Independence. They quickly followed it with an even bigger hit featuring George Bush and Al Gore in a rap battle for the 2000 presidential election. The video was one of the web’s first broad based hits and landed on Fox’s MadTV, ABC News, CNN and a host of other national media outlets. The brothers were on the verge of success.

Then came the dot-com crash…

The Governator Ahnuld eyes the Governor’s office

Within six months, all of JibJab’s clients went out of business. The brothers scrambled to find creative ways to make enough money to keep their new business afloat. They created a line of gag gifts based on their popular online series “Nasty Santa” and sold it nationwide through Spencer Gifts and Urban Outfitters. They also created animations for companies like Disney, Noggin and Kraft. They even published a children’s book with rap super star LL Cool J!

By the end of 2001, it was clear that online entertainment was not coming back anytime soon. The brothers realized that in order for JibJab to survive, they would need to close down their Brooklyn shop, say goodbye to family and friends, and set out in search of greener pastures. In January 2002, they committed their second start-up cliché, packing all of their earthly possessions into a 24-foot U-Haul truck and hitting the road for sunny Los Angeles.

For two years, the brothers toiled in obscurity. Long gone were the dreams of a media revolution; now all they wanted was to figure out a way to earn a living making people laugh. Despite the anonymity, it was a productive two years. They published a best-selling holiday book for Disney called “Are You Grumpy Santa”. They produced a series of viral animations for Sony. They created the Bananagrabber character for the hit TV series “Arrested Development”. Most importantly, they continued to pour everything back into original short programming for JibJab.com because they believed that building an audience by serving great content would ultimately lead to big opportunities.

Bush Gets a Brain Bush and Kerry in This Land

In 2003, the storm clouds of the dot com bust started to part. In August, they created a political parody called “Ahnold for Governor” that quickly spread across the web and landed them a coveted spot at the Sundance Online Film Festival. Then, in 2004, given their past success with Presidential politics, the brothers turned their attention to the Bush/Kerry battle taking over the news cycle. Nothing in their four and half year history of making videos for the web could have prepared them for what happened next…

On July 9, 2004, Evan and Gregg Spiridellis released “THIS LAND” and the media revolution they first dreamed of back in Brooklyn was at their doorstep overnight. The video, written by Gregg and animated by Evan, rocketed around the world from inbox to inbox after the brothers emailed a link to the 130,000 people on their fan newsletter. Within days, millions of requests poured in from around the world for their satirical video. As they told Brian Wilson in their first national interview on FOX News, their tiny little web server “spontaneously combusted”.

The string of media attention that followed was unprecedented for an Internet video. The Today Show, ABC News, Jay Leno, CNN, FOX, CNBC, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Variety, Los Angeles Times and hundreds of other media outlets from around the world covered the story.

Evan, Sonny, and Gregg Evan, Sonny the Landlord and Gregg

By the end of the election, JibJab’s election videos were more than 80 million times online on every continent, including Antarctica. American soldiers had emailed the brothers to tell them they were watching the video from within Saddam Hussein’s old palace. NASA had even contacted the brothers for permission to send a copy of the animation to the International Space Station. Then, on December 31, 2004, Peter Jennings named the Spiridellis brothers “People of the Year” on ABC’s World News.

While most LA-based creators would have leveraged the opportunity to run into the arms of big media, Evan ad Gregg shunned the television and film offers pouring in and doubled-down on new media. They went to work leveraging the phenomenal success from the election to start rebuilding their business.

They kicked off 2005 creating a series of movie trailers that played before every film at the Sundance Film Festival. They did deals with Yahoo!, AtomFilms, MSN Video, and Anheuser Busch. During the course of the year, they released three more videos on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno including Second Term, Matzah and 2-0-5.

By 2006, things were moving faster in the online video business than ever before. The brothers had powered JibJab with six and a half years of sweat equity but they knew that if they wanted to realize their vision to build JibJab into a great company, they needed financing that would enable them to hire great people and build for the future. In March, they met Jon Flint from Polaris Venture Partners and a great partnership was born.

After six and a half years of living on the edge of bankruptcy, the brothers cautiously set about deploying their new capital to expand their efforts. They launched a community joke-sharing website called JokeBox. They produced a series of sketch comedy shorts with legendary comedy director John Landis (Blues Brothers, Animal House, Trading Places and more). They partnered with Weird Al Yankovic on a video release in November and, in December, ended the year with a Tonight Show premiere for Nuckin’ Futs.

The Team The JibJab team in Venice Beach

The year 2007 kicked off with a bang when Brian Wilson, the first national news anchor to cover This Land, invited the brothers to premiere a video for the President of the United States at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in Washington, DC. Rather than roasting the President, however, the brothers set their sites on the media itself with a satire called “What We Call the News”.

With another successful JibJab Original behind them, Evan and Gregg once again set about charting a new and exciting course for the company. They recognized that the nature of the web was changing, with more people were connecting and communicating using technology than ever before, and saw an opportunity to innovate. While their past work involved making videos that made people laugh, they wanted to create content that people could use as form of personal expression. JibJab Sendables was born.

In late 2007, the brothers declared war on eCards with the launch of JibJab Sendables. Their vision was to keep producing the high quality, fun content that made JibJab famous, but to couple it with personalization tools that empower people to express themselves in fun ways. Rather than trying to write, animate and produce everything themselves, the brothers started building “Team JibJab”, a far-reaching talent network comprised of the best artists in the world. Team JibJab’s mission is to create the biggest library of the highest quality, most innovative, fun social programming in the universe. As of June 30, 2008, over 170 comedians, writers, artists, musicians and performers had created over 1,200 titles in the JibJab Sendables library and they are just getting started.

Since their days in a Brooklyn garage, Evan and Gregg Spiridellis have grown JibJab into a nationally recognized brand by maintaining their obsession on only serving the highest quality laughs to their audience. Thanks to that obsession, and the support of JibJab fans everywhere, the company has grown from 2 brothers to a 35-person company comprised today of the best and the brightest artists, technologists and business people working hard (really hard) to change the way entertainment is created, produced and distributed.

Evan and Gregg believe that what is happening right now is nothing short of the media revolution they first dreamed about in their Brooklyn garage, and no matter how big JibJab becomes, they will never forget that it all started with a dancing doodie.

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July 16, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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