20 Questions

The Entrepreneurs Behind Internet Behemoth Giphy Explain Why You Can't Be Afraid to Take Big Swings

CEO Alex Chung and COO Adam Leibsohn share the philosophy that has helped them grow a search tool into a company with 300 million daily active users.
The Entrepreneurs Behind Internet Behemoth Giphy Explain Why You Can't Be Afraid to Take Big Swings
Image credit: Courtesy of Giphy
Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
8 min read

Editor's Note: Entrepreneur's "20 Questions" series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.

As the internet has evolved so has the language we use to communicate. Nowhere is that more apparent than the proliferation of GIFs, animated images that provide a jolt of immediacy to help people describe how they’re feeling -- whether they are talking about the news, the fate of their favorite sports team or how much they hate Mondays.

Six years ago, Alex Chung was having a conversation with a friend at breakfast, about his fascination with GIFs. He realized that he hadn’t been able to find a consistent and straightforward way to search for them.

Chung, who has a design and engineering background in addition to working in the media technology space for entities like Comcast, Viacom, Betaworks and for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, decided he would create his own search tool. The initial name for the idea was Gifgle for obvious semantic reasons, but realizing that potential lawsuit on his hands, he changed it to Giphy.

Chung’s vision paid off. In 2013, with friend Jace Cooke, he officially launched the company. Five years later, the company has raised $150 million in funding, and Chung, who serves as Giphy’s CEO, and COO Adam Leibsohn oversee a team of 79 people and more than 300 million daily active users all over the world.

We caught up with Chung and Leibsohn to ask them 20 Questions and find out what makes them tick.

1. How do you start your day?

Alex Chung: The Wim Hof method. It is basically controlled hyperventilating, which helps me get into a working mindset. Also, the extra oxygen calms the mind.

Adam Leibsohn: Making my bed. It’s an easy hack to create action, which leads to result-oriented momentum every day.

2. How do you end your day?

Chung: Did it end?  It never ends. I binge watch Netflix until I pass out and still try not to look at my phone. There is no wind down.

3. What’s a book that changed your mind?

Chung: The Yellow Pages. When I was a kid I read every page of the Yellow Pages to see what jobs were out there. I didn’t like any of them. So, I knew I’d have to make my own.

Leibsohn: The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan. Just flip a few pages, if you haven't yet; it will change your mind, too. It showed me the narrative power of form and format over content.

4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?

Chung: The dictionary. The dictionary is the most epic book ever written. It contains all of humanities hopes, dreams, and failures a single word at a time.

Leibsohn: Super Sad True Love Story. While it’s not named directly, technology is more or less a supporting character for the whole story. And Gary Shteyngart pretty much predicted the future.  

5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?

Chung: Pacing. I do all my best thinking as I walk.Turns out when your body is preoccupied doing something mundane your mind is able to focus.This is why yogis breath and fidgeters fidget spin.  

Leibsohn: Headphones. Rhythm helps me think and find a flow. Also, it’s an open office.

6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?

Chung: An inventor or the ice cream truck. They both make the world a better place and bring simple magic to people’s lives.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?

Leibsohn: No one can do it all by themselves, even if you’re doing something that’s never been done before.

8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?

Chung: Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that “existence precedes essence.”  Work does not define you. You define your work.

Leibsohn: Stevie Wonder. [He embodies] kindness, creativity, ingenuity, inspiration and happiness.

9. What’s a trip that changed you?

Chung: My first road trip cross country. I saw that we have so much space and water that is unused. How do we share it?

Leibsohn: I like to go to far away places when I can. They remind me how big this place is, how lucky we are to be in it and things we think are big deals, probably aren’t such big deals after all.

Related: This Entrepreneur Shares the One Word You Need to Build a Culture That Lasts

10. What inspires you?

Chung: Empathy. We often forget that we’re all humans and have no clue what we’re doing in life. We need each other.

Leibsohn: Music, courage, underdogs, art, originality, inventiveness and creativity, Anyone taking a big swing at something.

11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?

Chung: Lawn mowing.  At 8 years old my friend and I built the largest consumer yard waste removal service on the block. Only until we got to college did we understand child labor laws.

12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?

Chung: I worked at the Seattle Senior Center and Seattle Children’s Museum. I learned at both the beginning and end [of our lives] we all need each other.

Leibsohn: I volunteered a lot. Everyone should do it. Helping people isn’t hard, and everyone could use a little.

13. What’s the best advice you ever took?

Chung: “If you trust your heart you will never regret.  If you trust your mind you will always regret.” I think I got this from a 17th century poem, or maybe my grandma, or maybe a fortune cookie. At the end, it’s how you feel about life, not what you thought about it.

14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?

Leibsohn: “It’s not worth the effort.” In my experience, that’s what people say when they just don’t want to do stuff that’s hard.

15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?

Chung: Having a self-directed behavior day. Everyone needs a day that is their own -- no plans, no responsibilities -- to be free. After you get bored of that, then you can get back to work.

Leibsohn: Carry a Fisher space pen in your pocket. When anything comes to mind, you’re able to write it down. Writing is better than typing, because you remember what you write.

16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?

Chung: I use 8 x 11 sheets of printer paper.  I use them to sketch and write on quickly and then recycle them. It reinforces the fact that my ideas are disposable and transient.

Leibsohn: Passwords as mottos you want to live by. Every time you log in, it becomes a reinforcement of your truth. You type it out, and say it to yourself in your head. The lock screen image on our phones can serve a lot of good purposes, and it’s an easy hack. Change it often, add text, put major reminders and goals on it.

17. What does work-life balance mean to you?

Chung: A dirty lie, because it doesn’t really exist, like unicorns and vacations.

18. How do you prevent burnout?

Chung: I don’t. But when I do burnout, I go some place far, far away and live a different life for a week, and remember that I choose mine.

19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?

Chung: Watch matinees. I go to the theater and watch whatever is playing next. It’s the only place in the city where no one is allowed to talk to you.

Leibsohn: Get outside. Walk around. Let the world hit you.

20. What are you learning now?

Chung: All about bacteria. They’re the next hardware platform.

Leibsohn: Infrastructure. I’m thinking a lot about the idea of a new “New Deal,” what that looks like and what we’re going to need in the next 100 plus years.

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