Gregg Spiridellis is
kinda a badass.
Picture it, 1998: A Wharton MBA student, recovering from four years of investment banking on Wall Street, when an animated dancing “doodie” shimmies into his life, changing it forever.
Literally, Gregg Spiradellis’ muse was the sh$t (pardon my french). He called up his brother, Evan, an acclaimed independent animated film-maker, raving about Flash (technology), inspired to do something with it.
So the brothers scraped together a few thousand dollars to start, in a Brooklyn garage (what Gregg describes as start-up cliché #1), a new brand of entertainment…JibJab.
You know, JibJab, right? The digital media company, headquartered in Venice, CA, that skyrocketed to international fame in 2004 with its political parody, This Land, featuring George W. Bush and John Kerry, then followed it four years later with the highly popular Time For Some Campaignin‘ ditty. And who can forget 2009′s hilarious He’s Barack Obama? Gregg was the genius lyrical mastermind behind these creations, artfully mocking both sides of the aisle, with the end results landing Gregg and Evan meeting requests from each respective POTUS.
But it wasn’t always glitz and glamour and hanging with the leaders of the free world for Gregg and his brother…
At the beginning, the siblings supported their business producing high quality eCards for other websites. Then, in February 2000, they 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.
Gregg and Evan were on the verge of success. Then came the dot-com crash…
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. Evan and Gregg 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.
So 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. 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.
For their first two years in Los Angeles, the brothers toiled in obscurity. Despite the anonymity, it was a productive time. 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.” They created a political parody called “Ahnold for Governor” that landed them a coveted spot at the Sundance Online Film Festival.
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. ~ JibJab History
And then, “overnight success” with This Land…
Today, JibJab and Gregg have entered a new chapter of their narrative with JibJab Jr, children’s books “Starring You” (free and available via the iTunes AppStore) which reflects the interests and passions of Gregg – i.e. family. He’s a dad now, and when I asked Gregg about his California tan, he instinctively smiled. He earned it by playing with his kids on the beach.
Much to the dismay of, well, the world, JibJab won’t be releasing a political parody for the 2012 election; Gregg and the company are focused on exciting new opportunities and initiatives. But don’t expect JibJab to stop innovating in online entertainment, nor cease to bring the funny (you can spend hours perusing their uproarious collection of eCards and videos). If there’s one thing we can expect from the company who made “Elfin’ Yourself” a national pastime, it’s the LOL.
Amy Senger is an L.A. transplant by way of Washington, DC, and co-founder of 1X57, named to Washingtonian’s Tech Titans list with her partner Steven Mandzik. Follow her on twitter @sengseng and follow the Pacific Punch @ThePacificPunch or email amy@1×57.com.