Who is Ashkan Karbasfrooshan?
Ashkan Karbasfrooshan was born in Iran, moved to Spain with his family when he was five, and then settled in Montreal, Canada, where he has continued living. He loved history, the humanities, and the social sciences growing up. However, he studied finance in college, thinking he might want to pursue investment banking or consulting.
“I graduated [in] ‘99 and then the.com bubble burst, and the NASDAQ market crashed, so there weren’t many jobs in finance or consulting, and at the same time I saw this new thing called the Internet really take off.”
After noticing that the Internet was taking off, Ashkan began working at a startup. From 2000 to 2005, he worked at AskMen, an online men’s magazine. He made partnership sales, completed interviews, was a spokesperson, and wrote columns for AskMen, which gave him valuable experience that would later help him create WatchMojo.
“The concept of the site, AskMen, was men asked questions and we, the experts, would answer. So, as somebody that likes psychology and sociology and history and all that growing up, I got a lot of insight into other people’s insecurities and people’s problems.”
Eventually, Ashkan left AskMen after deciding he wanted to pursue other projects. He had signed a non-compete agreement and could not create an online men’s magazine. However, Ashkan saw the shift in online storytelling at the time from text to videos.
“I’m not a video editor. What I was good at [was] storytelling. I was good at sales. I was good at marketing. I was good at partnerships. So I said, you know what? Let’s create a company that’s going to basically inform and entertain its audience.”
Ashkan recognized that many people would be turning to short-form video content online in the coming years.
“I could see that YouTube was just the future of media.”
He recognized four major trends in 2010, which skyrocketed the success of WatchMojo:
- The rise of geek culture – Kids loved Batman, Superman, comics, etc.
- YouTube as the center of media entertainment.
- The success of video lists
- Showing video clips in his videos – Ashkan’s great relationship with record labels and movie studios greatly helped.
The ultimate idea behind WatchMojo is “to inform and entertain. I won’t lie, I think we’ve grown more as an entertainment brand. You know, we’re known for movies and TV shows and gaming more so than history and geography, but our editorial is still informative. It’s factual.”
Today, WatchMojo is well known for its popular “Top 10” lists and is celebrated for its initiatives with Universal Pictures, Lionsgate, Netflix, and Viacom’s Paramount Pictures. WatchMojo has over 13 billion views and 42 million subscribers on YouTube alone, with its incredible library of over 4,500 original videos.
Ashkan’s Marketing Strategy for WatchMojo
His primary strategy for viewership comes down to two things: discovery and search.
“Discovery is [when] somebody doesn’t necessarily know what they’re looking for, but they’re trying to solve a pain point, a question, and that could be just passing time, being entertained, or they want to find some information that they don’t know the answer to.”
The second part, search, comes down to being “well-positioned to serve them.”
Ashkan also notes that he insisted his team make realistic, representative thumbnails from the beginning. When he first started WatchMojo, it was very common for people to have clickbait thumbnails that had nothing to do with the video topic.
“So, what I realized was there’s a lot of people that are clicking on videos but not getting what they think they were going to get.”
Naturally, as a viewer, it’s frustrating to click on a video and expect one thing but not have that need fulfilled. WatchMojo’s different approach to thumbnails lead them to great success.
According to Ashkan, “We ended up creating content that would get clicks, but people would watch, and because we’re doing top 10 lists, which were 10 minutes people would spend a lot of time on our videos, so we ended up building up so much watch time, which was the number one metric on YouTube algorithm.”
A few years ago, Ashkan also launched MsMojo, another YouTube channel focused on catering to topics that female viewers of WatchMojo were suggesting that didn’t feel quite right on WatchMojo. When MsMojo was first launched, some said it felt like “gendering.”
However, Ashkan explained that it was a simple way to create an extension of the WatchMojo brand for a different demographic.
“But I was like, you pick up Elle magazine or Mademoiselle [and] it’s very different than the content if you pick up Esquire, right?”
Like every business, WatchMojo was affected by the pandemic. Ashkan shares that more people were at home watching videos during the pandemic and lockdowns.
However, he also notes, “What we saw was actually a rise, not just of consumption of demand, but also in supply and production because more people were producing videos of different kinds. So we ended up having really good years, but it was also very challenging.”
WatchMojo also felt a ripple effect from the lack of movies coming out and being promoted, which is one of their most popular niches.
Another challenge of having such a large, successful brand is remaining independent.
“When you get bigger, sometimes the [movie] studios want to work with you. It’s a very delicate line.”
Ashkan gives the example of, “[Let’s say] The new Spider-Man was disappointing, not that it was… but now you’re working with Sony Pictures, and they’re like “Hey, we want you to be independent, but we saw you said that you didn’t like the new Spiderman.”
He shares that the irony of getting bigger is that “you get better access, but then you really have to be more careful not to lose your independence.”
WatchMojo’s Take on Influencer Marketing and the Metaverse
In terms of influencer marketing, Ashkan shares that WatchMojo doesn’t work with influencers frequently, but they are open to it.
“A lot of our fans, admittedly, come to us because it’s not necessarily influencer content, which is a bit more in your face, personality-driven, which is awesome, but there’s lot of people that are like, “I’m a fan of Batman, I just want to know what the Batman franchise is and what the best fighter is.”
Previously, WatchMojo has collaborated with gaming influencers. Ashkan shares that he enjoyed a campaign where a group of influencers from the gaming space met up in San Francisco to play on Nintendo Switches.
Regarding the metaverse, Ashkan notes that they could do a “forced metaverse experience tomorrow,” but “people don’t like change. They’re going to say it’s not broken. What are you doing?”
WatchMojo is planning to continue focusing on its strengths while making innovations along the way to evolve.
“You have to innovate and adapt, or you die.”
One upcoming venture to watch out for is WatchMojo expanding into the NFT space.
He concludes, “We’re very proud that we were able to, you know, be successful on YouTube and then adapt to all these other platforms, Snap, Facebook, TikTok, and all that, but it’s just exciting because there’s all these new distribution outlets.”