How Grumpy Cat Made $100 Million: Lessons From the YouTube Sensation

Grumpy Cat, make money on youtube
Laurence Simon under Creative Commons

Got a cute pet and a computer? You could earn a cool $100 million.

At least that’s what media outlets claim happened to the owners of Grumpy Cat.

Tabatha Bundesen and her family, owners of the famously unhappy feline, have raked in $100 million over the course of the past two years, reports U.K. newspaper The Independent. Bundesen was able to quit her waitressing job just days after Grumpy Cat’s first social media appearance.

Anyone who’s seen Grumpy Cat (and if you’re not living under a rock, you’ve seen her) won’t find this number hard to believe. But how exactly did this gloomy-looking cat (whose real name is Tartar Sauce) turn into a cash machine?

Cats Rule the Interwebs

Forget 1’s and 0’s; the Internet was basically built out of cats. Or at least, that’s what an alien species visiting our planet for the first time could very well conclude.

Before Grumpy Cat, there was Keyboard Cat, who rose to fame for tickling the ivories while wearing a blue T-shirt (don’t ask me; I don’t get it, either). Maru went viral for antics like crawling into boxes and other containers that were way too small for him. Nyan Cat became the fifth-most-viewed YouTube video in 2011, and it’s not even a real cat; it’s an animated GIF of a cat with the body of a Pop-Tart (again, don’t ask me why it was so popular).

What makes any of these felines worthy of fame or fortune? Maybe it’s because cats have a decidedly dignified and independent streak that makes them especially comical when put in ridiculous situations. Maybe Grumpy Cat’s decidedly “meh” attitude speaks to something in our Millennial spirit. Or maybe the Internet is just too weird to analyze.

Want to Go Viral? Build a Brand on YouTube

Grumpy Cat’s big debut came on YouTube, a platform that’s introduced us to more than a few cultural-phenomenons-turned-big-name-celebrities in recent years. In fact, as outlets like Variety and Vogue have pointed out, YouTube stars are quickly becoming more popular than Hollywood box-office favorites.

Consider the likes of Smosh, a comedy duo whose parody videos went so viral they’ve got their own feature-length movie in the works. Or PewDiePie, a Swedish video game commentator whose videos are so popular he was featured in the recent two-part South Park season finale.

YouTube allows the average guy (or cat) off to the street to reach millions of potential viewers at the click of a button, and the inherent shareability of the medium means popular videos can reach stratospheric fame overnight. If you’ve got something people will respond to, your video could take off in no time.

Under Professional Management

Grumpy Cat’s owners capitalized on her popularity by hiring agent Ben Lashes, whose clients include the aforementioned Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat. Under his management, Grumpy Cat has secured an endorsement from Friskies, a two-book deal and her own holiday special, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.

Not to mention the merchandise — and there’s a lot of it. Care for a “Grumppuchino”? While creativity and a little luck may help you get the public’s attention, it helps to think  like a business if you really want to cash in on YouTube fame.

In the End

The $100 million figure has since been refuted by Grumpy Cat’s owners, who refuse to disclose the actual amount they’ve earned. Even if their real total is significantly less, it’s still pretty impressive for people who simply had a cat, a camera and a dream.

Who knows — maybe the next Grumpy Cat is living in your house…

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.