Brook Lundy is the co-founder and president of someecards.com, the wildly successful and acerbically hilarious online greeting card service which takes traditional greeting card sentiments and warps them into thoughtful messages like "I had a great time and will wait 2 days to call you" and "Thanks for showing you gave the matter some thought by starting your email with "hmm" and "If we're still single when we're 40, let's continue waiting for someone better than each other." He is also the recent co-founder of the new civic-minded spinoff, BotherVoting.org, which uses the someecards ethos and distinctive, old-timey look to encourage voting, with inspiring patriotic slogans like, "Voting is the perfect way to not feel like an asshole when someone asks if you voted" and "Sorry the country is so fucked up that you need to bother voting."
In addition to those things, Brook is also someone I was in a sketch comedy class with four years ago. It was a pretty good class (run by Kevin Allison, formerly on MTV's "The State"), with some pretty good people, of which Brook was one of the most hilarious. He was bald and tough-looking and laconic as hell. He sort of intimidated me. We rarely spoke, even though once I hosted the class at my apartment and he asked for tea and I only had green tea and I panicked because the water wouldn't boil in the microwave and then it was taking too long so I plopped the tea bag in the water anyway and added milk, which apparently you're not supposed to do with green tea, and then I gave it to him and he looked repulsed, but he drank it anyway. Good times.
Anyhow — and we ended up having to make out in one of the sketches, so it only made sense that we should do it at the cast party, too, when there was alchohol involved. No need to share the rest except that we both agree that it was very, very awkward. I share all this by way of setting up this interview, which came about after Brook and I got back in touch a few weeks ago. I'd kept meaning to congratulate him on the success of someecards. When I did, he told me about BotherVoting, and I thought it would make for a cool post. Here's the mostly-unedited final version of our GChat exchange, except by "mostly unedited" I mean, well, I kept in what I could.
Rachel: Should we have what to the outside world may seem like a professional interview between strangers, but in reality will be the tearful reunion of former on-stage lovers?
Brook: On-stage? I recall some off-stage action as well.
Rachel: You know, I was hoping to run this unedited.
Brook: Then I will make sure to only tell the truth.
Rachel: HA. Indeeeeeeed.
Okay, so: How the hell have you been? When I last saw you, I think you were a young advertising hotshot. How did you get from there to advocate of democracy and civic duty?
Brook: Well, I started someecards.com with my art director partner, Duncan Mitchell, from Tribal DDB. We were at different agencies and I approached him with what I pitched as "the lamest idea I've ever pitched you." He was immediately sold on it and we were texting potential names for "a funny ecard site" on the way home from dinner.
Rachel: So how did you decide on that name? The double "e" makes it a tad tricky. Unless you know something from an ad-person's perspective that makes it extra-sticky?
Brook: Everything we do has the illusion of seeming extremely simple and lazy. The fact is, we probably spent 2 months trying to get the name right. Naming something is brutal. All the URLs are taken, for one. And then once you fall in love with a name, you mention it to one smart friend and they look at you like you've just trickled vomit out of your mouth.
Rachel: So - why that name, since we're on it? It's certainly worked. Everyone loves them some-e-cards! Even if they aren't sure how to punctuate.
Brook: Right. It seems to have worked. People lost interest in trying to figure out the pronunciation and spelling. Of course, once the site was doing well and we were ready to leave our jobs, one thing every investor said to us was, "So...about the name? How attached are you guys to that?"
Rachel: HA. I guess you were attached.
Brook: We went back to the drawing board and went as equally insane as we did the first time. Finally, my friend Nancy said, "You can't change the name unless you have one that's better." Which helped solve the problem because we had lots that were much, much worse. The investors were sold on the name having some brand recognition at that point so we kept it.
Rachel: When did all this happen?
Brook: End of last year.
Rachel: And have you started making money yet?
Brook: We're making money, yes. But the Internet money truck hasn't pulled up to our doors yet. Ideally, we'd actually just like to make this a successful business and just keep doing it because we love it. We're not totally just looking for a zillion dollars. Unless you know someone with a zillion dollars who likes the site.
Rachel: I'll check my Rolodex.
Brook: Under "z."
Rachel: That's pronounced "zed" in Canada, btw.
Brook: Like the Pulp Fiction sodomite?
Rachel: Yes, funnily enough. But there the similarity ends.
Brook: Does it?
Rachel: Back to business before this gets out of hand! Zed's dead, baby.
Do you guys have actual employees?
Brook: We have an awesome Director of Sales who will hopefully be full-time with us but is working on other stuff right now. We have a very handsome Tech Lead who you may like. And there are 6 contributing writers who send me stuff usually once a week.
Brook: We're very, very lean.
Brook: And by "lean" I mean "Jewish."
Rachel: Which is of course why I said "rawr." Tell me about "Bother Voting." As I recall, you were never very...earnest. Not that BotherVoting is all that earnest, really. But the underlying mission is.
Brook: Yes, I'm as surprised as you. BotherVoting.org was an idea spawned by John Borthwick, one of our investors - he has a company called Betaworks that funds startups. He seems to know everyone on earth. So he put the idea to us for a small site in the someecards voice that encourages voting. About 15 minutes beforehand, I had sent Duncan an email saying, "Is this funny?" It was "Voting is the perfect way to not feel like an asshole when someone asks if you voted."
Rachel: Ha. Nice. For the record, I would vote if I were not Canadian. Maybe you can fit that onto an e-card.
Brook: I like it.
Rachel: I'm your muse! Whooooo!
Brook: Canadians, by the way, are still allowed to encourage people to vote. Send the country to the site, if you like.
Rachel: What do you think I'm doing with this interview? It's my version of performing my civic duty. Otherwise I'd be VERY BUSY right now, you know.
Rachel: So - you told me about Bother Voting a few weeks ago, and last week I saw it all over 23/6 (which is HuffPo's sister-site and is not paying me to mention them like the Bush Administration and Armstrong Williams or anything).
Brook: Some people have turned down running the BotherVoting.org ads because they claim they are "partisan." Is it partisan to encourage voting?
Rachel: Really? They've turned them down on those grounds? Could it maybe be because of messages like, "Sorry the country is so fucked up that you need to bother voting?" And this is sexist, so it's obviously a shot at Sarah Palin: "I just can't picture myself sleeping with a non-voter"
Brook: Yes, on those grounds. Granted, someecards has a Democratic slant just because there's not great comedy fodder there - oh, and because Republicans are kind of fucking ridiculous right now. But still, we thought the BotherVoting.com stuff was neutral.
Rachel: Well, the sentiment certainly is.
Brook: By the way, those two cards you just mentioned are our two most sent ones.
Rachel: HA. I must be partisan AND sexist!
Brook: You're a Jewish Candadian partisan sexist. That's exactly what I'm looking for in my Jdate profile.
Rachel: I think your mom and sister would kvell. They liked me.
Brook: Oh yeah. Sorry I made out with our classmate right after making out with you.
Rachel: Yes, that made things a little less romantic.
Rachel: HA. Touche.
So - is there a way for you to monitor tangible results with BotherVoting?
It's not-for-profit right?
Brook: Yep, not-for-profit. I think we'll be able to get a better sense for results in a few weeks. It's hard to measure because we're not sure how many ad impressions sites like 23/6 are running. Also, I have no idea what I'm talking about. That's Duncan's expertise, one of many in which I'm utterly useless.
Rachel: Time out - do you want to perform somewhere tomorrow night?
Brook: Maybe. I feel like people have been asking me to perform a lot lately, which is ironic because one of the main reasons I started someecards is to not have to perform comedy.
Rachel: Do you know Lindsay Robertson? And Gabe Delahaye? They do Videogum. They host funny a funny reading series called "Ritalin Readings." Google 'em.
Brook: I'm going to need at least 10 more minutes to come up with an excuse for not performing tomorrow night.
Rachel: From Lindsay: "Omg, we would LOVE to have him. Get him to do it! Everyone loves some e cards so much!!" It's settled!
Brook: The response seems good so far - it's only been up a week or so. But so far, Rock the Vote is helping promote it, Indecision2008 (comedy central election site) is running the ads and did a blog posting, and...who else...it kind of seems like someecards in a lot of ways. The work is in spreading the word. People seem to "get" it and enjoy it when they see it. But like I said, we're super lean.
Rachel: Right but who pays for the ads? Your funders? Or everyone does it for free b/c it's a non-profit?
(Sorry, I really don't know how this works.)
Brook: The latter. Yeah, no worries - no one understands how it works, especially me. Think of this as a PSA. We did the work for "free," and sites run the ads (and don't pay us) because they want to and/or maybe have excess ad inventory and it seems like a good use of that.
Rachel: Got it. So basically all you have to be is your natural wisecracking badass self and you help the country!
Your natural wisecracking badass partisan sexist self.
Brook: But sure, of course part of it is promoting someecards. But that's like saying the Sarah Silverman video about voting in Florida is promoting Sarah Silverman. I think. I don't know, I may need coffee.
Rachel: Maybe. We've been at this for a while, and so far all I've managed to do is rip open old wounds and sign you up for a comedy show tomorrow night.
Regretting getting back in touch?
Brook: Not at all. This has been fun. Seriously.
Rachel: Good! Well, tell me this: What have I missed here in this interview? What smart incisive question should I have asked but I didn't because was up at 8:30 today and have been on the comp ever since?
Brook: Hm, I don't know. Seems like a pretty thorough interview and you didn't ask too much about "pageviews" and such. I can't wait to read this and send a relevant ecard.
Rachel: Awesome but wait: What are your pageviews? And how much are they growing? You have a TON of content.
Brook: We have 1.5 million unique visitors a month to someecards.com. Hang on, let me check pageviews...
10 million pageviews a month. Jesus, that sounds like a lot.
Brook: The regular site is approaching 3,000 cards. I think there have been somewhere around 15,000 User Cards created so far. One goal with that is to find people who can write for the "regular" site. The writers send me stuff on there now a lot. It's great because it's even more unfiltered than the regular site and we can't really get blamed for it.
Rachel: How much do you pay for freelance contributions?
(It's a recession. This is service journalism.)
Brook: We pay them per idea that I take - I'm not saying how much but I will say that this is very much a side thing for most of them... I like keeping it to only a handful of contributors because then it ends up being more work for me to manage a big team of writers. I'm, you see, somewhat lazy.
Rachel: In business they call that "efficient."
Brook: Also, the writers aren't so much "professional" writers as people I've met and known who I think are funny. In fact, you know 2 of them very well.
Rachel: Who? Let me guess. Kevin...Cheplic?
Brook: Cheplic and Justin are 2 of the 6. [Matt Cheplic and Justin Laub were both in our class, and are both very funny. They, along with Brook and a few others, were in a sketch group called Big Flux for a while .]
Rachel: Okay all this is great - your site is hilarious - and so is this interview,
Brook: Do I really have to perform or can I just come?Anyway, yes, thanks for the interview. Very...interesting. When does this get posted? I'll Twitter it!
Rachel: You should! Have a good day, look forward to seeing you tomorrow night for the first time in four years!
Catch Brook and I reading tonight at the Slipper Room at the latest Ritalin Reading! Also, Brook just told me that he really does like milk in his green tea.
Brook's Award-Winning "Shave Everywhere" Commercial [BrookLundy]
I feel I have to disclose that this conversation took place absolutely between friends; Brook knows that I have a boyfriend, and my boyfriend knows that I take sketch classes so I can make out with other guys.