Takeaway: Wilkieâ€™s ground-up construction of Buzzfeedâ€™s tech infrastructure is at the vanguard of the vertical integration approach to site development.
Of the many online-only media companies that have enjoyed rapid growth in the last few years, few have pivoted as quickly as Buzzfeed, which is now in the middle of leveraging its rapid-fire, socially- and list-driven content into longer-form, investigative journalism. Through it all, CTO Mark Wilkie has overseen the development of a tech infrastructure that combines data, content management and operations for a site that now counts 85 million monthly unique visitors.
Like other digital media companiesâ€”Vox and Say Media, for exampleâ€”Buzzfeed has championed the vertical integration approach to site and infrastructure development, building its tech from scratch instead of buying it off the shelf.
â€śIn some ways, a bootstrap company that buys stuff off the shelf is up and running right away, but they become constrained to that,â€ť says Wilkie. â€śAs a company grows, they can also outgrow those tools. When Buzzfeed started, we were much more in an R&D mode. It was more than just publishing content to a site. By building it ourselves, it gives us more flexibility to move the platform in a way that makes sense for us.â€ť
Yet the approach goes beyond simple flexibility. It supports the siteâ€™s product-driven approach to development, enabling the custom ad platforms that have helped Buzzfeed, according to CEO Jonah Peretti, reach profitability in four years.