The Self-Made Man: The Brothers Chaps
Even though there hasn’t been a new Homestar Runner cartoon in almost three years, I still visit the site all the time to watch the old ones. I can probably recite Crack Stuntman’s entire knife safety rap song by this point, although I won’t because we don’t have that kind of time (and I’d never hear the end of it). Instead, let’s talk about the two unlikely entrepreneurs who started the whole thing – Mike and Matt Chapman, aka the Brothers Chaps.
Mike and Mark were born in Indiana, but were living in Atlanta when Mike and a friend of his wrote a mock children’s book called The Homestar Runner Enters the Strongest Man in the World Contest. It was intended as a parody of terrible children’s books they found in the mall, and they made 15 copies to give to their friends.
A few years later, Mike learned Flash and decided to make a practice cartoon using the characters from the book. Matt provided voices for them, and they launched HomestarRunner.com to share what they’d done with their friends. Again, neither Matt nor Mike had any intention of spreading their work to a larger audience.
They registered the site in 1999, but it didn’t really start building momentum until the introduction of Strong Bad Emails in 2001. The Brothers Chaps had stumbled upon an effective use of user-generated content, since the Strong Bad character responded to (and made fun of) real emails from fans, giving them incentive to visit the site regularly.
By January 2003, they’d garnered enough web traffic to outgrow their original web host, and the new cartoons and characters (a few of whom were spawned from Strong Bad Emails) kept drawing more people in. When official Homestar Runner merchandise was introduced, it quickly paid for the Brothers’ business and living costs, and their parents (who were both retired by this point) took over the business end of the website.
What’s notable about their merchandise is that it was their only source of measurable revenue; the Brothers refused to sell advertising space on their website, and didn’t buy ads on anyone else’s site, either. Homestar Runner was truly a word of mouth phenomenon, in that the Brothers relied on their friends and fans to spread their website around voluntarily. This had the upshot of allowing the Brothers to spend all their creative energy on improving the cartoons, but overall it’s a huge gamble; the Internet has only strengthened the idea that everything is marketing, and making the conscious decision not to advertise carries the real risk that no one will see or care about your project, even if it’s good.
The Brothers Chaps’ work ethic can be seen in the cartoon’s improvement over the years; the character design got better, the jokes got funnier, the cartoons mixed pop culture references with goofy surrealism in an increasingly sophisticated way (as opposed to the lazy fan-service that pop culture-based humor usually is), and they added original music and games (including some really fun King’s Quest and Mega Man parodies) to the site.
Matt is currently writing and directing for shows like Yo Gabba Gabba! and Gravity Falls, which may explain the lack of new content for Homestar Runner, but he and his brother are good examples of accidental entrepreneurs; people who did what they did as a labor of love and tapped into a huge, unexpected audience with it. And because they worked hard, they capitalized on that audience and prospered. Just more proof that one important key to success is passion.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.